My first impression of Berlin was ‘Cute Houses’. As we trained it from Berlin Airport to the city centre we sped past adorable country homes all with incredibly high peaked rooftops, like the kind you would draw as a child when you painted a house for your Mum to stick proudly on the fridge. They were beautiful.
However, as we got closer to the city the pretty pointy country houses disappeared and were replaced by much larger buildings, some beautiful and ornate like the one above, some embellished with amazing graffiti, and some absolutely horrid, resembling a house made of duplo, clearly built in the 1970’s.
The weather was awful when we arrived in Berlin on the Sunday morning – grey clouds, drizzle and it was bloody freezing! So that didn’t exactly work in Berlin’s favour, but we didn’t mind. We’d experienced buckets of rain in Amsterdam and that didn’t dampen our spirits or our first impression! So after checking into our hotel, The Ivbergs in Charlottenburg, we headed straight into the city to do some exploring. There were sights to be seen, cafes to be visited and food to be tried.
One thing I didn’t expect Berlin to be was so empty and quiet. But it really was. Maybe I’m just used to the hustle and bustle of London, and to be fair we did arrive on a Sunday so a lot of things were closed and there was hardly anyone around. But I was blown away by all the ridiculously huge empty spaces Berlin has, it reminded me of being in Beijing, even as we left Berlin Hauptbahnhof train station (which, by the way, is Amazing, you could easily spend a whole morning getting lost there, trying different foods and visiting different shops, see the pics below) we were immediately greeted by a HUGE empty area with nothing there. Like, seriously, nothing. Just cabs and a bus stop. We actually wondered if we’d gotten off at the wrong stop as this didn’t look like the middle of the city, it looked like we had wandered onto an industrial park.
Fortunately a five minute walk across the gravel, a crossing of the bridge and the turn of a few corners and we’d arrived at the eerily Beautiful Reichstag, and not far beyond that was the collosal Brandenburg Gate. We spent most of the afternoon walking around these two areas as well as Museum Island and we headed over to Checkpoint Charlie too.
As incredible as it was to see such beautiful sites and such grand buildings and of course to see part of the Berlin wall for the first time at Checkpoint Charlie; it was also very sad. There are constant reminders everywhere of the War, of the lives lost, of the camps, of the division. And rightly so, it’s not something that can be swept under the rug and forgotten, but it’s the newer generations I feel sorry for. They have to be constantly reminded of what their ancestors did. But then again, it was novelist and philosopher George Santayana who said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” and I completely agree.
But still, these constant reminders alongside the historical and quite mysterious-looking buildings, really gives the city of Berlin an unusual eery tragic feel to it. Even just crossing the road in the rain we spotted the The Neue Wache memorial. Curious we wandered in. There in an empty silent space is the large sculpture “Mother with her Dead Son” by Käthe Kollwitz. I actually got chills down my spine as soon as I saw her.
Then later on after feeling giddy with bellies full of Currywurst, we turned a corner and were met by The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
BUT, as heartbreaking as the Memorials were, nothing could have prepared me for the Topography of Terror. When the Beard first mentioned it to me it sounded like some sort of Rollercoaster ride or interactive experience, y’know like the Tower of Terror.
“No, it’s do with the concentration camps”
“Nope, not doing it” was my response. I did NOT want to go to a concentration camp. My school took us to one when I was 14 years old whilst on exchange trip and I was so disturbed by the very brief intro video that I refused to step foot in the camp itself. I may be sixteen years older now (christ, where has my youth gone??) but I’m still that very sensitive girl with an over-active imagination; once I see something sad or scary I can’t get it out my head for days and in some cases I can have a very physical reaction i.e feeling like I may vomit EVERYWHERE!
“They didn’t have camps in Berlin! It’s an exhibition about the war” the Beard informed me. Okay, I could handle that. So on the morning of our second day we headed to Topographies of Terror.
I was traumatised.
Yet as traumatizing as it was I would still insist that this is a Must Do in Berlin. The entire exhibition is completely captivating yet so incredibly disturbing. I know what happened in the war, I’m not an expert, but I know what happened. Or at least I thought I knew, but it turns out there was a whole bunch of stuff that I didn’t have a clue about, such as the law that was brought in that any physically or mentally disabled person in Germany would be ‘euthanised’. A campaign (with sickening advertising posters) was put in action, encouraging people to come forward with sick relatives or friends, even neighbours, as it was the humane thing to do. But in fact Hitler wanted them dead because he deemed the disabled too expensive. His logic – if they can’t work, they shouldn’t be able to eat! It’s thought upto 300,000 people died in the war this way.
This kind of information, along with a stories of prisoners of war and of jewish families is exhibited alongside disturbing images and footage from the war and the camps, some footage in particular I wish I hadn’t seen. To make it worse, The Topography of Terror exhibit is actually on the site of buildings which during the Nazi regime from 1933 to 1945 were the headquarters of the Gestapo and the SS. So as you stand in the quiet room reading about the tragic events, you can’t help but get creeped out every now and then that your stood where Hitler once stood, where all these god-awful decisions were made, that you are standing in the spot where they had summer parties while keeping certain prisoners locked up just a few doors away *shudders*
After we left we felt drained. We were in need of a drink! So we headed for a beer before continuing playing tourist. And as the day went on we tried to shake off the Topography of Terror; we carried on enjoying ourselves, visiting the Cafe Engelbeckon, eating more Currywurst, making the most of the cheap beer and dancing along to the trance music that blurred out from every single car that drove past. But I wasn’t quite able to shake that morning experience off. The Topography of Terror was constantly in the back of mind.
I honestly had a fantastic trip in Berlin – it was worth going just for the cheap Beer and tasty Currywurst alone – but of all the cities I’ve visited, I’ve never been to one that is so beautiful yet so so tragically dark. Would I go back? Hmmm, yes, I would, but if so I’d be looking for a brand new scene and a totally different experience.
A German rave perhaps???