Berlin 5/6/12 - 8/6/12


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June 10th 2012
Published: June 10th 2012
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Berlin is my first 'solo' jaunt out of the UK, my girlfriend (Gemma) and I decided that we needed to get out and see the world. Gemma has been to Berlin back in 2005 when she was at school. Nevertheless we set out to Luton on the 4th June.

Boarding

At 2.30 am in Luton Travelodge just off J11 of the M1 my alarm awoke me, precisely 2 and a half hours after i'd initially tried to go to sleep. But i was too excited to feel the effects of sleep deprivation. Both of us got ready and set out for Central Car Storage. They run a shuttle bus to and from the terminal and we got to the airport for 3.45 am.

Once there we played the waiting game, departures really is like Purgatory. So to kill time and to stave off hunger we had an airport 'Fry-up' it was amazing. Finally the call for boarding came and after a long wait in a stairwell we were all allowed to get aboard our Easyjet. I was literally like a child at Christmas, restless and excited i kept staring out of the window and taking photos on Gemma's camera. I couldn't wait for take off.

Upon landing in Berlin we had to work out where we were going. So looking like Rookies we went and asked the Tourist Information lady for advice, that and to buy the Berlin Welcome Card (which is worth it in my opinion).

Arrival

We arrived in Alexanderplatz and the first thing you can see is the Almighty TV-Tower.

We wondered around Alexanderplatz taking in the sites and then decided to head to Friedrichstrasse. We quickly seeked out the Reichstag and Brandonburg Tor. I did the typically Tourist thing and bought a piece of 'Die Berliner Mauer' (Berlin Wall). We sat for some time at Brandonburg Tor just people watching and getting our bearings, deciding on what to do next.

The Rivercruise and Potsdamerplatz

My brother and Mother both raved about the Rivercruise and that it's a must. So that's where we headed. We boarded a boat along the stretch of canal behind the Reichstag and went upstream passing The Bode Museum and Pergamon, right up to the oldest of the 650 bridges in Berlin and turning round at the big Canal Lock just behind the bridge. We then travelled downstream through the Federal District and were treated to a view of the Chancellor's private Chopper coming in to land. We learned a valuable lesson on that river cruise a German cup of tea is disgusting and it was the last we had until back in England. It's amazing how many of the buildings on the water front are riddled with the pock-marks of bullets. The very sight of so many marks show how fierce the fight for Berlin really was.

After the river cruise it was time to Check In at our hotel down on Potsdamerstrasse just off Potsdamerplatz. We caught the underground and came out next to a quite large muesum-piece chunk of the Wall. We both had the Customary photo's with a piece of the wall that is spray painted with "The Next Wall To Fall, Wall Street".

We wandered through the Sony Centre, passed a giant lego giraffe and 5 minutes later we got to our Hotel. We sorted our stuff and planned our next couple of days. After a little while just chilling out we decided we would walk from Potsdamerplatz to Alexanderplatz via Unter Den Linden. En route we saw
The Final Resting Place Of Adolf HitlerThe Final Resting Place Of Adolf HitlerThe Final Resting Place Of Adolf Hitler

A patch of scrubland in the carpark of an apartment block. With a small information board telling what this peice of land once was
a sign for a Chinese restaurant saying "1 minute" with an arrow pointing the way. So we followed the signs and came out on a junction opposite 2 giant apartment blocks, a car park, and a piece of scrubland. This seemingly innocuous patch of land next to a car park happens to be "Die Furherbunker" where Adolf Hitler resided in the last days of the 3rd Reich. From a documentary I knew the exact spot on which he was cremated and had my photo taken there. For a massive History/War geek this is up there on my list of places to see... and we had stumbled across it in search of a Chinese restaurant!! We never did find the restaurant.

Under The Linden Trees

Down Unter Den Linden we saw loads of sights, including a Bugatti Veyron in a shop, The Humboldt University, The British Embassy (just off UDL) and the Russian Federation Building. There was also a JFK photo opportunity with a quotation saying "Ich Bin Ein Berliner" (i am a donut). We walked on. There are literally Bears everywhere and we had photos with loads of them, there are too many photo opportunities down there for me to put them all up but it is a great place to just amble along taking it all in.

