Berin is a city with a deep history that is still learning how to face its tumultuous past. One of my absolute favorite things we did during our 12-day trip was take a free walking tour called Alternative Berlin. Our guide showed us around cool neighborhoods and areas of Berlin and shared with us not only the history of the city but also how in unique ways Berliners reacted to the events of the day, mainly through street art and graffiti.
East Side Gallery
Although the Berlin Wall was famously torn down in 1989, the East Side Gallery still remains standing and has over the years proudly displayed changing works of thought-provoking art. Many have a political message others have a social message. Here are some of my favorite snapshots.
Food and drink also did not disappoint in Berlin.
Jewish History and World War II
I have always been fascinated by World War II ever since I read about Anne Frank when I was a young girl. We were able to see a number of different sites and memorials that have been dedicated to preserving this horrible history.
My friends Nicolle, Liza, and I had a lively debate about this memorial. This memorial is found in the center of the city, very close to other important Berlin sights such as Brandenburg Gate and Berliner Dom. This memorial takes up the space of about one city block and has many visitors during the day. These blocks of concrete seem to go on infinitely and as you walk through it is very easy to get lost as the pathways undulate.
Both of my friends are Jewish. Nicolle explained that the purposed of the memorial was so that as you walk through the memorial, you feel how the Jews did during the war- they felt consumed, the terror seemed to go on forever, and it was very easy to get lost and lose your friends and family. And certainly, we felt a tiny inch of that as we walked through. But Liza pointed out that the memorial doesn’t do enough. There is no sense of solemnity- children are running around and it seems like it could be a spot where kids might come and smoke or drink. There’s no sign that says “Here is a memorial!” Without having known ahead of time that this was a memorial, we wouldn’t have known what it was. There is no obvious significance of the number of blocks or the layout. And there is some controversy that apparently the same company that provided chemicals that made mass executions by gas possible also helped to fund this government-sponsored memorial.
We decided that as long as the memorial stemmed conversations like ours, it was serving its purpose. Underneath, there is also a small yet very powerful museum. Out of all of the Holocaust-related trips we did, my favorite and most powerful. It was free to the public and was very moving. It told the history of Jewish persecution through a detailed photo timeline, highlighted letters, diary entries, and poems written by Jews in ghettos and concentration camps, showed the stories of Jewish families that were torn apart during the war, and even had a dark room where for about 30 seconds, the life and death of a Jew living in Germany was told with grave importance. This was a thorough and relevant museum that was very emotionally moving.
We also visited the Topography of Terror, a museum that was built where SS headquarters stood. This museum detailed the rise and fall of the Nazi Party. While thoroughly interesting, there was a lot of information and a lot of detail and was just simply not as memorable as the content of the first museum was. What was very interesting to learn here though was that many Nazi generals who were tried after the war, only very few were imprisoned and those who were had sentences that were cut short. Many were able to escape and a few committed suicide while in custody, like Adolf Hitler did.
We also were able to visit Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.
This concentration camp was used as an ideal design for other concentration camps that came later. Many Soviet POWs were kept here and at the end of the war, the Soviets also used this camp to hold their own POWs during the Cold War. This camp has a very complicated history and the way in which it also has transformed from a memorial site to a museum is also very complicated, as different parties on different “sides” have had their hand in creating this memorial site. For example, for many years, only the deaths of Soviet soldiers were commemorated here.
This camp had been mostly demolished so when you enter, it is just a vast open field. Gravel poured in the shape of a rectangle marks the spots where barracks used to stand.
This site is still in progress in becoming a more historical site rather than simply a memorial site. It was difficult at times to see how the camp functioned with none of the original buildings remaining. Still, the site was able to convey the tragic history that had taken place there over the course of two wars. As long as these sites still stand and remind us of our history, as long as they are visited, then their memory will continue to live on.