Berlin. (and me)

I was in Berlin in 2011… It took me all that time to write a few words and post pictures about it.
Berliner Mauer - before going to "Topographie Des Terror" museum.

Berliner Mauer: 1961 – 1989

I went to Berlin twice, and this second time to attend the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert December 4th 2011 at O2 World Arena. Such events are always the perfect excuse to visit a location and enjoy some time off. Europe has its history and heritage, and as many opportunities as there are languages, cultures, countries just one hour flight away from home.

The city is well-known for music, for shows and certainly one the of most trendy location on the continent.  U-Bahn (underground) and S-Bahn (local trains) are very convenient and safe at all times to commute around this big city. Potsdamer Platz along with the Sony Center worth a visit, even more at night to see the lighting in the courtyard and of the complete building. Alexanderplatz with its “universal time” clock and this unique design, the Fernsheturm built in sixties as a demonstration of power toward the West offers beautiful views on the city: you won’t get bored there. If O2 Arena is for the big venues, smaller places such as Yorkschlösschen in Kreuzberg area are also available to hear jazz and a whole range of concerts and shows, almost on daily basis. But above music and leisure to which I will come back later, in more than probably any other location in Europe, Berlin comes with an important part of our 20th century history…

Starting a post about travel providing personal details and background might be of importance depending on the location you are talking about. Berlin is certainly among them. I am 39 years old, Swiss with 50% of Italian descent (and passport). My Twitter profile says the rest. Nonno (grandfather in italian) did WWII in Africa  under command of Mussolini. He was made prisoner by the English army until 1946 and never said a single word about the war during the following 45 years before his death, except that as a truck driver, he was proud and lucky to not have to kill anyone. The most striking event in my life related with Berlin was the fall of the wall in November 1989 through the eyes of a teenager looking at dad’s TV. I did not have a lot more information than this about Berlin history so let’s say that I was arriving, for the second time, with almost nothing.

A Berlin visit remains a shock more than anything else.

Using the word shock is a personal choice and I am certainly to express my feelings along with a few information provided in this post. Imagine a location where anywhere you are heading for, the most important facts of the second half of the 20th century history are smashing your face. I would consider a journey in Berlin as an opportunity for a catch up. A catch up with the WWII, with Nazism and its background, with the cold war years and eventually the darkest parts of our recent human history.

Don’t try to be ready for what you will see in Berlin, you can’t – it is beyond human imagination.

The methodology.
GESTAPO - remainder of the building of the secrete state police.

GESTAPO – remainder of the building

Topographie des Terrors (Topography of Terror) is certainly a must, a kind of a quest in itself requiring a few hours to make sure you are to leave the area with sound information.

Nazism brought a new approach in killing people by implementing and improving over the years a methodology. From Einsatzgruppen to concentration or extermination camps, nothing before comes as close as this methodology leading to industrial-scale mass murders. Inside the building is the exhibition with a comprehensive information describing each step and stage of the process along with a library – entrance is free. There is also a walk outside with the remainders of the Gestapo building (secret state police) and a part of the Berliner Mauer.

My visit was characterized by a wide a range of feelings, from fear to sadness and from shock to a sudden will of screams that could finally end with inside tears.

Judisches Museum.

Emotional aspect related with the period mentioned above, a visit to the Judhisches Museum is certainly advised to understand interactions between Jews, Germany and Europe in general.  You will go through 2000 years of Jewish history related with Germany and German speaking territories. A walk in the Shaleket – Fallen Leaves installation, one of the empty spaces of the building with over 10’000 open-mouthed faces cut from heavy, circular iron plates covering the floor, is definitely a moving experience. The museum is highly recommended for anyone looking at the big picture and context linked with the Jewish religion.

Checkpoint Charlie.
Check Point Charlie - go to the museum to understand the outcome of Berlin post wall history.

Check Point Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie / Mauer Museum also deserves a visit, maybe the most accessible of the ones described in this article. You will be surprised how quickly the physical division of Berlin happened, putting families and friends apart and preventing relatives from seeing each others for 28 years.

The exhibition features the significant steps of the construction of the wall as well as the most surprising tricks developed to escape to the West (including cars, tunnels etc).

Berlin Underground.

Third Reich and Nazism were a threat for the world, but also for the German people. Having a tour with Berliner Unterwelten E.V. (Berlin Underground) will allow you to understand how Hitler was treating his people, putting them at risk into unreliable bunkers. Berliners were targets of the state propaganda, living in very difficult conditions, running into twisty corridors underground to save their life with Berlin above them under fire and air raids leaving the city destroyed at 80%.

Berlin steps back.
Alexander Platz - Caorusels at night - colours and gluhwein!

Alexander Platz – Caorusels at night

The city architectures, monuments (including recent constructions) and buildings are a demonstration of the ability to step back and go ahead. I don’t think a lot of people have committed as much as the German and Berliners to look back at their history and do their best to learn from it as well as provide visitors with a clear, transparent and balanced information, this regardless of the gravity of the events and tragedies happened here. I ignore if this can be qualified as a form of resilience but I think an incredible work and challenge has been achieved. Visitors will enjoy a contrasting journey, walking between historic sites, hearing various musics and concerts, looking at a yesterday divided city transformed now into an amazingly coherent aggregate of buildings and blocks all together. Shopping at Kurfurstendamn, Unter den Linden and Freidrichstrasse, music in Kreuzberg and historic sites almost everywhere, an incredible trip is waiting the visitor in one of the most trendy location in Europe – and probably the cheapest big city on the continent. And if you are there in December, enjoy a Gluhwein at Alexanderplatz Christmas market and look at the fantastic colours of the carousels around!

Gallery: Berlin in Christmas.

– Copyright ©: All pictures and texts by Frederic Galetto –

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