The photographs above were taken in a little town in Germany called Dresden. Despite being completely flattened in WWII, the city was rebuilt to resemble a dreamy landscape of Baroque buildings painted in soft pastels. Berlin, the capital city of Germany, was not so fortunate in the aesthetics department, with modern Plattenbauten buildings juxtaposed against preserved buildings still riddled with bullets and shrapnel from WWII.
Dresden may take first position as the more aesthetic city, but Berlin’s astonishingly thick history is enough to make anyone want to pay a visit to the country home to Oktoberfest, the ampelmännchen and wurst. Every step you take has already been walked by so many influential figures- soldiers, scientists, Nazis and Jews alike. There are so many stories unfolding in the very spot your foot lands that it’s hard to grasp the enormity of it all. At one point I was passing through what I thought was a random car park, only to discover that I was, in fact, standing above the bunker where Hitler took his own life in 1945. Walking through a city with history staring you in the face at every corner can be confronting, but is incredibly rewarding.
Read on for a guide to the top 10 landmarks to see, things to do and food to eat in Berlin, Germany.
BERLIN: Top 10
1. Brandenburg Gate
2. Ritter Sport Factory
Germany may be the leading country in beer and wurst, producing over 40 different kinds of sausage, but chocolate, like every other country in the EU, is also celebrated… hence our visit to both the Lindt cafe and a Ritter Sport factory. I highly recommend the latter as we had the opportunity to create our own blocks of chocolate, adding in our own ingredients like gold stars, strawberry flakes and marshmallows. YUM!
3. Checkpoint Charlie
4. Humboldt University
Humboldt University trained several influential figures, from the Grimm Brothers to Albert Einstein and the Marxist theorist, Karl Marx. It was in this very square that, during the Third Reich, 20, 000 books written by Jews and philosophers- any literary piece which conflicted with the Nazi regime- were stolen from the university’s library and burned. A monument to the event can be found in a small glass panel in the square, looking into a room filled with empty white shelves representing the stolen books.
5. Berliner Dom
6. Holocaust Installation
When I first saw this installation of marble stones standing side by side, I didn’t think much of it. As I began to walk through the installation, sliding on the ice, my perspective instantly changed. Each unique pillar towers over your head, unique in shape, size and texture. From the middle, you are surrounded until the outside world has disappeared. The installation has no solid interpretation, however some believe the stones represent the train carriages the Jews were transported in to the gas chambers. There are 2117 stone pillars- a prime figure- and combined with the fact that each individual pillar is separately designed (some riddled with holes and others polished), it’s a decent guess that the installation is a record of the victims killed in the horrendous purge.
7. Berlin Wall, East & West
The Berlin Wall- a reminder of the aftermath of WWII and the result of Stalin’s Soviet reign in Eastern Germany. The East Gallery was directly outside of the hostel we were staying in, and so on a frosty night in February we walked the length of the landmark. A ‘curriculum vitae’ painted across a section of the wall was especially captivating. It was a mural consisting of a list of the years the wall stood for, with roses painted to depict the East Berliners who had died trying to cross into the West. The writing read, “Escape is a mighty method to destabilise dominion,” and “Gratitude to the killed and surviving refugees.” The East Berliners used entirely insane methods to escape, from zip-lining across the wall to driving straight through it or tunneling underneath. This just proves what a dire situation East Berliners were in under Soviet occupation.
This photograph is of a building near the West Berlin Wall riddled with bullets and chipped from loose shrapnel, a reminder that the city once suffered immense pain.
8. Lindt Cafe
9. Neue Wache Sculpture
The building containing the Neue Wache Scultpure is enormous, so it was with great surprise that I walked into a plain, rectangular room with just one small sculpture in the centre. The juxtaposition between the size of the empty building and the scale of the sombre statue forces every person who walks through the doors to lapse into silence.
Kaethe Kollwitz’s bronze scultpure is of a woman cradling her dead child, marking the universal suffering of losing a loved one to war. The building is a Memorial to Victims of War and Tyranny, however this was not it’s original purpose. It was first built to commemorate the Prussian army’s defeat of Napoleon, and later was the burial site of two WWII vcitims. While no memorial will ever do justice to the horror caused by the Nazis, this one re-purposes a building which once glorified war in a contrast of victim and perpetrator.
Pretzels are self-explanatory, really.