Berlin, Germany

Visiting the German capital is something that everyone travelling Europe should do; the city was very different (in a good way) to how I imagined. A hostel was not required here, as Danielle’s good friend Vanessa kindly had us to stay. Her apartment was on Friedrichstraßejust down the road from that of Checkpoint Charlie; the principal gateway between East and West Berlin between 1961 and 1990. Here we got our passports stamped, and later my mum informed me that she passed through there 33 years prior to get to East Berlin! We walked down Niederkirchnerstraße to see remnants of the Berlin Wall plus the Topographie des Terrors exhibition (where the Gestapo and SS central command headquarters stood before it was bombed).

To reach the main tourist area we walked through the Tiergarten on our way to the Brandenburg Gate, Holocaust memorial (large concrete slabs rising in ‘sombre silence’ from undulating ground, in memory of the murdered Jews) and the Reichstag (home of Bundestag – Germany’s Parliament, previously burnt and bombed). For free it is possible to climb the dome of the Reichstag, however bookings must be made in advance, and unfortunately we were not aware of this. From the Brandenburg Gate we walked along the Unter den Linden (a wide boulevard with lime trees) until we came to the Museumsinsel (the island with museums) and although we didn’t go to any, we stopped to admire the Berliner Dom; a magnificent cathedral. The East Side Gallery is another spot well worth checking out: a 1.3km stretch of remaining Berlin Wall covered in about 100 murals created by dozens of international artists in 1989.

A day trip out to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp (35km north of Berlin, 2km walk from the Oranienburg Station) was an entirely eerie experience that was one hundred and ten percent enlightening. We decided it would be beneficial to go on a guided tour (rather than just walking around ourselves, which would have been free) and I learnt more about German history in that one day than what I have managed to piece together across my entire life. “Arbeit Macht Frei” is written on the entrance gate and can be translated to “Work Sets You Free” – which has two possible meanings; firstly that hard work will let you out of the camp, and the more likely meaning that you will simply work until you die. That set the tone for the rest of our day; we saw the reconstructed barracks, the watch tower, the fences that kept the prisoners in, as well as the crematorium and the autopsy and dead body chamber. Although a sombre way to spend a day, I would recommend it to almost everyone – it’s one of those things that people should do, probably just the once. I know I won’t be going back anytime soon!

On a lighter note: food. Berlin was cheap (probably accentuated by the fact that we had just come from Copenhagen). We tried the traditional ‘currywurst’ (slivered sausage drizzled with ketchup and curry powder), and the giant pretzel, went to the Ritter-Sport chocolate store (where you can customise your own block) and indulged in Asian food, as it was so much cheaper and easier to find than anywhere else we have seen in Europe so far.

I also made a video, check it out here.

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