As you walk around each city or country you visit, you tend to find that memorials to certain events or people not only become the points of interest you remember but also tourist attractions and beautifully designed installations to make people think!
When I first started writing this post, we had just commemorated the 18th Anniversary of 9 /11 in New York City. I looked through my pictures I had taken when I first visited, and remembered how I felt when I had left the 9/11 Museum. I have to say its one of the most moving museums I have ever visited, and the meaning behind each of the two towers water pools ‘National 9/11 Memorial’ makes your skin cold.
I was lucky enough to visit New York when it was the 14th Anniversary, the Freedom Towers shadow present from all angles of New York as a constant reminder. The American flags individually placed in each of the names one just as important as the other. Roses representing the birthday of the person. These personally touches, these small acts of remembrance keep these people alive throughout the world.
The meanings behind the Ground Zero memorial fountains;
Another memorial which left me speechless was in Budapest, Hungary. Located along the River Danube there is a a memorial called “Shoes on the Danube”. The memorial is dedicated to the thousands of people that were executed by firing squad along the Danube riverbank during WWII. Their lifeless bodies fell into the river or some were even pushed, leaving behind only the clothes and shoes that they were forced to remove before they were brutally murdered. The worse thing is they were not just adults, but also children and women. The shoes installation are all sizes, flats, heels, and some not even having pairs. Some had flowers in when I visted.
Memorials like “Shoes on the Danube” and the 9/11 memorial are present all around the world, commemorating the innocent lives taken in some of the world’s darkest periods of history, tragic events and cruellest acts. Making the time to see such places of commemoration on our travels is so important to ensure we always remember the lives lost and the courageous heroes. More often than I’d like, many memorials also make us understand that there are many evils at play in our great wide world, but above that how strong we, as local or global communities, can be when we come together.
When I travel, I don’t want to see the beautiful and clean, the happy and peaceful. I want to see what has shaped this countries history and the people, be it bad, ugly or upsetting, I want to understand how each place has moved on from their past and how, in doing so, their history has shaped each society into how it exists today. Take Berlin… the city when I visited a few years ago still had a sense of embarrassment due to their history, when actually the history is what has shaped them to come out and developing the city to be something new, exciting and a new era for Germany and its capital. We visited the Berlin Wall which holds so many memories for Germany still. I also visited the The Murdered Jews of Europe Memorial Installation, which has had mixed reviews with people taking pictures posing on it, when it is actually a very emotional and meaningful art piece to commemorate the Jewish people from the World War. I had a picture within it, I want to show people i have been and understand the reason behind this, to spread the word and understanding of the reasons these memorials are needed, to remember. Walking through this memorial is an experience like no other, the memorial is unique and the feelings it evokes are at once scary and beautiful the different heights of the grave blocks, the deeper in you get the feeling of drowning can be seen from how big the blocks become representing a cemetery and the depths creates a lost atmosphere… not to be missed.
When I learn about all of these different histories, right as I’m standing in the places that these tragic events took place, it transcends another key reminder; to always keep an open-mind and to be as kind as possible to each and every person I encounter. You never know why people have visited the site, who is visiting the site, some are there due to the meaning behind it, some may not understand but be there to learn.
These sites are also reminders, to those that truly engage during their visit, that the world is far from perfect. Things that will make you feel uncomfortable and some things that might even make you want to cry are sometimes the most memorable and touching parts of your trip. I visited a concentration camp in Austria (Mauthausen-Gusen) a few years ago. We watched a video before we arrived, it went from a happy, joking and friendly coach, to a silent one within the 2 minute video. We drove through the remaining gates we had just seen on the video and my stomach turned. For the next hour we were able to walk around, go inside buildings, read the information around it. I couldn’t last any longer, but I don’t regret going. It makes it real!
My final memorial is in the form of a house, Found on the canals of Amsterdam Anne Franks Hiding house Museum is open to the public, and created 3 hour ques every day if you don’t book a ticket in advance. It is such a personal insight into the lengths selfless people went to to hide friends who were being targeting just because of their religion in the World War II. The rooms of the hidden Annex which was hidden behind a bookcase are still preserved at the Anne Frank House, though empty, they still breathe the atmosphere of that period of time. Quotations from the diary, historical documents, photographs, film images, and original objects that belonged to those in hiding and the helpers illustrate the events that took place here. What hit me was there is still an image of Queen Elizabeth II on the wallpaper in Annes room showing that this kind of history happened in the same life time as our queen. As well as the deeply personal height marks of Anne and her sister. Amsterdam may have a lot of other aspects to draw people into its grasp, but this memorial is the most important!
Visiting these memorials is a reminder for me of how fortunate I am to be able to travel to see such places and, similar to most of you, how fortunate I am to live a life without ever having to experience something as evil as the Holocaust, Terror attacks or World War. Most importantly, it’s about mourning those lost and trying to wrap my head around, but never, ever truly grasping, what horrors they must have gone through.
This is why I like to share my pictures of these memorials, it spreads the emotions in some ways but mainly the message of us all being connected through the history of this world. From the Danube shoes to the 9/11 attacks in NYC, we all come together through hurt, and all understand in some ways the loss of someone we love.
To most of us, memorials are built as a special place to remember the lives of those we’ve lost to evils that we will never comprehend. To me, memorials also stand as a symbol that no matter how dark a history (of a place or group) may be, when people educate themselves and stand together to make a change, that’s when societies and the perspectives they share can slowly make the world just a little less imperfect.