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GLENN LONEY'S SHOW NOTES
Berlin Diary 2001
By Glenn Loney, July 15, 2001
 Berlin Love Parade
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
 "Holocaust Never Happened" Poster
 Handel's "Saul" at Komische Oper
 Berlin Theatres in Danger
 Opera Crisis in Goethe's Weimar
 KZ Dora & V2 Rockets
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Notes from Berlin & Beyond—
Eros on the March: The Berlin Love Parade
Plus the Christopher Street Day Parades
CIRCLING ROUND & ROUND--Interior of New Post-Modernist Reichstag Dome. Photo: ©Glenn Loney INFOTOGRAPHY/2001.
I arrived in Berlin the night before its annual summer Love Parade. This now internationally known event began rather haphazardly and modestly. It was a kind of homage to Manhattan's Stonewall and Christopher Street Parades.
It has now grown to such dimensions—with fun-seekers and erotomaniacs coming from many lands—that it makes New York City celebrations look very modest indeed.
The fantastic inventiveness and variety of Love Parade Costumes—not to mention those which are little more than decorative details to highlight bodily attractions—even put some major Carneval, Fasching, and Mardi Gras parades in the shade.
I had planned to photograph some of the more remarkable costumes and floats. But the parade is now such a compact, roiling mass of bodies, and erotic energy that there is little room for an archival photographer to back off from a posed subject.
Some observers insisted there were almost a million people in and around the parade-route. Others opted for a body-count only in the thousands. If you were able to see any of the parade on TV—it was widely reported in Europe, of course—you may have some idea of how densely packed the crowds were, spaced out among great music-trucks.
Almost as amazing, however, was the speed and thoroughness with which the post-parade cleanup was accomplished. At one end of the route—Ernst-Reuter-Platz—the day after there wasn't so much as a bottle or condom on the lawns. And Berlin city workers were busy putting back dismantled flagpoles, saved from ardent climbers.
On Fifth Avenue in Manhattan—where national and ethnic parades are more frequent than city buses—a tiny fraction of the number of Berlin Love Parade revelers often leave behind many more mounds of trash.
The New York Puerto Rican Day Parade is the worst in amount of debris. But, at the same time, one of the most enthusiastically enjoyed. The Irish tend to be more dour and dutiful about marching or watching.
Down in Greenwich Village, parades are of necessity on a much smaller scale. Halloween and Wigstock parades have made done their bit to Raise Consciousness.
But it's interesting to note that Village Gay & Lesbian parades are widely copied in various German cities now. Beyond Berlin, they are usually identified as CSD Parades. The initials stand for Christopher Street Day!
No wonder Christopher Street is always so crowded. They must all be German Tourists!
This summer's CSD parade in Munich didn't draw as many participants or spectators as last—according to reports. I wasn't on hand to count heads—excuse the expression!
Last summer, it was amusing to watch & to photograph, but it was farily tame, by Greenwich Village standards.
Even though Munich has long been considered the German city most welcoming to artists, its even longer tradition of Roman Catholic piety and morality make it seem astonishing that such hijinx are tolerated.
Actually, the clergy—like the Pope Himself—take the official position of: "Hate the Sin, but Love the Sinner."
In historic Cologne, however, no Gay & Lesbian Parades or Demonstrations are welcomed on the square before the great gothic Cologne Cathedral.
On the south side of the ancient cathedral, however—where even more ancient Roman ruins have been excavcated—the great open space is public, under the care of the municipality.
Considering the wild Roman Saturnalias—not to overlook the sexual excesses of emperors such as Nero and Caligula—a modern Gay Parade should look tame indeed.
But the cathedral clergy—and the Cardinal of Cologne—apparently don't love the Sinners enough to let them have a parade anywhere around the cathedral, even where they don't control the space.
An extended Letter-to-the-Editor in a Munich newspaper explained how the Cologne clergy protected its flock from exposure to Gays & Lesbians on parade.
As they could not legally complain, a devout older Catholic man—with time on his hands and apparently nothing better to do—made the complaint as an ordinary citizen.
His complaint was recognised, and use of the space was denied. He was later awarded a prestigious Order by the Vatican!
Not all our rewards are Laid Up in Heaven, apparently. Some you can collect down here!
