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Berlin: Memorials on and off the beaten path

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The famous Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. Photo by dalbera.
The famous Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. Photo by dalbera.

Between World War II and the Cold War, Berlin has a lot to remember. No wonder dozens of memorials and monuments grace the city. You could spend days tracking down every one of these free-to-see reminders dedicated to bygone events. (The city’s official list of “Denkmäler,” which include buildings, cemeteries, and other locations of historic note, is 941 pages long!)

Here’s a guide to our favorite memorials, including those that are on the well-beaten tourist path and those that are all-too-often overlooked by visitors.

1. Behren Strasse (U/S-bahn: Reichstag or Potsdamer Platz) is the wide avenue that runs alongside the Tiergarten park and connects Unter den Linden to Potsdamer Platz. Behrn Strasse is home to the U.S. Embassy, as well as two World War II monuments.

On the beaten path…

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Ebert Str. & Behren Str.), which is commonly known as the Holocaust Memorial, is a maze of steel gray “stele”, tomb-like slabs, that covers an entire block. Don’t forget to visit the subterranean documentation center for gripping, sobering exhibits about the victims of the Holocaust.

Off the beaten path…

Standing on the edge of the Tiergarten Park (on Ebert Str., between Behren Str. & Hannah-Arendt Str.), the Memorial for Gays Persecuted by Nazis is only a short stroll away from the Holocaust Memorial. Peek through the small “window” on the side of the 13-foot-tall concrete block to see a black and white film that depicts two men kissing. “A simple kiss could cause trouble,” reads the accompanying plaque.

2. Grosse Hamburger Strasse is a long, elegant avenue steps from Hackescher Markt. The street was once a center of Jewish life. It hosted one of the earliest Jewish cemeteries, as well as a home for seniors (marked with a plaque) and a school for boys (now the heavily-fortified Jüdische Oberschule, a school for children of all faiths). Today, the entire street is an open-air memorial to the Mitte’s once-vibrant Jewish community.

On the beaten path…

Will Lambert designed a bronze statue dedicated to the Jewish victims of fascism in 1957. Standing on the site of the long-destroyed Jewish cemetery, on the spot were Jews were deported to concentration camps, the somber memorial depicts a cluster of women and children awaiting their tragic fates.

Off the beaten path…

Installed in 1990 by the French artist Christian Boltanski, the Missing House (once at 15/16 Grosse Hamburger Str.) pays poignant tribute to one of the city’s many voids—in this case, a house that was never rebuilt after its 1945 destruction by Allied bombs. Twelve black-and-white plaques bearing the names, birth and death dates, and occupation of the building’s final residents adorn the facing walls of the two neighboring buildings. It’s a subtle, easy-to-miss tribute.

Continue north on Grosse Hamburger Strasse to reach the quiet, residential square of Koppenplatz. Standing on the northern side is a bronze statue of a table and two chairs, one of which is tipped over onto its back. The Memorial to the Deserted Room, by Karl Biedermann, pays tribute to the many Jews who were forced from their homes. It was installed in 1991.

3. Treptower Park (S-bahn: Treptower Park or Plänterwald) is an expansive stretch of green that runs alongside the Spree river in eastern Berlin. Big with picnickers, dog-walkers, and even boaters, the park is lined with gorgeous “Jugendstil” mansions and apartment buildings that reflect its history as a well-to-do district. It bears two intriguing traces of East Berlin architecture.

On the beaten path…

Occupying a massive swath of green, the gargantuan Soviet Memorial was built by the Soviet Union shortly after World War II to honor the Soviet soldiers who died in the battle for Berlin (1945-1949). Massive marble memorial plaques are overshadowed by the memorial’s focal point–a statue of a Soviet soldier, cradling a German child in his arms.

Off the beaten path…

Schlesischer Busch, a small, scrubby park north of Treptower Park, on the Treptow-Kreuzberg border (Puschkinallee), is home to a former Wachturm (watchtower) that’s been transformed into a small art gallery. Other than the concrete, graffiti-marred tower, there are no longer any traces here of the Berlin Wall that divided the city.

Tell us: Have you been to any of these memorials? Do you have another favorite monument or memorial that you’d like to add to our list? Tell us about it in the comments section.

About the author

Susan Buzzelli

About the author: A Pittsburgh native, Susan Buzzelli has been a sworn Germanophile since she spent a high school summer as an exchange student in Buxtehude. After stints in Dresden, Munich, and Hamburg she settled (possibly for good) in Europe’s most dynamic city: Berlin. When she isn't exploring Berlin, she's traveling throughout Germany (with an occasional hop over the border). Her comprehensive guidebook to Germany, Zeitguide Germany, will be published soon. Look for updates on her website, www.susanbuzzelli.com.

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