Published: November 2nd 2007October 25th 2007
Berlin is a strange place, not exactly what I had been expecting, but defintely a blast, although our visit was rather brief. The effects of the wall are still clearly evident, despite the wall being almost completely physically non-existent, the vast vacant blocks across the city centre give Berlin a sparseness; a desolate and empty atmosphere that we haven´t really experienced anywhere else in Europe so far. The wall fell in 1989, fell isn´t really the right word is it? It was pushed. Yet Berlin still felt, if not just like a warzone, then like the immediate aftermath. Buildings are still being reconstructed, the skyline is a collage of cranes, scaffolding and semi-complete structures. However, despite the rather dull and depressing imagery that i have just conveyed, Berlin has a real energy and freedom that we really enjoyed, as well as cheap beer and cheap sausages.
We stayed in a hostel called Lette´m´Sleep, which was pretty cool, improved dramatically by the presence of these four cool American´s staying in our dorm (Jimmy, Billy, Varun? sorry dude I forget names easily, that could be wrong, and Miranda), the first people we´ve met in European hostels who actually possess
the power of speech, let alone who actually socialize with other travellers. We hung out with them of a night in our dorm, using our specially adapted windowsill as our fridge to chill our 50 euro cent longnecks (that´s less than a dollar to you guys back home), sampling the local specailties; Schofferhoffer, Becks (the real Becks, not the crappy Australian version) and an array of others that are forever lost in the hazily distorted and drunkenly blurred memories that i have of those two nights in Berlin. We even played cards, although the pack didn´t have anything below the 9´s, which made for interestingly revised rules. If any of you end up reading this, hope your travels/studies are going well, we had fun, you guys are cool.
We didn´t really see much in Berlin, we went to see the remnants of the Berlin Wall, and saw an interesting outdoor exhibit (topography of terror) on the history of the Nazi´s, set in the ruins of the old Gestapo headquarters, a shame it was about an outdoor exhibition though cos it was about 5°C so we left without seeing it all cos we were freezing our arses off. We
The entrance to Sachsenhausen, where the prisoners began their time of torment.
missed out Checkpoint Charlie (the old American checkpoint), aparently theres not much left of it anyway. We looked for the site of Hitler´s bunker, but we couldn´t find it, that´s aparently because its just a tiny plaque in the gutter, obviously Hitler is something the Germans are still a little ashamed of, and plus I don´t even think he deserves that much. Although, does remembering an evil man glorify him or shame him, and does failing to remember excuse him? If it is right that we should never let the holocaust be forgotten, then should it not also be right that we should not let Hitler be forgotten. Perhaps if that plaque was bigger, we wouldn´t have let Hitler´s favourite protege, George W. Bush become president? Sorry thats a bit random but it just made me think. On that note, our next trip in Berlin was off to Oranienburg, home of Sachsenhausen, the ´model concentration camp´.
This was my second time in one of these horrid places, and, although Sachsenhausen was not as brutally shocking as Neuengamme (i think that was what the other one was called, near Hamburg), it was still a bone-chilling and deeply saddening place
This phrase is written on the entrances to concentration camps. I doubt that there was much truth to it in those dark times.
to visit.Sachsenhausen was one of the first camps built in Germany in 1933, it was used as a training camp and a model for the ones that were to follow later on, as the number of people the Nazi regime imprisoned grew ever larger. Many thousands of people, mainly Jews, perished here. Gassed, burned, starved, beaten, shot, hung, medically-experimented on and more, the enormity of such horrendous and arbitrary atrocities is overwhelming in the least. Even as i sit here trying to write about it, i am lost for words. There is nothing i can say that will accurately describe the feelings and emotions that I felt standing on the grounds at Sachsenhausen, let alone to be able to convey the sheer scope of what happened here in those darkest times of humanity. I am sure that you all have some understanding of what happened, and i don´t want to darken your hearts with such morbid details, yet i do not want to simply gloss over a period of such importance in the history of our planet, and the entire human race. there were some aspects of Sachsenhausen that really shook me.
The ´death strips´ that surround
Memorial to the Victims of War and Tyranny
An unknown soldier being cradle din the arms of his weeping mother, the place where an eternal flames burns in memory of those lost in senseless war.
the camp, where, if a prisoner strayed off the concrete pathways whilst being marched to work duties, they would be shot and killed without warning. Not only did the commanders encourage such arbitrary killings, but they promoted them with cash bonuses being given to officers who successfully dealt with such situations. The sleeping quaters too were so crammed, with bunks three tiers high, and many hundreds of prisnors forced to sleep in rooms big enough for 50. The shower rooms were particulrly scary, where prisoners were drowned in the tubs used for foot-washing, or forced to relieve themselves whilst the toilet floors were scattered with the bodies of those that had died in the night. The autopsy rooms and the mortuary were haunting, to say the least, we were the only ones left in the camp when we went down into the cellars where the bodies were kept before cremation, and I definitely experienced a few spine-tingling shudders. But, the most unsettling and horrifying section of the camp was without a doubt the extermination trench, a small, polygonal shaped pit, with a slight sloping ramp leading down to a firing range and gallows. we couldn´t even bring ourselves to walk
I can´t recall what this is called in German, but i´m pretty sure its a peace angel.
down into it. You could only begin to imagine how many people...
The camp was finally liberated by the Soviet Army in the summer of 1945, however by that time, the German´s knew they were fighting a losing battle and had evacuated any prisoners who had the ability to leave, and so only a few thousand of the most disabled and those who were sick and dying remained. You would think that upon discovering such a horrible place, just the shock would deter anyone from repeating these things. But sure enough, within the year, the soviets had converted Sachsenhausen into ´Special Camp No. 7´, merely a concentration camp with a new name, and for the next five years, used the camp to house, torture and kill their own undesirables. It just makes you sick to the stomach. After this the camp fell into disreapir and was rebuilt as a memorial quite recently. Only two of the original sleeping barracks were rebuilt from original materials, and these, sadly, suffered an arson atack in 1993. Just a few days after the visiting Israeli Prime minister Yitsak Rabin had been to the camp, right-wing extremist anti-semites fire-bombed the two reconstructed barracks
a section of the wall that has been preserved, the area that the wall occupied is now marked by a golden line across the city
at Sachsenhausen, almost completely destroying them.
I apologise if i have depressed or upset anyone with what i just wrote, but this stuff really happened, and I agree that we should never stop talking about it, and never let it be forgotten, it is a duty of each and every generation to never allow the mistakes of the past to be repeated. So now I´ve written about Sachsenhausen, I´m not sure whether to end on a sombre note, or to try and cheer you all up again. Well I´ve just realised that this blog is getting a bit onto the long side, so maybe i´d better wrap it up. Berlin was a really fun and interesting place, far too much history to soak up in a couple of days, but from what we saw and experienced, we both agreed that we liked Berlin. The people are amazing and friendly, and liberally minded (not surprising considering that they were practically caged up for 30 years) and plus where else in the world can you get some of the best beer in the world for under a dollar. Oh yeah, that´s right. The Czech Republic.
There are more photos below