The Wannsee House is where Mid- and high ranking Nazis and government officials met to finalize the final solution. If I did not know what the Wannsee House represented I would have wanted to stay there for vacation. The house resides on a lake with benches, paths, flowers and ships sailing past. You can not help but ask your self whether the people sailing past the house know what went on here, or is it just another scenic structure for photos? When we took our break for lunch I was excited to go outside and sit on the benches and watch the boats. Did the German officers do the same? We all walked to the back of the house to eat and look at the lake. My walking went to past pace and then running. I was excited to take pictures and I found myself jumping steps and climbing the small walls. Did the young adults do the same when the house was a hostel? It was easy to forget where you were. You get lost in the beauty of the landscape. Is that why this house was chosen to hold such a brutal meeting, to mask the brutality of those German officials. We were instructed to board the bus and we walked down the same drive way those Nazis did. We were leaving behind the darkness and reentering the town. Do the people that live across the street know what this house is? What do they tell those that visit them? The house were the final solution was finalized.
The Olympic Stadium
From Track 17 the bus took us to our next stop, Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. As the bus turned onto the street that leads to the stadium, we could all see the famous Olympic symbol known throughout the world. It was originally begun in 1914 for the 1916 Olympics, but only the foundations were started before World War I caused those games to be canceled. It was completed when Berlin hosted the Olympics in 1936, based on new designs by one of Hitler’s favorite architects, Marsch. The large and imposing stadium is still used today for soccer games, having undergone a major renovation for the 2010 World Cup. Just yesterday the stadium was used for the German Cup final between two of Germany’s top soccer teams (whose fans we kept seeing all over Berlin in their Yellow [Dortmund] and red [Munich] colors). Yesterday’s German Cup match, similar to a Yankees vs. Redsox game, prevented us from going inside and touring the facility; however, we were all able to look around at the entrance and take a few pictures. Also, our guide was able to give us a brief history regarding the building of the stadium. He also discussed how the games affected the government and citizens of the time. I found it interesting that Hitler attended these games and had his own private box to sit in. Although we could not go inside, this was an interesting and insightful stop along our study tour.
Bendlerblock/Von Stauffenburg Memorial
Today we got to see a “surprise” memorial. We were ahead of schedule and got to see something that wasn’t originally planned. We had been seeing memorials all day and discussing the debates and critiques surrounding them: What they should be named, should they even build one, what it should look like, how should texts be phrased, etc. Our final stop of the day was no exception: The memorial to the conspirators, including Claus Schenck von Stauffenburg, who attempted to assassinate Hitler memorial, but were themselves executed when the coup d’etat failed. The ensemble of pictures, plaques, statues and a wreath are located in the courtyard of the former German military headquarters known as the Bendlerblock. They commemorate the military officers who planned the coup d’état against Hitler. We saw where von Stauffenburg was shot by firing squad, now marked by a bronze wreath and plaque.
As Christoph explained, this site was first unveiled as a memorial in the mid-1950s, when West Germany was just beginning to reestablish a military, the Bundeswehr. Von Stauffenberg and his associates offered models of “good” military officers. However, these heroes also worked on the planning and implementation of Germany’s wars of aggression, which emanated from this building. The controversy surrounding this memorial is whether or not these men should be honored as uncritically as they often have been. Yes, they were brave in their attempt to kill Hitler, but they had their own agendas and goals, which were not generally consistent with democratic rule and full civil rights. Many of these men had helped Hitler gain power and carry out his plans. From the perspective of many former German soldiers, going against Hitler also made these men traitors who had broken their oath to serve the Führer.
In the square there are plaques in the center and also a copper statue of a man. The plaques commemorate the men and the statue is of a “universal resistor,” with his hands bound. There is a wreath on the left wall where von Stauffenberg and others were executed the night of the failed coup. To the right side there are many pictures with information to explain the coup and the aftermath. There is a Museum of the German Resistance here that we did not have the time to visit, but Christoph explained that it has been expanded to present many forms of resistance, not just the July 20 Polt. This was a unique experience because we are seeing many different aspects of World War II in addition to the Holocaust.