Today we mark the anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe (VE Day). Looking back, with seventy-four years of hindsight, at the most destructive war in human history and the toll it took. Not only on the men and women in uniform who fought to rid the world of National Socialism, but also the non-combatants – civilians caught up in the misery, bloodshed, and discriminate slaughter – the collapse of infrastructure, and the ruination of some of Europe’s greatest cities.
Despite successive Allied bombing and a Soviet invasion reducing the then Nazi capital of Berlin to a moonscape of smouldering debris, its nearby sister city of Potsdam survived in a more complete state. Although with its population and buildings far from untouched.
The footage featured in this post, from July 1945, opens with shots of civilians on foot moving along the AVUS speedway between Berlin and Potsdam, before cutting to the remains of the Potsdam Stadtschloss and stables, the relatively intact Nauener Tor, the burnt out Altes Rathaus, and Soviet troops marching past the Orangerie. Proof of a once magnificent Prussian jewel, distressed and deformed – much different to the restored city that can be visited today. Refugees, civilians, and military personnel can be seen wandering among the ruins and newly positioned Cyrillic signs. Bicycles and carts appear. A female Soviet MP directs traffic.
Seventy four years on from VE Day, we have the opportunity to observe and reflect from a great distance – to learn from the stories of the millions who struggled in the aftermath of this great war to survive, to thrive, and to recollect the horrors in the hope of building a more peaceful Europe.
Peace is always fragile. It is a garden that requires tending with debate, with disagreement, with resolution, but also with remembrance. It is a garden nonetheless, that with the right attention, can provide beautiful flowers.