Our first stop on Day 3 was a quick visit to a Berlin housing estate, yes, that’s right, a housing estate. Why? Well, it’s not just ANY housing estate, this one is listed on the UNESCO list, so how could we not pop by and add possibly the least interesting of any UNESCO site I’ve been to to our list ;-)
Having seen what didn’t look any different to any other housing estate to me, we stopped off at a small cafe on the way back to the railway station where we (thought) we had a Berliner as a snack (turns out after looking up what a Berliner is it doesn’t look like this at all. Oh well, it was still delicious whatever we had)
Track 17, Grunewald Station
Jumping back on the train we headed to Grunewald station, another of the main stations that were used for deportations to the concentration camps. This deportation station was on our list, unlike our chance find the night before, and we headed to the far side of the station where Gleis 17 (Track 17) is left unused. At the edge of the platform are dozens of metal grates showing the date each deportation train left, the number of people on it and which camp they were sent to. It’s another somber monument, and one which we had all to ourselves as we walked the length of the platform.
Our next stop continued the WWII theme with a visit to a preserved and reconstructed part of the Berlin Wall. To get there we walked from Nordbahnhof which is one of the “ghost stations” during the time of the Berlin Wall. As the station was in East Berlin, but on a line between West Berlin stations, the entrances were bricked up and trains did not stop there. A small exhibition in the stations contains details of the stations during this time.
The Berlin Wall Memorial shows how the wall looked when it cut the city in half and you can climb up to a platform that overlooks it so you can see the width and sample defenses to stop people crossing. On the way there are remains of other sections of the wall; we were surprised just how much has been preserved or left in place, especially when we think how many times we have seen wall sections in museums around the world! The accompanying museum is interesting and shows some horrific methods for stopping people escaping to the West – including this vicious metal spike plate (shown in set of three photos below), placed just inside the wall to impale anyone who had climbed over and jumped down.
Continuing our WWII themed day – I don’t recall us planning it like this, but it’s just the way things worked out when the trip came together – we went to the Jewish Museum. The museum was strangely laid out, with long corridors linking quite small spaces rather than the more usual large spaces full of exhibits. It wasn’t the most interesting thing we saw on the trip and seemed to conflate modern art, like these odd metal faces covering the floor in one room which you can walk over and the oddly disorienting “Garden of Exile” which contains 49 tall concrete columns you can wander between, with artifacts and information like a conventional museum such as Jewish street signs and a roll of fabric that the stars Jews were forced to wear were cut from.
Our WWII theme took an abrupt volte-face at our next stop, Checkpoint Charlie. Far from the original and famous checkpoint between East and West Berlin, it is now a Disneyfied replica with actors in uniform charging for photos.
Topography of Terror
We moved rapidly on to the Topography of Terror documentation centre which sits along yet another stretch of preserved wall. There wasn’t much to photograph inside the museum, but it was full of interesting information on how the SS used propaganda and terror to maintain control before and during WWII and is worth a visit.
Our only timed destination was next, a trip to the top of the dome of the Reichstag. The modern glass dome contrasts beautifully with the historic stone building it sits atop. And the best bit – the visit is FREE, but DO reserve tickets in advance. We saw several people inquiring about last minute tickets at a booth, but all tickets had been assigned by then. It would be a shame for you to miss out if you’d like to see it.
Arriving at our assigned time, we were quickly through the airport style security and being led to the front of the building. You can’t just enter the building through the two sets of doors, we all had to huddle in the entrance, the first doors closed and then the second doors opened, like an airlock.
We then went up in the lift to the roof terrace where we collected our audio guides and were free to explore. The weather could have been kinder, but we were still treated to fantastic views across Berlin as we walked around the terrace looking out of each side. The Brandenburg Gate is a short distance away and you can trace the path that the Berlin Wall would have taken in front of the gate, and then behind the Reichstag. Once you enter the dome, the audio guide automatically triggers information based on where you are, so don’t walk too quickly or it will skip ahead to the next snippet!
You climb the dome by way of a spiral ramp and there is one ramp to ascend and another to descend which means there is little in the way of congestion. As you climb the ramp, the audio guide triggers automatically and provides information about the building and what you can see from where you are standing. Unfortunately for us it was starting to rain, so the raindrops on the dome made photos a little difficult, the views were still impressive though.
At the top of the dome you come out onto a terrace underneath it, well I say the top of the dome but the top of the dome is “missing” so you are open to the elements up there, which apparently helps with the building’s cooling! In the centre of the dome is a giant mirrored upside down cone which is used to illuminate the debating chamber you can see underneath it and a giant sun-screen rotates around the dome to ensure that dazzling light isn’t reflected into the chamber below.
Soviet War Memorial
After our very interesting tour – it’s not everyday you get to wander about on the roof of a country’s parliament (not legally anyway!) – we headed through the enormous Tiergarten Park (it has a six lane dual carriageway running through it!) to another Soviet War Memorial. Whilst much smaller than the one we saw the day before, it was similarly sombre and even has an artillery gun and a tank on display.
Holocaust Memorial Museum
Our final stop of the day was back at the Holocaust Memorial which has a museum underneath it you can access from the South West corner. Whilst interesting, there again wasn’t a huge amount to take pictures of, as well as it was quite dimly lit. Two things which attracted our attention were a plaque expressing similar sentiments to “Those who forget history are liable to repeat it” and a room which projects the names of people who were killed in the holocaust on the walls; to sit and watch this screen until it repeated would take six years, seven months, and 27 days. There’s a sobering thought to end our trip to Berlin on…
To read the rest of our series about our weekend in Berlin, please feel free to check out these posts: