Thursday, March 29, 2012

A History Buff’s Guide to Berlin

We are starting to plan for an American invasion of sorts, as our family and friends are coming!  We can’t wait to show off this amazing city, and have started collecting exciting excursions for them so that they can soak up all there is to see.  There really is SOO much that we aren’t sure we’re even going to see it all while we’re here for the whole year, and exploring is such fun.  This post was also inspired by my very first subscriber that I don’t actually know—Crack You Whip is her amazing blog that you should all check out too.  Like your teenage son and my Dad, I too love German history.  So for this installment of the blog, I bring to you a short installment of the amazing historical stuff to see in Berlin as recommended by me.   

Note: My friend and I were just laughing about how you know you’ve been in Berlin for a while when the historical significance of things starts becoming commonplace.  We went to see a movie at Potsdamer Platz and walking back to the U-Bahn we walked over the flat line of bricks that streams through the sidewalks and streets where the Berlin wall used to be.  People died trying to cross that same imaginary line when it was 20 feet taller and guarded by armed men and barbed wire.  The significance is not lost on me, but unlike the first time I was in the city, this time we barely made note of crossing it. 

The first most important thing I would send a history buff out to do in the city, is to take a walking tour.  There are many companies offering free ones here now, so finding one is not a problem.  Naturally the quality is going to depend on your tour guide, but most of the free ones are pretty great because the guides work only for tips.  In a 3.5 hour walking tour through the heart of Berlin you will be able to see some AMAZING things such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Bundestag building, the Victory Column, the Holocaust Memorial, the field on top of where Hitler’s bunker was (please spit here), an awesome communist mural on a gov’t building, Gendarmenmarkt, the book burning memorial, Museum Island, and soo soo soo much more.  Your mind will be blown by the significance of this amazing city as the crossroads and center of so much historical insanity.  Tip generously and chat your guide up for some other recommendations, because they probably know a whole lot more than I do anyway.  The tour is really just a taste of what the city has to offer, and an really excellent starting point for exploring your interests further. 

There are two amazing historical things that you will not see on that tour.  First is the Wall Memorial at Bernauer Strasse.  This is a really amazing memorial that tells the whole story of the Berlin wall where you actually get to walk along a section of the wall and see the faces of the people whose lives were torn apart by ideology.  I learned so much when I went, and it is a pretty amazing ½ day excursion.  (Go on a Sunday, and then you can walk just a bit further to go to the humongous Mauerpark Flea Market to hang out with all the hipsters and get some great original souvenirs.)  The second excursion not on the tour will take you all day, and that is to take a trip out to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial.  Spend the money on the personal audio tour.  It is totally worth it and you will get to hear some amazing stories.  This was not one of the death mill camps (most of those are in Poland), but horrid Nazi stuff went down here and it is sure to induce geeking out in any history buff.  It will not be a feel good kind of day, but in general German history doesn’t really bring that kind of mood on in any rational human being.

If you are into museums, and I totally am, a plethora awaits you here in Berlin.  For the German historically focused, there are 4 main museums for you to check out.  First up is my personal favorite the Jewish Museum.  Here you will learn not only about WWII, but about the entire history of Jews in Germany, even before it was a country.  Did you know that a looong time ago Germany actually barred Jews from entering many of the hand-work trade unions (carpentry, etc) and that is one of the reasons many started more white-collar businesses?  My mind was totally blown by this and other things I learned at this museum, and I continue to go back for their amazing special exhibitions.  Another broad spectrum historically focused museum is the aptly named German Historical Museum where you can learn all about the entire history of the Germanic people.  My friend the Sickly Child also recommends the Allied Museum and the Stasi Museum so you can learn all about how we (read: allied forces post WWII) tried to control help the German people and how the east spied on itself respectively. 

History is everywhere in Berlin, and you really can feel the weight of it when you are here.  If you are planning a visit, I would seriously recommend getting a guidebook for the city.  These are our favorite kind, but I’m sure there are some others out there too.  Of course, if you show up between now and October, we’ll be happy to be your personal tour guides too!  In addition to historical sites, we are also experts on playgrounds and markets, though I’m not sure a 16 year old would really appreciate this knowledge.  Lastly, let me note that you are a lucky lucky person to be an English speaker in Germany because they are more than accommodating to you here.  You will have NO problem getting around with only a few choice German vocabulary words in Berlin.      


1 comment:

  1. This is good motivation for me - I still haven't done the Jewish Museum or Sachsenhausen. Have fun with your visitors!



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