Berlin was one city that I anticipated loving and I was not disappointed. As the capital of Germany, Berlin is a city that has so much modern history, from the Wars to the split and subsequent reunification of the city, that my historian self was salivating the moment we drove into the city limits. My family background is also German, so I felt a special connection to my descendants’ homeland.
We stayed in Plus Berlin. The hostel had a massive foyer and bar/dining room, however the rooms were a tight squeeze for 4 adults. The bathroom felt luxurious compared to some of the others I’d stayed in (and at least it was in the room). Overall, it wasn’t entirely unpleasant but neither was it the best of its chain (I cannot praise Plus Florence highly enough, guys!).
Plus Berlin was, however, directly across the street from a local club, as well as the train. This was super helpful (if you remember the name of the stop, of course) after a long, cold day battling the elements to sight see.
First off, I highly, highly recommend taking the Nazi Walking Tour. I’m not sure if it was exclusive to Topdeck tours but it was absolutely fantastic! The guide was very informative (considering he wasn’t a local) and each stop was relevant to the Nazi period of reign. Unfortunately, when we were on the tour it was freezing. No, literally, freezing. It snowed the next day in Berlin. Nevertheless, our guide was considerate of the temperature and didn’t dawdle or talk nonstop. He even stopped to give us the chance to buy a hot drink (there are some delicious hot chocolates in Berlin. I mean heavenly!).
The tour visited the Holocaust Monument, the Reichstag (if you want to tour inside, book months in advance as spots are limited and it is a functioning government building), the original spot of Hitler’s bunker, the Topographie des Terrors and the former site of the Gestapo, Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate and a section of the underground.
The Holocaust Monument is an interesting one (pictured below). It has not been explained by the designer, nor is there any signage listing the rules concerning the monument. The only rule is not to stand on the blocks, out of respect for what the monument represents. It is said that the monument is designed to illustrate what it would’ve felt like once you reached the concentration camps, lost in a sea of people, with no idea of what was happening or to come. However, as I said, it has never actually been explained. It’s open to personal interpretation. As a claustrophobic, I found the monument extremely discomforting. If you went deep enough, those blocks are all that can be seen in all directions.
The original spot of Hitler’s bunker is actually a paved area in the midst of a housing estate in the centre of Berlin. Of course, you can’t actually see the bunker. When the Russian army captured Berlin, after all the celebrations and general carousing, they decided to destroy all trace of Hitler and his regime. By this point in the war, Berlin was already practically reduced to rubble. However, the Russians wanted to deconstruct any of Hitler’s pride and glory. The bunker was initially aerated by attempting to blow it up with bombs, which only blew a hole in the roof (It was a bunker, guys. I mean, honestly, what did they think would happen?). Since that failed, they decided to fill it in with concrete, making the bunker vanish beneath the surface.
Hitler’s office, his greatest prize, was made of expensive, red marble. The red marble was removed carefully and now it lines parts of the underground train system, hence the stop at the underground. I have to admit that it makes quite a statement, when you think about it.
Fun fact: Hitler used Greek architecture as his inspiration in all his buildings as he wanted his accomplishments to be remembered always and the Greek monuments such as the Acropolis are world renowned.
The Brandenburg Gate is such a phenomenal sight, especially if you know the significance. To the German people, the Brandenburg Gate symbolizes their freedom. It had always been a symbol of military prowess. When a battle was won throughout Germany’s history, the returning troops would enter triumphantly through the Gate and celebrations would begin. During the communist rule, and split between East and West, the Brandenburg Gate sat between two barbed wire fences, and on the communist side of the Berlin Wall. It was held hostage, surrounded by guard towers and platoons of troops. Now that Berlin is once again reunited, the Brandenburg Gate sits proudly, freely.
When I visited Berlin, it was the 30th of December and, with New Years Eve fast approaching, the Gate was surrounded by trucks and people setting up the celebrations. My pictures are therefore not that great, unfortunately.
The Topographie des Terrors is an exhibition held on the grounds of the former Gestapo site. The Gestapo, for those who don’t know, was an organisation that dealt in intelligence during Hitler’s reign. They were the guys who did all the torturing and killing of enemies of state. Their headquarters in Berlin was originally a hotel, before they commandeered it for their own purposes. After the war, the building was demolished, however the ruins of the basement is now a tourist attraction.