"The Holocaust Never Happened"
ALL SHARP ANGLES--Daniel Libeskind's New Post-Modernist Jewish Museum. Photo: ©Glenn Loney/INFOTOGRAPHY/2001.
On the blank wall of a building near Berlin's Brandenburg Gate—next to the site on which the new American Embassy is to be constructed—an immense poster appeared in July.
It is a very long rectangle, with an idyllic view of snowy mountains, green fir-trees, and a lovely blue lake.
Could anything as cruel, vicious, depraved, and deadly as KZ Dachau, Buchenwald, or Sachsenhausen ever have been sited in such a magnificently peaceful landscape?
If the reader is to believe the two-line slogan printed across this picture-postcard view, it wouldn't seem possible.
The slogan, in German, reads: "den holocaust hat es nie gegeben."
What this means—as today's Neo-Nazis insist and some demented Americans also believe—is that the Holocaust never occurred.
This confrontational denial of recent history can also be heard from Austria's Jörg Haider, leader of the Radical Rightists.
As it is against the law in Germany to use Nazi slogans or images, to demonstrate or promote anti-semitism, or to deliberately affront racial, religious, or other groups, what is this giant poster doing in such a public place?
If one takes the time to read the small print in the lower right-hand corner of the poster—which many won't bother to do—it's clear that the poster is intended to stimulate donations for the Berlin Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe.
Designed by the American-Jewish architect, eter Eisenman, this is currently being contructed on an empty square across the avenue from the American Embassy site, near Potsdamer Platz.
But it's obviously not paid for yet. So Lea Rosh, chairperson of the group working to complete the monument, decided to try a provocational, confrontational way of getting attention for the project.
ON HER MAJESTY'S SERVICE--New Post-Modernist British Embassy in Berlin. Photo: ©Glenn Loney/INFOTOGRAPHY/2001.
The fine print notes that there are a lot of people who actually believe the slogan in large letters: That there never was a Holocaust. That it was all made up… Rosh's fear, as the fine print explains, is that in 20 years there will be even more of them.
The poster has also appeared in smaller format in S-Bahn and U-Bahn stations. One morning, I opened the Berlin Morgenpost and found it spread, in full color, across the bottom halves of two center sheets.
Unfortunately, the poster-campaign has caused a lot of comment, most of which finds the poster offensive to Jewish sensibilities. As well as counter-productive to the intended aims of fund-raising.
From Samuel To Saul at the Komische Oper—
In mid-July, most of the state and city-subsidized theatres had closed for summer holidays. Fortunately, one of the most interesting and provocative of these ensembles was still in full swing: Berlin's Komische Oper.
Founded by the innovative opera-director, Dr. Walter Felsenstein—under the patronage of the leaders of the DDR in the then divided Berlin—the Comic Opera soon won international attention for its imaginative approach to traditional War Horses of the opera repertoire.
Not only did Felsenstein want to present opera as exciting theatre—with young singers who knew how to act—but he also wanted to dig deeper into the music and texts of operas to discover hidden, even mythic, meanings. Or—even more appropriately in Communist East Germany—to reveal powerful truths about Mankind and Society which most stage-directors, audiences, and even critics had never suspected were in these operas.
BERLIN BOURSE--New Post-Modernist Ludwig Ehrhard Stock-Exchange. Photo: ©Glenn Loney/INFOTOGRAPHY/2001.
His vision of Verdi's Aida was not only that of a powerful & ruthless society crushing a smaller, simpler one. This had certainly been relevant in Verdi's own time, with Austro-Hungary dominating much of Northern Italy. But it could also be read as the threatening dominance of the capitalist West over undeveloped Third World Nations.
But Felsenstein's stroke of genius with Aida was to reveal it also as an indictment of Organized Religion, in the way that the Pharaonic Priesthood is shown to be the real power behind the throne and Egypt's great general, Radames.
This year is Walter Felsenstein's Centenary, so his beloved KO has an impressive exhibition of production-photos, posters, and archival documents on display.
This past summer, in June & July, the Komische Oper played nightly, offering 36 different productions in that period. My good fortune was to see its production of Georg Friedrich Händel's oratorio, Saul.
Now an oratorio is not, strictly speaking, an opera. And few of them, old or new, offer much opportunity for dramatic staging. Handel, however, was a very clever man of the theatre, as well as a composer of genius.
