Thanks to the minimal contact hours for university in Sweden, I recently (a month ago now, since I couldn’t post with the technical difficulties) found myself with five days free. What to do with all this time? Go to Berlin of course!
It’s been something I have been dying to do for years, and the one place I promised myself I would go while I was here even if I went nowhere else. History is a passion of mine, which is why it’s one of my majors back home, and Berlin, and Germany more broadly has been at the heart of history over much of the twentieth century. Germany was a key player in WWI, the instigator of WWII and the Holocaust, and the division of Berlin and Germany is the epitome of the Cold War.
Being able to see the remnants of World War Two and the Cold War gave the history more of a context for me. It heightened my understanding, but also in many senses it made it harder to understand. One example of this is seeing the concentration camp, Sachsenhausen. Being toured around Sachsenhausen and hearing the tales of what took place there, and how horrible it was, really allows you to gain a greater understanding of the sheer magnitude of horrors committed under Nazi German rule. The stories were heartrending, and this wasn’t even one of the worst concentration camps, let alone an extermination camp. It made me remember the way my history lecture began the first lecture of our Nazi Germany topic last semester. He said that for us to imagine one of our friends or family members dying is almost unthinkable, let alone five of them, or all of them, so how could we possibly grasp what the deaths of millions would be like? They are just statistics that you talk about, but can never fully grasp the true meaning of.
On a more positive note, however, I was also able to see how well people are able to bounce back from such tragedy. Berlin has been rebuilt so well, which is even more astounding when you realise that large parts of this didn’t occur until the 1990s, after reunification. An even more prominent example of this is Dresden, a truly beautiful town that I visited for a day trip. The whole town was pretty much completely levelled in the Allied bombing campaign, but looking at it you’d hardly know. The buildings have mostly all been rebuilt, and most of them use the salvageable materials.
So now, some photos:
In order from left to right: the biggest synagogue in Berlin, Hackescher Markt, Berliner Dom, how to tell if a building is pre-WWII – look for bullet holes, looking down into shelves that were once filled with books – the idea is that you see the reflection of the clouds looking like smoke from the book burning, the famous ampelmann – who has entire souvenir shops dedicated to him, the double bricks which show where the wall once stood all through the city, standing on Hitler’s bunker, street art of the famous photo of the guard escaping over the early barbed wire wall, Brandenburger Tor, a memorial at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, the hopeless view of a prisoner – between the hospital (where experiments occurred) and pathology (where bodies were stacked from floor to ceiling awaiting incineration) looking towards the main guard tower and with two behind you, a segment of remaining wall with a memorial site – where the wall was first taken down, and from here on out are photos of the beautiful town of Dresden which I took a day tour to – it was pretty much levelled during WWII but has been almost completely rebuilt with as much original material as possible.