So many of the places I visited and saw in Berlin during my stay there in the 1960s were steeped in history – and often times not the pleasant kind. For example, during World War II, Andrews Barracks, where we lived, was the home of the “SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler” – Hitlers bodyguard. The ruins of the Reichstag building, which backed up to and was basically part of the Wall, was the seat of the parliament of the Weimar Republic, the government established after World War I. Its burning under suspicious circumstances in 1933 was the pretext used by the Nazis to suspend most rights provided for by the 1919 Weimar Constitution.
There were literally hundreds of these kinds of historical sites, some evoking the atrocities of the Nazi regime, and some evoking the grandeur of Europe over the years. The Brandenburg Gate, also walled in by the Soviets, was built at the very time some colonies in far off America were finishing up their unique constitution.
And then there was the Wannsee, which was a locality within the Berlin borough of Steglitz-Zehlendorf. As noted in McCurry’s War, most soldiers and residents at the time used Wannsee to refer to two lakes near the Hill that included the larger Großer Wannsee (Greater Wannsee) and the Kleiner Wannsee (Little Wannsee). It was a popular recreation area among Germans for at least two centuries. Following World War II, it didn’t take Americans long to start flocking to its beaches and in 1949 the Army established its own recreation facility on the eastern shore of the Wannsee with sailing, swimming, boating and fishing.
But, like so many other attractions in Berlin, there was a sinister history to the Wannsee. On January 20, 1942, in a now famous – or, more properly infamous – meeting, 15 high-ranking Nazi Party and German government officials gathered at a villa in Wannsee to discuss and coordinate the implementation of what they called the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.” As most people know, The “Final Solution” was the code name for the systematic, deliberate, physical annihilation of the European Jews.
As I would relax on the beaches of the Wannsee – a mere two decades following the end of the war and the destruction of the Nazi “empire” – I couldn’t help but look out over the hundreds of people crowded along the shoreline and wonder how many of them or their parents were formerly devotees of Hitler. And how many still were. My next blog entry will be a view of this phenomenon through the eyes of Mike McCurry.