Complex Berlin

Berlin left me feeling confused, but I kind of expected it to. The demographics and the town itself is more diverse than Prague or Budapest. I couldn't get a specific vibe or choose a certain color for it. Everybody knows that there is soooo much history there, but you can't actually see much of it because the whole city was terribly destroyed after World War II. For example, the area around the former site of Hitler's Bunker where he stayed near the end of the war and during his final days is now next to some completely normal apartment buildings. His body was burned not too far from them. But there are obvious reasons as to why there are no remnants of the bunker. No one wanted to leave a place that could be turned into a pilgrimage site for Nazi supporters. Some of the most major sites of Berlin had to undergo reconstruction. Therefore, lots of the city is very modern and was different from the other parts of Europe that I had seen. Nevertheless, the history is preserved through other monuments and easily accessible information throughout.

Small sections of the Berlin Wall are still standing and accompanied by panels of historical facts at the Berlin Wall Memorial (there are two) and the East Side Gallery. You can follow the path of the wall too, with lined bricks on the ground that cut through roads and sidewalks and plaques reading "Berliner Mauer, 1961-1989." Checkpoint Charlie is another place to see the history of Berlin's East and West division, though the current replica of this checkpoint is not where the original one actually stood. The replica is conveniently near the stunning Brandenburg Gate at Pariser Platz. Napoleon Bonaparte marched his troops under the Gate after defeating Prussia in the 1800s. But Prussia later defeated the French, hence the name Pariser Platz. Just on the other side of the Brandenburg Gate is the Reichstag Building. The glass dome here gives 360 degree views (buy tickets in advance) and currently houses Germany's Parliament. Within view of the Reichstag is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial. It is an area of 2,711 grey blocks of different levels. Information about it is located underground in the same spot. This memorial is still controversial even 10 years after its completion. Many believe that it is inadequate and too abstract. More Holocaust history is at the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp an hour away from Berlin with free admission.

Berlin is more than its infamous and extensive 20th century history. Berlin and nearby towns hold former homes of royalty from the era of Prussian rule before Germany unified to actually become Germany in the late 1800s. Away from the hub of Brandenburg Gate and the memorials is Charlottenburg Palace, the largest palace in Berlin. It was built for Sophie Charlotte, the first Queen consort of Prussia. Famous names like Queen Louise, King Frederick the Great, and King Frederick Wilhelm III all left their mark on the palace as well. The castle includes a ballroom (the Golden Gallery), Prussian crown jewels, items from Frederick the Great's collection, and a large park where Sophie Charlotte used to spend her days as only royalty would.

Other iconic locations of Prussian royalty are found near Berlin just 40 minutes away in Potsdam. Before Potsdam became famous due to the Potsdam Conference held by the "Big Three," Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin during World War II, the town was known for the Sanssouci Palace. This was the summer palace of Frederick the Great, king of Prussia. He designed the palace himself in the 1700s. The palace opened in 1747 and translates to "without worry" or "without a care" in French. It is surrounded with vineyards and gardens rivaling France's Versailles.

Though Berlin may not be my favorite German place that I have visited thus far, it is a favorite among quite a few other travelers that I have met. It is not the best place for authentic Germany - it's cosmopolitan and a headquarters for the Europe of the 21st century as Germany and Angela Merkel are centerpieces of the EU. I heard multiple languages other than German and English, and stopped for boba tea too (not a German beverage). No lederhosen or fairy tale artsy chic wood paneled homes, but David Bowie called it, "the greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine," and I'd assume that he was a pretty well-traveled guy.

Transportation tips: Berlin has transportation above and below street level: the S and U, respectively. There are buses as well. It can get confusing because of the size of the city and it is very spread out rather than tight-knit and dense like Paris. I had to accept defeat and use map apps on my phone instead of a paper map.

Weather Tips: Colder weather than you might expect during March. Trust me, I know.

More things to do and see:
  • The Berliner Dom Cathedral: offers views of the entire city if you go up to the top and has a mausoleum with royals and nobility.
  • Bratwursts! Located all over the city, like Curry 36 and Kumpel and Keule Metzgerhandwerk.
  • Berlin has lots of nightlife. The Klunker Kranich rooftop bar gives a view of the city.
  • Stolperstein Stones (aka Stumbling Stones) are small bronze plaques on sidewalks around Berlin that feature names of Nazi victims. The plaques for each victim are situated at their individual former places of residency. Keep your eye out for them and stand where they once stood at their homes before being taken away by the Nazis.
  • Walking Tours - If had I not done a Sandeman's walking tour, I would not have known anything about Hitler's Bunker and probably would have walked right past where it used to be. The guide gave amazing facts about many of the locations mentioned in this post. Sandeman's tours have great guides and are in most major European cities. It was incredible to learn about the historic events that had occurred right where we were standing (like book burnings at Humboldt University, to name another example). Check out their website for lists of all tours and cities:
  • Flea Markets, also all over the city (but beware of pushy salespeople).

Berliner Dom Cathedral

Bratwursts and sausages: There's a reason why Germany is so famous for them!

Brandenburg Gate at Pariser Platz

The Reichstag behind Brandenburg Gate

The Holocaust Memorial

Humboldt University - Einstein was once here

10 outta 10 sausages from this restaurant

Berlin Wall Memorial

Charlottenburg Palace

Charlottenburg Palace Gardens