It didn’t take us long to settle on Berlin as the last of our bonus weekends away during Stacey’s business trip in Europe in 2015 – so much history to explore.
Whilst Stacey arrived by ICE train I flew in to Tegel airport, which should have been closed some years ago and replaced by Brandenburg airport; unfortunately Brandenburg has been beset by so many problems it is still not open and at the time of writing sits as a massive white elephant and leaves Tegel as the main gateway to Berlin.
Tegel is showing its age (it was built for the Berlin Airlift) and is oddly laid out for an airport; the first inkling I got of this was when Stacey texted me to tell me she could see my plane park up at its gate! How had she gotten so close? The answer was simple – it was about two dozen steps from the door of the plane, past the luggage carousel at the gate, through immigration and out into the airport! So it might be old but I don’t know of an airport with such a short distance from aeroplane to landside – do you?
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Out of the airport it was a short bus and S-Bahn ride to our hotel. For the first time we had an Airbnb failure (the host cancelled on us the morning of our reservation) and we had to book a hotel at the last minute. This is always a worry with Airbnb, but thankfully all of our other experiences (over 30 and counting) have been trouble free.
Watchtower and Berlin Wall Segment
The Scandic Berlin Potsdamer Platz, Berlin was very nice and well located, probably better located than the Airbnb! As the hotel was so central, and given it was a beautiful evening, we took advantage and headed into the centre of Berlin for a walk. Doing so also answered our “what’s for dinner” question, as on the way we walked past Amrit Indian Restaurant and our senses were assaulted with the most delicious aromas, so we decided to stop there for dinner on the way back and it was as delicious as it smelled.
Our first stop on our visit was a once common sight along the line of the Berlin Wall, a GDR watchtower, on Erna-Berger-Straße. Now the last of its kind, it’s synonymous with many of the sites we had come to see from the time when Berlin was a divided city and the front line in the Cold War. It is possible to climb the tower by arrangement, something we can look to do if we are in the area again. Continuing onto our next destination we walked past our first piece of the Berlin Wall in Berlin. So many pieces of the wall were distributed to museums around the world, that you don’t have to go to Berlin to see one, but it was still cool to see a piece in the city it divided.
Our next destination was the location of the Fuhrer Bunker; it is just the location and is marked by sign detailing its layout and history. The bunker itself has been sealed and partly destroyed which,from a historical interest point of view, it’s a real shame we can’t enter the bunker, but can understand it could become a focal point for neo-Nazis.
Our next stop, which we would come back to visit the museum of later in the weekend, was the enormous “Holocaust Memorial”. It takes up an entire city block and is made up of 2711 stelae, or blocks, from 8 inches to 15 feet in height set on undulating ground. The scale is impressive and walking through it is a strange experience, which is apparently what the artist intended.
Also strange is that the official title of the monument “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe” doesn’t mention the Holocaust and says it is a monument to the “Murdered Jews”. Do we infer from this it is for the six million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust? If so, it begs the question, should there be a similar memorial to the six million others who were also killed during the Holocaust? It’s undeniably impressive to give over a city block in your capital city to such an atrocious event from your country’s past, but the more I think about it, the more I get questions rather than answers. Maybe that means it’s doing what the artist wanted it to do?
Our next stop was only made more beautiful by the setting sun (and the fact it is no longer stuck behind a wall!) – the stone of the Brandenburg Gate positively glowing made us all the more glad we had ventured out for an evening stroll. Built between 1788 and 1791 and inspired by the Parthenon in Athens, it spent many years after WWII sitting just behind the wall. It was in the plaza on the western side of the gate that Ronald Reagan famously called on Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall”. The wall of course did fall just two and half years later and the Brandenburg Gate now stands as a symbol of unity in Berlin.
Memorial to Sinti and Roma People
Heading towards the Reichstag we encountered another memorial to victims of the Holocaust, this time dedicated to the Sinti and Roma people murdered under national socialism. At least this memorial gave you its purpose and reason, unlike the odd title of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews. The memorial takes the form of a garden with a black pool in the centre and on some of the paving slabs are engraved the names of death and concentration camps that you will no doubt recognise if you have researched the Holocaust. Sobibor, Auschwitz-Birkenhau, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and too many more.
Leaving the peaceful garden memorial we arrived at the Reichstag where Germany’s parliament sits. I’ll talk more about it later as we have tickets to visit the dome and roof, but for now, it just looked stunning the evening sunlight…
And so our unplanned evening stroll came to end with dinner at the delicious Indian restaurant, Amrit, we had walked past earlier, before retiring to be ready for another great day of sightseeing tomorrow.
To read more about our weekend in Berlin, please feel free to check out these posts:
Next Post: Part 2
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