While in Berlin last fall, I visited Wannsee, the town and lake on the western outskirts of the capital. The ditty, “Pack die Badehose ein, nimm dein kleines Schwesterlein, und dann nischt wie raus nach Wannsee” (“pack your bathing trunk, take your little sister, and let’s hurry to lake Wannsee”), a veritable earworm from 1951 was playing in my mind, and even though I had not heard it in decades, it might have had something to do with my decision. What was not at my mind’s forefront was the “Wannsee Conference”, the antithesis to this light, cheerful tune. The name jumped out at me when I studied the local town map upon my arrival at the S-Bahn (suburban train) station, and set the memory wheels in motion.

On an unseasonably mild early December day I made my way through the well-groomed streets of what has always been a wealthy resort town. When I reached the location of this infamous gathering I shivered, despite the warm sunshine. On January 20, 1942, fifteen high-ranking officials of Hitler’s administration convened here to make the eradication of all European Jews official policy. In this beautiful villa, built in 1915 by industrialist Ernst Marlier, and repurposed by the SS into a conference center and guest house between 1941 and 1945, these men resolved to kill millions of innocent people because of their ethnicity and religion – while they wined and dined in an opulent dining room with a view of the idyllic garden and lake.

I toured the exhibit of what became the “House of the Wannsee Conference Memorial and Educational Site” in 1992. I strolled through the sun-drenched grounds resounding with lovely birdsong. Directly across the lake from the property stretched the sandy beach of “Strandbad Wannsee” (public bathing beach Wannsee), the destination of the above-mentioned melody which might have brought me here – and also one of the sites of segregation in the early years of Hitler’s regime, when Jews were “merely” banned from public places, when Germany’s “philosophers” might have still prevented the worsening madness that was to engulf Europe and the world.

I kept stumbling over the same question: How could something like this ever happen in Germany – “Land der Dichter und Denker” (“nation of poets and philosophers”)? Because it was also the “Land der Richter und Henker” (“nation of judges and henchmen”). A German rhyme. How poetic. How absurd.

While the past can’t be altered or whitewashed, try as we might, I wonder what it takes to prevent new demagogues anywhere from misleading people, from spreading new lies, from painting new enemy images. What does it take for us to focus on our common humanity, instead of dehumanizing, suppressing, or even killing certain groups, be it for political, for religious, or for ethnic reasons?

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

18 thoughts on “Berlin-Wannsee

  1. I didn’t even realize that this was where they came up with the Final Solution. My trip to Wannsee last summer was a bit more light-hearted (we just sunbathed and swam). I’d like to go back and see this museum though.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this post. I haven‘t been to this site, but we visited the villa (now a lovely museum) of the famous Jewish painter Max Liebermann and his wife, also situated at the banks of the Wannsee. It is incredibly sad to read about their lives when as old people they had to face the Nazi regime.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment, Anna. On my way to this museum, I passed the Liebermann house which was still closed. So many lives were affected in ways that are heartbreaking to consider. It all makes me so incredibly sad.


      • Hi. Overall I’d say that there is more good in the world than evil.
        But in many areas of our planet there has been incredible destruction and mayhem in recent years. I guess you never know where or when the bad guys will take over.

        Hey, I’m getting depressed.
        I’ll see you —

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry about spreading negative, depressing vibes, Neil. That’s not my intention. But like many people, I am struggling-with the state of humanity, the country, the world. But you are absolutely right. There is much good, and there are many great people, and we need to surround us with those!
        Best wishes,

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Looks like an interesting place to visit (despite the history). It seems like such a beautiful area.

    I cannot fathom how the genocide of Jews was decided by a handful of men, but then I cannot understand much of the current wars and civil unrest around the world today.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Das Datum der Wannsee-Konferenz ist mir schon als Kind im Gedächtnis geblieben, da ich genau 30 Jahre danach geboren wurde 😦 Letztes Jahr kam noch die Amtseinführung Trumps dazu… Wahrlich kein schöner Tag aus globaler Sicht. Gott sei Dank ändert es nichts daran, dass mein Leben irgendwie doch unter einem eher sehr günstigen Stern zu stehen scheint. Noch dazu habe ich gleich zu Beginn eine Zwillingschwester mitbekommen.
    Aber ich schweife ab. Wannsee – das war wirklich einer der Tiefpunkte der Menschheitsgeschichte. Danke für diesen schönen Beitrag dazu. Liebe Grüße, Andrea

    Liked by 1 person

    • Danke für Dein Interesse, Andrea. Und Dir und Deiner Zwillingsschwester nachträglich alles Gute zum Geburtstag. Den Termin kann sich ja niemand aussuchen. Und ich freue mich für Dich über den günstigen Stern!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. We need to continue to see the positive amongst ourselves in the world and finding love even though it’s always easier to complain and find things we don’t like about each other. I live in a place where 200 nationalities are getting along daily. It works. And it’s beautiful when it does. And we learn from each other all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

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