While day 1 is a short one, it’s the start of grand adventure!
While day 1 is a short one, it’s the start of grand adventure!
What a long day! We landed this afternoon around 3pm local time. By the time we cleared customs it was already dark, sunset here is at 3:45pm. But that didn’t stop us! Tonight we visited our first two Christmas Markets.
As the flurry’s fell from the sky we started at Weihnachtsmarkt auf dem Alexanderplatz. Immediately we could feel Christmas in the air with all of the booths and local eateries. At this market we tried three different foods.
First we started with a traditional Bratwurst. Julie thought it was juicy and delicious with lots of great flavors. Jake was wowed by the bread and the deep flavors. We will definitely be having more.
Second we had some sort of mystery bowl. It had potatoes and sausage in this ketchup curry sauce. We both agree it wasn’t our favorite.
Finally, we tried a traditional Austrian pastry called Germknödel which is a soft piece of dumpling bread filled with fresh plums and topped with a vanilla sauce and cherries. Both of us really enjoyed this desert and want to try it again in Austria.
While in this market we also went into this hand crafted Christmas store which had absolutely beautiful decorations. It was near impossible to pull Julie out.
While wondering around we also stumbled upon a second Christmas market: Berliner Weihnachtszeit. It was huge and was in the middle of this beautiful square. We want to come back to that one and spend more time when we aren’t so tired.
Overall it was a wonderful second day and we are looking forward to our first full day tomorrow!Read more
Today was cold, eerie, and windy, with a constant flurry. Normally, I would say it was a miserable day but today I can only be grateful for the amazing life I live and those who fought to defend a right to that life. Today we visited Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.
We arrived by train on the same tracks that prisoners would almost a hundred years ago. There was no bus or nice car to drive us, just the same rough streets that so many had taken, through the small town, to the entrance of the camp about a mile away. People sat in their houses, warm, watching us walk by just as many people sat in those same houses watching prisoners walking by on their way to almost certain death.
Sachsenhausen is a unique camp. It was one of the first in the SS concentration camp system and was considered a model camp. Every aspect of it was meticulously designed to be efficient. While it isn’t as well known as camps like Dachau and Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen served as the headquarters and training ground for the SS concentration camp system. After the end of World War II, Sachsenhausen was taken over by the USSR where it continued to be used for several more years as a concentration camp.
After completing the 20-minute walk, we arrived at the entrance road. We were greeted by three models that showed the scale of the camp at its height during WWII. Most of it had been leveled by the GDR but what remained was extremely powerful. It was a long stone path that stretched along one side of the perfectly triangular prison camp. To the right was a brightly colored hall for the concentration camp workers and to the left a tall stone wall with towers guarding it.
After the short walk, a simple iron gate appeared on our left which was the entrance to the camp. Every prisoner who entered Sachsenhausen walked through that same gate. After passing through the gate we entered a beautiful wooded area with a couple of buildings. This area was for the commanders and would have been beautifully decorated. This section was renowned for its flower gardens and overall beauty. This would be the prisoners' last sight before entering the harsh reality of the camp.
As we approached the tall inner guard tower of the prisoners' camp it was clear how everything would change. The size and depth of the camp were overwhelming. From up in the guard tower, we could see every inch of the camp as it was designed when being built. Every building was perfectly laid out in rows of semicircles stretching all the way to the tip of the triangle. Immediately in front of us was the roll call area. As we stood there listening to a recording about the area, we were shivering from the lack of sun and blistering wind. We looked at each other, bundled up for the winter yet shivering, and could not fathom how anyone could stand out here for hours on end for roll call and other activities. Through the gates of the tower, we could see the beauty of the inner section that would have been just out of reach for prisoners less than a hundred years before us.
Wrapping around the wall that formed the triangle was several layers of security which prisoners coined “Death-Strip”. This consisted of barbed wire, an electric fence, followed by a stone wall. But even more deadly was about 3 feet of beautifully laid gravel. Any prisoner, who took one step on the gravel, would be shot instantly with no questions asked. From the roll call area, we could see the empty rectangles laid out in perfect symmetry where over 50 barracks would have stood. Today most of them had been leveled, but a couple still remained.
