On Wednesday, I woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to step out into Berlin and see more of this amazing city. Before arriving, some of my American friends recommended the Sandmans New Europe tours. I’ve been on a few free tours in other European cities with great experiences so I figured I’d try this one too.
On this morning I met my tourguide Rob, an Englishman with a sad love-story-gone-wrong, bringing him to Berlin a few years ago. I met him in the middle of Pariser Platz, or Paris Square, which looks upon the Brandenburger Tor. This square was named after the French capital in honour of the anti-Napoleon Allies’ occupation of Paris in 1814. Basically, Napoleon took the arch, put in near the Louvre, Germany took it back, renamed their square to mean the Victory (which sits on top the Brandenburg Gate) is always watching over Paris (or, the French). Pretty cheeky!
We then learned a little history such as – did you know the word Berlin is Slovak? Or that Germany was once part of the Prussian empire? At one point, Prussia was “enormous” but eventually become part of Germany and Poland. In 1871, Germany unified and, under Prussian leadership, became the German Empire.
Next we came across the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This memorial was opened 9 years ago on the 60th Anniversary of WWII. It is centrally located, forcing people every day to confront the memorial and what it stands for. This memorial is specifically for 6 million Jewish people murdered during WWII; every other group of people were murdered during this time have their own memorial somewhere in Berlin. Peter Eisenam, the designer of the memorial, has left the meaning behind it up to interpretation for each individual. One interpretation we heard from Rob, was that it represents the rise of anti-Semitism. As you move in towards the middle of the memorial, it becomes deeper, making the stones taller. The memorial looks like a bell-shaped curve – lower on the edges and increase/peaks in the middle. The middle represent Hitler’s rein. This is not just a memorial, but also a warning for what we need to protect. Under the memorial is the Holocaust museum, which I plan to visit before leaving Berlin.
From there we came across a car park. How is this interesting, you might ask? This car park is where Hitler’s Bunker used to be. It is now blank as to not glorify what was once there. It is also the site where Hitler and his wife, Ave, committed suicide in 1945, one day after their marriage. Didn’t stay here long, as I’m sure you understand why!
Walking down the street in the rain, we came across Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus, which was once a Nazi building. In 1952, this mural was painted on it to “depict” what life in East Germany was like. More than likely, this was not a realistic representation, but more for show to the American and Soviet governments.
Behind Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus is what the Berlin wall looked like in 1961. Its rounded top made it impossible for people to grab hold/climb over. Life in West Berlin was better than the east, and the wall separated many loved ones unexpectedly. In its 28 ½ years existence, only 121 people successfully made it from East Berlin to West Berlin. This wall is the 7th version as it’s been torn down/rebuilt since its destruction in 1989.
A quick walk from here brought us to Checkpoint Charlie, the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point during the Cold War and where the United States and Soviet Union met during this time period. Sargent Harper the American soldier pictured, looks towards East Berlin while the other side pictures a Soviet Union soldier, tasked to watch West Berlin. Again, this is just a replicate, and according to Rob, not a completely accurate one.
The rest of the tour took us through Tolerance Square, past the Dasconcert Haus, Deutsche Oper Berlin, the site of the 1933 Nazi Book Burning, TV Tower and ended on Museumsinsel. We also learner about the Ampelmännchen. This is the symbol shown on the cross walk sign. As one of the few features still in existence from communist East Germany, he has become a popular tourist symbol.
Let’s be honest, I think I learned more about Berlin and Germany during this tour than I ever did in history class. Big shoutout to Rob for being an awesome tour guide, and for providing an educational, entertaining and enjoyable afternoon. Though it rained off and on, I am so glad I decided to go. I already have my Munich reservation so hopefully it’s as good as the Berlin tour!