Postcard from... Berlin


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The Independent Online

London may rue the passing of the Olympics but Berlin has this week been looking back to the very first modern version of the Games which took place in 1896. In that year, the world's athletes gathered in Athens for the first time since antiquity to compete against each other.

Among the most successful were the cousins Alfred and Felix Flatow. The Berlin gymnasts triumphed with Alfred winning a gold. But five decades on, both self-effacing and, by then, elderly cousins met their deaths in the Theresienstadt Nazi concentration camp.

They were hunted down, deported and murdered because they were Jews. This week, two small brass plaques, not much bigger than a matchbox, were affixed onto paving stones outside the sites of their former homes and businesses in Berlin's Charlottenburg district. They recall how the Flatows won Olympic medals for Germany and were killed by the Nazi regime.

There are more than 4,500 such plaques in Berlin recalling how individual Jewish citizens were murdered by the Nazis. They are aptly called "Stolpersteine" – literally stumbling stones – because the visitor "stumbles" across them. Given that a Berlin school and streets are already named after the Flatow cousins, there has been some discussion as to whether the plaques were overdoing it.

The majority verdict is a resounding "no". As one commentator put it: "The plaques show that neither age, modesty, law, order and certainly not Olympic medals could offer protection against Nazi mass murder."