Berlin has it all. From history to striking modern architecture, to open parks and pubs. There’s something for everyone, even you shopaholics will get your fix. The first thing I did when I got off the platform was to look for the red umbrellas – the Sandemans tours as I’ve recommended in posts before were, for Berlin especially, brilliant and we were taken to all the major sights including Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin’s impressive historical market square & home to the city’s famous Berlin University. The square now hosts most major outdoor events in the capital, including the annual Christmas market; historically speaking it was also the site of Nazi book burning rallies in the 20th century and today, a brilliant & thought provoking monument stands nearby the old university library steps. ‘Stands’ was an inaccurate description, as the monument itself can be overlooked & literally walked over. The monument itself is a round circular room underground that can be seen through the glass circle that covers it. If you peer down into the circle, you will see rows of empty selves -symbolic of the loss of knowledge, poetry & wondrous literature, if Nazism had it’s way, would be lost forever …
The square itself is also home to Berlin’s most famous monument – the 18th century neo-classical Brandenburg Gate. The Sandeman tours station there starting point here and although I sound like a stuck record, I really can’t recommend these tours enough (they’re free, though tipping is encouraged) and I enjoyed the tour so much in fact, I paid for a special tour which brought us out from the city centre to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
It was incredibly moving and as I walked out onto the assembly square, I remember thinking back to what my mam had said, years ago, about her own experience in Auschwitz. She told me, that while there – she heard no bird sing, no birds flying over at all really. As if they sensed something dark, an omen to the grim plot of gravel. No bird sang in Sachsenhausen either and despite the movement of time, despite in fact, the surrounding countryside was beautiful, walled by many trees – the place was ugly, the memory still there beneath the surface. I learnt the difference then between a concentration camp & a death camp. Both were horrendous but the death camp offered a little more mercy. Sacsenhausen was the blueprint to all camps that Nazism would build across eastern Europe. Where I stood in the assembly square – 800 people simply collapsed, dying from exhaustion during one morning registration, where all prisoners were aligned and counted before being worked to the bone. It is almost so terrible, it is unbelievable. I didn’t take any photos whilst I was there. It didn’t feel right but I recommend that everyone visit one camp at least once. Out of respect, I suppose but more importantly for personal reflection, for reflection on life and how things can go so terribly wrong.
For History lovers but for all really – it was a moving experience.
Address: Str. der Nationen 22, 16515 Oranienburg, Germany Site: Memorial and Museum Sacsenhausen
While I’m on the subject of history. Another recommendation is Berlin’s Jewish museum. If you were to visit any Jewish museum, choosing the one in Berlin is even more significant. Filled with art and memorabilia. The Museum has many exhibits which span back to thousands of years of Jewish history and culture. The entry was extremely cheap as well and the museum has many interactive exhibits and a online register for those seeking to find relatives etc. I meant one woman on the concentration camp tour and after we got talking, she told me about herself and about how her grandmother came to find out she was a Jew, making (as Judaism goes) her mother and herself Jewish too. When we returned to Berlin that afternoon, I went with her to the Museum and it was a privilege to be a part of her journey – even for the day.
If you’re interested in WWII or Jewish history – you’d be mad not to visit. I’m a huge history buff, so I visit many museums on my travels. This is one I think is worth a shot, even to find out more about the mass migration of people – you can’t help but be reminded of Syria … how history repeats itself.
Address: Lindenstraße 9-14, 10969 Berlin, Germany.
This scrap is a little deep and heavy I know but if it’s your first time in Berlin, like it was mine. There is no escaping history … but have no fear, I’ve plenty of merriment in Berlin to post about … until then
See you Friday.