When he realized the the London public was tiring of Italian Operas—whether composed by him or real Italians—he shifted gears and adjusted his musical imagination and theatrical know-how to the creation of strongly structured oratorios which could command an audience's attention—even without sets & costumes.
Well aware of the Protestant Public Piety of the Monarchy and the English People, he also realized that Biblical characters and narratives offered him a rich fundus of crowd-pleasing subjects and Moral Themes.
Saul—which Handel called an Oratorio in Three Acts—deals with the familiar story of the Prophet Samuel choosing Saul to be King over Israel, followed by David's defeat of the Philistines with the killing of Goliath, and Saul's mad jealousy and fear of this young man whom he once favored.
The Damon & Pythias friendship of David and Saul's son & heir, Jonathan, also offers strong dramatic potential, as do the relationships of Saul's two daughters to David and to each other.
To see director Anthony Pilavachi's staging of Saul—with settings by Dieter Ritcher and costumes by Jutta Delorme—was almost like watching a Felsenstein production in the heydey of the DDR.
Or even more like watching one of Bertolt Brecht's plays staged at East Berlin's Berliner Ensemble.
The Israelites look very much like East German factory-workers, ready to protest Injustice with Solidarity. Saul, his family, and his court, however, are dressed like England's Elite in the 1930s, complete with a formal dinner, set out with silver, crystal, and china.
Saul—strongly sung and acted by Raimund Nolte—is even early on a neurotic voluptuary. He could be a Noël Coward sophisticate who has unfortunately been given the power of life and death over his subjects.
As his madness deepens and death approaches, the walls and ceiling of his elegant court chamber begin to close in on him and crush him. This is an immensely impressive technical effect, much enhanced by Handel's music.
David is admirably acted by countertenor Jochen Kowalski, who—along with David Daniels—is one of the best of that breed singing today. In Handel's time, such roles could have been sung by castrati, as well as by sopranos or altos. Audiences were used to these conventions of the Italian Opera.
Now, however, it seems a bit strange—even considering David initially as a young shepherd lad—to hear him singing in an even higher register than that of the girl who loves him. T
he scenes in Saul's Court are set on a raised stage—with the walls covered with frescoes like those Giulio Romano painted in Mantua at the Palazzo Te. At the close, however, when these have all folded in on each other, the floor rises up to disclose its underpinnings.
These prove to be long rows of wooden staves and crosses, a deep cemetery of Israelites fallen in wars and persecutions. The crosses are a false note.
But the joyful "Workers Chorus"—freed of Saul's tyranny—is right out of 1930s Socialist AgitProp Theatre. Not the Old Testament nor 18th century London Theatre…
The iron-curtain facade of the production has the letters for S A M U E L spelled out on its pediment. When Saul is annointed King, the M and E are removed. When David becomes king, after Saul's death, new letters are set up, spelling out D A V I D.
Others in the cast included Johannes Chum, Brigitte Wohlfahrth, Sabine Passow, and Neven Belamaríc, as both the High Priest and Spirit of Samuel, who haunts the entire action. Alan Hacker conducted, but his interpretation certainly wasn't Hack Work.
Walter Felsenstein was always more interested in the theatrical power of Komische Oper production than its musical quality. But the current ensemble, as evidenced in this staging, seems musically very strong as well.
POST-MODERNIST SURREALISM--Nightmare Mural of Berlin Buildings. Photo: ©Glenn Loney/INFOTOGRAPHY/2001.
Summer Theatre Holidays Now— But Permanent Closures in Future?
Berlin should soon become the most politically powerful, economically essential, and culturally rich city in Europe.
Not only because it is gradually being transformed into the nation's capital, as it was before World War II. But also because—with the introduction of the Euro in January 2002—its geographical and influential position as a nexus North & South, East & West will make it a keystone in the economy of the European Union.
That ought to mean that none of the 25 West Berlin Theatres nor their ensembles—nor the similar number of playhouses & companies on the other side of the Berlin Wall prior to November 1989—should have been closed down or compromised after the Wall was torn down.
Unfortunately, the once admired Schiller Theater Ensemble is no more. Erwin Piscator's Freie Volksbühne in West Berlin is now a venue for dance troupes.
The Berliner Ensemble is a shadow of what it once was, under Brecht himself, and later, under his widow, that powerful actress, Helene Weigel.
