BERLIN, GERMANY – Walking down the halls of the Reichstag you immediately notice the walls, as almost everyone does when inside this building, they can catch you off guard because they are covered with bullet holes and Cyrillic graffiti.

Reichstag walls covered with bullet holes and Cyrillic graffiti.
Reichstag walls covered with bullet holes and Cyrillic graffiti.

After the Russians took the Reichstag in April 1945, they scribbled graffiti on the walls because the Soviets considered this a victory against Nazi Germany, most of which were people’s names, but the most recognizable today is “Hitler’s Lair,” “Hitler Eats Big Chorizos,” “Nazis R Stupid!” “I Came, I Saw, I Vomited,” “Russian Gurlz R Cuter than Ugly German Gurlz,” “Swastikas Suck Ass!” “Hitler is a Sissy,” “Nazis wear combat boots” At the request of the Russian Embassy, some of the more vulgar statements were removed, but one is still barely visible…

Over the years, the Reichstag was not only mutilated by war but also by thoughtless rebuilding techniques which hid the walls so they would be forgotten. In 1992 Architect Normal Foster was appointed to restore the building, as the process begin, construction crews were pulling off plaster they exposed the once hidden walls, at first, they didn’t know what they had found, once the details were exposed, the controversy became instant.

  • What should Germany do with the graffiti?
  • What was the proper role of the reminders of Germany’s dark past?
  • How should Germany present its crimes against humanity and the subsequent devastation?

The Parliament wanted answers, how would these concerns be addressed in Germany’s parliament building and capital? The responses were staggering, some members of the parliament said, “…away with it…” others said, “…that too belongs to our history…” even, ‘…no way, we can’t let ourselves be humiliated again, it is over, and it mustn’t become visible again…’  and one member was well known for stating, “…that this makes us stronger, not weaker. It makes humanity stronger…”

After the lengthy debate in Parliament, the decision was made to preserve history. Foster continued his exploration and proceeded to take his cues from the original character of the building and vocabulary by sifting through the layers of history and then peeled away the layers to reveal and restore the evidence of the past and preserve them as details of a ‘living museum.’

Architecture in Berlin now blends the heartbreak of the past with the present by gracefully including it for the future, and these sites help us remember moments we shouldn’t forget, even if we want to. Peter Westbrook said, “…so much of our future lies in preserving our past…”

Looking at current global trends, everyone could take a lesson from this perspective, and the question needs to be asked, will destroying/defacing the literal, rewrite history? Isn’t the answer obvious? Georges Santayana, a Spanish philosopher, said, “…those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it…”

Historical sites link us to our ancestors, and these sites empower political activity. Good deeds should be just as closely examined, at least concerning significance to our state. Even their clear racism, bigotry, which is roundly be criticized today, creates a lesson for all of us, and a reminder that we should all notice.