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.
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.
There is Museum Island - home to five internationally renowned museums.
I visit one - the Pergamon Museum - which has an impressive collection of antiquities.
There is also Olympiastadion, the (renovated) stadium and sporting venue of the 1936 Olympics.
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.
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.
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.
Below ground, the Holocaust Museum pays tribute to the Jews that perished. This is a place of silence, contemplation, and prayer.
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.
Photographs and exhibits are strewn along the grounds marking historical places or events.
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.
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.
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.