Beyond the ruins, you can find a portion of the Berlin Wall. There is, of course, the famous painted section of the wall in another part of town. This section, however, has been left exactly as it was the day the wall fell; a drab length of concrete slabs. You can even see graffiti made during those years of segregation.
Though most of the Berlin wall has been destroyed (and sold in pieces to tourists), the people of Berlin wanted a reminder of how monumental the Wall had been. Therefore, they have placed a line throughout the city to trace the length of the wall. It’s a neat tourist attraction, though it’s not really something you can go definitively to see. Like the original barrier, it’s kinda just there.
Checkpoint Charlie was a point of entry between the two sides of Berlin. It is only so famous because of an incident that happened there. There was a dispute as to whether a U.S. diplomat needed to hand over his travel papers to East German guards. Both the Russians and the Americans then rolled out a hundred or so tanks on their respective sides of the checkpoint and a stalemate ensued. Both sides eventually backed down and peace resumed, however Checkpoint Charlie has now became infamous. Today, a museum has been constructed to commemorate that era and the incident. The checkpoint on its own is not that interesting but the museum is fabulous.
Berlin also has a heap of different museums, from a spy museum to the Trabi museum. A trabant (trabi) was a car used in communist Berlin during the years after the wall was constructed. The cars were actually very unreliable and the owner generally learnt to be a mechanic in order to ensure they were able to actually use the car. Today, you can drive one of the cars around the city for a few hours. The cars have had some amazing paint jobs and, I assume, been fixed to ensure they will run. If driving is not your style, pop into the Trabi Museum to learn about the history of this odd vehicles.
There are so many other things to see and do in Berlin. It would take me weeks to list them all. From culture to history to food, Berlin is a bundle of potential. I would definitely recommend visiting some of the historical spots of the city, even if you don’t like that sort of thing normally. It will blow your mind to realise how swiftly the city and its people have recovered.
Food and Shopping
The local delicacies are, of course, sausages. Germany as a whole is known for its sausages. Berlin, however, specializes in curry wurst, a sausage in a flavoursome curry sauce. I tried it myself, opting to buy it from a street vendor rather than a restaurant, and it was absolutely delicious. I can’t guarantee that it’s not fatty but it is worth every kilo gained. Plus, you’re on holidays! Live a little. It’s perfect on a cold day, warms you right up.
There are restaurants and cafés in practically every street of Berlin. In winter, you will find it difficult to find a seat in the cafés as everyone flocks to them for the most delicious hot chocolates and mouthwatering breakfasts.
Shopping was actually not really something I did in Berlin. I mean, of course I bought the requisite souvenir, but I didn’t spend hours strolling in and out of shops (there was just too much to see). If you find your way to Checkpoint Charlie, head down any of the streets intersecting with the checkpoint to locate a variety of stores. If you go around Christmas and New Year, you will benefit from sales. Always a good thing, in my mind.
Due to the amount of history that resonates within the city, it is important to be duly respectful when visiting any of the monuments. Berlin (and Germany) is eager to move forward from the tragedies of its past and, as such, the city is extremely open minded and lenient. However, acting inappropriately will not be treated lightly.
The German people are extremely welcoming. Everyone I came across was so lovely and polite. I never got the “oh, she’s a tourist” stare. If you’ve been travelling, you know what I’m talking about.
As you walk the city, you will find an assortment of interesting statues and monuments. Look out for these bears, however. They are scattered around the city, all painted in a different theme and style. The bear is the mascot of Berlin. I only found four so let me know if you find the rest.
I was delighted to spend two nights in Berlin. My only regret was having to leave and travel onward. By now, the tour was coming to a close. The remaining stop was Amsterdam for the New Year (I have written a review previously on Amsterdam. See here: www.beccaseestheworld.com/cities/amsterdam-a-city-of-mazes).
If you have ever thought of visiting Berlin, or any part of Germany, I would say go for it! Germany is a beautiful country, no matter whether you visit a city or the countryside, and well worth the visit. It is a journey you will not regret taking.