Our plan for Thursday, my final full day in Berlin, was a visit to the former Nazi concentration camp Sachsenhausen near the small town of Oranien. We had decided to pay for a tour which we met up with at the Brandenburg gate (which by the way is currently overshadowed by a gigantic metallic football). Ah the World Cup.
With our Australian tour leader Pen, we marched off (yeah yeah, bad joke) to Sachsenhausen, fifty minutes by train. Now, I studied German history, read about concentration and death camps in both German and English, and have even talked to one Auschwitz survivor (Moishe Kantorowitz), but standing at one of these sites in the baking sun was mind-numbing. While truly terrifying, it was also hugely awe-inspiring in regards to realizing the ability of people to force themselves to keep living despite the hardships being enforced upon them. Sachsenhausen was a “model” camp. Its goal was to train SS officers and as such it was one of the most secure camps during the Nazi regime. The camp was designed in the shape of a triangle as a sign of control and to maximize efficiency. From the gate tower at the base of the triangle a single gun could shoot down any aisle of the camp.
During the war more than 50,000 souls were lost at this camp and a further 12,000 when it was turned into a gulag by the Soviets between 1945 and 1950 or so. Efficiency, brutality and control was the name of the game and it was apparent from the design, signs, placement and the stories. While I could repeat so many stories of the brutality we learned about those days, the one story that makes me wonder at the ability of the indomitable human spirit to eke out an existence was the story told by Pen about four Jewish musicians interned at the camp. They desperately wanted to have a concert. By whatever means possible they managed to get a hold of instruments and did give a concert to the tears of the camp elders. They were forced to practice in the pathology unit, where by day inmates’ bodies were dissected and perhaps experimented upon. She recounted that one survivor remembered this and had said he cried upon hearing music for the first time in four years. I leave you, gentle reader, to question why humanity visits such inhumanity upon our brothers and sisters.
After being numbed and depressed for four or five hours, the late evening saw us on the train back into the city. Pen offered us some insight into the culture of East German customer service and its single-minded linear line of thinking. It was a story which left Jason, Michelle and I laughing raucously. Pen had gone to purchase queen-size bed fittings for her and her partner’s new bed. Apparently queen-size beds are not common in Germany; most couples simply put two single beds together. Having been unable to locate said fittings she approached a sales lady with her relatively poor German:
“Do you have any queen size bed fittings?”
“Why? You are a small person. You don’t need them!” and so it continued until the sales lady rudely showed Pen some fittings and left in a huff.
For the most part my experience in Berlin was quite pleasant with respect to customer service, though everyone assures me that is not normally the case. The evening was spent in a lovely pizzeria with much (cheap) beer served quite pleasantly.