Braving Berlin

by Kim on December 9, 2013 · 32 comments

Europe by train: day 20. Berlin, Germany.

So we finally ventured out into Berlin. It was snowing and cold and I still didn’t want to get out of my pajamas, but I figured I’d be pretty disappointed in myself if the only thing I saw of the city was the subway, the grocery store, and the four white walls of the apartment we rented. So out we stepped into the snow to see the sights of this massive city.

We headed to the Reichstag Building, a historical government building that housed the German Empire. The building was abandoned during Nazi rule, destroyed during World War 2, and is now home to the unified German federal government.

Reichstag Building Berlin

Next, we walked the few minutes to the Brandenberg Gate, a former city gate that is now a popular landmark in Berlin. It was featured prominently in media coverage when the wall came down in 1989. It still stands tall today, no wall in sight.

Brandenburg Gate Berlin

To be honest, I couldn’t tell what all the fuss was about over those first two landmarks. It was snowing and my hands were frozen and I was thinking that perhaps I’d made a bad decision and should just go back to the apartment and my pajamas.

But then we headed to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (is there a more blunt and German way to say that?) and I was shocked and humbled into silence. The above-ground memorial itself looks like a bunch of concrete boxes of various heights in rows that, according to the literature, “are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.” It certainly did that. But the heaviness of the memorial lies below ground in the “Place of Information,” a museum-type gallery that holds the names of all known Holocaust victims. The Place of Information also displays letters, photos, and the stories of families that were scattered and destroyed during that despicable time.

It is so incredibly unbelievable the things that humans are capable of.

In silence, we walked to another uplifting landmark, the Topography of Terror Museum, an indoor/outdoor museum located on the site that, during the Nazi Regime, housed both the Gestapo and the German Secret Service. It’s also the place to see the longest section of the outer Berlin Wall still standing today.

Berlin Wall

The Topography of Terror Museum details the history of repression under the Nazis and the crimes that the SS and the Third Reich perpetrated throughout Europe.

In an utter state of depression, we headed to our final landmark, Checkpoint Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie was the best known Berlin Wall crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. Today, it’s a little white shack that could be a taco stand plopped in the middle of a busy street.  We looked. We snapped a photo. We decided we needed a drink.

Checkpoint Charlie Berlin

No, we didn’t make it to the East Side Gallery. Slap my wrist, I am a terrible tourist. I’ll go there next time. In the summer. (For some good tips about traveling to Berlin, check out what the Globetrotter Girls had to say about the city).

We did do one more thing in Berlin. We visited a Christmas Market of course! We met friends and fellow bloggers Ali and Andy at the Christmas market at Charlottenburg Palace. Nothing like a Christmas Market to life your spirits after a depressing day remembering mass murder by a fascist regime. We wandered the twinkling stalls drinking mulled wine and eating, of course, waffles, bratwurst and, for me, a baked potato with at least five pounds of sour cream on top (worth it).

Berlin Christmas market

Berlin Christmas market

Berlin Christmas market

After the icy-cold Christmas market we de-thawed back in our apartment and packed up our bags again. The next morning we caught the train to Prague.

***

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Andi of My Beautiful Adventures December 9, 2013 at 7:14 am

Oooh we JUST missed each other!

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Kim December 9, 2013 at 10:40 pm

Damn! It would have been fun to meet up.

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Jimmy Dau December 9, 2013 at 7:37 am

Another day another train ride. I admire your stamina! I felt the same way about the museum. Sends chills down your spine.

p.s I could devour a bratwurst right now
Jimmy Dau recently posted..Ten Travel Safety Tips from Eight Months Travel in Latin America

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Kim December 9, 2013 at 10:41 pm

The train rides are some of my favorite parts :) I love just staring out the window and zoning out.

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Brooke December 9, 2013 at 7:39 am

One of my absolute favorite cities–it always gives me perspective, but I have to remind MYself that those who are old enough to have gone through the Cold War don’t want to be reminded of it all… so each time I go there and want to be flourished with historical sites and museums, and people talking about “the good ol’ days”, I have to remember that they weren’t so good, after all. Each time I go back, Berlin feels more and more like home to me… well, maybe minus that nasty snow you seemed to hit.
Brooke recently posted..on finding your passion…

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Kim December 9, 2013 at 10:42 pm

I can see that Berlin is a city that takes awhile to get to know… and I didn’t have enough time. I’m definitely planning on going back in the summer!! I barely scratched the surface.

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tyrhone December 9, 2013 at 9:15 am

So not the place to go if you are looking for a quick escape from everyday life then. Berlin sounds incredibly depressing, at least Cambodia has beautiful beaches to help you get over its past atrocities.i think you should get back in your pajamas.
tyrhone recently posted..Lots of broken stuff

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Kim December 9, 2013 at 10:42 pm

Ha, well, I wouldn’t say it is terribly depressing. You could certainly avoid the depressing stuff and just have a good time. It’s a massive city with lots of massive-city stuff to do.