At Alexanderplatz we went into the TV-Tower and were treated to breathtaking views of the Belin Cityscape. The clear weather allowed us to see right over the Tiergarten and beyond and see all the famous buildings Berlin. We spent some time up there and got some random at the bar to take our photo... you could tell he had money being able to afford to drink in there! We had noodles from a street vendor and sat in Alexanderplatz people watching again.

Heart of the Reich

The following morning we were up early for a day at The Holocaust Memorial, The Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie and Topographie Des Terrors. The Holocaust memorial is especially sobering and is a must for anyone who has any interest in the history of the Holocaust. Some of the facts and figures are simply heartbreaking. One specificially sticks in my mind. It was a photo of an Orthodox Jew near Lodz having his hair cut iff by the Nazi occupiers. The caption says he was later hung with his Father and other Jewish civilians. One simply cannot understand the scale of such attrocities until it is laid bare infront of you. Another picture showed an 11 year old Jew who was deported to Auschwitz. His remains have never been recovered.

After going through the pillars of the memorial, trying to escape the school groups and rampent children we made our way to the Reichstag for access to the Dome and roof. I was told off in the security Checkpoint for taking a photo of the lift up onto the roof, and had to delete the photo and satisfy the 'guard' by showing him i had no others from in the Checkpoint. He was the most humourless human being I have ever come across. The Riechstag is aweinspiring. Having originally been burned to the ground the 2nd Reichstag has took all that the Soviets had to throw at it and remains proudly stood near the Tiergarten over half a century later (albeit with some renovation work) as the Red Army literally blew the bloody doors off. It took them 4 days of fierce toe to toe combat to cross the road at the end of the field in front of the Reichstag and then they had to make their way to the roof to raise the Soviet Flag, no easy feat. I thought getting through the security Checkpoint was difficult!

Where two ideologies collide

On to Kochstrasse for Checkpoint Charlie, a must for any tourist in Berlin, but even more so for me as i am a Cold War History GEEK! Checkpoint Charlie is one of the few places on Earth that have bore witness to the clashing of two opposing ideologies in such a confined space, the others in my opinion would be Panmujon in The DMZ between the divided nations of Korea, the other being the Gaza strip. Photos of tanks facing off on a stretch of street less than a quarter mile apart, of people lying in barbed wire bleeding to death, of daring escapes to 'Freedom'. This small strip of land is the focal point of MAD. Mutually Assured Destruction. Where two Nuclear Superpowers Squared off and tried to force each others hand. The history in this area is like a goldmine for someone like me. I had my photo taken with the 'guards' who were pretty bloody offensive. (They told me i had a head like a melon so i retorted with "I'm bald by choice not by age". A statement which in 1989 would have had me executed. Me and Gemma then went into the Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie to learn about the Wall, the Checkpoint and all things Cold War. It has got to be the most comprehensive archive of the Cold War on Earth and I was like a Pig in mud. We spent a fair while just reading about daring escapes, nuclear standoffs, and the militarisation of a city still being rebuilt from the last War. Truely a fantastic place and one I will never forget.

Topographie Des Terrors

Not far from Checkpoint Charlie is The Topographie Des Terrors, situated under a large section of wall in the foundations of old SS buildings and the inspectorate of concentration camps.

The museum piece charts the rise of National Socialism in Germany, the War years, the end of the war and then the history of the division of Berlin/Germany. This museum is especially interesting as it tells the story of the perpetrators. Not the victims.

As it was now getting late in the day we decided to head back to the hotel to reorientate and plan tomorrow. The day i most anticipated in Germany.

Oranienburg

We got up, wolfed down breakfast and headed for Berlin Hauptbahnhof. The largest station in Berlin. We caught the direct train to Oranienburg. in our traincar was a group of 10 German teenagers off to a festival, Gemma, Myself and what appeared to be the Angriest man in Germany. Every so often he would survey the group of Teenagers and look utterly disgusted with them. Gemma and I couldnt help but laugh at his disdain for German Youth. As a point I should mention, one of the teenagers looked like Will from the Inbetweeners, and another looked just like Big John, The simple burger eating one who starts when Will does. To compound this he was eating THE BIGGEST PRETZEL EVER!

After watching a yank try and work out how to use a German Train toilet and laughing heartily at her misfortune, several times, we arrived at Oranienburg. A nice quiet little town 40KM from Berlin, Where life is a lot slower, the elderly retire. A Town with a very dark and sincere past.

