Berlin is full of history, from WWI and WWII to the split of the city in half by the Berlin Wall, which fell less than 30 years ago. World-famous street art links in seamlessly with the city’s past and showcases its torrid history whilst also celebrating its future. With only 48 hours here, we had to seriously commit to sightseeing and damn, did we cram a lot into two days.
After landing late Wednesday night and heading to our (awesome) hostel, we dragged ourselves out of bed bright and early to make the most of our first day. Stop one on the itinerary was the Brandenburg Gate – cliché I know – but it really is quite impressive in real life, and I completely understand now why it’s an iconic symbol of Berlin. From here we wandered down to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which manages to be poignant and beautiful and mysterious and slightly eerie all at once.
From the roadside, it looks like a collection of tombs, an expansive graveyard, but when you walk into it, along the paths between each concrete block, it becomes something much more emotive. The deeper into the middle you get, the higher the blocks tower above you, the more evocative the experience becomes. As expected, there were the tourists you hear about but hope you won’t actually see, climbing on the memorial in acts of sheer selfie-taking disrespect. I’ll never understand why people think that’s okay, even less so after visiting the museum underneath the Memorial and learning about some of the families who lost their lives in the Holocaust. How anyone can disregard these people’s lives, the loss of which happened during one of the most heinous crimes in human history, is beyond me.
After this we took a walk along Potsdamer Straße, reflecting on what we’d read in the museum and discussing all of the things we didn’t understand about the war. On our way, we stumbled upon a part of the Berlin Wall, sat on a street corner on Potsdamer Platz, and we also saw the beginnings of some pipework currently being put up throughout the whole city, exactly where the Berlin Wall once was.
Hungry for more information, and still not really understanding how it all happened (can you tell we stopped history before GCSE?), we headed to the Topography of Terror. Before heading in we walked along the section of the Berlin Wall that still stands outside the museum. It’s imposing, but at the same time it’s almost beyond comprehension that a stretch of concrete could have kept friends and families, two sides of a city, separate for 28 years.
Inside, our thirst for knowledge was most definitely quenched. Spanning all the way from the beginning of WWII to the end and beyond, it was both parts fascinating and overwhelming – tying every person, every organisation and every element into one staggering mass of information. If that wasn’t enough, we spent the rest of the afternoon at the Berlin Story Bunker, reading about the war again, this time starting at Hitler’s birth. It was A LOT, and by the end of the day, I didn’t think I could read anymore, or learn anything for at least a week.
Needing to recover from our hard day of reading and generally haunting histories, we set off to find a Berlin classic – the Currywurst. I was slightly sceptical but it was delicious, a welcome treat after the intense day we’d had. We retired back to the hostel, bellies full of food and brains full of knowledge.
We were definitely in need of a more wholesome day, so started off with a hearty breakfast in the hostel’s cafe. First up was a trip to Teufelsberg, the abandoned US Cold War listening station in Grunewald Forest, a way out of the city. We jumped on the S-Bahn, then began our walk – which turned out to be much more of a hike through the forest than it needed to be. Google Maps decided to take us up huge (and unnecessary) hills, through the woods and underneath fallen trees, before we finally stumbled out onto the path surrounding the station. It was one of the strangest places I’ve ever been – full of graffiti and incredible street art; super creepy, but super cool. I was really disappointed to find out that you can no longer go up and inside the towers, which would have been even cooler. Apparently, they’ve been told that tourists are no longer allowed inside, which I reckon is code for someone’s injured themselves and the site is now a safety concern. The highlight of the whole place is its abandoned nature, so I was disappointed to find out that they’re turning it into a legit tourist spot. The derelict, dilapidated charm of it might soon be gone. I just wish I could have visited a few years ago and stood on the roof, climbed up the winding passageways and got a real feel of the place.
Legs dead, feet aching, we got on the S-Bahn back into the city to find lunch. We stumbled across a really tasty cafe called Beets&Roots and feasted on burrito bowls, then grabbed a fairtrade free-range eco-friendly home-roasted (code for pretentious) coffee before taking a walk to Museum Island to see the Berlin Dom. We had planned to go up but the weather was miserable and the view wouldn’t have been great, so admiration from the outside did the job instead.
The final stop on the list was the East Side Gallery, a testament to the Berlin Wall and its past, with artwork from artists from all over the world. Some of the art was incredible, and it really was a testament to the wall – it seemed like a great and unifying thing had come out of Berlin’s torrid past. Many of the artworks were painted in 1989 or 1990, the same year or just a year after the Berlin Wall fell. Imagining people reunited from East and West, creating together towards a common good really made it a special sight.