As we walked over to the barracks, it was clear the ground was not even and contained lots of strips of different types of gravel in stone. These walkways were used as testing grounds where prisoners would be forced to walk 30 km a day to test out new types of boots and materials for soldiers. Inside the tight barracks we the original bunks, bathrooms, and washrooms. They were tiny and we couldn’t fathom how hundreds of people were crammed into these tiny quarters, yet many would consider this the place of relief from the manual labor.
Inside the prisoners camp was a prison that had 80 cells. Each of the cells was equipped with covers for the windows that would deprive any light from entering. Some prisoners were held in the darkness of solitary confinement for months at a time. While walking the grounds we also toured the prison kitchen, laundry facilities, and performance hall, where prisoners who had talents would come to perform for their captors in the hope of extra rations.
Towards the end of our journey through the grounds, we came upon an area next to the industrial yards in which the prisoners worked. Around the corner, hidden from view was a trench lined with wood full of holes. This was the execution trench, where thousands of prisoners were shot and killed by the SS and USSR. Sachsenhausen did not have gas chambers until the very end of the war when a very small one was constructed for special cases, so the trench was the main method of execution for those that didn’t die from other causes. Right next to it was the crematorium that was built on-site. It started with one burner but three more were added to keep up with the backlog of bodies.
As were walking, mounds of ground were everywhere labeled “Ashes of Prisoners”. These mounds consisted of thousands of prisoners' ashes that had mixed together and buried throughout the compound.
As our day came to an end something had been made clear to us throughout the process. Most of the buildings were gone. There were statues and memorials throughout the site, but they seemed off. The prisoners looked happy in many. This was because the original memorial to this ground had been made by the GDR, German Democratic Republic. It was clear the GDR wanted to hide a lot of the history that had occurred on the site and reshape the memorial to benefit the government at that time. In fact, the ground went on to be used for many ceremonies and banquets for the GDR during the late 20th century until the fall of that government.
The memorial today tries to piece together what is left from the different eras: SS, USSR, and GDR control but shows the power of what propaganda can do. As the sun set, we walked out of the gates with freedom. As the snow began to fall, we began to retrace our steps back to the station where it all began. Outside the entrance of the camp, the street split in two. To the right was a sign which signified the road from Sachsenhausen, which started the path to one of the many death marches. A lot of these prisoners, who were detained for characteristics and religion, never got to walk out of that gate. Many that did, took the split in the road to the right, to start their march to continued misery and hurt. We got to take the road to the left, to freedom, to life, to safety, to peace. Within an hour we were back at the hotel, in the warmth, with as much food and water as we wanted. How grateful we ought to be.Read more
Many say that Christmas is just around the corner but for us it truly is. No really, within a five mile radius we see tons of Christmas markets each filled with stalls full of wonderful craftsmanship to gift our loved ones as well wondrous smells from people cooking up delicious goodies. As we continue discovering the Christmas markets of Berlin, we came across Berliner Weihnachtszeit vor dem Roten Rathaus. On every corner there are Christmas trees beautifully decorated.
One of the things we tried was a Schneeballen which is a pastry ball made from short crust pastry. This one that we had was flavored with nut nougat. We both weren’t super thrilled with the flavors of this treat, it was pretty bland. We did think that it would probably taste better with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate.
One of the magical things about this market is seeing Weihnachtsmann also known as Santa Clause fly across the sky with his reindeers. Julie had so much excitement, she felt like a child once again seeing Santa for the first time.Read more
Today was our first time visiting one of the numerous Berlin Wall sites scattered throughout the city. Through school we had heard of the Berlin Wall but I don’t think either of us fully grasped the impact and sheer scope of separation.
While strolling along the memorial we both learned about the phases of construction and the stories of the lives torn apart by the border closure.
