Historical Highlights of Berlin
As a history enthusiast, Berlin has been on the top of my list for quite some time. Both of my grandfathers were in World War II and I had grown up listening to their stories.With only two full days in Berlin and a lifetime of history to recount, I had to prioritize what I wanted to see. The history of Berlin can be sad and disturbing at times, but considering the role it played in world history over the last century, I felt I needed to experience the city for myself. While this is certainly not a comprehensive list of all the history Berlin has to offer, here is what I found to be the historical highlights.
1. The Berlin Wall
Stretching 103 miles long and almost 12 feet high, the Berlin Wall served as a division between East and West Berlin for 28 years. As the physical divide between the two halves of the city and the symbolic divide between Communism and democracy, the Berlin Wall was significant not only for Germany, but for the rest of the world. Remnants of the wall remain today almost 24 years after it first fell. Many people associate Berlin with the dark history of World War II; however, in the years that followed the war, the relationship between the Allied powers deteriorated. To control the exodus of East Germans fleeing to West Germany, the Berlin Wall was erected in the middle of the night on August 13,1961. For 28 years, the Berlin Wall stood as a part of the Cold War and left an indelible mark on world history. Even though most of the wall has been destroyed, the protected section that remains is one of the most well-known artifacts in modern day history.
2. Topography of Terror
Adjacent to the remnants of the Berlin Wall, the Topography of Terror depicts the ghastly reality of what Berlin was like in the early 1930s and the terror that ensued over the next decade. The exhibition is located on the former site of the SS Headquarters. The history is real, the stories are raw and even with the hot summer sun beating down on me, I left with chills. The name is not a misnomer, the terror of this period in history is staggering.
3. Checkpoint Charlie
As one of the most well-known checkpoints at the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie was named for being “Checkpoint C” to enter East Berlin from West Germany after Checkpoint Alpha and Checkpoint Bravo. Today, cobblestones mark the area where the checkpoint used to stand. A symbolic wall filled with triumphant stories of success as well as tragic stories of failure also commemorates the site. The museum inside contains a more detailed history of the wall as well as original artifacts from the checkpoint.
4. Information Center: Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe
Underneath the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Information Center makes up for what the memorial above it lacks. This impressive exhibition holds the name of all known Jewish Holocaust victims obtained from the Israeli Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem. Quotes from the diaries of concentration camp prisoners display incredible and heart-breaking insights while the family histories from affected European countries serve as a powerful reminder of how families were both temporarily and permanently broken apart.
5. Deutsche Democratic Republic (DDR) Museum
The DDR Museum takes you back in time to interactively display what life was like for East Germans during the Cold War. The façade of happiness projected by the Socialist Unity Party is dismantled in this museum as the regulations, which extended to every facet of their lives, are explored. In East Germany, the Trabi and polyester jeans were replacements for the Westerners’ Beetle and authentic blue jeans. Toddlers were collectively potty trained and supermarket products were allocated by the government. This museum took you deeper into the everyday lives of East Germans than I could have imagined and allowed for a unique and hands-on experience.
As sobering and tragic as the history of Berlin is, it has left a lasting mark on world history as well as my trip to Germany.