Berlin, Germany. – Europe Road Trip

Day 11 – Berlin

As it turns out, Jack has realised that I am rather short. So pretty much any seat I sit on in the van, including the toilet, I can’t reach the floor.

042-IMG_5002We visited the tourist office to collect a map to draw on so that we could plan our days in Berlin properly. They are currently in the process of taking down something from the UEFA champions league so taking any decent pictures of the Brandenburg gate was basically out of the question. One thing I knew from the research that we had to do was go and book to go up the Reichstag building; this had a queue that would have taken about an hour and a half so we didn’t do that. Instead we did a general walk around the town to see some of the main picture points and decided to go to one of the out of town museums in the afternoon. Our walk included one of the Berlin wall memorials with the iconic white crosses; one of them had a picture and brief description about the man who was murdered. The whole idea of the wall is still completely crazy to us and we didn’t realise the enormity of what we want to learn about in Berlin.

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We then headed round the corner to one of the smaller memorials for the genocide of all of those classed as ‘gypsy’. This memorial itself is rather simple and beautiful and is exactly what it set out to be; a place for reflection.

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Both of us are amazed by the amount of free information and boards around Berlin there are. Personally, I really believe that it’s the way it should be. Not like in the UK, where they say ‘Something really really important happened here. If you give us £30 each for a day ticket, we’ll tell you about it!’ I think Germany have realised that there is so much important history, especially in Berlin, that should never be repeated, they want to educate as many people as possible. Even if you do have to pay, we’ve ended up with student tickets, which are so nominal it’s a bargain for the information you receive. Maybe that’s something they’ve learnt from Hitler. If you catch them young enough and educate them that systematically murdering 11 million people is a bad thing, then you might stand a chance of history not repeating itself. However, it does make simply walking from one place to the next impossible without stopping to read something.

Next up was Gendarmenmarkt Square, where the matching Franzoesischer Dom and the Concert Hall are. There was a sting duo playing outside the concert hall which made the whole experience rather grand.

There are two out of town museums that we wanted to go to so we thought we would get one of them out of the way today, so we headed to the Russian Museum in Karlhorst, not know that it wasn’t open on Mondays. This was the last straw, we admitted defeat, went food shopping, Jack finally got a currywurst and we headed home.

Day 12 – Berlin

Today we were much more productive, so I hope you’re sitting comfortably as this entry is going to be long. We walked into town a different way, following the old wall, it’s amazing the places it just randomly chopped in half, including a well-used park and even a graveyard. There was also a memorial for a Gunter Litfin who was the first person shot crossing the wall at the river.

We were in the queue for the Reichstag at 8am to book, which meant we only had to wait 10 minutes and then we were in town before all the rest of the tourists. This proved very useful when taking pictures at bot h the Brandenburg gate and Checkpoint Charlie, two of the main checkpoints (funnily enough) along the old wall.

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Both were pretty deserted so we even spent some time reading some of the boards by Checkpoint Charlie which tell you more information about the wall itself, how many people died and some stories about people getting caught being smuggled out in embassy cars. One particularly sad story was about Peter Fechter who got injured by gun wounds climbing the wall. The week previous a guard had been fatally shot trying to help an injured person, so no guard from either side was willing to risk their life to save his. Instead, they all spent an hour watching him bleed to death, before finally removing his body.

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Just up from Checkpoint Charlie was a very interesting large flag calling out Vladimir Putin. I believe that to have such a note in a place like Berlin only suggests what the rest of the world is thinking about his actions.

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On a happier note, we did find one of the many photo booths around the city, so got our photo strip done and then took a selfie with one of the many bears.

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Our first museum of the day was the Jewish Museum. Now I love a bit of artist babble and I could completely get the three different pathways that were set out by the design of the building. During the war, Jewish people took one of three axis; the axis of exile, the axis of the holocaust and the axis of continuity. Along the axis were belongings from families or singular people with a description of the item and what happened to the person. Some of them were very moving stories, including the man who donated a rug, which was one of the only things he had with him in the hole in the ground where he spent 15 months. The upstairs museum took you through the history of Judaism right up until modern times, which was very interesting in itself. We even added our pomegranate wish to the fruit of life tree on which I wrote; peace, understanding and respect.  Part of the museum takes you through World War 1, and the attempted removal of Jewish soldier’s graves afterwards in Germany; World War 2, and where all of the Jews moved to pre, post and during the war, along with lots of artefacts including a roll of fabric with the ‘Jude’ cross on ready to be cut out. The last part of the museum showed the trials of the SS and who was left in the Government. Overall, I feel this is the most annoying part of the whole thing. Barely anyone involved with the systematic murder of so many people were tried and found guilty. Those who were normally got stupid sentences and were then let out early.

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This anger was further enhanced by the Topography of Terror museum, which again was free and a very long and interesting read. It led you through the rise of Nazi’s to power and then chronologically what happened next. The final part of this was the trial and sentencing, which was basically non-existent. So many of the SS or people involved returned to their high end professions as doctors or lawyers, or went back into government; one even worked for MI5 for a bit before being found out. Plus, to top it all off, there were even SS veteran reunions. The museum showed some pictures taken during these events, of officers joking and laughing around together.

Our final stop for the day was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and a quick visit to its information centre. The memorial itself is quite spooky with its sloping floor and high rise blocks. Standing in the middle the blocks were about three times the size of me and you can only see in straight lines. Naturally, Jack tried to play hide and seek and sneak up on me! The information centre has a fascinating collection of memoirs written by people in the concentration camps, along with stories from whole families, most of whom were murdered.

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Jack picked up another bratworst and we headed home. He’s going to have turned into a sausage by the time we leave Germany.

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