The Triangle of Opression

20 minutes walk and behind a row of houses sits one of Hitler's most terrifying weapons in his War against 'European Jewry'. Sachsenhausen Concentraion Camp.

Nothing can prepare you for a place like this. No Book, Video, documentary or website can show you the sheer scale of the Holocaust unless you visit one of the many sites of persecution. I struggled to put words on the emotions this place conjours. The strangest thing is as you go under the ominously named Tower A is that on the inside, you cannot hear the birds. I know this is Cliche, but you really can't it's as if Nature knows what happened hear, and steers clear.

Tower A is the focal point of Sachsenhausen. The camp was designed in such a manner that from all points in the camp anyone could be seen at any time, in any area of the camp. Total Control was the name of the game.

The Memorial Museum at Sachsenhausen is 18 Hectares and is in the original Triangle design from the SS Designs, it also houses The Soviet Museum, Special Camp Barracks and a Mass Grave operated by the Soviets when they took over Administration
At the height of it's use, Sachsenhausen was 400 Hectares!At the height of it's use, Sachsenhausen was 400 Hectares!At the height of it's use, Sachsenhausen was 400 Hectares!

The Memorial Museum is situated in the 18 hecatres of land in the Triangle toward the left of the camp map.
of the camp. (I am wary to say they liberated the camp, as under their occupation 24,000 further inmates died).

Upon Entry to the camp what strikes you is the vast emptiness, beyond the Role Call area many of the barracks were destroyed or removed following the closure of Special Camp 7 (NKVD - Soviets) Two Barracks do remain however, one used to show the size of living space that the interns lived in. A barrack could house 146 inmates, at the height of it's use 400 inmates were packed into each barrack. Every so often inmates would wake up to find their compatriots dead in the wash room or toilets from regular beatings or drownings by SS guards.

In 1992 Barrack 38 was firebombed by an Anti-Semetic visitor to the camp, although still open to the public the barracks are supported by a metal fence to help support it and the bunk rooms are off limits to visitors. Barrack 39 was also partially burned during the blaze and is supported by a glass panel. Barracks 37, 38, 39, and 40 were used by the SS to keep new Jewish interns locked away from everyone else in the
Fire Damage inside Barrack 38Fire Damage inside Barrack 38Fire Damage inside Barrack 38

Thanks to the woman who's arse photo-bombed me.
camp. Under Soviet occupation they were used to house the women in the Camp.

Next to the Barracks is the prison wing, essentially a prison within a prison. The cells have displays and information about various interns, especially striking are the two Cells with Union Jack Flags and poppies. In the courtyard of the prison are 3 poles on which prisoners were hung or tortured, remand prisoners, who could roam the grounds unimpeded, bore witness to these torture parades and later drew pictures to document the attrocities they witnessed.

In the centre of the camp near the Role Call area is where the first Gallows was erected, prisoners were executed on this to teach the other prisoners lessons. Beyond that is a giant monument with a statue that lists the nationonalities of victims of Sachsenhausen. In the far corner of the camp, behind the monument, is Tower E and the entrance to the Soviet NKVD Special Camp 7, The Mass Grave lies beyond the boundaries of the camp but can be accessed. Flowers and memorials of Those lain to rest in the mass grave are left here. There is a monument and a giant Crucifix to denote that this now fertile patch of land is where hundreds of corpses were committed to the ground.

The Soviet Museum and the 2 open Barracks contain information about the experiences of the prisoners, about daily life and the living conditions, all of which are harrowing and as desperate as those of the Nazi Administration of Sachsenhausen.

The Parlours of Death

From Tower E and just along the path is a gap in the Wall. This is where prisoners destined for execution were brought. As you enter this area there is a trench to your left. This ditch is where prisoners were tied up and executed. 7 photos on a plateau of stones show the faces of 7 Red Army POWs who were murdered in 'The Neck Shot Facility'. In 10 weeks 10,000 Red Army POWs were murdered in this facility. They were stood against a wall with a measuring implement and shot through the neck from behind via a hole in the wall. During the Soviet Administration of Sachsenhausen they destroyed the Neck Shot Facility and the Gas Chamber and partially destroyed the Crematorium. However the monument that stands in place serves as a strong reminder to the horrors that happened in that area. Patches of grass nearby are filled with the ashes of people cremated after executions.