Shortly after the Berlin Wall was breached, officials were asking if a now united Berlin really needed three opera houses?
When the city was divided, most of the historic theatres were in East Berlin, so it was deemed necessary to replace them in West Berlin with new houses and ensembles. Hence the Schiller, the Volksbühne, and the Deutsche Oper Berlin.
Unfortunately, on the eve of Berlin's new greatness, the arguments about the three opera-houses is taking on even more urgency.
The Staatsoper has a long and distinguished history. It is a magnificent building on the Unter den Linden, near the Reichstag and all the embassies.
Very soon, it could become a magnet for politicians and power-brokers, not only for a Night at the Opera, but also to intrigue during intermissions in the glittering foyers.
SONY'S SUPER SKYSCRAPER-- New Post-Modernist High-Rise & Potsdam Platz U & S-Bahn Station. Photo:©Glenn Loney/INFOTOGRAPHY/2001.
Under Daniel Baremboim as General Music Director, however, its monthly program has almost atrophied. Compared with its Glory Days under GMD Otmar Suitner in the DDR Era, when a different opera was performed every night of the week.
Prof. Suitner—whom I first came to know when Kurt Herbert Adler invited him to conduct at the San Francisco Opera—formed a first-class ensemble of musicians and performers, with outstanding productions by some of the most innovative directors and designers. Ruth Berghaus's stagings were legendary.
But after 1989 and Die Wende—or Change—he was pensioned off into an early and undeserved obscurity. So also with that innovative stage-director and Intendant of Dresden's Semper Oper, Prof. Dr. Joachim Herz.
The pressing problem for the City of Berlin at this point—and not just for its many cultural institutions—is that it is technically, if not quite actually, Bankrupt!
This seems bizarre at a time when millions and millions of DM are being spent on immense building-projects in the city, as it renews itself and prepares for a magnificent future.
There are fortunes being invested—and fortunes being made—right now in Berlin, so it is not about to go under financially. The current situation recalls New York's technical bankruptcy back in 1973.
Perhaps the City Fathers ought to take a look at NYC and find out how the crisis was averted and turned to advantage?
SALUTE TO BILLY WILDER--Bistro in Sony's New Post-Modernist Film-House. Photo: ©Glenn Loney/INFOTOGRAPHY/2001
In any case, the City Dads should find a really ingenious & innovative Culture Manager—Kultur-Senator is the customary term—to maximize the immense potentials of its museums, galleries, theatres, zooz, parks, and other amenities for the future.
That anyone could consider closing down the historic & beautiful Theater des Westens—currently under threat—is appalling. But the Metropole/Admirals Palast—long the venue for operettas—is now nothing more than a haven for cabaret. And the building itself—still handsome underneath the grime—looks a wreck.
Opera in Danger in Goethe's Weimar!
But Berlin is hardly the only German city with financial woes. Unemployment is uncomfortably on the increase. Welfare payments, as a result, are mounting.
[How this makes it possible for unemployed former East Germans to vacation in Arizona or China is a puzzle to me. At the Grand Canyon or in Monument Valley, I often hear more German than English.
[On the River Li, in Guilin, most of those I met were from former East German towns where West Germany's Treuhand closed down their factories after Die Wende.
[I think Arizona should be declared Germany's Seventh New Land, after the six East German states became part of the Federal German Republic.]
But however the increasingly limited tax-money may be spent, Culture is at the bottom of most municipal budgets.
In historic Weimar, where Johann Wolfgang Goethe raised German Theatre to a High Art—not only as a poet, with his dramas, but also with his skills as a man of theatre—its Musiktheater is about to be closed.
MARLENE & IMAX--Giant films on street named for Screen-Giantess. Photo: ©Glenn Loney /INFOTOGRAPHY/ 2001.
This doesn't actually mean that Weimar's handsome Jugendstil National-Theater will be shut down. Its drama-ensemble will remain.
But its opera, operetta, and musical ensemble is under urgent threat. It may soon have to give way to the opera ensemble of Erfurt, the capital of the State of Thuringia.
Historically and culturally, Weimar ought to be the capital.
Erfurt was not even administratively part of Thuringia in the last century. And it has never been a great center of the arts, though I have admired its puppet-theatre & cabaret ensemble at the Waidspeicher.
