Berlin: the capital of Germany, known as the most international city in Europe, and the headquarters of one of the most evil regimes in history. The city is beautiful, modern and shiny (as a result of the old buildings being bombed so much), but dig a bit deeper and you find a scarred and difficult past.
My favorite activity in Berlin was the 3 hour walking tour we took. Beginning at the Brandenburg gate and ending in the square where the book burnings took place, I don’t think I have ever learned more about a place in that span of time.
The Brandenburg Gate, topped with the statue of Victory carried by her triumphant horses in her carriage holds a German joke. After Napoleon took the initial statue back to his personal collection in France, the Germans built the new statue to look straight at the French embassy that sits in the square, constantly watching. Funny right? Speaking of embassies, Berlin holds one of the few North Korean embassies in the world. Our tour guide joked that his hand had been to North Korea.
World War II, as you can imagine was not a good time for Berlin. Especially at the end. Citizens were not permitted to leave as Allied forces took the city, and many were caught in the crossfire. Our tour guide took us to the site of Hitler’s suicide bunker, which was below what is now residential apartments and a sad playground. In his final days, Hitler behaved very madly, obsessing over his dog and eating an entire cake for every meal. The bunker was blown up and filled in, and now is marked with nothing but a tiny plaque stating what happened. The city didn’t want to make anything bigger for fear of it looking like a memorial.
The Holocaust memorial, on the other hand, is a very powerful place. The large stones, situated in rows on uneven ground, and tilted slightly from one another give a sense of the anonymity of the Jews that were murdered in Europe. The museum below, tracing stories, quotes and the lives of the jews killed in mass shootings and concentration camps was exceedingly powerful. Another amazing museum was the Topography of Terror, with powerful photos of the atrocities committed.
Then, the tour shifted to the Cold War, and the very famous WALL. The wall went up to prevent the East Berliners, specifically academics, and skilled workers from leaving to the more prosperous and decidedly less Communist West Berlin. We walked past Checkpoint Charlie, the American controlled way from East to West, where Cold War tensions arose over one American man’s desire to get to the East Berlin opera. We saw the last remaining Nazi building, in grand but severe stone, that served first as the Nazi air force headquarters, then as the Soviet government building, and is used today as the tax department of Germany.
We also learned that the Berlin Wall came down entirely due to a TV announcer’s error. After delivering an exceedingly boring and dry report of the East German state of affairs, he was slipped a memo that said travel restrictions would be lifted for those over the age of 65 that could pay a hefty fine and give 12 months advance notice. Because he was flustered, he read only the first part. When the reporters asked him when “travel restrictions will be lifted,” he panicked and responded with the only date he saw on the paper: the very same day as the press conference. As a result, thousands swarmed the wall, overtook the guards, and were reunited with their western brothers once again.
Another really interesting thing about Berlin: the Nazi’s planned it to be the capital of the world. It was designed to hold 8 million people. Today however, it houses only 4 million. The sewers must be periodically flushed with water because their is not as much flow as anticipated. Lots of wild animals live in sewers and other such unused spaces. In fact, about 6 weeks ago a wild pig attacked two people at a bus stop in the city.
My absolute favorite thing about Berlin is the currywurst. Currywurst is a delicious snack consisting of a sausage in a curry ketchup, covered in curry powder and paprika. It is absolutely delectable. Total currywurst tasted: 4.