Monday, October 17, 2011

The Palace of Tears

Berlin is a modern, fascinating city, but one that will always carry its heritage with it. I was continually amazed by the vestiges of Berlin's history of division that remain. Although the Soviets reached Berlin first in 1945, the British & American military leadership made a concerted effort to prevent the city from falling under complete Soviet domination post-war. As World War II concluded, the Allies agreed to a system of "spheres of influence" in Germany, where each of the Allies would administer a region.

Noting the prime importance of the city of Berlin, it was also divided. While Berlin sat deep within the Soviet sphere of Germany, it had sectors administered by the Americans, the British, and the French. Eventually, as years passed and communism became entrenched in East Germany, West Berlin (the former American, British, and French sectors) became an island of freedom & democracy surrounded by the repression of a communist state.

During our first day in Berlin, we visited the newly-opened "Palace of Tears" Museum. This site was an entry to East Germany along the rail line. Very few East Germans were granted permission to leave, but the East German government did permit West Germans to visit the eastern side. At this train station in Berlin, Westerners would pass through government control to be admitted to and exit from East German. The name "Palace of Tears" came to refer to the sadness that surrounded the hearts of the German people as the visitors from the West said farewell to their family in the East and prepared to board the train.

The new museum focuses on the impact that the division of Germany had on its people and the celebrations when the Berlin Wall fell. This museum made quite an impression on me. What creates the slippery slope that allows citizens of a nation to watch as their rights are continually and more aggressively revoked? How do good people react when faced with oppression? Would you and I know when our country was being systematically absorbed by an oppressive regime? What would we risk for freedom . . . our farms, our fortunes, our lives?

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