Berlin has not only lived on to tell its tale, but its story is one worth travelling for
“Go to Berlin.” This is one piece of travel advice that almost every European I have come across has given me. So over Easter break, I decided to do an all-girls trip with my friends to discover what it is that makes Berlin tick.
As the capital of Germany, Berlin has been both witness and home to unprecedented scenes of violence and tragedy in the past. The sheer amount of destruction this city has withstood is certainly unparalleled. While World War II saw many parts of Berlin destroyed in air-raids, the Cold War forced the city to be divided into East and West. Yet Berlin survived through it all.
History ensures Berlin is the museum capital of Europe with over 170 museums and galleries to boast of. Visiting 170 museums in a week maybe a bit ambitious, but then again who wants to spend all day indoors! It’s best to decide based on personal preferences and interests and perhaps even reviews which museums to visit.
My friends and I first visited the Jewish Museum, devoted to the history and culture of Germany’s Jews. With a number of interactive exhibits that give you a better picture of what it meant to be a Jew during different periods of Germany’s history, the museum can keep you engaged for hours. I highly recommend the Berlin Wall Memorial and Documentation centre which pays tribute to the victims of the Wall. The memorial provides visitors an overview of the former death strip, a watchtower and the fortifications that ran along the city. The chilling account of victims who attempted to escape into West Berlin, the stories of families torn apart by the construction of the wall and the reams of document that explain the state of fear imposed on the lives of East Germans make this museum a must-visit.
In glaring contrast to the Death Strip at Bernauer Strasse, the East Side Gallery with approximately 106 paintings by artists from across the world is an expression of the hopes and freedoms of people. This 1.3km long stretch of artistic space is the longest standing section of the Berlin Wall. The paintings at the East Side Gallery range from bizarre to downright inspiring! Don’t be quick to leave the East Side Gallery just yet though.
Tucked away behind the gallery is Ostrand, a beach bar set up along the River Spree. Take off your shoes, dig your feet into the sand, and sip on the city’s famous beer, Berliner Weisse, with a shot of raspberry and you’ll fool yourself into believing you’re on a tropical island.
Be sure not to miss out on the city’s top attractions — the Brandenburg Gate, a former city gate which is now symbolically representative of Berlin; the Reichstag or the German Parliament and the Holocaust Memorial. You will fall in love with the city not because you’re thinking ‘so much to see, so little time’ but because nestled among all this history lie large pockets of greenery. A short walk away from all three of these attractions is Tiergarten, a beautiful park that offers tourists a chance to sit idly on a bench and take in all that you have seen in the last few hours.
Few tours will tell you about the place where Hitler’s bunker was located. Fewer still will take you there. With an old guide book to help us navigate our way, a friend and I nearly gave up looking for the place where Hitler spent his last days. Overlooking a large parking lot which belongs to a block of residential apartments stands an unimpressive plaque which reads, Fuhrer Bunker.
What makes Berlin unique is that every district has a personality of its own. Alexanderplatz, which has a distinct Communist feel with its giant TV tower, will make you look up every few minutes. It may only be your mind playing tricks on you, but you’re bound to feel like you’re under surveillance in this district.
Go down Friedrichstrasse and the beautiful window displays of fancy stores will take you by surprise. The city, however, is known for its flea markets. From old books and postcards to jewellery and even old war memorabilia, these markets spread across the city are a delight for antique lovers.
Food-wise, my gluttonous friends and I were spoilt for choice as Berlin’s restaurants are easy on the student pocket. From Thai and Vietnamese to Moroccan, we ate to our heart’s content every meal. For a more local flavour, currywurst or sausages with what we would call a ‘mild’ curry-like sauce and Doner Kebabs, which are originally Turkish, are Germany’s answer to fast-food.
It’s been 66 years since World War II came to an end. The scars of war are however still palpable in Berlin. Last week the city marked 50 years since the construction of the Berlin Wall. Memories of the wall continue to linger even as Berliners come to terms with their past. Perhaps the reason many Europeans hold Berlin close to their heart is because the city has not only lived on to tell its tale, but its story is one worth travelling for.
Keywords: Berlin wall