Useless eaters

I can’t stop thinking about that phrase I saw on a poster in Berlin’s Topography of Terror museum.

I’m in Berlin now. After a few lazy days in Paris, I felt re-energized and ready to tackle a city I’d wanted to visit for a long time. While Berlin offers world-class museums, restaurants and shopping, it’s the history I was eager to explore.

There’s so much of it. And it’s so, so dark.

If there’s anything in Berlin that has to do with Nazis, the Stasi, the GDR/DDR, or the Berlin Wall, I’ve probably seen it over the past four days. Berlin does not make any bones about its brutal history, and it’s all laid bare in way that — I presume — strives to make us learn from our mistakes so we’re not bound to repeat them.

The Topography of Terror’s exhibits were particularly comprehensive and powerful. Built on land that was once home to Gestapo and SS headquarters…


this (free) museum chronicles Hitler’s rise to power, WWII, the final days of the war and its aftermath. You could spend an entire day on the ground floor alone (there’s a library in the basement) looking at photos, film footage, documents, and listening to audio files.

It was all horrible, and sad, and haunting. But, for whatever reason, the thing I keep thinking about is a piece of propaganda that referred to the Nazis’ marginalized populations as useless eaters — as a rallying cry for the mass extermination of humans.

I’d never heard that phrase before. So I Googled it to see if it’s commonly used. Turns out, there’s a music group called Useless Eaters. Hmmmm…

Anyway, as I combed through the exhibit that showed again and again what can happen when people are influenced by fear and hatred and power … so we don’t repeat it (!!!) … I just kept thinking about all the hateful stuff I hear/see/read … 70 years later (!!!) … that’s so divisive and dehumanizing.

Have we learned anything? Are we doing better?

This haunts me too. In a sea of people raising their arm in a Nazi salute, one man bravely and defiantly stands with his arms crossed…


I don’t remember if the caption next to this photo identified the man by name, but I do remember that it was not known what happened to him. However, just like the Jews, and the Roma, and the Sinti, and the homosexuals, and the mentally and physically disabled, and anyone the Nazis could classify as “other”, my guess is that he would’ve been deemed a useless eater too.

On the same piece of land as the Topography of Terror, there’s a substantial stretch of Berlin Wall that still stands…


as well as the ruins of basement offices from the Gestapo/SS headquarters…


As much as I’m making Berlin sound like a buzz kill, I actually really love it. It’s not pretty like Munich or other cities/towns I’ve visited in Germany, but there’s a gritty realness here that I find refreshing and (I know I’m not sounding this way) hopeful.

And there are so many students here right now! From their accents/languages, it’s clear that they’re from all over the world. We’re all making the rounds to the same must-sees, and I feel like I’m just as much of a student as they are … except my feet are probably hurting a lot more. 🙂

I’ll post more photos in the coming days and share some things about Berlin that I think make it special.

In the meantime, just to end on a positive note, there’s this:


This too:


And this:


(Whispers: I did some fun stuff too)

More to come from Berlin!