Hello Germany! The land of beer, Haribo gummies, tall people, and well, a shitty recent past.
The city has a lot of unfortunate recent history actually and it’s evident in many parts of the city. They have put in a lot of effort to reflect on their past but their WWII history kind of overshadows everything else. It’s probably because everything from before the war was destroyed so our tour was really just what we saw. With that said, they’ve done a great job understanding their past and moving on.
I expected East Berlin to be extremely different than West Berlin but it really isn’t. They’ve almost seamlessly incorporated the two. The entire city of Berlin seems very modern. They have a great transit system – easy to use light rail and subway (although I hate the ticket validation system). Also, they seem more diverse than I expected. I noticed there were surprisingly a good number of Asian women there. In fact, I’ve been mistaken for German more than once on my Europe trip. It’s very strange. (Ok I just Googled this and apparently Asians only make up 4% of Berlin. So maybe they’re just very accepting of Asian people. Obviously I had to Google places I’ve lived – Asians make up 12% in NYC and 30% in California.)
This is what I saw on day 1 on our free Sandeman walking tour:
- Brandenburg Gate in Pariser Platz- This gate has seen quite a bit of history. Napoleon walked through the gate after defeating Prussia in 1810. The gate was damaged during WWII but still standing. It’s even seen Michael Jackson holding up his baby over the balcony (at the Hotel Adlon in the plaza).
- Memorial to the Murdered Jews– very well-done memorial. I don’t know how else it could’ve been expressed. I love that the memorial is undefined. At first glance, my first thought was graveyard. But it can tell you a lot of different things. The slats in various heights could represent man-made chaos. Or it could just be used to make you feel small as you walk through the taller blocks. Also, they use “murdered” to emphasize the true actions of the Holocaust.
- Site of Hitler’s bunker – where he got married, took cyanide with his new wife, and shot himself after he learned that Mussolini’s dead body was placed in a public square for insult and abuse and then hanged upside down for all to see. It’s an unmarked site in a parking lot now and it’s surrounded by new apartments. Kind of observed by a patch of grass but mostly hidden away.
- Luftwaffe Headquarters – only Nazi building still standing. It has bombing marks but was somehow missed during WWII. It then became the Soviet ministries building. Now it’s the tax building (Finance Ministries). On the side of the building is a big full wall of Soviet propaganda depicting happy working East Germans. Right in front of this image is a square with a huge memorial of the 1953 workers strike that led to the East Germany Uprising. To quell the uprising, Soviets used the military – tanks and a full army. The number of deaths is unknown.
- The Berlin Wall- looks really small but there was once many layers of security around this wall.
- The rise of the wall 1961: When the Soviets were given the East Side of Berlin after the war, over 2.5 million people left and moved to West Berlin. Soviets thought this made communism look bad so they decided to erect a wall overnight. People received no warning. If you happened to be on the East side, you were stuck. Friends and family were now physically separated by this wall. Imagine you had a job on the West side and you lived on the East side. Well too bad, you’re trapped. That’s exactly what happened to the first guy who attempted to escape and was shot. He was a tailor and had an apartment on the West side so he thought he’d climb the wall and bam, shot dead. People wanted to leave so bad. Some guy built his own air balloon and flew over it.
- The fall of the wall 1989: apparently the wall came down accidentally. Some PR guy had to read a note he was given minutes before his press conference discussing new regulations regarding the border. None of his superiors were around that day apparently and no one told him any details. His only job was to read the note. But when grilled by the press, he ended up confirming that border crossings were now allowed and these news regulations were “As far as I know effective immediately, without delay.” This apparently wasn’t the GDR’s intent. The Soviets tried to correct it but this was already publicly broadcasted. Crowds stormed the wall that night and demanded the guards to open up the gates. The guards were so confused. They were outnumbered and weren’t instructed to use lethal force on the crowd. Eventually one guard gave in and opened his gate. And that night, many of the gates were opened.
- Checkpoint Charlie– a symbol of the Cold War. It’s where the US and Soviets had a stand off with tanks! on what’s now known as the Berlin Crisis of 1961. They say WWIII almost started here.
- Gendarmenmarkt– a square with a French and German church that are identical.
And then it was time for beer and currywurst! Explored the Berlin Wall open museum. Tried to go to Mustafa’s Kebab but the line was too long. Ended up at an awesome beer garden, Dolden Mädel Braugasthaus in Kreuzberg. This neighborhood felt a little bit artsier.
Day 2 was pretty relaxing. Didn’t get up until noon. First stop, breakfast at Berlin’s oldest beer garden, PraterGarten. It reminded me a lot of the beer garden in Queens, NY. We then got lost in Friedrichshain park and had more beer at the beer garden there. Walked to Museum Island to see some cool old buildings. I think the highlight here is Nefertiti in the Neues Museum. On our way back from Museum Island, we crossed a bridge where we witnessed the below:
We then proceeded to try to get into or rejected by the exclusive club, Berghain. What a scene. lol They are known for rejecting people apparently. And then we had a night out. I slept for 1 hour and caught an early flight to Munich.