One of the first things I do as I either work or live in a new area of a city is to find out interesting places, restaurants as well as special histories. As in the last weeks I started a new job in the Moabit area, that I explored previously but only superficially, it was about time to find out more than the things you can easily reach by foot. Situated in the Charlottenburg district, there is a place called Plötzensee where I arrived relatively easy after a bus ride of around 15 minutes. The first view was the colourful houses from the Kleingarten Saatwinkler Damm colony.
It is a Thursday summer day and many people are outside in the garden either enjoying the sun or taking care of their piece of green land. Alongside small streets with names like Bergweg or Steinweg, you can feel the smell of roses and the view of cherry trees with fruits almost ready to be served. Although surrounded by an industrial landscape, this little paraadise, founded in 1923, encourages serenity and care-free thoughts.
Only ten minutes away of slow walking on Emmy Zehden Road there is nothing but serenity: the high walls of the Plötzensee prison where during the WWII around 3,000 people that opposed Nazism- including Zehden herself - were murdered.
I go through the massive doors bordered by big walls, entering the memorial space, created in the vicinity of the prison, currently in use.
It reigns the quietness you might expect from a memorial, but there is also something else that makes you feel under pressure because actually the place is still in use. I walk slowly, as I don't want that my presence got noticed, advancing through the gates further in the yard.
The Plötzensee prison was built outside the gates of Berlin from 1868-1878, ad covers around 25 hectares. The red-bricked administration offices nowadays are organised as exhibition spaces, while the church and the infirmary were left to the prison. After 1933, Plötzensee started to be used as a remand prison for political detainees, following the decisions of criminal tribunals and 'the People's Court' created in 1934. After 1939, the German political prisoneers were joined by foreign forced labourers among which also a group of Tatar intellectuals and officers. Another important group was represented by the Czech resistence fighters.
In the memorial courtyard, the ashes of some of the victims in concentration camps were brought in a massive urn.
The exhibition space is mostly covered in dark, recreating an ambiance of respect for the victims but also awe thinking about those times. There are not too many words to describe it. Prisoners were beheaded bz ax or guilotine brought under strict secrecy. The prisoners who were sentenced to death were housed in the large cell block (House III) directly next to the execution shed. They spent their last hours in shackles in special ground-level cells, 'the house of the dead'. Their last walk was across a small courtyard.
About half of those executed were Germans, most for resistance activities. Among them, the theologian and political thinker Hermann Stöhr, the communists Liselotte Herrmann and Galina Romanova, many members of the Red Orchestra secret organisation as well as those involved in the attempted coup of July 20, 1944.
The memory of the victims is reminded in short stories, in both English and German. The entrance is free of charge.
I slowly left the place with a heavy heart, while planning to update my knowledge about the resistance movements in Germany, especially outside Berlin. The quietness followed me, but was getting less heavy, especially upon reaching the other side of the street, with the view over the river.
The quietness of bad memories was replaced by the rays of lights. At a big extent, the lesson of the day was that despite the overwhelming darkness, ther were people trying to bring back the light and they paid with their lives. Their actions made a difference in a sea of deadly indifference.