Snapshots of Berlin, Germany
From the moment we moved to Germany, Ben told us he wanted to go to Berlin.
Every time we took a short trip, he would ask when we were going to Berlin.
So as our year in Germany was winding down, we decided we needed to make it happen. We rented a car and headed for Berlin.
Now, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that one of Ben’s primary reasons for wanting to go to Berlin was to watch a League of Legends championship series, which he did while we were there.
But we also managed to fit in seeing a lot of Berlin as well, which made this history-loving Mama happy.
We did a Rick Steve’s walking tour (via the app) on our first morning in Berlin, which took us through most of the major sites.
We had a gorgeous day, and even though it was July, the city was not nearly as busy as I had suspected it might be. (Note to self: Berlin is a great European city to visit in the summer!)
One of my favorite things about Germany is how there is a constant reckoning with the hardest parts of German history. (We Americans could learn a lot from the Germans about reckoning.) These slates of rock are in front of the Reichstag, and they mark the lives (and deaths) of the people in government who tried to stand up to Hitler in the early days of his rise to power.
Near the Reichstag is a small garden with a map of all the concentration camps, the death tolls and a stone for each camp.
You cannot walk far without seeing a reminder in Berlin of the Holocaust.
If you keep an eye out, you will see Solpersteines marking the last homes of Jewish people before they were rounded up and taken away to their deaths. These stones are all over Europe.
Around the corner from the Brandenburg Gate is another important memorial that has been in Berlin since 2005.
It is the official Holocaust Memorial of Berlin and it is actually titled: Memorial to The Murdered Jews. I think it’s so significant that the act of murder is acknowledged in the title. There is no ambiguity. Underneath this field of 2,711 concrete slabs is a short exhibition hall about the Holocaust. It’s not recommended for young children, but we took Simon (age 11) to both the Holocaust visitor center and to the Jewish Museum in Berlin.
This gorgeous modern sculpture is inside a large bank building just next to the Brandenburg Gate.
Parts of the subway system in Berlin still look exactly as they did before the Berlin Wall went up because these stations were closed and out of use while Berlin was divided. Here are the boys in front of some old school green subway tiles.
In front of the illustrious Humboldt University is the large courtyard square where Hitler burned books.
In the middle of the square you can stand on top of a glass window and look down into a room full of empty bookshelves, enough to hold 20000 books. This is the reminder that this many books were burned by the Nazis in 1933 here in the Bebelplatz.
Museum Island was the next stop on our walking tour. We had a rest to watch people in the garden in front of the Berlin Cathedral. Everyone was out “taking the sun” as they do when it shines in Germany.
We had such a gorgeous few days in Berlin, so we didn’t spend too much time indoors. The only museum we all four went to was the Jewish Museum.
We headed there after walking past the famous TV tower, and after a quick visit to Checkpoint Charlie.
The museum has two buildings, an older one and then a new one designed by Libeskind. The architecture of the new building was so fascinating and effective that it took me a long time to get through it to focus on the actual exhibitions.
Here’s a quote from Libeskind about the design:
The new design, which was created a year before the Berlin Wall came down, was based on three conceptions that formed the museum’s foundation: first, the impossibility of understanding the history of Berlin without understanding the enormous intellectual, economic and cultural contribution made by the Jewish citizens of Berlin, second, the necessity to integrate physically and spiritually the meaning of the Holocaust into the consciousness and memory of the city of Berlin. Third, that only through the acknowledgement and incorporation of this erasure and void of Jewish life in Berlin, can the history of Berlin and Europe have a human future.
There is a section called the Garden of Exile, which is tilted and disorienting, with these pillars that block your views.
Then there are empty spaces throughout the museum, voids which represent, in Libeskind’s words: that which can never be exhibited when it comes to Jewish Berlin history: Humanity reduced to ashes.
The voids are effective. There is all this empty space to remind you that something is missing. Or more accurately, that someone is missing.
There are several rooms that you walk into and don’t know what you’re meant to do. You have to sort of wait and see. In one of the voids, all you can do is walk across this floor of metal faces and listen to the noise they make.
Then there are the exhibitions, the history of Jewish life in Germany beginning in medieval times. There is this long rich history of Jewish communities living and working and thriving in Germany. There is also a long history of persecution, but none so unimaginable and horrifying as the Holocaust. In the history leading up to Hitler’s rise to power, you can see the signs of discrimination becoming more acceptable and widespread. The history was haunting in both its telling of the events of WWII Germany and for how many patterns of hatred felt eerily familiar.
It took me close to three hours to get through the Jewish Museum and I rushed through the end because the boys were already done and waiting, so if you go, plan accordingly.
After the museum we found some dinner (and a Biergarten). We walked along a preserved section of the Berlin Wall, and then headed off to bed. The next day we visited nearby Potsdam before taking the boys to their video game event. And then Simon and Taido headed back to Tübingen while Ben and I stayed on for one more day in Berlin before taking a much-anticipated trip to Poland to see a dear friend of his.
On our last day in Berlin together, Ben and I walked a TON up and down the river, because that’s one of my favorite things to do in any European city (including Rome, Paris and London).
We walked by lots of modern eye candy architecture.
Fun walkways and places to sit out by the river in the sunshine.
Long stretches of garden where you could order a picnic or bring your own.
We also visited the German History Museum which we did not even manage to get all the way through before it closed. Ben has had way more European History in school than I ever did, so he enjoyed walking through the museum. I am always blown away by how I know almost nothing from before about 1935. So I pretty much have most of European history still to learn.
We also walked by these monuments to remember those who were killed while trying to cross the Berlin Wall into West Germany. So much sadness.
We claimed a spot on this green grass for a while to sit and rest after two days of walking and learning.
The new Deutsche Bahn (train station) in Berlin is gorgeous. It’s full of shopping and restaurants, which was handy for us as we got ready to travel on to the next portion of our trip.
We grabbed some train station Pho before hopping an overnight bus to Gdansk, Poland.
We all said we would be glad to return to Berlin again, especially in the summertime!