From there further down the path is the remains of one of the crematoriums and just beyond is the Pathology department and medical and sick bays. The Pathology Department is where the SS doctors carried out their awful experiments (of no scientific merit) on the, often still living, bodies of their subjects. The tables in the operating room have a focal point, the hole in the centre of the sloped tables for the blood to drip through. As the camp was dealing with so many executed on a daily basis, the 'autopsies' (as production of a death certificate was still law) were nothing more than the prescribed incisions, sewn back together and a death certificate signed with causes that always boiled down to 'natural causes'. After the barbarism of the pathology department finished the bodies were then rolled down a ramp where workers had to haul the bodies into a make shift morgue. It says something about the Horrors of Sachsenhausen when SS guards refused to enter the morgue without a prisoner for assistance, being scared of the very product they created!

The sick bays housed those waiting for 'treatment' suffering from a range of ailments. Many of these prisoners were lain naked on a matress and stabbed into the heart with a needle. This 'treatment' earned prisoners a stop at the pathology department. Together with the Gas Chambers, Crematorium and Neck Shot Facility this area of the camp makes up 'Station Z'. The last letter of the alphabet denoting the last stop for prisoners.

Counterfeit Camp

For the prisoners deemed capable of work many were put to work in the Counterfeiting department. Part of Hitler's plan was to undermine the British Economy and War Effort. He did this by using prisoners to produce £300 million worth of Counterfeit British notes. Of these only £130 million was usable, but it all aided the German War Machine due to the efforts of those Hitler deemed Subhuman and not welcome in the German Utopian Future.

Liberation and March to Death

The Clock above Tower A is permanently stopped at 11.05. This is the time that the Soviet and Polish Troops walked into Sachsenhausen and 'Liberated' the camp. As such the camp wasn't liberated from Nazi Occupation. All able bodied prisoners were gathered together and marched out of the camp a few days before and marched toward the Baltic Sea. The plan was to load the prisoners aboard boats and sink them in the Baltic Sea. Many prisoners died on the death march, those who marched made improvised tools to shave tree bark from trees to eat. Before reaching their final destination the Prisoners were liberated by Red Army troops and the SS guards abandoned them.

Kaiser Wilhelm

After Legging it 2km back to the train station we had time to sit and reflect on Sachsenhausen. It stands as a monument to the evil in this world, as a platform for education and to show the world the horrors of ignorance and hate. We needed to see something else.

We went to look for the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial Church after making our way there we found it... hidden behind a giant sheet aluminium restoration capsule. So much for that. We headed up to Zoo-Garten and had some noodles. Then turned in for the evening. It was a long and challenging day, emotionally and physically.

Judaism and The Return

We had decided on the morning of the day we came home we would go to the Jewish Museum. After making our way there through a particularly shoddy neighbourhood of Berlin we entered the security checkpoint at the Judisches Museum. The security room was harder to get through than Luton Airport, and the staff less amicable.

I must confess, I know next to nothing about Judaism, what i do know is through the history of the Holocaust. I felt that the museum wasn't a monument to the History of Judaism but more the flagship of the Architects design. This was compounded at every turn and we left the museum just as ignorant of Judaism before we entered. I felt a little cheated and for a museum I wasn't educated infact I felt like I was being told I must be inspired by the work of the Architect.

Our time in Berlin had now come to an end. We made our way to Alexanderplatz S-Bahn station had some lunch and caught the regional line back to Schoenefeld Airport. We were leaving Berlin. I have learned so much about the History of Germany, Berlin and how it has impacted on the rest of the World. It, in my opinion, is a place that has emerged as an economic super power in Europe that is yet to accept the horrors of it's past. A city of numerous cultures and different people. I am so glad we went to Berlin as our first trip out of the UK and it has given me the taste for travel...

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10th June 2012

Brilliant
Excellent blog post, Joe. Thoroughly enjoyed reading about your first real taste of the world outside of the UK - here's to your next post!
26th June 2012

Very Moving
Well done on a well written and informative article. You certainly packed a lot into your short stay there. Congratulations- I enjoyed your blog, roll on your next adventure!

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