When I visited Berlin for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect. I remember learning about World War II in history class and not really understanding why or how it all happened. I remember being intrigued with all the war stories that I read as I researched content for my essays. I have always loved history and strangely intrigued by the World Wars so this is why we decided to go to Berlin for the weekend. This post will give you a little tour of Berlin – a city that remembers its dark past but continues to look forward to build a bright future.
The Berlin Wall
Can you imagine being separated by your friends and family by a wall? This is exactly what happened on the night of August 12 1961 when the Berlin Wall was erected to separate the Communist East Germany and Democratic West Germany. On Sunday morning of August 13 1961, the people of East Germany were no longer able to transit nor immigrate to the West for search of a better life. Families were physically separated from each other and people who worked in the West and lived in the East lost their jobs.
We were standing on front of this wall exactly 51 years and 1 day after it was erected and it looked like any other wall to me. Since the wall was demolished in 1989, only a portion of the wall is left but it is a great reminder of this dark period in Germany’s history and also demonstrates how much Germany as a country has grown since then. We touched the wall in remembrance and gratitude that we were able to see the Berlin Wall just as a wall and not in its original form.
The Brandenburg Gate
“Tear Down This Wall!!” was famously said by US President Ronald Reagan in 1987 when he urged the Soviet Leader to tear down the Berlin Wall during a speech near The Brandenburg Gate. The Berlin Wall was torn down 2 years later in 1989. I was 6 at the time so I’m sure that I would not have been old enough to understand if I saw it on TV but as I stood on front of the Brandenburg Gate last weekend, I was in awe of this beautiful monument and I understood its importance.
Afterwards, we sat in a little cafe by Brandenburg Gate and examined the photos of the Brandenburg Gate, taken in the 1960s. The men and women glided effortlessly through the gates, women in their elegant corseted gowns and the men in their day suits and top hats. I was getting excited to see more!
Check point Charlie is one of the checkpoints that allowed West German, West Berlin and Western foreigners to enter East Germany. It’s now just a tourist attraction but back then, it symbolised one of the 8 checkpoints that allowed transit from the West to the East, but never the other way around.
The Jewish Memorial
The Monument to the Murdered Jews in Europe was one of the most moving experiences in my life. As we approached the monument, we saw 2711 stone slabs of differing heights and it looked like a little city to me. When the tour guide told us that this was the Monument to the Murdered Jews in Europe, I was surprised and wanted to investigate further. We spent time wandering through the monument, taking different paths, peeking between the stone slabs and then finding another path.
We then returned the next day and ventured underground to the Jewish Memorial which houses various facts, photos and personal accounts of the war. I read the timeline of the war and shook my head at the injustice as I saw photos of people being persecuted just for being a particular race or religion.
I felt a surge of emotion as I read the message on the wall…“It happened; therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say”
I sat in the room where they displayed the known names of the Jews who were murdered during the war and read every single letter that was written by people just before their deaths. Some of the letters were from women who were not much older than I. I also felt chills down my spine as I listened to accounts of men and women who had lived to tell their stories.
One of the stories that left a lasting impression was of a woman who was with her two children and elderly mother. Her youngest son was placed with the other children. Her oldest son was 11 and almost 12. She confirmed that he was indeed 11 and not 12 and allowed him to go with the younger child to spare him from tough labour. She also asked if her elderly mother could be with the children to care for them. The woman did not know that she was condemning her loved ones to die. She later escaped the death camp but had to live with this forever in her heart.
When I walked outside again and through the grey slabs, I felt something different to what I initially felt when I first saw the monument. The grey slabs felt like a prison and to me represented the death camps where men, women and children were forced to stand there painfully waiting for their fate. I could feel their confusion as I found myself lost amongst these grey slabs.
Others think that the monument represents the start, peak and end of the war and the number of people who died during these times. The stone blocks are slightly off centre, are all the same width but are of different heights. On all four sides of the square, the monument starts off with shorter blocks, no taller than your knees. People have said that this represents the start of the war and the end of the war when the least number of people died. The middle of the monument displays the tallest blocks that people have said represent the peak of the War when most of the lives were lost.
What do you think the monument represents?
I left this memorial feeling sad about what happened but extremely grateful for the way things are now. This memorial will ensure that this dark period in history will not be forgotten nor will it be repeated. I’ll always remember the stories that I read and the family photos that were shared in the Jewish Memorial. Freedom is a blessing!
Berlin is Beautiful
I don’t want you to think that Berlin is just about the dark past. It’s an extremely lively city with such an interesting mix of people and architecture.
There is the absolutely stunning Gendarmenmarkt…
Then there is the Neue Wache, which shows the Käthe Kollwitz (mother and her dead son statue) which was created by a mother who lost her husband, son and grandson in both World Wars. This is also where the remains of the Unknown German Soldier and the victim of a concentration camp is buried. I always pull away from the group when I see something so touching. I could almost feel the pain that this woman felt as she heard about the news of her family members.
On a brighter note, there is also the Berliner Dom which was my favourite building in Berlin and I dare say my favourite building in Europe! We enjoyed gazing up at this beautiful building as we sat on the grass and soaked in some sunshine. We even spotted a wedding party in true fairy tale style!
The Berlin HiFlyer
To top off our trip, we enjoyed a ride in one of the largest helium balloons in the world; the HiFlyer. It was a beautiful clear day and it was nice to enjoy the view from 150m above the ground. We spotted our favourite sites and generally enjoyed the view, especially when I spotted a classy wedding reception on the roof of a building! Berlin – I’ll be back for sure!
What did you think of this post? Would you visit Berlin? If you have already visited, what was your favourite part of the city?