Berlin is an incredible city that fascinates me with its heart wrenching history from the 20th century. The city is filled with contrasts and juxtapositions: old/new, beautiful/industrial, fear/ forgiveness, rebellion/order, power/oppression, etc. It is a city with an internal struggle to celebrate history, while simultaneously wanting to demolish and abandon it.
Our time was divided into exploring Berlin’s history and celebrating its famous Christmas Markets!
Bunker Tour M took us underground and explained how people from East Berlin used the subway, sewage and bunker systems to escape from Communism to freedom in West Berlin. It is fascinating learning about the challenges that were overcome and the determination to reach freedom and reunite divided families.
The most moving part of our Berlin Walking Tour was the photos of the women after Berlin was captured by the Soviets. All of their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons were now dead or being whisked away to prison camps and their city was completely destroyed. The photos of these tiny ladies cleaning up massive debris and rubble was just heart wrenching. I can’t imagine what that would be like. Their incentives for cleaning the charred mess of the city was to receive food stamps to feed their children. To add injury to insult, the survivors worked tirelessly to restore Berlin yet within 15 years West Berlin was surrounded by a wall, families were divided and everyone in East Berlin working in the West was now unemployed.
After the walking tour, I highly recommend taking a free tour of the Reichstag Parliament Building during the day. The history is quite comprehensive and the tour explains not only the history of the building, but the surrounding areas as well. I was also interested in the square at the State Opera, the place of the famous Nazi book burnings. 25,000 books were burned once deemed impure to German society and standards. These books were written by classical, liberal, anarchist, socialist, pacifist, Jewish and Communism authors. If you look closely you can find the underground memorial, which is empty, white book shelves. Lastly, Cathedral of Berlin is beautiful. The outside is still charred from the war.
Overall, Berlin is enthralling and I'm so thankful I got to see and experience so much history that I have previously read about. I learned more on our tours than I ever could have in a book, which is a huge reminder why it's so important to travel when you can! I would love to go back to tour more museums, ride bicycles through the Tiergarten and attend the Philharmonic Orchestra (one of the best in the world)!
Recommendations: We were all really happy with where we stayed, Circus Hostel. There were five of us in a five person room and it was super clean, warm, great location, nice staff, etc.
We ate dinner at a really delicious and cozy German restaurant in Mitte called Schwarzwaldstuben. You have to get one of the German sour cream pizzas, seriously yum. I got the vegetarian plate (kind of a lame choice in Germany I now realize, but I loved it.) Pretty much everything looked amazing.
Tausend is a super guay Asian-inspired restaurant that requires a reservation several weeks in advance. It’s crazy because it’s located hidden under a bridge with an unmarked door. Some of the best food we ate was from the stands at the German Christmas Markets.... another post coming soon!