Berlin is a great city, there is so much going on, and it is almost the cultural and historical centre of recent European history.  Navigating the German metro system is fortunately quite easy after you get used to it, so changing back into German (and Euros) was more familiar (although we miss Prague!).
Our first night in Berlin was fairly uneventful, our new accommodation is less glamorous than where we have previously been staying, however is likely to be the new standard so a dose of cement was in order.  We are staying a little way out of the city but instead of being quieter the bar one floor down and train station 50m makes sure we don’t miss out on the noise!
Brandenburg Gate
We started a very wet Wednesday with a walking tour around Berlin.  Starting at the Brandenburg gate and we took the opportunity to take some photos before moving on to the German Riechstard or German Parliament, an architecturally wonderful building that has a concept that I love.  Atop the building sits a glass dome, which with a booking a week in advance you are able to walk through and around, forever serving as a reminder to the German politicians that the people are above the parliament – a concept that could be learned from worldwide.
After touring this area we walked to the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, an entire city block filled with concrete pillars that by the centre tower over you as you walk through.  Quite a remarkable sight with a deliberately vague meaning intended to have a different meaning to everyone who pays their respects and visits the memorial.
The next stop on the tour was where Hitler had his underground bunker.  As you can see from the photo there is no evidence whatsoever that this was the headquarters for Nazi operations during the Second World War.  The German government has deliberately left the site this way, and in fact the only information sign that marks the spot is one that is paid for by residents of the buildings surrounding, sick of having tourists bother them with questions about how to get in and where.
The Longest Stretch of the remaining
Berlin wall
From the site of the bunker we continued on to the German Air force building, left remarkably untouched during the Second World War.  This may sound strange that such an important building to the German military would stay standing at the end of the war but the reason is because of its sheer size and distinctive look it was used by English planes as a point of reference when conducting bombing runs.
The Berlin Wall was next on our tour and we got a description of what life behind the Iron Curtain would have been like.  Overnight the Soviets whilst occupying Berlin and worried about the exodus of people from East Germany through Berlin moved troops into position and closed the checkpoints that led to West Berlin.  The history and stories of just how hard it was to get across from East to West Berlin were remarkable, although scaling the wall was the easiest part.  Getting across the death strip was what claimed the lives of most would be escapees.
The Memorial for Victims of War
A few hundred metres from the Berlin wall is the well known site of Checkpoint C or Checkpoint Charlie, one of the checkpoints that would allow passage from East to West Berlin.  Although none of the original buildings remain standing there is a reconstructed US Army ‘Office’ that occupies the middle of the street.  Also ‘guarding’ the checkpoint are a few German actors who will pose for a photo, or let you wear their hat for a few Euros.  We also visited the war memorial, one of the challenges that the Germans have is remembering the losses on their side of the war. Different to other countries where fallen soldiers are considered hero’s and patriots, because the Germans fought on a different side of the war
The Berlin Concert House
The tour then took a different turn as we ventured into the area of the Prussians, and we saw the magnificent square that houses the one of Germany’s biggest Concert Halls as well as two remarkable cathedrals.  We also toured the sight of Humbold University, where the Faculty of Law operates out of the old Palace.  This building sits in the same square where the book burning took place in Berlin.  During the rule of the Nazi’s 20 000 books that were written by Jews, or other groups not favoured by the regime were burned by university students.  The memorial is a sealed vault underground with empty bookcases – enough to house 20 000 books and a plaque with an inscription from a Jewish author in the 1850’s that reads “where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also”.
Our tour ended at Museum Island where we listened to a recount of the events that led to the fall of the Berlin wall and how it has affected Germany as a country. The walking tours are a great way to see the city and I am extremely glad that we are doing them because the information that we are getting is brilliant.
The Pergamon Altar
In the afternoon we decided to hang around Museum Island and wandered into the Pergamon Museum – home to the Gates of Babylon and an exhibit with the Pergamon Altar.  This was an impressive museum, although some of the German inscriptions were lost on us as we saw the large collection of objects that the museum has acquired from ancient times.  We also saw an impressive exhibit of Islamic Art and artefacts, an extremely interesting museum and a must see for anyone with a passion for ancient history.
The Gates of Babylon
Later in the evening we ventured into Alexanderplatz to explore some of the shopping centres and restaurants and discovered the Amplemann shop.  Amplemann is the little man on the crossing light.  The story with this little symbol dates back to the Soviet Occupation – in West Berlin the crossing man was the regular western style however over the Wall in East Berlin he is a little man with a hat because the ruling government decided that a man in a hat is more trustworthy than the regular crossing light man.  When the Germans tried to change all of them back to the traditional western crossing light there was a big push to keep the Amplemann and he has since become the object of affection for many tourists who buy Amplemann key rings, T-shirts, Bags, Magnets, Pins all the usual trinkets even down to Gummy Bears and Pasta!
The Boot Testing Track at Sachsenhausen
On Thursday we took a day out from the more enjoyable activities that Berlin has to offer to visit Sachsenhausen – one of the concentration camps located outside of Berlin.  This experience was very different to everything else that we have done and gave us a chance to reflect upon the atrocities committed during the second war by the Nazi’s.
