Berlin – History Central
(For more photos from Berlin check out the slide show at the bottom of this post)
This is crazy to think about, but Berlin is the half-way point in my trip. The number one thing I miss after 22 days of travel (besides friends and family) is home cooked food. But putting aside my burning desire for a four course meal, I’m doing all right. I think I picked the perfect amount of time to travel. A month and a half gives you enough time to settle in to the backpacking life, without stretching it to the point where you can’t face another walking tour.
Travelling solo has actually been great. I love being on my own schedule and getting to do and see whatever I want. Solo travel is a very selfish practice when you stop to think about it. I do have moments, often in the evening if I’m bored, when a wave of loneliness will wash over me as I think about all the people I miss from home. But the loneliness never lasts long, before I remember where I am, and the beauty and history of the places I’m visiting overwhelms me.
The giant history lesson
Out of the places I’ve visited so far, Berlin’s history is the most interesting. The city played major roles in the Prussian empire, WWII and the Cold War, so stories literally swell from almost every building, monument and square. I did a walking tour on my first day that took us to a parking lot over the bunker where Adolph Hitler killed himself a week before WWII ended. I was standing there looking at this now unimpressive, grassy car-park, when a wave of realization came and punched me in the gut. All I could think was, history happened here.
And it’s a dark, horrific history. I visited the Berlin Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It’s a field of more than 2000 concrete blocks of varying sizes. The farther you walk into the memorial, the higher the blocks become until there is hardly any light. The ground literally rolls underneath you. I was immediately filled with this ominous sense of dread and oppression.
I spent an afternoon in the free museum underneath the memorial. In a room called the Room of Names, you sit on a bench while the name of a Holocaust victim is projected onto all four walls. A voice reads a brief biography in German and English, and then another name comes up. It was equally hypnotizing and horrific to learn how so many people had died. The guide says you would have to sit in the Room of Names for six years, seven months and 27 days to listen to every biography in the database.
On my last day in Berlin I toured Sachsenhausen, which is a concentration camp about 45 minutes outside of Berlin. I knew I wanted to visit a concentration camp at some point while I was in Europe, so I signed up for a guided tour. I don’t know how to describe the atrocities that occurred at Sachsenhausen without doing those who died there an injustice. It was bitterly cold the morning I visited. All I could think about was how thousands of people had frozen to death, starved or been murdered in the spot I was standing. It is not the happiest of day trips, but I would recommend visiting a concentration camp if you’re in Europe. Seeing first hand what you’ve only read about in textbooks is always worthwhile.
There is a less-somber side to Berlin. I saw tons of street art while touring around, and there was a giant beer garden just a short walk from my hostel. I happened to be in Berlin for Germany’s national holiday, which celebrates the country’s reunification in 1990. There was a big party and concert beside the Brandenburg Tor. It seemed similar to the celebrations we throw for Canada Day. I ate some German currywurst (a spicy sausage) and hung out until my toes froze.
REICHSTAG DOME: The top of Germany’s parliament building features a giant glass dome that you can walk around in and see the city. It’s free! But go early or you will stand in line forever.
THE EAST SIDE GALLERY: The longest stretch of the Berlin Wall that is still standing. Unlike the stretch located near Checkpoint Charlie, this part of the wall has been decorated with street art. Makes a great morning stroll.
NEXT STOP: Prague, Czech Republic