Berlin, the capital of Germany, is a must-see place for its historical sites such as the Berlin Wall, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Topography of Terror Documentation Center, the Nazi Olympic Stadium and Hitler’s Bunker. One of the most moving sights is the Gleis 17 memorial for those who were deported to ghettos and concentration camps during World War II. It is located in Grunewald, one of the wealthiest districts in the capital and is about 30 minutes by train from central Berlin. Grunewald is an affluent town and is full of three-storey mansions and boutiques whilst being surrounded by forests and lakes.
The memorial, which is tucked away on the side of the Berlin-Grunewald station, will silence even the most vocal tourists. It is a memorial site that I would recommend to the lone traveller, couples, groups and those with families. It is a memorial site that is hidden away and surprisingly one of the least busy memorial sites that you will find in Berlin, and that gives you more reason to visit it. Be the brave traveller who wants to connect with history in its most raw and gripping form.
The hollow humans monument
The entrance to Gleis 17 (also known as Track 17) includes an 18 metre (59 feet) concrete monument with hollow human figures, which was designed in 1991 by Polish artist Karol Bronaitowski. The hollow human figures represent the individuals who had to walk along the same path so that they could board a train for deportation during the Nazi regime. The figures are of different shapes and sizes and this shows that the people who were deported were individuals in their own right; they were not the same; they had their own unique story which took a tragic turn. As you face the monument, you will appreciate how simplistic and yet also how powerful it is and the symbolic message that is being conveyed through it. If you turn your back to the monument, you will see the grand and luxurious homes of Grunewald that stand in direct contrast to the plight of the deportees. This makes the experience of entering the memorial even more jarring and surreal.
About 50,000 people were deported from Gleis 17
Gleis 17 was a major site for the deportation of the Jewish community in Berlin during World War II. Prior to 1942, the trains from this site left mainly for the ghettos of Litzmannstadt and Warsaw. But from 1942, the trains went directly to concentration camps including Auschwitz and Thereisienstadt. The memorial site consists of a well-preserved open space railway track which includes inscriptions on the platform. The inscriptions are of dates for which trains left from this site as well as the number of deportees onboard and where they were heading. As you walk along the platform and read the inscriptions, you will naturally feel a chilling effect because you are walking in the same footsteps of thousands of people who boarded trains which led to their deaths. There were approximately 50,000 individuals who were deported from this specific site.
A powerful and moving experience
You may find that you are the only visitor at Gleis 17 when you arrive and walk along the platform. The solitude makes the experience even more powerful and lets you reflect on the things that happened here. The beautiful surroundings of this memorial site and the silence of either no or very few visitors will help you to fully appreciate the fear that the Jewish community once felt in Berlin. Whilst this memorial site is well preserved, a number of trees have grown out of the railway track itself. This is very symbolic because it is nature’s way of creating barriers and showing that trains will never cross these tracks again. This is possibly one of the most unique and captivating memorial sites that I have ever seen and I would urge you to visit it. The memorial site is open to the public and is accessible at any time. It is free to visit.
A visit will leave a lasting impression
You can see photographs of Gleis 17; you can watch videos online about this memorial site; however, nothing will compare to physically standing at this memorial site and reflecting on what happened during the Nazi regime to so many individuals. Gleis 17 will leave a lasting impression on you and I would recommend that you take the time to visit it.
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