Berlin is full of statues, monuments, and memorials related to both positive and negative historical events; history is intentionally not forgotten here, so that lessons can be learned from it.
Ted and I often visit old cemeteries when we travel, and I’ve always thought of them as another window into history, but a couple of days ago we were given a different perspective: the cemetery as a “stage” on which the (admittedly dead) actors can continue to dazzle their audience with their achievements by way of imposing monuments and flowery inscriptions.
Only 1 km from our apartments is the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof (Dorothea’s City Cemetery), named after Dorothea, the second wife of the “Great Elector” Friedrich Wilhelm, where the gravestones and memorials read like a Who’s Who of Germany’s intellectual elite. A walk through this fairly small cemetery, which was opened in 1762, is a walk through German cultural history; this is where important figures from Hegel to Brecht were laid to rest.
While Ted and I didn’t recognize many of the names on the larger monuments, they often had detailed descriptions of the deceased’s accomplishments engraved on them so that we’d be sure to realize how important they had been in life.
The cemetery adjoins the original French Huguenot Cemetery of Berlin, with the two sections separated by a wall with an entrance at either end.
Because we didn’t instinctively know who was noteworthy and who wasn’t, Ted’s photos focus on the graves that he and I found most interesting. Among others, we completely missed philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, but we did take note of some prominent players in late 18th and early 19th century Imperial governments, as well as some more recent names from literature and media.
Lots and lots of other personages left their mark on this cemetery “stage”. Until today, the names below meant nothing to me. Now I feel as if I know a tiny bit more about Berlin through these people.
There were also several quite nondescript common graves, maintained by the city within the cemetery, containing casualties of the Battle of Berlin in 1945. The marker below lists the names of 44 of the people buried there, with the sobering words at the bottom “20 more remain unidentified”. There are similar mass grave markers in each of Berlin’s major cemeteries. War, too, is a stage, on which are played out human tragedies.
Of all the people buried here who were familiar with being “on stage”, Bertold Brecht is certainly one of the most well-known ones to visitors here. His writing, plays, and musical collaborations are famous world-wide. Who doesn’t know “Mack the Knife” ? And yet, his grave marker , a rough-hewn rock in a shadowy corner (beside his wife’s) is strangely modest.
If, as Jaques says in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, “all the world’s a stage”, then I suppose it’s only natural that not everyone wants to step off it without leaving an imprint.