I just came back from a three-day stay in Berlin with my mother and it was so much fun. We went to very popular and touristic places such as the Brandenburg gate, the Bundestag (German Parliament) and of course the famous Checkpoint Charlie.
Berlin has surprised me in many ways and that’s what I want to share with you in this article.
The wall is everywhere in the city
Of course you can’t go to Berlin without seeing the wall. I was so moved to be in front of such a huge part of history. For the record, the wall circled West Berlin from 1961 to 1989, it was 154km (96 miles) long with 302 observations towers.
In my imagination, the wall was only visible in some specific places in Berlin. I didn’t expect to see parts of the wall displayed everywhere in the city. I even saw some parts of it in shops or on display in some streets. Basically, the wall was chopped in pieces and these pieces were placed in different parts of Berlin as small memorials.
Today, only a few small stretches of the wall remain at the original Berlin sites. There is the famous East Side Gallery, which is the longest standing wall section (1.3 km/ 0.6miles). One hundred and eighteen artists from 21 different countries painted on the wall, making it the biggest street art exhibition.
I was most interested by the last intact part of the wall, near Bernauer Straße. You can clearly see the “no man’s land” between the two walls, where nobody was allowed to be. Human presence there was considered a legal offense: any intruder was to be shot down by one or other of the factions.
The history of Berlin is so interesting, you can click here to find out more about the wall.
The polemic during the work of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Near the famous Brandenburg gate is this very powerful memorial honoring the 6 million Holocaust victims. It is made of 2711 concrete concrete slabs on 19 000 square meters and no two slabs are exactly the same. The place made a strong impression on me, even though it is very simple and modern looking, it is very solemn. There is also a museum about the Holocaust under the memorial.
When the memorial was being built, a scandal broke out. The supplier of the anti-graffiti coating applied to the slabs is no other than Degussa, the same company that produced Zyklon B, a gas used in Nazi extermination camps. In the end, the company’s important involvement for the conservation and tribute of the tragedy since the end of the war contributed to end the polemic.
Don’t worry about public transportation
While preparing my trip, I asked my German friend for information about Berlin. When the transportation came up she told me “Oh! you don’t have to worry about it in Berlin” and she changed the topic. It’s only when I arrived that I understood. All the lines, buses, trams, metro are so well organized and frequent (we never waited more than five minutes) and very cheap on top of it (7€ for an unlimited day-pass).
Speaking about the price, I was surprised that there were no turnstiles and you can board the subway without any control. I really appreciated that German people rely on trust.
In fact, I discovered that everyday, all the tubes and buses together travel about the same distance as eight times around the Earth. The subway in Berlin was inaugurated in 1902, and although some stations look really old, everything is very clean.
One of the highest towers of Europe
At a height of 368 meters, the Berliner Fernsehturm (Television Tower) is the tallest building in Germany and one of the tallest constructions in Europe. I was so surprised to find out that the Fernsehturn tower is higher than the Eiffel Tower.
It was built between 1965 and 1969 by the government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The Tower was a symbol of the party, it was built to display the superiority of communism over capitalism, it was intended to show that the East was working to create a better future. Also, the shape of the tower was supposed to mirror the shape of the soviet satellite Sputnik.
Forty percent of the city is underground
The city is almost double the size than it appears thanks to a huge underground railway station and many of the World War II bunkers, escape tunnels, sewers and brewery cellars. Tourists can visit the underground world of Berlin. The association Berliner Unterwelten organizes different tours of the various bunkers.
I was so excited to go on one of their tours, but unfortunately they take place from Friday to Monday… and we were in Berlin from Tuesday to Thursday.
Ruins as a memory of the war
Berlin underwent 363 Allied air raids during World War II, so the city was in ruins. If nowadays Berlin is a beautiful city, some buildings and monuments are still in ruins. However, in most cases, Berliners made a conscious decision to keep them that way so that they never forget what they overcame.
The most emblematic and most relevant of all is the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, built in the 1890’s and badly damaged by bombing raids in 1943.
Although a large majority of the building was renovated, some parts of it remain damaged by the bombing, like the statue in ruins at the entrance for example.