Last weekend Chandler, KayLeigh and I hopped on a short 40-minute plane ride to explore the historical city of Berlin. Growing up I found World War II fascinating—the horrific actions of the Nazi regime during the Holocaust were so unfathomable to me that I always wanted to know more. Berlin, the epicenter of Hitler’s power, was a perfect place to dive deeper into this part of the past. I walked away from the quick trip with so much knowledge and a richer understanding of the grim past that once haunted the now vibrant city of Berlin.
We began on Saturday morning visiting the Berlin Wall Memorial. The Berlin Wall once divided East and West Berlin. The East was under communist control and the West was a symbol of Democratic ideals. When the East got tired of people fleeing to the West, the wall was built to keep control. The wall stood for almost 30 years from 1961 to 1989. Now, in its place at the Berlin Wall Memorial stand tall steel rods. It was a cold and quiet morning and we were the only people walking around the memorial. It was strange to walk along the place where the wall once stood and read stories of those that tried to flee the oppression in the East. Some people made it via underground tunnels and others weren’t so lucky and got stopped by communist border guards. It is surreal to think of all the events that took place along the exact route we were walking.
After the wall memorial we decided to take an underground tour of an old World War II bunker through Berlin Unterwelten. The tour we took was called Dark Worlds. Our guide, Joep, took us through the bunker and told us stories of how hundreds of people would come to it at all times of the day during the height of WWII when allied forces air raids would strike Berlin. It was small, dark, and unbelievable to imagine the lives of the people who had to go to the bunker in the middle of the night not knowing when they got out what would still remain of their city and homes.
Burgermiester was the next destination on a list. This is a famous restaurant in Berlin that was once an old public restroom. It was jam-packed but one of the most delicious burgers I have ever had. We were refreshed after our meal and made our way to walk along remnants of the Berlin Wall at East Side Gallery. Portions of the wall that still stand here, along the River Spree, have been beautifully decorated and painted by artists from all over the world. The wall that once stood as a symbol of hate and communist ideals is now more of a symbol of hope and inspiration.
The Topography of Terror Museum was the next stop on our journey. This was impactful. Although it will never be possible for me to truly understand what it was like to be apart of the terror of Hitler and the Nazi Regime, this museum gives a glimpse. We made our way through pictures and stories of the terror that Hitler caused. I knew how awful this period of history was but I don’t think I truly understood the scope until walking through this museum. The Nazis truly were taking over Europe. The last two aisles of pictures at the museum was dedicated to all of the countries that were affected and showed statistics of all those who lost their lives. These statistics were some that hit me the hardest during the weekend.
We ended day one with a quick exploration of Alexanderplatz, one of the largest squares in the city. There we found a small area with trampolines built into the street and decided that every city in the world should invest in this sort of fun.
On Sunday morning we took a trip to the Reichstag building. This building is where German legislation meets. We decided to take the audio tour of the dome at the top. This dome has a spiraling staircase around the outside and as we walked up it we were told about all of the buildings surrounding the Reichstag. We saw Berlin by foot so it was cool to see it from above too.
After this we made our way over to the Brandenburg Gate. This important passageway was once the gateway to the city. It is beautiful and majestic and the site where Ronald Regan gave his famous "Tear down this wall!" speech in 1987.
Next, after a pit stop at Starbucks to warm up, we visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. There really are no words to describe the architecture of this important sight. American architect Peter Eiseman designed it in 2005. We kept wondering why he chose the various sized concrete blocks. In some places the blocks were taller than us and in others they were barely as high as our knees. No words, no designs, just concrete. When we inquired about why he designed it this way in the small museum that is underground beneath the memorial, they told us that no one really knows. He never explained why he chose this particular design because he wants people to create meaning for themselves. As if the memorial wasn’t powerful enough, we decided to wander through the museum below. The most chilling room of all contained letters from victims in concentration camps—letters to family and loved ones detailing the events that were taking place. Some letters were saying goodbye, others were trying to make sense of all the pain and suffering. Seeing the letters with the pictures of the people, real people, next to them gave me a new perspective on the Holocaust—it cut me a little deeper than anything else we had experienced during our trip.
Our last stop before heading to the airport was the Cathedral of Berlin. After a failed attempt to go inside (we couldn’t read the sign that said no entry until 12 because it was in German and the usher was not too pleased that he had to tell us information that was so clearly laid out before us), we decided to explore the area a little more. We wandered through a street market and around what is known as Museum Island because it houses five of Berlin’s most famous art and history museums. Although we didn’t go inside any of them, the architecture was beautiful and I can only imagine that the insides held just the same amount of character.
If Berlin isn’t on your list of cities to visit one day, add it right now. Walking around the streets is like walking through the pages of a history book. What’s so crazy about it all is that the events that once haunted the streets of Berlin are “history” but they really didn’t occur that long ago. What they consider to be “the last bomb of WWII” went off in 1994 when contractors hit a bombshell while digging for new water lines. That was just one year before I was born. And the Berlin wall wasn’t fully eradicated until 1991, just four years before I was born. This is mind-blowing, that this “history” was really just yesterday in the grand scheme of life. In many ways, Berlin is still broken but they are rising up. Berliners are hopeful and slowly but surely turning the once hallowed streets of their city into a vibrant and beautiful masterpiece.