December 2011, I visited Berlin with a history group in High School as I was doing GCSE History. It was certainly an experience I will hopefully never forget.
We went Christmas time, so that although it was a mainly educational trip, we also did some tourist site seeing and visited some Christmas markets!
Berlin is amazing. It’s huge, bright, and it knows how to do Christmas.
The first day there, we visited the Wannsee Villa in the morning, where the Wannsee Conference took place – also where The Final Solution was planned by The Nazi’s. It felt really weird being in there, knowing who had once stood in the building and why. It was amazing to see and read and listen to the history and what happened and how, but I think the whole trip was a trip where you felt a tiny bit guilty enjoying learning about the history because it was such terrible history.
The afternoon we did a bit more exploring, and visited The Olympiastadion Berlin, the stadium built for the summer 1936 Olympics.
cThat night, we visited The Reichstag. I’m really annoyed, that at the time I visited almost 6 years ago, my camera wasn’t fantastic, and I was terrible for taking pictures as I moved and most of them have blurred. The ones taken at night are really terrible as my camera just could not focus on anything! But I guess this gives me an excuse to visit again some time, which I definitely plan on doing.
I remember the Reichstag being a big buiding, which looked amazing at night as well as day. We went inside and got to see a view from near the top of Berlin at night – again, photos did not come out very well! Unfortunately, while I do definitely remember this, I don’t remember a lot of it, so I definitely need to visit here again! After leaving, we saw what remained of the Berlin Wall in the ground before heading over to The Brandenburg Gate. Next to the Brandenburg Gate stood a huge Christmas Tree, which looked amazing at night time with the lights on it lighting up the area. We really didn’t have much luck with the weather in Berlin. I was excited to go as I’ve heard Berlin gets lots of snow in the winter, so I literally packed lots of winter snow clothes. We had 1 day of snow, and 4 days of rain, and it wasn’t nearly as cold as I expected it to be! It was definitely cold, but I was kinda disappointed we didn’t get lots of snow.
Although we were there for a History trip, it was still amazing to be walking the streets of Berlin, Germany. Seeing the culture, the little differences from England. I like visiting countries and seeing the signs in their language, the native people walking around doing their day-to-day business in their hometown. Walking around in the December, literally the last week before Christmas, was even better because it was busy with people Christmas shopping – which I guess is also a downer, as it was very busy! – but it gave you a feel of what it was like over there during the holidays, and as much as I’d like to see Germany in the summer, I think if I were to go back anytime soon, I’d do it around Christmas time again!
The second morning, we had a wonder around Berlin city centre, visiting a couple of shopping centres and seeing the streets of Berlin. We visited The Hard Rock Cafe for a big lunch, where I got to see the multicoloured Trabant that U2 liked and used for a photo, as well as lots of other famous musicians clothing and instruments – including John Lennon! We had a quick was around Kaufhaus des Westens, also shows as Ka De Wa, which is a very expensive looking department store where I felt very out of place wearing my boots from Asda near a Prada and Gucci shop.
That afternoon we visisted the Story Of Berlin museum. The museum was really interesting, showing lots about Berlin. It showed how some homes looked like, modes of transport, obviously showing history of Hitler and the Jew, as well as car J.F.K once sat in.
After visiting the museum, we visited the Berliner Unterwelten. This was a guided tour of an underground WWII bunker. We did the Dark Worlds tour, where you learn about life for the civilians in Berlin during WWII, seeing what the bunkers were like as they were left after the war. It was really quite scary, it was really dark in there, and just felt really creepy being down there. It also brings it back to you, that there were also a lot of innocent people in Germany, just as scared as everyone everywhere else would have been. At one point, they turned the lights off and played the sound of an air raid siren – I’ve never been a fan of loud noises as it is – so I remember feeling really unsettled at that point. But it was an experience I have not forgotten yet and probably never will!
From there, we walked over to another Christmas market. Thinking about the Christmas markets now, I still remember the excitement I felt there. I love Christmas probably more than any other holiday of the year, the Christmas spirit, the music, just the general feel of winter and Christmas makes me really happy. We went to WeihnachtsZauber Gendarmenmarkt, which is open until 10pm and was a really nice experience. Walking around in the dark, all wrapped up for winter was just an amazing experience. Me and a friend bought Gerbrannte Haselnüsse which – please correct me if I am wrong!! – roughly translates to Burnt Hazlenuts. They tasted amazing though, as I think, after some googling – which was very difficult as I speak no German – looks as though it is hazlenuts cooked in sugar and cocoa, so very unhealthy, but worth it.
The next day was the day we were all dreading, yet interested to see. We hopped on our coach and drove through and out of Berlin, to Oranienburg. In Oranienburg, we visisted Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Of all the things we did in Berlin, there are two things I remember the most and I do not think I will ever ever forget. Sachsenhausen is at the top of this list. It was harrowing. It was awful to see the conditions people were kept in, hear the stories about what happened to them, and see how badly they were treat. I always feel terrible saying I found it interesting, because I do not think that’s the way to describe it. From a history students point of view, it was interesting to learn, but it was also horrible.
It was so quiet there. There were trees all around, but it really is true what people say and I did not see, or really hear any birds around the area at all. Walking up and seeing the gates with Arbeit macht frei written on them was when I actually started to feel really nervous. While in Sachsenhausen, we saw the bunkers where the prisoners were kept (this concentration camp was mainly used for prisoners campured by the Nazi’s), where they washed and stayed. It would have been terribly cramped in the tiny spaces they had for how many prisoners were kept there. We also saw where prisoners were disected after being murdered, we stood by the execution polls while a guard told us why and how prisoners were executed. We saw the pajamas that the prisoners wore, we saw some of their glasses, shoes and other posessions they had that are now on display. We also saw the execution trenches and the crematorium.
I’m glad I’ve visited here, it was an experience I do not want to forget, and don’t think I ever could forget.
After leaving here we went for lunch (I finally tried Schnitzel!) and then headed back to Berlin where we visited The Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe. It was harrowing, again, to see this memorial, which was beautifully made. The memorial has 2711 concrete slabs all of different heights, and is open day and night for people to visit.
We then visited A Place of Information. In there were rooms about the Jews during WWII, it held names, photographs diaries and letters or farewell. This is the second on my list of the places I visited on my trip that I will never forget. Standing in there, I read a letter written by a girl to her father, saying goodbye as she was going to die and her mother already had. I remember stood there reading it with tears down my face.
The last thing we did on our Berlin trip, was visit one last Christmas market before going back to our rooms as we had a long journey back to England – we did not fly and instead drove across the country to catch a ferry back to England.
I learnt a lot from this trip; I loved the trip (if that is the right words to use), because I love history, sadly, it wasn’t nice history. There were sad days, and there were days where were tourists and I got to see Germany.
German Christmas markets are amazing, I absolutely loved them.
One of the things I wanted the most from Berlin, was a Nutcracker. I’ve always loved the story of The Nutcracker, and I bought a gorgeous one from one of the markets – which is now in my collection of Nutcrackers, I’m currently at 6 and proabably do not have any room for anymore!!
I highly recommend Berlin whether it is for historical purposes, or just siteseeing!
On the ferry back, I even bumped into Simon King, one of the Hairy Bikers!! Where I looked absolutely terrible because I get awfully seasick!!
*Links to the places I visited in Berlin*