So I have finally done it: a post about Germany! A country that I spent some great years of my life. I wasn’t sure where to start as I have a lot of material. I also realised that a lot of the older material looks, well, old in terms of quality that was widely available at the time. Due to recent events in Berlin, I decided that was a good place to start as any, so…here goes!
My own personal relationship with Berlin is really quite love-hate. There are parts that I really enjoy and then there are other parts of Berlin that I really wouldn’t like to visit a second time. I think, for me at least, it definitely depends on the people you go with. If you are someone who can travel alone and really throw themselves into new situations, easily meet new people, etc., then you probably won’t have much of a problem (assuming that Berlin’s atmosphere is for you).
Berlin as a city is quite grungy. As Peter Foxx, a famous singer Berlin says in his song Schwarz zu Blau:
Guten Morgen Berlin (Good Morning Berlin)
Du kannst so hässlich sein (You can be so ugly)
So dreckig und grau (So filthy and grey)
Du kannst so schön schrecklich sein (You can be so terrible)
Deine Nächte fressen mich auf (Yours nights eat me alive)
which sums up the city quite well. Berlin is a great place to experience nightlife. You can find just about anything you are looking for in that regard but the second you move away from the modern, high-rise buildings in shopping or economic districts, Berlin can be quite grey, ugly and filthy. There are of course exceptions: one of those being Charlottenburg, which is an affluent district of Berlin. The closer you are to the city centre, the nicer the buildings are, at least those on the larger streets. A lot of parks can be found in Berlin, not to mention the Tiergarten very close to the city centre. Gentrification is also rife in parts of Berlin, so naturally, Peter’s description doesn’t fit all areas of modern Berlin.
If you are going to Berlin for sightseeing tourism, mostly your days will be concentrated in these nicer areas of the city. This is where the monuments, historical buildings, and government buildings are located. These areas are mostly concentrated around the river Spree, which runs through Berlin.
Of the aforementioned types of things to see in Berlin, I would like to mention two things that had and always have an impact on me.
The Holocaust Memorial and Museum
If you have never visited Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial and Museum, I would highly recommend it. Warning: I guarantee that you will feel extremely melancholic during and after your visit. The museum itself is quite simplistic. It doesn’t need to be extravagant as the materials it holds gives it all the gravitas that it needs.
The Museum sits underneath the Holocaust Memorial. It is officially known as the the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The Memorial itself is quite interesting in a morbid sort of way. It is made of blocks of stone that seem to be mostly of similar heights in a grid pattern that one can walk through. The stone is grey and, even in sunlight, makes its surroundings look darker than they actually are. It is only once you walk amongst the stones that you get the full effect (in my opinion). While the stones may look the same height (with the exceptions of the outer stones which look smaller), the ground dips the closer you come to the centre. Unless the sun is directly overhead, sunlight doesn’t penetrate very much farther than the tops of the stones.
On my first visit to the Memorial, we also happened to arrive at sundown. It was during winter, so it wasn’t actually that late in the day. I have never been one to suffer from claustrophobia; with the lack of light, the stones felt like a graveyard. I was extremely anxious and somewhat frightened by the experience when I was in the centre. I went to the edge of the Memorial at an extremely fast (but mostly dignified) pace. Memorials usually do not have that kind of effect on me. To be honest, they usually have no effect on me of any kind, so I really can’t say I reacted that way. I have had similar experiences every time I have gone back although not as strong.
The Museum underneath the Memorial, rather than having tonnes of artefacts and items from the concentration camps, focuses more on the accounts of those who lived through the experiences. I would highly recommend the audio guide for the voice acting and wealth of information, both of which can keep you occupied for days at a time.
The layout is quite simple. The ceilings, walls and floor are all black while lights come from the displays and films that are shown. I have never been to a museum that was quite like it. Rather than having materials on display, the experience and its results were on display.
The Layers, the Winter and the Warning
While not necessarily a problem in the summer (although it is usually cloudy), the weather in the winter can be freezing. While Germany can get cold, from Berlin to the northern coast has to be the coldest part of Germany by far. In the winter especially, the icy wind from the Baltic Sea freezes down to the bones. If you go in the winter, take your warmest, thickest jackets that can also deal with tonnes of rain and occasional snow. Also, be prepared to be without the sun for the entire winter (if you stay for extended periods of time).
A great way to combat the cold is naturally the Christmas Markets (if it is that time of year), which serve Glühwein (Mulled Wine) and other hot drinks. If it isn’t around Christmas, duck into a café whenever you need to warm up. I also recommend a drink called the Lumumba, which is basically a hot chocolate with rum.
Without further ado, I present some images of Berlin: