We have been discussing monuments in class. There are three different types that we have come across. The first and most general is called das Denkmal. It can be used to commemorate good or bad event and people. The second is das Mahnmal, which stems in part from the word ermahnen, meaning to caution or warn. These memorials specifically commemorate tragedies or mistakes that we wish to avoid. As an example of a Mahnmal, we looked at the new Holocaust memorial, which naturally brought up a discussion of World War II and the Holocaust itself.
Our teacher went on a mini rant about just what made that genocide different from any other. As she put it, the Germans have always been perfectionists. They put as much thought and care into their crematoriums as they do in their cars today. No other land has been so systematic and calculating in its genocides. Because of this, Germany still has a massive guilt complex about the whole matter. The teacher went to America once and met a man who mentioned that his mother came from Germany. "Oh crap, here it comes," she thought to herself as the man went on to explain how they had to leave during the war because it wasn't safe for them. He was quiet genial about the whole thing, but she was trying to make herself as small as possible. Her son once went abroad and proudly reported that no one had noticed he was German. The sins of the father have definitely colored the children's lives.
Now, we have been assigned to visit, research, and report upon different holocaust memorials scattered around the city. There isn't just one. They are everywhere. My very first day I stumbled across a monument in Rosenstraße, where the wives of Jewish men demanded that their husbands be returned to them and actually had their wish granted. (There is a film named after the street that I would highly recommend.)
All this talk about the Holocaust in a city that actually had a hand in it has given me a strangely self conscious feeling. I felt more than a little awkward when I opened my computer in a public area, pulled up the newest xkcd comic, and found the words "Kill Hitler" plastered across my screen...