Deutscher Trip 2015 – Part Eight: A Tourist and a Local in Berlin

Normally I can see the majority of a large city in two days. On my third day in Berlin I still had a huge list of things I still wanted to see. Joining me for the day was one of my friends from Potsdam who grew up in Berlin.

We began the day with Breakfast at the Hauptbahnhof and planned out a rough traverse through the city. Our first stop was the Reichstag which is a short walk from the Hauptbahnhof. As we were craming a lot into the day we didn’t go inside and instead continued to walk along to the Brandenburg Gate. Before arriving at the gate we took a small detour to visit the Soviet War Memorial in the Tiergarten whose green tanks by the side of the road grabbed your attention as they looked out of place in the present time.

We then made our way up part of Unter den Linden to see the embassies of the four former allied countries. The Russian embassy in particular is an imposing building. Near the embassies is a museum documenting the life of former German Chancellor Willy Brandt – somebody that I had never heard of (but probably should have). After taking a quick look through the museum we continued along our planned path to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is an interesting place. Hundreds of stele are laid out in a grid, but each are a little offset from each other. The stele are of many different heights and the ground slopes as you walk through the memorial. It is easy to lose people inside it, as happened accidentally, to my friend and I. Below the stele are rooms that document the Holocaust. The memorial rooms are deeply moving and brought back memories of my visit to Dachau. I still find it hard to comprehend just how many people were killed, and how many of those were from outside of Germany after the war started, and how in places like Leipzig only 30 out of an original 12,000 Jews still lived in the city after the war.

After visiting the memorial we had some lunch and revised our afternoon plans at the Mall of Berlin in Potsdamer Platz. Then continuing on our tour of historical sites, memorials and museums we walked to the Topography of Terror via Checkpoint Charlie.

The Topography of Terror is constructed on the former Reich Security Main Office of the SS. The site has mostly remained bare since the end of the war with only a few small buildings built for the museum. The museum documents the rise of National Socialism in Germany and the attempts after the war to hold people to account for their actions. Outside of the Topography of Terror is some remains of the Berlin Wall, built directly on top of the remains of the Gestapo headquarters – quite literally one terror was built on top of another.

We then walked through to our final destination in central Berlin, the Gendarmenmarkt. Thinking that the German church on the left side of the square was an actual church we walked inside. As it turns out the church is no longer a church and is now a museum of German political history. Despite the entire museum being in German it was still an interesting place to visit – especially the model of the German Parliament debating chamber. Next we visited the French church on the other side of the square, which is still a church.

Having completed the tour of central Berlin we caught a U-Bahn to Curry 36 in Mehringdamm. Curry 36 is to currywurst in Berlin as Messina is to gelato in Sydney. Doing as the locals do, we stood in the long but fast moving queue and then ate our currywurst at the tall tables by the side of the road. It certainly tasted great and was a fun side trip and change of scenery from the other parts of the day.

We then travelled to Kurfürstendamm our final planned destination for the day. My guidebook had made mention of a quick visit to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church here. The church wasn’t hard to find, and is poignant standing in ruins surrounded by the rebuilt Berlin. However, I’m glad that they have left it in its destroyed form, unlike other memorials it is a real striking example of how war affects everyone and everything.

At this point I wrapped up the day with a little bit of shopping, my friend returned to Potsdam and I went back to Alexanderplatz determined to find the correct way back to my hotel without getting lost (see my first day in Berlin).

With the day complete my visit to Berlin was complete. As I noted when I first arrived the city is “interesting”. There is so much history and there is so much to see. There would be few other cities in the world that have suffered as much as Berlin over the past 100 years. But the real positive is the city today is a vibrant place with a unique character and there is so much positivity around it.