Exploring Berlin’s Dark Past

One of my main reasons for visiting Berlin was to get a feel of the city’s past. I have always been fascinated by German studies and the Berlin Wall.

Even though I have studied World War II extensively, I wanted to take a tour of Berlin from an actual Berliner to get an authentic feel of the city. As mentioned in my previous post I did not plan every detail of my trip I just wanted to wing Berlin and not overlook certain sites by only focusing on others.

The tour began at the Brandenburg Gate which is a symbol of Germany. I was not aware of this at the time but it was in front of the Brandenburg Gate that President Ronald Reagan gave his famous “Tear down this wall” speech. Like most of Berlin, the Gate contains reminders of damage from the war. There are numerous bullet holes and fillings in the Gate.

It is truly unbelievable that I actually visited a place of such significance. I actually had to memorize the speech and recite it in front of my global history class in high school. I regret that the tour was a bit rushed and I did not have the opportunity to take better pictures.

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate

Parts of the Berlin Wall ran very adjacent to the Gate. Exactly behind the Gate are brick patches in the road that fill the areas where the wall was stood. During the occupation the Gate was off limits to East Berliners. (I will elaborate more on the wall later in the post).

Bricks where the Berlin Wall used to be

Bricks where the Berlin Wall used to be

Just a block away from the Gate is the Holocaust Memorial. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe or Holocaust Memorial was built in remembrance of the Jewish victims who died during the Holocaust. The design is concrete slabs of varying sizes along a grid pattern on a sloped field. It appears to fluctuate and not be in any specific order. Below the memorial is a free information center that lists all known victims of the Holocaust. 

I first saw the Holocaust Memorial on my way to the hostel and taught to myself that it looked very important and that I should return to check it. So I was excited when we visited it on the tour.

Holocaust Memorial

Holocaust Memorial

Holocaust Memorial

Holocaust Memorial-between the stelae

Parking lot where Hitler’s bunker was found. Most of the bunker was excavated but the remaining parts were completely sealed off. There was no indication of the site until 2006 as Germans did not want the Nazis to erect a memorial for Hitler. Even today it is just a parking lot in the back of an apartment complex where people walk their dogs.

Parking lot where Hitler's Bunker was located

Parking lot where Hitler’s Bunker was located

After visiting the parking lot we headed to the former Nazi headquarter. It is now the Dept. of Treasury. It is still a dreaded building because of its current status of collecting money lol :).

Former Nazi headquarter

Former Nazi headquarter

On the side of the building was Nazi art which was part of the propaganda.  

Nazi architecture

Nazi architecture

At last, I finally made it to the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961 and divided East Germany from West Germany. It adversely became the “Iron Curtain” that separated the western world from the eastern world. Passage along the wall was not permitted as it was heavily guarded with barb wire, watch towers, and armed guards. The main goal of the wall was to prevent the migration of East Berliners to West Berlin and defectors. These defenses made it nearly impossible to cross especially with the wide area known as the “death strip” which contained traps.

The wall stood until 1989 when the Soviets began to lose power in the Eastern Bloc. The fall of the wall paved the way for German reunification which officially occurred in October of 1990. Parts of the wall that were taken down were donated and sent to different countries. Quite a few pieces are actually scattered throughout New York City. Most notably at the United Nations Headquarters where I intern.

Berlin Wall

Parts of the Berlin Wall-adjacent to the Topography of Terror

The crossing point between East and West Berlin was called Checkpoint Charlie. I took the picture below from a display at the Allied Museum. I am not sure what year it was but from the looks of it it seems to be in 1961 during the Berlin Crisis in which Soviet and American tanks were pointed facing each other. 

Checkpoint Charlie during the occupation

Checkpoint Charlie during the occupation

Since the dissolution of the wall and the USSR the checkpoint has been a tourist destination. Just being at Checkpoint Charlie was an amazing experience and I am really happy that they’ve maintained remnants from the past but I did not take pictures with the guard at risk of sensationalizing the story. Nonetheless, it is great that the site is still standing to give the future generations an idea of how it was to cross over. It is unbelievable how easy it was for me to cross over from East into West Berlin, something that could have cost me my life 30 years ago.

Checkpoint Charlie 2014

Checkpoint Charlie 2014

I enjoyed every moment of being in Berlin. There’s so much history in the city. It is an amazing city with beautiful and friendly people but I could not help but notice how gloomy it was. Was it the weather or just mind over matter? I would say a bit of both. It did rain a little bit during the night but all three days that I was there the city was very gloomy. It was as it the city is over casted by its dark past and the atrocities that were committed there.

Interestingly, there is a sense of responsibility throughout Berlin and the rest of Germany. They have acknowledged the dark times and the crimes against humanity that were committed and while they cannot correct these mistakes they do acknowledge their wrongs and honor the victims. Many countries often deny genocides or any atrocities in the past. However, there are several memorials throughout Germany commemorating the victims. I was only able to visit the Holocaust Memorial but on my next visit I will be sure to visit the other memorials and the East Side Gallery.

Besides this, Berlin can be very exciting. It is very affordable and supposedly have quite the nightlife. I look forward to sharing my other encounters in the German capital. Stay tuned!!

 

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