A prisoners uniform
Housing 10 000 people, and at the height of the war housing up to 75000 prisoners this camp was primarily a work camp for men.  Prisoners would endure a 12 hour day of work after being awoken at 4am they would have 45 minutes to eat, wash and use the toilets, before enduring several hours of roll call.  If someone had died overnight it was “in the best interests” for a fellow prisoner to carry them out or they would be made to stand all day while the guards searched for those unaccounted. We toured the tiny living quarters that were endured here.  Suffering through 12 hour days of work often in extreme cold, the average life expectancy in this camp was only 1 ½ – 2 years.  The SS Guards would completely de-humanise the prisoners, stripping them of their identities and breaking them down through degradation and humiliation.  The guards controlled every facet of the life of the prisoners, controlling what and when they ate, washed and used toilets.
A typical sleeping area for prisoners
The prisoners would have to carry out back breaking labour in some of the factories that surrounded the camp.  While beatings and punishments were quite common in the camp, the most back breaking labour was on the boot testing track – a semi circle made of different rocks where the most hated prisoners would march in boots that didn’t fit for the duration of their 12 hour day.  Many prisoners sentenced to this didn’t survive their first day.
The remains of Station Z
Although Sachsenhausen wasn’t designed as a death camp like Dakau or Auswitchz there were an estimated 30 000 – 60 000 people killed within the walls in both the shooting trench and the Station Z extermination building.  I think this tour was important to have done to remember the millions of people that were mercilessly slaughtered at the hands of the Nazi’s during the second war.  It certainly provides some perspective on how lucky we are to live in a country where these horrors would never be allowed to eventuate.  It also poses some serious questions about what humans are capable of doing.  It is difficult to comprehend how the guards could treat the people who worked in these camps the way they did.  It is said that the Nazis recruited some of the SS guards from prisons – convicted murderers, rapists, even psychiatric patients with sadistic tendencies.
Arial shot of a miniature village
After what was certainly a heavy day, with a lot to process, we decided that a few drinks were in order however the sights and stories that we saw and heard are not as easily forgotten.
Miniature Nightfall
On Friday we returned to the holiday spirit by taking the train to Hamburg to visit the Miniature Wunderland Toy Museum.  This museum is probably one of the most remarkable things that I have seen on this trip.  On display is the world’s most extensive display of model trains and the landscape to match, but what sets this museum apart is the lengths that creators have gone to recreate the settings in such intricate detail.  There are scenes from cities across the world, including Germany, America, Austria and many others plus new construction happening all the time.  The detail is like nothing I have seen before from the trains, to the layouts of the cities, right down to the little figurines bathing on the beach.
Miniature Vegas
Miniature Casino in Vegas
Controlled from a central office with half a dozen people watching the computer screens that manage over 900 trains on a model that took over half a million man hours to construct this museum is enough to bring out the little kid in anyone who visits.  The highlight for me was however was the airport.  Complete with planes taking off and a full car park, departure hall and ground crew running around being busy on the tarmac this was the most impressive section of the layout.
Lunch for us was one of Germany’s famous Currywurst sausages.  An interesting variation on the traditional German sausage ended up going down quite well.  Unfortunately the rain had well and truly set in by the time we left the Wunderland and that derailed our sightseeing hopes considerably.  We caught a full train back to Berlin and met a very friendly American girl who had been living in Scotland.  We spent the hour and a half trip trading tips and advice for our respective holidays.  That night we enjoyed a German schnitzel dinner and spent a bit of time relaxing and exploring Berlin.
The German Reichstag (Parliament)
Saturday was a relaxing day spent looking around the big shopping centres in Alexanderplatz, and the surrounds.  There were also several little stalls where you could buy food and beers (drinking on the street is completely legal in Berlin).  Another Currywurst for lunch and we headed back to the Brandenburg Gate and the German Parliament for a closer look.  We saw a variety of people busking on the street and hustling unsuspecting tourists.  We also saw a lot of people in front of the gate trying to take money from tourists for photos with flags, military hats, even people dressed up as bears.
A Miniature City
In the afternoon we headed to check out some of the street art in the ‘East Side Gallery’ before catching up with a friend from high school who has moved to Berlin in a remarkable little cafe/bar.  That night we decided to head out on the Berlin Pub Crawl.  The first stop was a casual little bar where we met a few guys from Brazil who are travelling around Europe.  A couple of beers later and we went to a casual German club which was good although at 9euros for a glass of bourbon I understand completely why the Germans drink so much beer!  At the club we met some Canadian guys over from Vancouver.  Canadians are great fun to drink with and with any luck we will have a few friends to go out with in Vancouver as well!  From here we went to a sports bar where it was pour your own beer.  This club was nice, and although the beer wasn’t much chop it was nice to be able to pour beers that aren’t 30% head.  We finished the tour at another German club whose name escapes me but all in all a good night.
Pour your own beer!
Up early the next morning as we are sitting on a packed train to Amsterdam.  The benefits of the Euro rail mean we can just go straight into the main station and catch a train to any European city the same day.  It also gives us the chance to enjoy some of the wonderful scenery that Europe by rail has to offer.
Berlin – The Highlights:
Control Room