Our favorite part of the memorial was seeing a section that was still fully intact with the inner wall on the east side. Peering through the tiny slit to see the wall that seemed like an eternity away must have been disheartening for so many stuck in the east.Read more
All throughout the world there are hundreds of thousands of Cathedrals but only a few will truly take your breath away. This was one that left us literarily with no breath… Although that may have had something to do with the over 260 steps to the top.
Berliner Dom had it all. The inside of this cathedral was absolutely stunning. With its ornate architecture and stunning size, it was one of our favorite Cathedrals we have seen. While we just missed the midday music, the organ was truly massive with over 7000 pipes.
After touring the cathedral, we headed up the stairs to the top of the dome for a 360 view of the city. Jake thinks it took 15 minutes where Julie says it was only 5-8 mins. Either way we were both out of breath by the top but it was well worth the steps. The view of the city was amazing!Read more
Straddling the border between East and West Berlin is this beautiful corner that includes beautiful monuments new and old.
After getting off the metro we started walking through the Tiergarten, which is Berlin’s version of Central Park. Like most gardens and parks in Europe during winter it was pretty empty with most foliage dead. While walking we passed the Reichstag Building which is where Germanys parliament is located. It has a beautiful glass stone which is world renowned. We weren’t able to visit this time around but hopefully we will have a chance to see it later on.
After walking out the East side of the garden we arrived at Brandenburg Gate. This huge monument was breathtaking. At the gate we met up with Julie’s dad, Anthony, who stood at that very gate the day the Berlin Wall fell. It was truly amazing to learn the details of the scene from someone who had been in that very spot on such an historic day.
Directly next to the Brandburg gate was one of the Holocaust memorials. It consisted of over 2,700 stone pillars in perfect rows. However, as we began to look closer we noticed what looked liked perfection was just an illusion. All of the pillars were varying degrees off center. As you looked down in the rows the ground would rise and fall in random order almost like the ocean on a windy day. The artist gave no meaning to the design but left it up to interpretation.
Our initial impression was that each column represented a number of lives taken during the Holocaust. As we had more time to process throughout the day a deeper thought emerged.
When glancing from the outside everything looked normal and perfect. It looked like every pillar was 3-5 feet tall and perfectly aligned. But as we dig deeper it becomes clear there are major changes and patterns hidden deep within the maze. Sometimes this world just takes a glance at something happening but doesn’t look into the maze to it’s true nature hidden under the surface.Read more
A single piece of art is a beautiful reflection of the inner expression of an artist. But when a group of artists come together around a common cause it’s amazing how radically different reflections can create a beautiful mirage of imagination. Today we visited the East Side Gallery, which did just that.
This mile long stretch of the Berlin Wall was designated a couple days after the fall as a public art space for artists. In 1990, a group of 120 artists from 21 countries got together to paint beautiful expressions of their view of the world.
When we arrived, our initial reaction was that the paintings looked way to good to be there from 1990. After some quick research, our suspicions were confirmed. The wall had been redone in 2009 where the original wall was patched and the art work was repainted.
This change was immediately clear to Anthony who had been to this wall shortly after its opening in 1990. Each art piece was still beautiful and expressive but it wasn’t the original. In fact, only one artwork was still original. No one stopped to take pictures of this piece. The artwork wasn’t bright and colorful but instead was full of chips and cracks. Yet this was the piece that was unaltered and full of artists original reflection.
99% of people walk by thinking these are the original. They don’t think twice about the email addresses and websites stenciled in the bottom. They don’t see the small messages about the polar ice caps melting or election fraud added during the renovation. History doesn’t last forever. While it may be around to be seen in books or online, the physical attributes of great moments slip away day after day. Listening to Anthony pointing out the differences between the original gallery and this recreation goes to show a harsh truth: History slowly changes and the original reminders of our past slowly fade. Experience history while you can before it’s too late to notice the original vs the “renovation”.Read more