Berlin: Visiting the legacy of World War II

Berlin is a vibrant city that has endured a tumultuous twentieth century. Presently, the city attracts tourists and residents from across Germany and the world. One local I meet, remarks that people are surprised when he tells them he was born in Berlin. Of the residents that live here, many are not originally from Berlin.

people enjoying the grounds outside Berlin Cathedral

For tourists, there are several sites of historical interest. They include Sanssouci - the former summer Palace of Fredrick the Great (1712-1786); the King credited for making Prussia (now Germany) a military might.

Sanssouci, the former summer Palace of Fredrick the Great

There is Museum Island - home to five internationally renowned museums.

me outside one of the museums in Berlin

I visit one - the Pergamon Museum - which has an impressive collection of antiquities.

sculpture at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin

There is also Olympiastadion, the (renovated) stadium and sporting venue of the 1936 Olympics.

inside the Olympic stadium, Berlin

sculpture on the sporting grounds at Olympic stadium, Berlin

The most poignant sites, however, are the ones related to World War II (1939-1945). Its legacy on the German capital remains deep and visible.

inside Neue Wache Memorial, Berlin
Neue Wache Memorial - for the Victims of War and Tyranny

Starting with the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp - located north of Berlin and accessible by the S-bahn train - it served as a prototype for later concentration camps. Established in 1936 and operating until 1945, it was a training ground for SS officers; a prisoner labour camp; and a site for medical experiments and mass executions. Those who died here were mostly Soviet prisoners of war. Others include the Roma, Jews, and political prisoners.

Exhibition inside one of the buildings at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, Berlin

outside grounds and watchtower at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, Berlin

The most solemn memorial is the Holocaust Museum, probably one of the best tributes I have seen. Above ground, 2711 concrete slabs form a maze that to me, look like coffins. It is a masterpiece and each person will have their own interpretation.

maze of concrete slabs outside the Holocaust Museum, Berlin

Below ground, the Holocaust Museum pays tribute to the Jews that perished. This is a place of silence, contemplation, and prayer.

portraits of victims inside the Holocaust Museum, Berlin

As a child of the 80’s, I faintly remember the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Today, 1.4km of the former border strip remains, serving as a powerful outdoor memorial.

steel rods representing where the Berlin Wall once stood

Photographs and exhibits are strewn along the grounds marking historical places or events.

outdoor exhibit of old photographs at the Berlin Wall memorial

During the Cold War, Berlin was located entirely within East Germany, but the city itself was split into East and West. In 1961, East Germany built the wall to stop its people from defecting to West Germany via West Berlin. Bernauer Straße was one of the streets that sat on the division line. Many East Berliners escaped (or tried to escape) to the West. It eventually became ‘no man’s land’.

In this poignant photo, a couple lift their babies above the Wall to show their families on the other side.

outdoor exhibit of old photographs at the Berlin Wall memorial

The fall of the Berlin Wall led to the 1990 reunification of East and West Germany. A reunited Berlin became the nation’s capital once again.

steel rods looking up into the sky, Berlin Wall memorial

Upon leaving this city - the culmination of two weeks in Germany - I have gained enormous respect for this nation and its people. To be defeated, divided and reunited again is no easy feat. I hope one day they can be proud...and free from the burdens of generations past.