Not being the biggest Math fan, I opted for Higher Grade History over Standard Grade Math in High School. Out of the 3 years of History studied, it was the topic of Germany that intrigued me the most. Over 200 millennia of stories comprising of WW2, Hitler, The Nazi’s, Kristallnacht, Propaganda, The Holocaust, The Berlin Wall, it was no wonder I achieved almost A’s in this subject. It wasn’t until my first visit to the country in December that made me realize just how special Berlin in particular, was.
In a nutshell : Adolf Hilter came into power in 1933. Between imprisonment and Kristallnacht, Hitler irradicated almost 1/3 of the Jewish Community, with most of them being sent to concentrations camps such as Sachsenhausen and later Auschwitz – the one most of us are familiar with. Large portions of Berlin were destroyed in WW2 including over 100,000 civilians, and once the war was over, thousands of refugees flocked to East Berlin. It was then, in 1961 that Berlin was divided into four parts. The USA, UK and France formed West Berlin and Russia/Soviet Union, East Berlin.
East Germany began the construction of the Berlin Wall, which was to separate the East from West and in 1961 an intense standoff took place at Checkpoint Charlie. All those wanting to pass from West to East Germany had to do so via this strictly controlled check point. Most civilians tried to find alternative ways of crossing the border, which was either down right genius, or resulted in death. Only in 1971 did the government grant access to and from West Germany via vehicle and train.
The pressure from the East German population and that of the Cold War caused the fall of the Berlin Wall on 09 November 1989. On 3 October 1990 the two sides reunited and Berlin became the official capital of Germany.
Over the December holidays we visited Berlin and stayed in Friedrichstrasse along the Spree River, which is the centre of Berlin and the most convenient. Everything worth seeing is within walking distance. The Brandenburg Tor, is about 3km from where we stayed, which was the first item on my list. The Berlin Wall used to run just alongside it, separating East from West. To be standing in front of such a monstrous landmark exactly where the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 was something special. It has become a symbol of reunification and a reminder of the overcoming of their turbulent past.
If you ever watched the movie Bridge of Spies with Tom Hanks, you will notice it also took place in Berlin, during Winter, where the last scene of the movie is set at Checkpoint Charlie. Once you have visited the Checkpoint Charlie Museum across the road from this landmark you wont leave the same person. Witnessing what these civilians went through to cross the border was truly astonishing. Now, the actual checkpoint is a tourist attraction and for 10 Euros you can have your picture taken with the ‘on duty guards’ who provide quite a bit of entertainment.
The East Side Gallery (a taxi or bus ride away) is home to a portion of the Berlin wall, which has been painted with creative works of art by various artists and runs for about 6km. If it wasn’t 3 degrees the day we were there, I would’ve liked to have walked the entire length of the last remaining wall, but 500m was enough for me!
Many other landmarks are worth seeing such as: The Victory Column, Parliament /Reichstag Building, The Holocaust Memorial, Gendarmenmarket, a Red Bus tour of course, the Television Tower, the Mercedes Benz Arena and the tallest structure in Berlin, the Fernsehturm, which rises 368 metres. Don’t forget to eat a pretzel, drink gluwein and get your morning coffee from Starbucks – after a frosty 10km run around the city of course!
Berlin is also known for its incredible Christmas markets, of which we visited a few, drinking litres of Gluwein and packets upon packets of hot, roasted and caramelised nuts! On 18 December after buying a new pair of running shoes (which I was going to go back and buy the next day – because honestly did I really need them?), we walked through the Breitscheidplatz market, only to wake up two mornings later to here about what we now call the “Berlin Christmas Attack.” Sitting in awe on our bed, with tears running down my face, I couldn’t believe what had happened the night before and thinking what if.
Watching the candlelit vigils at the Brandenburg Gates on television and following the story for days after the attack whilst in Munich and then Italy, just made Berlin mean that much more to me. I have no words to describe Berlin. It’s a feeling. It’s an emotion. It is truly a very special place.
Hotel Recommendation: Hotel Melia Berlin – www.melia.com