Image Credit: Sarah Jane Callender
Berlin’s rich and cultural history shapes the entire city, from its architecture, graffiti, museums, art galleries, to its monuments. For all the history buffs who are reading this article, I cannot recommend Berlin enough.
We first explored the city through a walking tour, which I highly recommend. On this free tour, I learnt the key differences between East and West Germany, communism and how the city of Berlin was segregated in the middle. We walked past the German Parliament, Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Cathedral, Checkpoint Charlie, the TV Tower and even visited Neue Wache.
What struck me the most while walking around Berlin is how the city handles its dense, complex history. Political artwork and graffiti that show the importance of learning from the past can be found everywhere. The memorial which was built for the jews who suffered and died, pays tribute to the Holocaust and is placed directly in the middle of the city, just 100 metres from Berlin’s main architectural symbol, Brandenburg Gate. It almost seemed odd to walk around such a liberal-minded city while thinking about the Cold War and WWII. Similarly, East Side Gallery is the longest expanse of the Berlin Wall that remains standing and boasts striking images, where artists invoke their ideas of freedom. The wall is covered by approximately one hundred graffities by artists from different nationalities and is an inspiring must-see attraction in Berlin.
My food on this day, and throughout most of my time in Berlin, was German bread. My hostel was next to a Lidl supermarket and every morning I’d go in and try a selection of the food. Yes, it was extremely carby but it tasted so good. I even brought German bread home with me despite eating it everyday in Berlin. Not to mention the amount of money I saved on breakfast and lunch!
I started the next day with a picnic with friends in Treptower Park. We bought groceries from local German supermarkets and ate together before heading to the Soviet War Memorial, a memorial and military cemetery in the middle of the park. The memorial is the largest Soviet War Memorial outside of the Soviet Union and was built in the Soviet Realist style favoured by Stalin. It is dedicated to the memory of 80000 soldiers of the Red Army who fell during the Battle of Berlin. Weeping willows line an avenue to the memorial, alongside two huge Soviet flags with two grieving soldiers standing guard. In a vast open area, sixteen sarcophagi line the memorial with an imposing statue of a Soviet soldier, which is the focal point of the monument. The statue is 12 metres tall and the base of the soldier is a crypt, which is decorated with a mosaic of grieving Soviet citizens. Not many travellers know about Treptower Park and the Soviet War Memorial. I was advised to visit it by someone who gives tours around Berlin – it is somewhat a hidden gem. To feel the enormity and immense sorrow of the memorial is something you really must experience for yourself and its grandeur is nothing short of impressive.
After a long day, I went to Curry 61, a quality, fast-food family business. They sell the best Currywurst and also have vegetarian and vegan options. They only use fresh ingredients and make the most wholesome and flavoursome Currywursts that are to die for and perfect if you enjoy spicy food. I can also recommend going to Clarchen’s Ballhaus, Berlin’s most legendary dance hall, which opened in 1913. Miraculously, it has survived two World Wars, communist spies and was also part of a Quentin Tarantino film. If you want to dine with some dance entertainment, then that´s where you should go. I ate a traditional German dish, a creamy cheese pasta with roasted onions and chives.
On my final day, I visited Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp which was the most educational experience I have ever had. It was the most important and memorable part of my trip. Around 40 minutes from the city centre of Berlin, we arrived at Oranienburg station and began the 20-minute walk to the camp which prisoners of war, homosexuals, homeless people, gypsies, Jews and many others opposing the Nazi regime took. The Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was originally a working labour camp but in later years, it was conceived as a model extermination camp. Between 1936 and 1945 over 200000 prisoners were locked away in this camp. As the tour continued, I discovered the atrocities and terror committed in the camp. In August 1945, Sachsenhausen became a Soviet Special Camp three months after World War II ended. The Camp was used to imprison Nazi soldiers who did not agree with Soviet ideals, propelling the cycle of terror even more. The Soviet camp became the largest in the area until it was dismantled in 1950 and approximately 60000 prisoners were held in the camp where 12000 died. The concentration camp does not leave its visitors indifferent. After exploring the barracks, the museum, the infirmary, you’ll come to face to face with the horrors of totalitarianism, the daily labours of prisoners and the dreadful conditions the prisoners endured. My time at Sachsenhausen was nothing short of moving and emotional but most of all it was so important.
For me, the biggest realization after Sachsenhausen was the desire to attempt to help the lives of people suffering and stand up for those most in need, in order to avoid atrocities like those that I learnt were committed in Sachsenhausen.