Saturday, September 14, 2013

Berlin



'Guten Tag' is one of two German words I picked up over my week-long trip. Luckily for me, most of the people we met could understand our fragmented German and actually spoke fairly good English. I try my best not to be one of those arrogant English tourists who assumes that everybody speaks our language, but on this trip, I have to admit defeat and come clean about my laziness when it came to learning some basic German phrases. Despite the limited communication, Berlin was magnificent. It had all the systems of a major city, a functional underground system, bars, restaurants and an array of tourist attractions. It did not, however, have the overcrowded population. Considering Berlin is the capital, the lack of a financial trading centre running through the city makes it an extremely chilled and laid back location, ideal for me and my Mum to wander.

On the day that we arrived that is exactly what we did, wander. We got our heads around the train and bus systems, which were surprisingly simple to follow and gathered our bearings around the city. That evening we found a small Italian restaurant just off the main city centre and I ate the best margarita pizza that I have ever experienced. An early night was in order before a bright start on Tuesday morning, when we headed in to central Berlin and joined a free walking tour. Our tour guide was Sadie and considering the fact that I am a complete history nerd, with Sadie we were spoilt. She gave us over 100 years of German history in 10 minutes, showing us the Brandenburg gate which, like much of the infrastructure, had the bullet holes covered after the damage during the second world war. Our next stop was the Holocaust Memorial, an array of dark, cold, columns. All were ranging from different heights, giving you a huge sense of disorientation when caught in between the highest points. The rest of the tour covered the wall, Checkpoint Charlie and Hitler’s Bunker; now just an unmarked car park with very little interest surrounding it. After the tour, Sadie pointed us in the direction of East Side Gallery, where we got to see some magnificent art all depicting different interpretations of the East/West divide on the longest stretch of wall that remains.

The hardest trip we made was to Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp just north of Berlin. I have spent a huge amount of my school life studying this part of history, learning the facts and statistics, writing essays on the historical arguments, even looking at photographs of this very camp. Nothing, however, can quite prepare you for the sensational reality you face when walking through the area, the eery infrastructure of what was once a place of such brutality and inhumanity, your feet standing upon mass graves. The enormity of this trip is something I feel I had not prepared myself for, I doubt there is any way in which to prepare ones self. It is, however, something I would encourage everybody to do. Go there, see where it happened, and feel the enormity of such an event. A quote was reintroduced to me on this trip, from Joseph Stalin, 'one death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic'. Comparing my history lessons to the sensation that came through me when walking through Sachsenhausen, made me realise the truth in those words.

The rest of our trip was a lot lighter on the heart strings. We visited Berlin Zoo, I channelled a lot of energy into taking photographs, we ate Movenpick ice cream, watched a lot of CNN; mainly due to it being the only channel in English. Normally when I go on holiday, I feel I need to catch up on foreign affairs. When I returned from Berlin, however, I was certainly up to date. The week flew by and before we knew it, it was time to return home. So we packed up, said our goodbyes to the beautiful city, and headed back to Schonefeld Airport to catch our flight home. It was an extremely meaningful, educational and breathtaking week. I would urge anybody who has the opportunity, to visit the city. It really is an exceptional place.






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