Workshop round I: Fascism & The German Example
We started by outlining our expectations for the project. Each participant was given a coloured piece of paper and wrote their expectations, hopes and fears for the next few days. This gave the group a chance to share how they felt the project should go forward. These were pinned onto the wall as a constant reminder of how we wanted the project to take shape. After a short introduction to the project the participants helped building its structure. Using brightly coloured paper they wrote down questions to keep in mind when they were visiting the historical monuments. There were three key areas that we were able to focus on: 1) comparisons of different cases studied, 2) the analysis of the reasons for differences detected and 3) the analysis of effects with regard to the future.
With this framework in mind we were prepared for our first visit to Topographie des Terros and to the Holocaust Memorial. In Topographie des Terrors we separated into two groups and were given a tour by an expert on the subject. Set in a new extremely expensive new building at the former headquarters of the Secret State Police, the exhibition was crammed with extremely detailed information about the rise of the Nazi Police State and its awful expression and actions as the war started and continued. Having a personal guide enabled the participants to ask any questions and queries which they might have. We arrived back to our Conference Room covered in snow and extremely cold with a lot to think about. There was just time for another coffee or tea and a few biscuits before our guests for the evening arrived. Our guests for the evening were three time witnesses from the organisation Zeitzeugenbörse (ZZB): Ms. Dorit Ebert Mr. Dr. Riemer Mr. Dr. Rinne The ZZB organizes the dialogue between the older and the younger generation in Berlin in order to share their experiences regarding: the time of National Socialism and the post-war period, life in the divided and reunited city as well as political and cultural events in East and West Berlin Each small group had the opportunity to discuss the questions they had developed earlier and also to react the the stories which the time witnesses told. Many found it incredibly moving and interesting to discuss first hand exactly how they were oppressed by both the Nazis and the Soviets.
The next day, we were up early for breakfast to start the next day which was focused on Stalinism. In order to prepare for our historical visit we took the framework which we had developed the day before and created even more questions and aspects that we wanted to explore. Splitting into the small groups the participants analysed these questions and thought of one which they would like to explore in more detail. We then came back together to discuss what the participants had developed and created a ‘cheat sheet’ to keep these in mind when visiting the prison. After a quick lunch we headed out into the snow to see the site. Gedenkstätte is the former East German Ministry of State Security (MfS), or ‘Stasi’, and has been a Memorial since 1994 and, from 2000 on, has been an independent Foundation under public law.
The Berlin state government has assigned the Foundation without charge. The Foundation’s work is supported by an annual contribution from the Federal Government and the Berlin state government. The time witness was perhaps the most memorial part of the weekend. His name, ‘Mike’ he said was after ‘Mick’ Jagger, because his mother was a fan of the Rolling Stones. In Gedenkstätte there were no signs with information and so all of our information came directly from Mike. Mike was probably the most entertaining man and guide I had ever met and most of the group hung on his every word. Considering the prison is essentially an underground building with some small cells, he was able to make the whole place come alive.
The breakfast meeting and round up of results on Sunday morning was a great opportunity to get all the participants to reflect on exactly what How We Shape Our Past means and why the project was important. This enabled us to think about what we had done so far and how we felt about the project moving forward. From these discussions it was obvious that everyone had greatly enjoyed the weekend but that there was so much more to speak about. After summing up the main points we realised that we had a strong and firm framework to take to the future events in Budapest, Vilnius, Prague and Weimar.