Berlin, Germany - My Family Travels

Berlin, Germany:  A city like no other.  A huge metropolitan area, its history is what draws most travelers to Berlin.  Where else can you go to not only see, but to wander past, history from World War II Nazi control through the Soviet occupation?

Berlin is famous for its historical landmarks.  Throughout various parts of the city you run into the most infamous of these sites, The Berlin Wall.  The largest remaining section of the actual Wall is now a part of the East Side Gallery.  Here, the wall is decorated with various graffiti-style murals painted by world-renowned artists.  Standing in the shadow of art celebrating freedom and “one world without a wall”, it is easy to lose yourself in just how intimidating The Wall actually was to the citizens of Berlin.

For those looking to learn more about the Cold War, the House at Checkpoint Charlie is the museum for you!  Ten times more informative and a hundred times more interesting than a textbook documentation of the conflict, the museum gives history a face with personal stories and artifacts of the brave Berliners who lived through the Soviet reign of terror.

Travelers interested in World War II history will not be disappointed by Berlin. Throughout the city, sites such as Hitler’s Chancellery and the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church are always worth a visit.  The single most important site from this area, however, is located about forty minutes outside of Berlin.

It is impossible to understand the historical importance of World War II without touching on the Holocaust.  A short drive out of the city will bring a traveler to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, located in Oranienburg.  Established in 1936, the camp was used by the Nazis primarily to detain political prisoners.  After the end of Hitler’s Germany in 1945, Soviet forces took over Sachsenhausen’s facility to detain their own political prisoners.

Walking into Sachsenhausen under gates marked Arbeit Macht Frei (work brings freedom), visitors will first notice an unsettling silence.  The sounds of nearby traffic are instantly muted by the huge stone walls surrounding the camp.  There is not a hint of a breeze, yet over the barbed-wire barriers one can see the leaves of nearby trees fluttering pleasantly.  There is a certain odor in the air, pressing in all around you.  The logical part of your brain can’t quite identify it, but deep down inside you know the odor is a lasting memorial to the atrocities that have occurred in the crematorium.  Even the birds show their respect to the site by keeping silent.

While Sachsenhausen has been converted into a museum, and there are several informational exhibits, the best way to truly experience the camp is not to read all the informational cards:  simply walk through the camp, barracks, parade grounds, morgue, execution trench, and crematorium.  Don’t focus on the facts and figures.  Focus on the human element of Sachsenhausen by looking into the eyes of prisoners in the many photographs displayed.  This is how a traveler can truly learn about the horrors of the Holocaust.

Other frequently-visited historical sites include Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag Building.  Shoppers shouldn’t miss Ka De We, a seven-floor department store.  Unter Den Linden is the perfect café and shop-lined street to take a stroll.

Berlin is often referred to as a city of contradictions:  with older, elegant German buildings sitting next to stark, ultra-modern Soviet construction; remembering its dark history while moving forward to find its new identity.  There is no particular adjective that can describe this city.  Berlin cannot be classified; it must simply be experienced.

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