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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