The walking tour was great.  The New Europe Tour Company is certainly one that we will be using again in the other cities we are going to, really knowledgeable tour guides who show us so much of the city.

Miniature Wunderland (although it is in Hamburg) was absolutely amazing.  I think this will arguably go down as one of the best museums on the trip.
Ordering a meal completely in German!  It only took 10 days but I finally managed to get my dinner without speaking a word of English, although I am sure that the waiter was probably asking some questions that didn’t have a yes or no answer we got what we wanted and it tasted good, so I am chalking that up as a win.
The funniest things I saw.
The Hustler
So many people trying
to take some money
There are so many people trying to take money from you!  Buskers everywhere to people offering a photo as a soldier in front of key landmarks.
The friendly tourists who decide when I start coughing is the perfect time to pull out a surgeons face mask and move quickly away.
The prize for Berlin goes to the Hustler in the gardens outside the German Parliament; I think his poor victims need to watch a little more TV.
Miniature Oktoberfest
Casual Sunny Day in Miniature Land

The Final Word:

We ended up staying an extra day in Berlin than we planned but there was still so much more that we could have done here.  A good city and well worth the visit.  On a slightly different note I welcome any comments that people have about how they are finding my blog, if it is too long, if they would like me to write about something else as well, please let me know what you think!

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2 COMMENTS

  1. thanks for the in-depth analysis mate, I'm always on the lookout for mates that have seen the sites in these types of places…
    (Mainly because some attractions are manufactured, whereas some are a truly amazing experience and picking between the 2 can be difficult)

    I went to Thailand, a while back, if u ever head over let me know 🙂

    Hope alls well,
    Paul

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