I have barely even scratched the surface of Berlin.
I was at that point where I just didn’t care. I’m sure most travellers experience this from time to time. I was feeling lazy, but also a little down that my time in Europe was coming to an end. I think for this reason, I really did not make the most of my time in this city. However, the little that I did do, left me wanting more.
I did not know what to expect when I arrived in Berlin. I looked around and wondered where the ancient buildings were, along with the cobblestone streets, the old European feel. It was like no other European city I had visited prior to this. I admit, it was quite ignorant of me, and maybe I should have done some research to learn a little about the city before arriving.
While the cities of Europe exude history, Berlin is no exception. However, its most significant history is so recent, which is what makes it so fascinating. My interest in learning more about the WWII period, increased after this visit.
I met up with a friend of mine who just happened to be in Berlin at the same time. He tried to convince me to take a free walking tour of the city with him. I wasn’t too keen at the time. After all, it was free, so how good could it be? He ended up persuading me to go along with him, and I am very happy that he did. I highly recommend taking one of these tours. Although it is free, the tour guides are working for tips, so you can be assured they are going to do a good job.
I could see the passion our guide had for Berlin. The amount of knowledge she had on the city was quite impressive. She was a New Zealander who had previously been living in Canada, so naturally she would know Berlin, right?
One of the things that I took from this tour is that Berlin has left certain reminders scattered around the city. Reminders of the mistakes made in the past. At times they are subtle, but they are there. For me, one of the most telling is the outline of the wall.
We begin at the Brandenburg gate where we are reminded that a little over 20 years ago we would have been shot dead for standing where we were. These days, the gate is often used as the face of Berlin.
I learnt that the Germans do not shy away from what happened in the past. They feel great shame over it, and want the world to know how sorry they are for what was allowed to occur. While I mentioned earlier that there are reminders scattered around the city, one memory that they are perhaps in no hurry to remember is that of Hitler. The area where his underground bunker was located has simply been left to rot. Weeds have been allowed to grow with little to no maintenance in the direct vicinity.
Nearby, a rather amusing story is shared with us. We see some rather tall apartment buildings located in what used to be East Berlin. We are told that these buildings were deliberately built near the wall as a way of showing off to West Berlin. They were hoping that their rivals on the other side of the wall would see these buildings and become envious at how much the east was flourishing. Little did they know however, that all they were doing was showing West Berlin that they possessed some ugly looking buildings. As we now know, East Berlin was anything but a nice place to live.
Moving along, we come across one of those subtle reminders which I really came to appreciate. An old run down building with bullet holes. We are told a story of the most likely scenario. While someone was being chased by members of the Nazi regime, they sought refuge in this building. With shots being fired on the ground floor, the person is forced to go upstairs. Doing this would have ultimately sealed his or her fate, as once they were upstairs, there was no place to run.
Our attention is then directed to a plaque which is attached to the building. Whatever was written on the plaque has been scratched out. It was some kind of Nazi message which, as I alluded to earlier, Germany will no longer tolerate, and therefor has been eliminated.
Along the tour, we of course pass the famous sites of checkpoint Charlie, the remains of the Berlin Wall, as well as the Holocaust memorial (officially known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe). We are advised that the artist who designed the memorial did not specify what the concrete blocks represented. It is up to the observer to create their own interpretation. Im not a very creative person, so I came up with nothing, but appreciated the work nonetheless.
The tour ends with probably the most interesting story of the day. It is the story of how the wall fell. I will not get into it here, but lets just say that it was the result of an accident. I found it so interesting, that after this I had to do my own research to make sure that our guide was telling the truth. Turns out she was.
Our guide had more than earned my 5 euro tip, and after this she took us to a nice place for a 6 euro chicken schnitzel and beer. That kind of value can not be beat in a city like Berlin.
Although the above image was not on the tour, I wanted to mention it anyway, because it was one of the more memorable sights of my time in Berlin. The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was damaged by a bomb in the second world war. However, it was left standing on Kurfurstendamm, which is Berlin`s main shopping strip.
This city is one which has undertaken dramatic change over the last 20 years, and will continue to do so in the years to come with the influx of the young, trend setting, artistic types. While it’s clear to see what the city has gone through and where it has come from, it is just as clear to see where the city is headed in the future.