Friday, July 15, 2011

Berlin

I never had a 'Gap Year', that one year in your life when you are young with no major commitments where you can travel the world. J did it and many of my friends took time off after University, but I never did. I wasn't ready to take off on my own after school. But by the time I was, I had been sucked into full-time work and everything that came with it. Yet I always knew that at some point before I turned the big three zero I would get the chance to travel. I am so glad that it is finally happening now.

Our latest adventure was to Berlin! My Dad and step-mum had visited me for my birthday with plans to road-trip from Copenhagen through Germany to Italy. J and I thought this would be a good opportunity to tag along as far as Berlin. Only Dad had ever been to Berlin, and that was many years ago when he was working and living overseas. It was fascinating to hear his stories of his time in East and West Berlin and just how much the city had changed.

I think Berlin is a city that gives you mixed emotions, obviously it is not like any other european city - it has a weird and wonderfully eclectic mix of beautiful old buildings and stunning contemporary structures. But it also has some of the downright ugliest buildings I've ever seen - the legacy of awful 60s and 70s architectural design.

Berlin's rich history is obvious. The sections of the Wall that are still standing - as well as the long row of cobble stones that mark its path - left us all speechless. So did the various memorials and museums that mark some of the more terrible moments in the city's history. Below are images taken at Checkpoint Charlie - that was one of the few checkpoints between Allied-controlled West Berlin and the Soviet-controlled East.


Checkpoint Charlie

More than any other city I've been to, Berlin demonstrates so clearly the awful effects of WWII and the Cold War. Barely any building survived the Allied bombing in 1943 and the difference between East and West Berlin is still so obvious. But it was the Berlin Wall which brought this home to me. I still find it hard to believe there are people my age who were divided by the wall - separated from their family and friends just because of where they lived.

The plaques and two rows of cobble stones that mark the Wall's former path.

The outer wall and the remains of the Gestapo's former headquarters

The other place that really affected me was the Stasi Prison - a prison set up on the outskirts of the former East Germany by the Soviet Secret Police at the end of World War II. It was still used as the major remand prison up until 1990. We unfortunately missed the guided tour which is taken by former inmates, but we were able to see the exhibition and explore the cells. When arrested and taken to this prison it is described as "the way into hell" as said by one former prisoner "those who descend here leave all your hopes behind you." When you look at the cells and read about what these people went through you understand why it is described that way. They weren't arrested because they stole anything or hurt anyone, but because they wanted freedom.

The Stasi Prison hallway.

But enough about Berlin's dark past! I loved Berlin - sipping champagne at the Hotel Adlon while watching the sun set over the Brandenburg Gate, seeing the beautiful people of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week and sitting by the water looking at Nikolaik, the oldest cathedral in Germany.

The Brandenburg Gate then and now.

Nikolaik Cathedral

The National Museum and the Holocaust Memorial made up of 2700 structures. 

There is some beautiful architecture, the people are wonderful, the place is buzzing and it is a city which I can't wait to go back to one day. Berlin will surely be one of those ever-changing cities, always with something new and different to do.