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Renuka December 9, 2013 at 9:42 am

Berlin is not one of the destinations that I would really like to visit. But I guess, it has some charm, some character to it that deserves attention. One of my friends visited Berlin on an official trip, which awakened him about the real Berlin. From what I could comprehend from his pictures and also from what you have narrated through your post, I think I would want to make a visit to Berlin someday! :)
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Kim December 9, 2013 at 10:43 pm

I did not take it, but I have heard that the free alternative- Berlin tour is supposed to be really great and might give you a glimpse into the other side of the city.

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Steve C December 9, 2013 at 9:43 am

My last visit to Berlin was in ’89, just a few months before the fall of the wall. I remember Check Point Charlie as still a check point. A visit to the East side of the wall was a depressing day trip. It’s time for a revisit. I don’t think any city in the world could be more different then Berlin is now compared to then.

Another depressing realization of how humans can be so cruel to each other was the museum in Singapore about what the Japanese did during WW2. Also appalling! Each generation gets further and further from that war and knows less and less of just what happened. We do, however, seem to continue having another war of some type every 10 to 20 years or so. Americans have managed to isolate themselves from the horrors of war with enlisted only armed forces (no draftees) and now drones.

If the value of travel is reduced to the one most valuable attribute, it might be exposing us to how humans treat each other in the many museums around the world that depict conflicts of the past. As I sit here in America, there are very few places that get your attention as much as those in other countries. Maybe this topic touches my buttons more violently as I’m a Vietnam Vet. Please, Peace!

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Kim December 9, 2013 at 10:44 pm

Oh, I bet it is completely different!

I agree with what you say about the value of travel… not only does it help us remember and learn about what happened in the past but in some cases we get to see with our own eyes what is still happening today. And once you know you cannot un-know.

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Martha December 9, 2013 at 12:09 pm

If you are into Christmas markets and have the time – may I suggest Stuttgart as a larger one, and Heidelberg is absolutely beautiful….with or without a market :)

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Martha December 9, 2013 at 12:11 pm

That is where I was stationed in the Army – I was there in 1989 when the wall came down!

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Kim December 9, 2013 at 10:45 pm

That would have been a sight to see.

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Kim December 9, 2013 at 10:45 pm

Good to know! I’m not in Berlin anymore (moving so fast) but hopefully someone else will see this and go.

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Ali December 9, 2013 at 12:20 pm

We had such a great time hanging out with you and Brian! I’m glad you changed out of your pajamas at least one day while you were in Berlin :-)
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Kim December 9, 2013 at 10:45 pm

Me too :)

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Tim December 9, 2013 at 6:29 pm

I hope you had some Currywurst. No trip to Berlin is complete without it!
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Kim December 9, 2013 at 10:45 pm

Dammit! Missed the Currywurst. But I’m a vegetarian. Brian probably had some.

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Patti December 9, 2013 at 7:25 pm

I know exactly how you feel after visiting the historical sites. We went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and it was almost overwhelming, I found it emotionally difficult. I’m thankful for the experience though because I think we all need to be reminded.

You’ve spent a lot of time away from the cities, in remote places such as Nepal and walking the Camino. Maybe that’s contributing to your reaction to Amsterdam and Berlin? I’m glad though that you ended your time in Berlin on a high note. What’s not to love about a Christmas market?!
Patti recently posted..See the U.S.A. – 3

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Kim December 9, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Yeah, it’s funny because we’ve spent a ton of time in big cities and I don’t even like cities! Duh, Kim.

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Carina December 10, 2013 at 7:39 am

Glad you went to Topography of Terror. I feel like missing museums with art, natural science items, etc. isn’t a big deal, while of course the exact collection isn’t replicated elsewhere, there’s more art, more natural science, etc. But Berlin’s unique and most interesting facets relate to war history, and I think it’s so important for us to spend time educating ourselves as more and more people who lived thought it die.
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Carina December 10, 2013 at 7:43 am

*through
Carina recently posted..The Price of Procrastination

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Kim December 12, 2013 at 2:21 am

I completely agree and I’m really glad that I went. Berlin does have some unique (and depressing, terrifying, etc.) history. But I’m glad they don’t hide it or try to pretend it never happened.

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Quyen December 10, 2013 at 10:52 am

Berlin is such a fun city, and I loved traveling there. Looks cold right now! :)
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Kim December 12, 2013 at 2:22 am

So cold!!! Painfully cold. But I’m still glad we came. Next time I’m coming in the summer!

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TammyOnTheMove December 10, 2013 at 11:03 pm

It is interesting to see Berlin through the eyes of a non-German. For me as a German the Brandenburg Gate is a symbol of struggle, oppression, freedom and democracy at the same time, and that’s why it is so important to many other Germans as well I think. It is not so much the actual gate that is special, but the history that lies behind it. I am glad you are giving Berlin another chance. It is a great city to explore in the summer!
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Kim December 12, 2013 at 2:25 am

I did read that the gate represented that to many people. It is my lack of understanding of the events in Berlin that made me feel disconnected to that gate, I think. To me it was just another gate (though I know it is more than that of course).

I know we barely scratched the surface in Berlin. I can’t wait to come back in the summer someday.

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Dani December 11, 2013 at 7:53 am

I am glad to hear that you ventured into the city at least for one day :) You’ll have to promise to come back one day during the summer months and let us take you around.
Dani recently posted..Our Top Five Places To Visit In Chile

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Kim December 12, 2013 at 2:25 am

Okay, I promise! ;)

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