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  • Writer's pictureKiah May

Berlin: A City Steeped in History

Hello everyone! Happy May!

I hope that school finished up well and CONGRATS TO EVERYONE ON GRADUATION!

A quick break from my spring break travel adventures as I want to include some other parts of Spain to complete that blog. Sorry its taking so long to document everything!

Instead, join me for a history lesson from my trip to Berlin. Berlin was a fitting end to my travels in central Europe for this trip: a culmination of all the history that I had seen in the place where it started. Having seen Vienna, Bratislava, and Luxembourg and the war history those places contained it was really interesting to see it from the German perspective. But Berlin doesn't just hold WWII history, it was also the "epicenter" of the cold war. I would like to preface this blog by saying that this is what I experienced and learned. WWII and the Cold War are very dense, multifaceted topics that I could never hope to cover in a blog post. If you're curious, there's tons of articles and films about both so I would point you to those as a means of the factual history rather than my personal view and what I saw.

I arrived to Berlin, checked into the hotel and headed out to explore. My hotel was close to the River Spree and the East Side Gallery, a collection of murals and graffiti on a part of the Berlin Wall that is still standing. The murals depict the history of the Berlin Wall. On the other side, the graffiti makes it feel like you're back in the Cold War Era. I will say, however, that the split between East and West is not as stark as I had imagined and in a lot of places it is hard to distinguish where the line actually is. I personally believe that this is due to the way the city has grown and modernized over the years, but I had never been before, so I can't speak to the history of it. While walking the gallery, I also saw the pretty Oberbaum Bridge. The wall is firmly on the East Side here, with the River Spree acting as the "death zone" in this area. I was busy processing the artwork and history so have very few pictures of the gallery itself, but there are tons of pictures online of the murals in the East Side Gallery.

Graffiti on the Berlin Wall

Oberbaum Bridge (River Spree)

I really struggled to find good food in Berlin, something not unexpected from everything I'd heard and read, but it was slightly irritating. The best food I had was dinner on Friday night at an Italian place near the hotel.

On Saturday I did a walking tour about WWII and the Third Reich with Original Berlin Tours (they had a bunch of tours and I would have liked to have done a second but didn't have time). It was both fascinating and appalling to learn about and see the history first hand.

Our tour started with a visit to the Old Jewish Cemetary and the memorial for the Ravensbrook Concentration Camp which sat at the location of the deportation center. The former center for the elderly was converted and at one point the small building held upwards of 55,000 people. Along the entire tour we saw multiple examples of stumbling stones. These are markers of a Jewish person's last chosen place of residence. Similar stones can be seen all over the world--on Monday I encountered some in Segovia, Spain.

Memorial for the Ravensbrook Concentration Camp

Stumbling Stones

The tour then continued to the New Synagogue, the Hotel Adlon, the Brandenburg Gate, the Max Lieberman Haus, and the Reichtag building. These places, like the rest of the city have so much history it is really hard to capture it all. For example, The Brandenburg Gate (and many other places around the city) still have bullet marks on them. The city left them as a way to remind people what happened, in an attempt to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

The New Synagogue

Brandenburg Gate

Reichtag Building

Next up were two memorials: the Soviet War memorial and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The Soviet memorial was similar to the one I had seen in Bratislava, but the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was simply harrowing. It contains 2711 concrete blocks, with differing heights. There is no set meaning for the blocks or the memorial itself so each visitor can decide for themselves. It was a really powerful experience to walk through the blocks and contemplate the horror of the war, especially on the Jews and other oppressed communities.

Soviet War Memorial in Berlin

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Next up, we stopped quickly at the Johann Georg Elser memorial. Johann Georg Elser missed assassinating Hitler by a mere 13 minutes in 1939 and only because the weather didn't allow Hitler to take a plane back to Berlin, rather cutting his speech short to take a train. Here is a more detailed explanation of the attempt:

Johann Georg Elser Memorial

The tour ended at the Topography of Terror which I then visited. The museum showcased all of the ways that the Nazi's committed atrocities as a way for viewers to understand them and learn how to not repeat them--a common theme in Berlin. Next I stopped the Asisi panorama which was amazing! It has a life sized panorama of a piece of the Berlin Wall as it was during the Cold War. The final stop of the day was at Checkpoint Charlie and its museum. The museum was filled with hundreds of stories and so much history. I found it fascinating to read about some of the ways that people tried--and succeed in some cases-- to escape from East Berlin.

Checkpoint Charlie

On Sunday I headed north to a cute bakery called Du Bonheur (the only "restaurant" I tried that I would recommend) and the Berlin Wall Memorial. The memorial is fairly large and encompasses a lot of the history of Bernauer Straße as well. The wall was erected through houses on this street. Eventually the residents were evicted to prevent escapes. I got to see the path of Tunnel 57 (the tunnel through which 57 people escaped to the West) and learned about the history of escape tunnels, of which around 70 were dug, but only 19 were successful. The memorial museum itself was also really interesting and overlooked a reconstructed part of the death zone, rebuilt as it would have been during the Cold War.

Path of Tunnel 57

Reconstructed Death Zone at the Berlin Wall Memorial

I then went to the Berlin Cathedral, St. Mary's Church and the Berliner Fernsehturn (TV Tower) at Alexanderplatz. The Berlin Cathedral has one of the most impressive organs I've seen (maybe only rivaled by the Seville Cathedral--more on this soon!). On the way home I stopped for a classic currywurst, which like most of the food in Berlin, was just okay.

Berlin Cathedral

Organ at the Berlin Cathedral

Berliner Fernsehturn (TV Tower) at Alexanderplatz


Finally, on Monday, I visited the Stasi Spy museum which was stunning and felt like I walked back in history. Some of the building is preserved as it was when it was raided in 1989 and it was incredible to see the extent of the spying that happened in East Germany. Unfortunately, I was so awe-struck by the museum that I didn't take many pictures, so you'll just have to visit it for yourself.

Overall, I really loved Berlin and learning about and witnessing so much history. I did have to remind myself from time to time that a lot of this history is very recent. I think that WWII and the Cold War are incredibly interesting and I hope that I am able to expand my knowledge base on these subjects through more travel in the future.

Wishing you all the best and I'll be home so soon!

Con amor, Kiah

Activity Recommendations:

Original Berlin Tours

Checkpoint Charlie and the Museum

Berlin Wall Memorial

Stasi Spy Museum



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