A couple of weeks ago we traveled to Berlin to see some sights, eat lots of food and learn lots of history.
Being a country bumpkin who finds cities rather noisy and full of concrete, a camping trip is my usual choice of holiday. I do, however, love going to museums to learn about history and other cultures and seeking out independent cafes and pubs that serve delicious food.
Berlin, although many buildings are relatively new, is steeped in history, especially the dark and scary kind. I knew little of the city other than it was once divided by a wall, was once the power hold of Hitler, the SS and the Gestapo and is known for the graffiti that covers many buildings and empty spaces.
Ian, my step father, is a bit of a Hitler fanatic (by this I mean interested in his reign and WWII, not actually liking the man!) and he spent several years working in construction in Germany. This meant he could give us a quick over view of what to look for, what to eat and a lot of history about the country. Oh, and some useful phrases such as ‘Can I have one beer please?’
We awoke at 3am to travel to Manchester airport and fly to the city. On arrival, we followed the masses to the train station which was a short walk from the airport. Within 15 minutes of arriving in the country, we were stumped, though. The ticket machines for the train, although available in English, had trouble taking our coins and 3 debit cards. The credit card worked in the end, though.
The next challenge was working out which stop to get off at. We didn’t have a map, no data on our phones and each station started with ‘Berlin’ in the name, which wasn’t helpful. In the true nature of tourists, we decided to just follow the crowds so departed the train when everyone else did. After leaving the train we sought help from an information point, picked up a map and started heading towards our hotel. We should have got off a stop earlier but we didn’t mind the walk; we got to see more by doing so.
After a stop for waffles drowned in chocolate and cream, we found the hotel and enjoyed a nap before heading out to some local pubs for beer and food.
The hotel had free WiFi so we downloaded some useful Apps apps and planned our days in the mornings, taking advantage of Trip Advisor and Google Maps. Berlin by Triposo is the app we pretty much used to plan the whole 4 days. Although the descriptions of the m museums, attractions, eateries and pubs were poor, the map was comprehensive, had all the tourists attractions pinpointed and worked without WiFi.
After 2 days of reading the MANY interpretation boards and museums about the Berlin Wall, I can confidently say I now know a lot about its history. I find its history equally fascinating and rather disturbing. It wasn’t even that long ago. Seeing sections of the wall, visiting Check Point Charlie and learning about the contrasting lives of normal people both sides of the wall was incredible. Before the holiday I knew nothing about this important part of European history. If you don’t know much about it, I can’t recommend studying it (reading or visiting), enough.
Remaining sections of the Berlin Wall at the East Side Galleries.
Famous graffiti on the Berlin Wall.
We visited the site of the Gestapo headquarters and learnt about the terrifying rise of Hitler, the Gestapo and the SS at the insightful and free Typography of Terror museum. Sections of the Berlin wall stood in their original positions on ground level, just above the ruined Gestapo headquarters; both reminders of the two different yet similar times in Berlin’s history.
Schnitzel for me and Bratwurt for Dave
The famous Siegessäule monument rises high above the Tiergardens, the large woodland park in the centre of the city. The goddess of Victoria can be seen from such a distance and we climbed the inside of the monument to get a closer look at her. The views across the city from the top were amazing; well worth the 2 euros to get in!
Selfie with the Goddess of Vistoria at the top of the Siegessäule monument.
Wanting to learn more about the city, we visited the Story of Berlin museum which was interesting but quite hard-going. The museum walks you through the last 800 years of Berlin’s history but we got rather confused and there was a LOT to read. I think it may be the translation from German to English as I found it difficult to follow. The visit was definitely worthwhile, though because the museum price included a guided tour of the nuclear fallout bunker that was built several blocks beneath the shopping mall above in the 70’s in fear of the nuclear threat from the Soviet Union. The nuclear bunker was insane! The description of how it would operate in the case of a nuclear threat was terrifying. The bunker could fit 3000 people, managed by 16 wardens and the whole place was filled with bunk beds 4-beds high. No room to move, no privacy and just 4 toilet blocks between everyone. The temperature would rise to 40c and water supplies were limited. The bunker would be able to sustain its inhabitants for 2 weeks and no more. At the time, it was though 2 weeks was long enough for the radiation and dust to settle above ground. If the inhabitants survived the two weeks, they would emerge above ground but would be surrounded by the enemy as they, at the time, occupied the rest of Germany. Apparently, social experiments took place in one of the other 21 bunkers built below Berlin and apparently the experiments had to be halted after just a few days. Luckily none of the bunkers have been used. I would rather get blasted by the nuclear bomb than risk two weeks down there.
The layers of beds are folded and have never been used (thank god!).
The 4-deep bunk beds can be just made out in the dim light of the nuclear fallout bunker.
The Memorial To The Murdered Jews of Europe is vast and dominates 4.7 acres of the city with 2711 huge slabs of concrete. Their representation is written in detail on this website which is worth reading but I found it difficult to put into my own words for the sake of this post. Walking among the slabs that vary in height made me feel a bit uneasy, which is what the artist, Peter Eisenman, intends.
On our last day we spent a few hours in the fascinating DDR museum, learning about life on the East side of the Berlin Wall during the reign of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) between the end of the WW2 in 1945 to the fall of the Wall in 1990. The multimedia museum gives a good insight into the lives of East German residents in a socialist society. From my short spell of education, I formed the opinion that their lives were extremely restricted and individuality was difficult to express. Life was dull yet there was virtually no one out of work and everyone had good opportunities to gain secure jobs that paid well. I came away keen to learn more and really recommend the museum to anyone intrigued by East Berlin history.
Extremely sleepy from walking for miles, reading tons of information, learning about so many new things and nursing bellies full of German food, we headed to the airport to return home.
Berlin is such an interesting city with so much history, even if the majority of the buildings have been built in the last 70-or-so years. If I wrote about everything we managed to fit into our 4 days there, this post would be much much much longer! It’s a great location for a short city break and I’m sure we will go back to lean some more history, in the future.