Berlin is a busy, fascinating and vibrant city; one which requires some serious exploration in order to get the true picture. After three fast paced days, where we covered some of the major sights and buildings we took time out to get a bit serious and have a closer look at history, some of which was of our time and some of which preceded it but has no doubt influenced us and our up-bringing.
We started at the Berlin Wall memorial, to be exact the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer, which is located on Bernauer Strasse, one of the streets that was cut in half by the wall, virtually overnight, in August 1961. The memorial is a moving exhibition to the events of that time and of the next 28 years when Berlin was split in two. Some Berlin families were kept apart for the entire 28 years by the concrete walls – that became THE symbol of the Cold War!
Walking through the memorial over the ground that was once the gap between the two walls, or “the killing ground” as it was known between 1961 and 1989; it is a tad unreal. The grass is lush and green, the wall does not seem at all intrusive at first, it is only a short section of the actual wall, and the atmosphere is, without doubt, very different. It is when you read the plaques, listen to the stories, look at the remembrance wall and see the remains of Bernauer Strasse as it was back then that the story becomes real.
The clincher for me was the ghost station display at Nordbahnhof UBahn station, and the realisation of exactly what the wall and the border closure really meant. Berliners travelling on the UBahn between points in Berlin used to travel underground through the East, passing these “ghost stations” that were once an integral part of the rail network. These stations were manned by East german guards but were otherwise deserted and left, exactly as they were for 28 years.
From the wall we stepped further back in time, as we headed to the Jewish Holocaust Memorial. The memorial park is located just near the immensely impressive Brandenburg Gate, and opposite the Tiergarten, only minutes from the centre of Berlin. Here we spent another two hours immersed in what is still, at least to me, an almost unbelievable piece of world history. The holocaust has been written about, commented on, studied and talked about by so many people that one more comment is simply unnecessary.
Suffice to say, the simple black concrete pillars in the memorial park are memorable and moving enough on their own, but the museum and the archive below ground are simply stunning. What happened from 1933 – 1945 is almost beyond belief but it is there in all its stark reality, with real stories, real photos and real people. The irony, if you like, is that the site the memorial has been built on is just a short distance from where Adolf Hitlers bunker is buried!
Berlin is a great city, with much to offer, and much to get excited about! It is a modern, thriving metropolis but it has a history, and that history is well represented by these two memorials,and others like them, that need to be visited, viewed and understood. We spent a memorable day, that in my view is the highlight, so far of our visit to Berlin! I expect it will stay that way.