I have just about recovered from my recent trip with Reading University Making History. We tried our best but the History Society was well and truly gobbled up by Berlin, and spat right back out.
After arriving fresh faced and raring to go, we quickly took advantage of all of the deals that the hostel bar, Belushi’s, offered us. Apparently in Berlin, people don’t go out to clubs till the early hours so we went along with it and headed off to Tresor.This really was one of the strangest places I have ever been. Apparently it was an abandoned Nazi factory (which did make us feel that we were doing something vaguely historical!), and it doesn’t surprise me. It was super creepy, I felt that I had walked straight into a Saw film. It was impossible to navigate around this club, like any club it was poorly lit but what made it worse was the addition of so many people smoking inside. Throw in the trippiest strobe lighting you will ever experience and you have no chance knowing what is going on. The main club was in the basement with old cells for toilets, and the bar and the dj surrounded by prison bars. It certainly was an experience. Unfortunatley my phone camera was just not up for taking any decent photos in such poor light.
The following day our first stop was the tomb of the unknown soldier.
We then headed further down the road towards the Brandenburg Gate. Arguably the most famous landmark in Germany, the gate was commissioned by Frederick Wilhem II of Prussia in the late eighteenth century to promote peace.
Turning left from the gate, we all took a slight de-tour and visited the Holocaust Memorial. A field of concrete blocks faces you that looks quite ordered from the outside. As you enter you notice the undulating floor as well as the assorted sizes of the blocks. According to the creator, the blocks were designed to produce an,
uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason
Our next stop was the Reichstag. This is free but bare in mind that you do still have to book your entrance time slot. The tour was nothing like I expected. In all honesty I thought we would get to visit the inside a little, but instead you are all crammed into a lift that takes you to the roof. From here you get fantastic views of the city and have an opportunity to climb the new glass dome that crowns the Reichstag. It is a brilliant example of how modern engineering can work so brilliantly with older buildings. The dome is to replace the original dome that was destroyed in the notorious Reichstag fire that brought Hitler to power. The exhibition inside the dome is fascinating and gives a brief history of the building and its role in Germany’s turbulent history.
By this point, last night’s antics had taken its toll. We already had one man down from food poisoning but now we all decided the best course of action would be a nap. After feeling rejuvenated, feeling like a more chilled evening was in order, we loaded up on cheap drinks at the Hostel before heading to a fantastic nearby Shisha bar called Marrakesh.
After tiring ourselves out the day before walking everywhere we decided to try out the U-Bahn. Their trains are super groovy and are covered in a repeated print of the Brandenburg Gate.
I wasn’t expecting much from Checkpoint Charlie but what was there was somewhat ruined by the men in uniform exploiting tourists who wanted photos. For those of you who do not know, Checkpoint Charlie was one of the breaks in the Berlin Wall, separating East and West Berlin. Something I did find quite amusing was that immediately after entering the American side, you are faced with a huge McDonalds; capitalism at its finest.
Close to the site is a small, public exhibition on the Berlin Wall which is really insightful. It is completely free and is well worth a visit if you don’t know too much about the history of the divide.
After walking around in circles for a little while, we found the Topography of Terror. This museum has been built upon the site of the former Gestapo headquarters. There are limited remains of the actual headquarters but the site does house a large section of the Berlin Wall in its original location. There are numerous chunks of the wall dotted about the city but it was nice to see a large section where it actually would have stood.
The Museum itself was fantastic. It had a brilliant mix of text, images, videos, and sound clips, creating a truly immersive atmosphere. What struck me most was the occasional use of coloured images. Obviously there are numerous photographs from the war period but you can still feel detached as they are all grainy and in black and white. These digitally altered images are far clearer, plus in colour which really makes you have a far stronger emotional connection. There were only a few of these images dotted throughout the exhibition but I found them really effective. This really was one of the highlights of the trip.
We stopped off for a drink then the group split again and Bridie, Lolly and I headed off in search for a Museum that took our fancy. The Museums on the island were all a bit general so we weren’t really taken aback by the sound of them. We wandered a bit further and discovered the German Historical Museum.
No word of a lie, I think this is possibly my favourite museum EVER. I had low expectations which might have helped but I was blown away with the wide range, and quality of all of the artefacts on display. The museum covered the history of Germany from the Middle Ages to its reunification.
I was particularly impressed with the wide range of manuscripts on display.
As the Protestant Reformation originated from Germany, they had plenty of information on the topic which I found fascinating as I have studied it extensively in the past.
Here was a copy of the text that started it all, Martin Luther’s 95 Thesis.
I am a big fan of maps and found this interpretation pretty crazy!
Here is a plague mask. I’ve seen these in contemporary drawings but never in real life which was great.
A poster advertising an anti-Semitic film for propaganda purposes.
For the final day, like the adult’s we are, headed to the Zoo. Berlin Zoo is fantastic. After a few days crammed with history, it was nice to break it up a little. There is such a wide range of animals, some I’d never seen before. Some of the enclosure’s were brilliant however I did find the space’s for the big cats too small which was a bit upsetting. Luckily the animals did not seem at all distressed which was nice to see.
Last on our list before we headed home was Kaiser Wilhelm’s Memorial Church. Decimated by the war, the majority of the church is covered for restoration and it’s beautiful spire has been jaggedly cut in half. Inside a chapel has been restored to show a gorgeous, intricate mosaic over the roof. It’s a lovely place and I would really like to visit after the renovations are complete.
I had a brilliant time in Berlin but found it a strange city. It was quiet but not really in a good way. It made it feel as if nothing was going on, and it’s the hustle and bustle that makes me love cities. I had high expectations for the Berlin, and although I had fun it certainly was not what I was expecting. I’d love to visit Germany again but I think next time I’d like to give somewhere like Munich a go, where the culture is supposed to be more prominent.
It was by far the company that made this trip memorable. We suffered from food poisoning, throwing up on the underground, and fines, but somehow we made it out alive.