As is sometimes said to those asking directions: "Erfurt? Oh, that's near Weimar."
Dagmar Schipanski, Thuringia's Kunstminister—can you imagine, say, the State of Iowa having a Minister for the Arts?—has to make drastic economies in the State's Arts Budget.
An obvious solution—as Weimar & Erfurt are so near each other—is to consolidate their respective theatre-ensembles. Her proposal is to center Music-Theatre on Erfurt, and Dramatic Theatre on Weimar, which certainly has earned that honor from Goethe & Schiller, former citizens.
This is hardly an innovative proposal. Already a number of cities in the Ruhr Area—which built large theatres and opera-houses in the Boom Years of the Fifties and Sixties—have consolidated, with opera, drama, and dance ensembles touring a two or three-city circuit.
Where once citizens could expect to see live productions of opera, theatre, and ballet seven nights a week in their local theatres, now the touring ensembles may play only three nights a week on some of these magnificent modern theatres.
Obviously, this is terrible for actors, singers, dancers, musicians, technicians, directors, designers, and arts-managers. The latter will always survive, however, for they can book one-night stands and touring shows into otherwise empty theatres.
This summer Grease and Stomp seemed to have been playing—or soon to arrive—all over Germany and Austria.
In the former West Germany, many expensive and innovative theatres were built after World War II. Cities and towns were proud to show their new theatres—or restored historic playhouses—as symbols of their resurgence after defeat & destruction.
And as symbols of their dedication to Culture & the Arts. Not like the gum-chewing, vulgarian American Occupation Soldiers!
Also, German TV was in its infancy, and German films were shadows of what great German directors once achieved in cinema.
So a night out at the theatre was often the best way to spend an evening. One was entertained and edified. One also had a chance to dress up and socialize with friends and neighbors in an often glittering ambience, which most homes could not hope to echo in those times.
Now, the lures of new films, recent videos, and surfing websites on the Internet have cut heavily into the former solid theatre public. Ticket-prices have gone up, and some take-home-pay envelopes have shrunk—or disappeared entirely.
In East Germany—even in relatively small cities such as Cottbus and Gera—impressive theatres were constructed in the prosperous years of the late 19th century and befcore World War I.
I was recently in Gera, which has an immense Jugendstil theatre, which looks like a design of Fellner & Hellmer, who created lavish Art Nouveau theatres in major European cities, as well as Buenos Aires' Teatro Colon.
Cottbus' lovely theatre is closer to Art Deco, but no less impressive. Neither city is all that large, however, so it is admirable that busy seaons of new productions have been confidently announced.
Even in Nordhausen—a small city near Weimar & Erfurt—its handsome Neo-Classic City Theatre is being extensively restored and improved. And a season which would do Lincoln Center proud has been planned.
The truth is that most German theatres—even in smaller towns and cities—offer more productions per seasaon than most American Regional Theatres. Certainly more than the Vivian Beaumont in Lincoln Center.
And more varied repertories, as well. But then they also have contracted ensembles, instead of jobbing-in actors for each new show.
The unpleasant truth—both in Germany and in America—is that there are increasingly more evening entertainment diversions available, especially to the potential younger audience.
To surf the Internet or enjoy some Hip Hop—or smoke a joint—in a small club doesn't cost as much as an opera or theatre-ticket. And you don't have to dress-up either.
The Holocaust Happened Here:
Nordhausen's KZ Dora & Wernher von Braun—
Jewish-American POW Slave-Labor at Berga!
Recalling the Theatre of War, notably the European Theatre—as they used to call it on the 6 o'clock news during the Second World War—I made a pilgrimage to Peenemunde in July.
Until recently, these ruins of the Nazi V-2 Rocket Program were presented not in that light, but as the First Step of Unmanned Space-Flight. With the promised payments to surviving Slave Laborers and their heirs, however, it is now time to acknowledge what really was going on in the tunnels at Peenemunde.
The following week, I went to Nordhausen, but not just to look at its theatre. I took the Harz Mountain Narrow-Gauge Railroad—Harzer Schmallbahn—to the summit of the Brocken. This is where Goethe—who didn't have a train available then—imagined the Witches' Sabbath in Faust. There's also a monument to Heinrich Heine on the summit.
