Dark tourism has become an ever-growing area across the world as many visit the macabre historical landmarks that have helped shape our current political economy. Berlin is arguably the home of many of these compelling sites. Whilst in Berlin, I focused on such historical landmarks and their importance to modern day culture. It is brutally evident when walking through Berlin that such dark tourism sites have had a huge affect on the city: both in terms of its economic touristic growth and its socio-political identity. I visited the Stasi Prison, The Holocaust Memorial Site and Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp where I uncovered the reasons behind I felt they were still relevant today.
Around 15 students visited Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in order to further understand the notorious political history of Berlin. The trip proved an interesting experience for both students and visitors.
It is acknowledged as one of the most dehumanizing enterprises in human history: Sachsenhausen Concentration camp provides a sobering and sombre remembrance of Berlin’s past. One of the largest camps of the Reich between 1936 and 1945, around 200,000 people were forced into slave labour by the Nazi regime; many of whom were hung, exterminated, shot, and used for exploitative medical experiments.
As you enter under the clock tower where the Nazis would shamelessly overlook the Jews, the unsettling words entrenched within the gate still read “Arbeit Macht Frei” [work will set you free]; a harsh reminder that the majority of those sent to the camp were “set free” through death. The guide recalled one Jewish man who was tormented by the Nazis into running into a barbed fence where he was told he would be freed.
May 29 1942 marked the beginning of some of the worst scenes at Sachsenhausen: the SS invited high ranked Nazi officials to witness a new installation at the camp and 96 Jews were killed by shooting to show the visitors the camps efficiency. This became known as Station Z – which in March 1943 was turned into a gas chamber which was used until the end of the war.
But despite offering a disturbing outlook of German history, for many, Sachsenhausen remains an important place for people visiting Berlin.
Noach Flug from the International Auswitz Committee said: “The world has learned too little from our history. Remembrance and commemoration must remain the equal task of both citizens and states”.
A visitor on the day also added: “As a German-born 22-year-old from Hamburg, I cannot say I like to come here. It is hard to accept that this happened but it is important to remember that it did” [Sebastian Statistik].
Has tourism gone too far?
Although Sachsenhausen is undoubtedly an important place to commemorate those exposed by the Nazi regime, it was interesting to see how visitors behaved.
As I look around the concentration camp on a snowy day in March, I am startled by many on the grounds of a memorial site throwing snowballs and carelessly messing around.
Second year students Hannah MacInnes and Danielle Griffiths who visited the camp alongside other UCLan students said they were “confused by the behaviour of many at the camp”.
“It’s very important to visit here to understand what happened in Germany to avoid it happening again, but it is also important to treat it with respect, not like many have today”.
Danielle Griffiths added: “I am unsure as to whether the camp should still be here: I think tourism has gone too far”.
On the very grounds of where thousands of innocent people were killed today lies a snowman and a group of teenagers laughing whilst having a snowball fight.
Has tourism gone too far? Whether Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp is a portrayal of tourism going too far or a commemoration of survivors and those who lost their life remains an open question.