A famous man once said “he who controls Berlin, controls Europe”. Sadly I can’t remember who said it or when it was said but after visiting Germany’s capital city and learning its history I can understand why.
Although Berlin is now a very vibrant city with a lot going on, it also has a very dark past that is still very present today. Everywhere you look you will see something relating to either the Second World War or the Cold War. Even if it’s something small like the different red and green men on the traffic lights that were different between East and West Berlin and have stayed. (The man has a little hat on if you’re in what was East Berlin).
Rather than doing a day by day diary of what we did, I’m going to write about the top 10 things.
10. Hitlers Bunker.
No, we didn’t go down into it. In fact, no one can and I would actually challenge you to try and find the location! The only reason we knew it was there was because we went on a walking tour. The man took us to a car park and told us all about Hitlers last few days and told us where all the Nazi HQ buildings used to be. Hitler got married to Eva Brown in this bunker once he realised he’s lost the war as he didn’t want to die a bachelor. Less than 31 hours later, the two of them bit cyanide capsules and he shot himself in the same bunker. He asked for his body to be burned after his death so that nothing awful/humiliating was done if/when his body was found. There is absolutely no sign or plaque or anything probably because a) he doesn’t deserve it and b) you don’t want I attract the wrong crowd to that car park!
9. The location of our hostel.
I booked all the hostels before we’d done any research on the cities so I have had to guess a bit with location. Although it wasn’t as nice as our previous hostels and it definitely wasn’t the Hotel Adlon (the most expensive hotel in Berlin and had the queen stay last month. Most famous for being the hotel where Micheal Jackson dangled his baby out the window in 2002) it was right in the city centre and nearly all the main tourist sites were within a 40 minute walk. It’s called CityStay Mitte and I found it on Hostelworld. If you do ever decide to go, bear in mind that they don’t accept cards!
8. Asisi Panorama Berlin.
To mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in November last year, an artist called Yadegar Asisi has created a huge panorama photo of what Berlin looked like when the wall was in use. You walk in and first see a large collection of people’s photos and memories from when they were at the wall on the 9th of November 1989 and from the months afterwards when people from all over went to see the new Berlin (and take a piece of the wall as a souvenir!). You then walk into the main part where you can go up to a platform and really see what it was like to be in West Berlin, looking out to East Berlin and you get a bit of a feel for what it was like.
7. The Bundestag/The Reichstag Building.
This building was was completed in 1894 and has always served as the German Houses of Parliament. Nowadays it is also a tourist attraction. After all of Germany’s years of dictatorship, a British architect designed a glass dome on top of the building. It is designed in such a way that when people visit, they can look down onto what’s happening in parliament. It’s a symbol to remind the government that they are not above the people, they are there to serve and do what is best for the people. Sadly, you have to book a few days in advance so we couldn’t go up.
6. Matrix Nightclub.
Berlin has such a crazy nightlife that going out is a must – better on weekends but still pretty good midweek! We had predrinks in the hostel and then got a 10 minute train to the ‘party area’ of Berlin (around the Berlin Wall East Side Gallery). It was only 7€ entry and although Berlin is known for electro music, Matrix on a Thursday night had a great variety! We’ve been talking all day about how good it was! (We’re now on a 4.5 hour train journey to Prague not feeling our finest!)
5. Brandenburg Gate.
Germany became an official state in 1871 and this was one of 14 entrances and exits through the wall that went around Berlin. Now it is the only one remaining. The plaza that surrounds it was destroyed in World War Two and then was rebuilt until the Berlin Wall was erected when it became a death strip. Now all the buildings surrounding it are less than 25 years old.
4. The Berlin Wall Memorial.
Just down the road from Checkpoint Charlie, there is a strip of remaining wall that has been left exactly as it was after the fall in 1989. You can imagine how it would have looked before and you can see what state it was left in after protesters attacked it. There are marks all over where people have taken sledge hammers and chisels to it and graffitied it too. It gave me an idea of what it might have been like on that historical night.
3. Checkpoint Charlie.
Around the wall there were 3 gates in and out. Checkpoints A, B and C (so Charlie comes from the American phonetic alphabet). Checkpoint Charlie became the most famous and there are so many events that happened here over the years including ones that could have kicked off World War Three! Today it has been rebuilt and there are two guards dressed up as American soldiers that are there to take photos with. Rumour has it, they’re strippers by night! Directly in front there is a huge photo of a man in US Army uniform. This is not Charlie. This is a picture of the last man on duty at the checkpoint. There is also a museum that seems very interesting about how people managed to pass and events that happened. We didn’t have time but if I go back to Berlin then I’ll go!
2. Berlin Wall East Side Gallery.
This is the longest strip of remaining wall at 1.2km and is covered in paintings done by 118 artists from 21 countries. There is even a small bit of the second wall remaining so you can see how big the death strip was. It’s very weird to think that this wall made a divide between not just two halves of a country, but two completely different societies and ways of life.
1. Memorial to the Murdered Jews of the Second World War.
You might be quite surprised to see this as my number 1 thing about Berlin. Honestly, it surprised me too as I didn’t know it existed before I arrived! The memorial was built in 2005 and there are a few things about it that particularly interested me. Number one is that it is right in the middle of the city centre. This is showing that Germany is facing up to it’s past and not just ignoring the horrible things that happened some 70 years ago. It also fascinated me that there is no true explanation for it is the way it is. The architect refused to explain his reasons behind it to force people to really think and make their own interpretations of the blocks. Another thing I liked was that it was very quiet and there wasn’t a single piece of graffiti. People are very respectful here.
Extra Berlin Wall facts:
– built on the 13th of August 1961 practically overnight.
– was a border between East (Soviet) and West (capitalist) Berlin, owned by East and West Germany.
– West Berliners could touch the wall but in East Berlin there was a 20m death strip.
– 156km circumference
– In 28 years only 5000 people made it across (1500 were guards!)
– Around 150 people were killed trying to cross.
– The Fall of the Berlin Wall was on the 9th of November 1989 when a politician announced changes in travel regulations saying that people could travel between East and West if they had a passport and approved documentation. However, as he had missed the meeting when this was decided, he didn’t know all the answers to all the questions and said it comes into effect immediately. People went mad and within 20 minutes, all the gates were open and there were parties in the streets when people saw friends and loved ones for the first time in 28 years.
– Nowadays you can see on the floor where the Berlin Wall used to be.
Obviously there are way more than 10 things to see and do in Berlin like a couple of cathedrals and museum Island (which is really pretty) and of course, a LOT of bars and clubs. I think Berlin has been my favourite city so far so I will definitely be back!
- Country: Germany
- Country Population: 82 million
- Spoken language: German
- Unit of currency: Euro (€)
- Time zone: GMT +1
Food rating: 7/10
Boy rating: 7/10
Boy creepiness rating: 7/10
Tackiest gift: ? Can’t remember!
What I would do different: spending more time there and booking the reichstag in advance
Next stop; Prague!