The next day, I took the Schmallbahn only three stations from Nordhausen to Krimdirode, where it was only a short walk to the remains of Concentration Camp Mittelbau Dora.
After Allied bombing-raids almost immobilized rocket-research and V-2 construction in Peenemunde, the project was rapidly transferred to KZ Dora and the honeycomb of immense tunnels in the hard stone of Kohnstein Mountain.
Here Wernher von Braun—whose Germanic profile later was to appear on American postage-stamps—was chief of a staff of scientists & engineers who continued work on the V-1, V-2, and a projected rocket which, it was hoped, would devastate New York City and Washington, DC, in revenge for the Allied bombings.
The actual work was done—under hideous conditions—by thousands of slave-laborers, initially imported from KZ Buchenwald, near Goethe & Schiller's beloved Weimar.
The brutalized, starved, and dying workers were overseen by a large staff of SS officers & men. The object, as determined by Albert Speer's Armament Minstry, was to work the men to death—and then replace them with new victims.
Speer was not hanged at Nuremberg. He served a term in Spandau Prison, but, unlike Rudolf Hess, was finally released to enjoy his sunset years in peace.
KZ Dora is not well known for several reasons. American experts did not want the public to know very much about what was found there.
When General Patton's Third Army arrived in Thuringia—from which the Americans had to pull back, so Stalin's troops could take over—US Army engineers knew very well what they had to retrieve from Dora's tunnel-systems.
They took all the assembled V-2 rockets, all the plans, and Von Braun and other key engineers back to the United States. Some now believe Von Braun should also have been hanged at Nuremberg, but at that time, American scientists realized they had to capitalize on the German rocket expertise.
Von Braun got us to the Moon. And himself onto our postage-stamps…
The US Army's mistake was not to take all the engineering staff and all the spare parts of as yet unassembled V-2s as well. The Soviets took what was left and were able to reconstruct and recreate most of what the Germans—and now the Americans—knew about rocketry and fuels.
When the Russians had removed what they needed—including all heavy equipment—they dynamited the tunnels, especially the Entrance Stollen A & B. So no one had access for some years.
In late l944, KZ Dora was under threat, as Peenemunde had been. So it was decided to construct a new tunnel-system in Saxony, some distance from Dora, but also to be staffed with slave-laborers from Buchenwald.
This work was begun in a stone mountain similar to the Kohnstein—that could, ironically, also be spelled "Cohn"—in Berga am Elster.
I went there to photograph what is remaining. Not very much, as trees have covered the tunnel-entrances and the prisoner barracks are gone.
The Berga project—begun desperately in the closing months of World War II—has received very little attention. Except from those few who survived.
The ghoulish irony of the Nazi's V-2 Project is that manufacturing the rockets cost more human lives than the rockets were able to kill in attacks on England and Western Europe!
The even more ghoulish irony about the secrecy surrounding the work at Berga—which was a dependency of Buchenwald, not a separate KZ—is that the SS deliberately violated the Geneva Convention and force-marched American Soldier POWs to Berga to work until they dropped.
An added horror is that Jewish-American soldiers—or those who "looked Jewish" to the SS NCO, Erwin Merz—were singled out for the most humiliating and hardest work.
There will soon be a major American documentary film about Berga. And a book as well.
Berga today is a quiet little village, with an ancient oak in its center. It is in an area of great natural beauty, an ideal spot for summer holidays.
The tunneled mountain is overgrown with evergreens. Only a smokestack remains from the American camp.
The local cemetery still has three graves of slave-laborers who died here. One "Unknown" grave, with its wooden cross, honors all who died. American POW bodies were exhumed after the war and retrned to the US.
There is a Holocaust Memorial at the foot of the great oak, but it needs some attention.
Which I hope it will soon receive, as Berga is apt to be overwhelmed with American visitors once Oscar-winner Charles Guggenheim's documentary film is released and the book about Berga is published.
The people I met there were most friendly and helpful. I was shown every important site, most of which I could never have found on my own.
But Berga am Elster—the Elster is the local river, into which excavated tunnel stone was dumped—is hardly ready for the wave of interest which is about to sweep over it.
The State and the German Federal Govenment should—as has been done long ago with KZ Dora and Buchenwald—help Berga and its citizens develop the historical sites for potential tourists. And do it in a way that will not turn the entire village into a Holocaust Memorial. [Loney]
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