Terrors / Day 46 of 64 / 24 June
My main points of interest for today are largely associated with Germany’s history during World War II, and its subsequent division during the Cold War. I left the hostel at around 8.30am, and around 9am, I reached my first location: the Brandenburg Gate [Brandenburger Tor]. A symbol of not only Germany itself, but also its scarring division during the Cold War, the gate now stands as a testament to German unity.
After some photos at the Gate, I headed to the Reichstag building [Reichstagsgebäude] at around 9.30am. Unfortunately, access to the Reichstag building and dome is only by online appointment. Thankfully, there is a counter located across the road on the east side of the Reichstag that allows you to reserve a spot for the next available dome visit. If you’re lucky, there may be slots available for the same day, but this may vary depending on how many people book in advance on the Reichstag website. I decided to book my ticket for a Tuesday morning visit to the dome.
My next stop was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe [Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas], also sometimes known as the Holocaust Memorial. Rather aptly, the memorial is located along Hannah Arendt Street. Hannah Arendt was a 20th-century German political theorist that raised the idea that evil was not always a “conventionally evil” force. Rather, she proposed the “banality of evil”, that evil sometimes could stem from the most banal of actions, such as bureaucracy or administration. This was definitely the case in the Holocaust, where millions of Jews and other minorities were murdered with ruthless efficiency by a bureaucracy that was concerned only with maximising the lethality of methods with the most minimal of emotional effort. By removing the actors from the act of “evil”, the Holocaust could proceed as probably the most disgusting act of modern bureaucracy and administration.
The underground museum at the memorial site.
The memorial is the site of many steel boxes arranged in a grid. Walking in between the boxes, you feel disoriented. People in front of you vanish between the boxes on your left and right, and it’s almost impossible to locate anyone inside this labyrinth. There is a sense of caution and fear because you never know who might suddenly appear from behind the corridor of boxes, or who might suddenly cross your path. The only thing you can see clearly are the exits from the labyrinth in the four cardinal directions. Below this installation is a small museum dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust. There, exhibits inform not only on the general fate of Jews across Europe during the time of Nazi Germany, but also the particular fate of certain Jewish families. Some managed to flee, but most families perished during that time. The museum presents an individual and familial side to the murder of the Jews: being more than just numbers, statistics, and mortality rates, this really allows you to feel more intensely the tragedy that the Holocaust was.
I left the Memorial at around 11am and headed to Mauerpark for lunch. I arrived at the flea-market at around 12pm. The Mauerpark flea-market is open on Sundays, and the stalls there are truly unique. Unlike most flea-markets I’ve been to in Asia, the stalls at Mauerpark do genuinely seem to sell unique goods that vary across stalls. Don’t expect to find many stalls selling similar goods at different prices here, with the exception of the many stalls selling East Berlin paraphernalia. I spent some time walking down the aisles of stalls selling everything from vintage film cameras to screen-printed tote bags to porcelain dinnerware. I then bought some currywurst and a pulled pork sandwich from one of the many food trucks or stands in the centre of the flea-market. I also got a glass of craft beer from one of the many beer stands in the food area. Mauerpark is a vibrant and fun flea-market to explore, which explains why there was quite a significant crowd there today, despite the persistent drizzle.
The street food in the park is a must try! Affordable too.
Moving on to Cold War history, my next stop was the Berlin Wall Memorial. Around the memorial, there is a church and many smaller outdoor memorials that commemorate where the Berlin Wall once stood. I explored these smaller memorials before arriving at the Berlin Wall Memorial building at around 1pm. The Memorial provides a comprehensive history of the Berlin Wall, starting with the context of its construction, and the conditions for its eventual collapse. There are also fascinating explanations on the lives that were led in West and East Berlin: on how lives on both sides of the wall could differ so dramatically. My favourite installation was the section on the fall of the Wall, and the story of how the people of East Berlin were empowered to eventually overcome the dictatorial DDR government.
One of the smaller memorials also doubles as a church.
I had Lunch 2.0 at a currywurst stand near my next destination of the day: the Topography of Terror [Topographie des Terrors]. Combining an outdoor walking exhibit and an indoor museum, the Topography of Terror documents all the details of the terror that engulfed Germany in World War II. Beginning with the emergence of Hitler’s dictatorial powers, to how those powers were used to oppress and murder minorities and opponents, the museum truly provides a cross-section and examination of the dark events of Nazi rule.
The final stop of the day was the famous Checkpoint Charlie, although I did feel like it was more of a tourist trap. I arrived at the trap at around 4.30pm. The checkpoint was probably one of the most famous checkpoints in the American sector of divided Berlin, and today, you can commemorate your visit there by taking a photo with actors dressed as American border troops. Of course, photos cost 3 EUR each, which you can easily save on by just taking a photo of the checkpoint and the guards, sans you in the picture with them. After quickly snapping a few photos, I returned to my hostel.
Supper at the must-visit “Curry 36” stall.