Don’t erase history

I was in Germany in January this year. I spent a day walking the streets of the capital city, Berlin. It was a great walk, starting at the Potsdamer Platz, a square that used to be split in half by the Berlin Wall until 1989, signalling the end of the Cold War. The area I stayed, thanks to Alpecin, was very new because most of the area used to be no man’s land around the Berlin Wall. A little known fact was that on the East German side, there was a large space that people could not get close to the wall. People were shot by guards if they ventured into the area.

My walk took me to Checkpoint Charlie. It has become a bit of a tourist trap, according to the tourist guide. There is a replica of the original guard house with men dressed in the army kit of the time posing for photos and also making a bit of a spectacle, which was great.

While on the walk, I noticed that there is a line of bricks in the road to represent where the wall used to be. I followed this pathway and was led to some amazing sites along the way. The largest unbroken stretch of the wall is now 200 metres long and runs along the area where the headquarters of the Gestapo used to be.
It’s called the Topography of Terror. The buildings were knocked down with the German government saying that no buildings would be built there again in remembrance.

In the Topography of Terror is a museum that looks back at some of the worst things that happened in the World War. It’s a stark reminder of what human beings can do and might well do again. We have to know history so that the mistakes of the past are not done again. Germans have accepted their history and there are constant reminders about the bad past that the country has gone through. They embrace it and have become a world leading nation with some of the best education policies on the planet.

Out taxi driver explained that he pay 700 Euro a year to send his son to University. That’s just over R9000 for a year. Compare that to the university costs here in ZA.

Now my point is going to be made.

UCT students are looking to remove the statue of Rhodes on the campus. They have threatened to tear down the statue if it is not removed. Those are the kind of things that ISIS do, as my good friend Daryl Illbury said on Twitter.

South Africans are trying to white-wash the past by taking away some of the painful reminders of a history that needs to be remembered. For better or worse, those statues remind us of where we have come from and challenge us to go forward into a future that is better.

Some art is not comfortable. That discomfort you feel is not the statue’s fault, it is the discomfort you feel and you need to address that. The message behind that statue doesn’t disappear when it is gone, it’s just hidden and that means that the future leaders of our country will not remember where we have come from and that will lead to trouble.

The kids of Berlin, every day, see the Holocaust Museum, the Berlin Wall and the Topography of Terror. They will never again go back to the past.

I fear that we already have.

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