Berlin is a new and vibrant city that has a very turbulent history. It amazed me at how the capital of the Third Reich faces that very ugly past. I tried and take in as much information about that history during my time there and I was amazed at how well the information is presented. On my day of arrival, I simply checked into my hostel and then went for a little walk. On my walk around, I saw the towering TV tower, the Berlin Cathedral and the Neve Wache. The Neve Wache is also called the Memorial for Victims of War and Dictatorship and houses the remains of one Unknown Soldier and one unknown victim from a concentration camp. The soldier has soil from a battlefield around him and the concentration camp victim has soil from a camp. This memorial is now the main memorial for the armed forces in Germany. I also saw a memorial to the resistance to the Nazis of 1942.
My second day in Berlin was packed full of history. I started off by taking a free tour the hostel set up to the German History Museum. WE were given a tour of the special exhibit which was about 11 nations and what happened with them at the end of the war, 1945. The exhibit was very fascinating and the artifacts were very neat and humanized a very dark period in time. After exploring the special exhibit, I went through part of the permanent exhibit about the time period of 1918 to the fall of the Berlin Wall. This exhibit was spectacular and really showed the propaganda that the Nazis used. I could have easily spent a whole day in that museum alone, but Berlin is packed with things to do so I took in as much as I could. After the German History Museum, I made my way down to the Brandenburg Gate and then walked over towards the Bundestag. Here is where I grabbed a quick bite to eat and had some currywurst. After my bite to eat, I walked over to the Holocaust memorial which is called the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It is an interesting memorial made up of over 2000 concrete blocks of different height. It is very unique in that it does not say anything, but rather just exist there, but is nonetheless very moving. Underneath the memorial is an exhibit about the Holocaust. There was three rooms in the exhibit that were extremely emotional. The Room of Dimensions, Room of Names, and Room of Sites. The Room of Dimensions has excerpts of letters that were written by people who were either facing their end or knew it was soon to come. The Room of Names is simply a plain room with a projector and speaker and the names and a short biography are read of all the victims. It is to my understanding, that the names and biographies have not been repeated yet as the exhibit is only a few years old and there are so many victims. The Room of Sites is about some of the worst places of Nazi crimes. From mass shootings to concentration camps. Here one can hear stories from people that were in the camps or from some Nazi officers. These stories come from letters or have been told. Two stories really struck me. The first is a Nazi officer who wrote to his wife about a mass shooting. He talks of babies flying through the air and the soldiers shooting them. He talks about how at first it is difficult for him, but he gets “better” as the shooting goes along. Absolutely sickening. The second story is that of a mother. This mother arrived at a camp and saw the harsh labor that taking place. To save her son and mother from the harsh labor she asked the Nazi officer to send her son and mother to the left. She was happy when the officer agreed. Only later on did she find out that she had condemned her mother and son to death. I could not think that I had to live with that guilt especially since the son could have passed as the appropriate age to be sent to work. Heartbreaking. If someone is able to walk out of the exhibit without an aching heart I would be astounded. After this I made my way back to the hostel where they hosted a free talk with a lady who grew up in Berlin during WWII. Her summer home would serve as Winston Churchill’s home during the Potsdam Conference after the war. Her talk finished up my history packed day.
Day three in Berlin started with a trip to the East Side Gallery where I saw the many paintings/graffiti that cover the longest still standing part of the Berlin Wall. From the East Side Gallery, I made my way to the famous crossing between East and West Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie. After Checkpoint Charlie, I went to the Topography of Terror which is a museum about the SS, SD and Gestapo and the crimes they committed during the war. It sits on the site of the former headquarters of the SS and Gestapo and is a phenomenal exhibit. It was sickening to read the correspondences between Nazi officials. For any person interested in WWII and the Nazis though, this is a must see museum. After the Topography of Terror, I went for something a little more light-hearted to end my sightseeing in Berlin and went to the Charlottenburg Palace.
Berlin is a wonderful city with one of the richest, most recent histories in the world. The city was the capital during the darkest period of human history and to see how the city and people face this dark past is fascinating. Having spent time talking with German friends during my time in Ireland, I know that even to this day the War and Nazis are something that is not easy to talk about, but Berlin does a wonderful job of exploring that hideous past. An amazing city!
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