Today has been amazing. We’ve been on our feet from the moment we got out of bed, and seen an eclectic mixture of Berlin’s many sights. After getting ourselves ready, we thought that the cathedral would be a good place to start; towering above a wonderful little bridge, and directly opposite the “Musueminsel” (where most museums are based), the “Berlin Dom” is quite a sight to behold. Finished in 1905, its a neo-classical work of art, and has one of the most impressive domes I’ve been lucky enough to see, and interestingly enough it has never seated a bishop, so isn’t actually a cathedral. I don’t mind, however, as it’s good enough for me.
Next, we walked across the road to the “Old National Gallery”, one of five locations that exhibits occur. Showcased in an amazing building designed by Heinrich Strack, thoughtful insights into 19th century art fill the chasm between the French revolution and the First World War, with a brilliant mixture of sculpture and painting. Tickets are EUR.10 each, and the first floor features the work of Adolph Menzel, Antonio Canova, Ridolfo Schadow, and Reinhold Begas, amongst others. Our favourites were Hans Looschen’s “Artefacts from ancient Peruvian Tombs”, and Albert Loewe’s collection of miniature oil paintings. Upstairs is ginormous, and the shop is well stocked with books on a variety of art movements and artists; you can even spend EUR. 2800 on a statue if you want!
After perusing each room, we went to find “Checkpoint Charlie”, which is about 10 minutes walk from Museum Island. It’s also extremely overrated, and heavily touristy – I will admit that it’s an interesting thing to see and read about, but with a huge McDonald’s on one side, and a KFC on the other, it doesn’t really retain much of its historical importance. We didn’t stay long, and followed the smell of currywurst to a kiosk nearby. I didn’t really know what sausage to order, but went for an East Berlin currywurst with fries (Berlin wall themed); for only EUR. 5, it was tasty and filling, which is all I really needed in the blaring German sun – I made a mental note to email Theresa May and ask if curry sauce could be our thing, too.
Finishing our snack, I pulled out a map to see what was around us. We wanted to see as much as possible, so Jacob and I planned a route that would take us beside a selection of museums and memorials. First up was the “Topography of Terror”, which is built upon the original headquarters of the SS and the Gestapo. The outdoor walkway takes you through a varied mixture of information on the Nazis and their propaganda, and ultimately how it was used to achieve such terrors as the Holocaust. There were some informative interactive zones that convey the morose history in an easily digestible manner, and I learnt a lot about how they used national holidays to control the population, which I hadn’t considered before. Inside, the large, open area shows an array of exhibitions on the Nazi’s power, with focus on the SS/Gestapo’s despicable actions. It’s a well designed and powerful museum, and we spent a while reading carefully over the past.
I have been wanting to visit the holocaust memorial site for a good few years now, and therefore quickly took the opportunity to do so. I don’t think I need to say much about such a place, but the quotation from Primo Levi, my Grandmother’s favourite poet and author, that is boldly printed on the wall of the information centre speaks volumes: “It happened, therefore it can happen again.” A dark room shows how many were killed in countries across Europe, and letters from Jews just before they died are written upon the floor…”I fell beside him and his corpse turned over, tight already as a snapping string, shot in the back, and that’s how I’ll end up too, the blood mixed with mud was drying on my ear” – Szentkirályszabadja, 1944. I made no other notes.
After a brief period of consideration and reflection, we strolled over to the “Brandenburg Gate”, a symbol of Berlin that is internationally known. It flew a Soviet flag less than 60 years ago, and in the words of West-Berlin Mayor Richard Von Weizsacker, “The German question is open as long as the Brandenburg Gate is closed”. It’s a sight that simultaneously stands as an unmoved symbol of Europe’s turbulent history, and a beacon for future peace. The neo-classical design is breathtaking, and it’s a highlight of the trip for me. The nearby “Reichstag” was our next stop, and it was strange to think that this recently renovated parliament house was one of the crucial factors in the Nazi’s rise to power, allowing them to arrest opposing political parties and police with totalitarian authority. Construction began in 1871, it fell into disuse after WWII, was refurbished in 1999, and now sits parliamentary meetings once again. Go and see the German flag fly with pride below the brilliant dome!
Hunger kicked in, so we grabbed a slice of pizza in the train station, and planned our final stops. A ten minute walk got us to the “Natural History Museum”, which was EUR. 8 for entry and was only open for half an hour later. We sped around the sights, including the world’s largest suspended dinosaur (which was disgustingly, well, big), a realm of fossils, taxidermies of everything from ravens to polar bears, and a room full of dead fish kept in jars of formaldehyde (this was my favourite and I can’t tell you how cool it was to see). We got out just before they shut the doors, and headed to the “Berlin Wall Memorial”, which is an absolute must. Remnants of the wall stand, covered in graffiti, above a quiet garden where one can sit and relax. It has a map explaining the separation zone, and information about those that died. Berlin oozes history at every turn, and although this can prove to be mentally draining, these things are there for us to learn from.
Oh, and don’t be that dickhead taking a selfie at the Holocaust memorial.
We’re hopefully going to relax tomorrow, and get some laundry done (trust me, you’re glad computers can’t convey smells yet). If anyone wants to recommend somewhere to eat/chill then comment below!
PHOTOS OF BERLIN – HERE