The next stop on the grand tour was Berlin – one of the most interesting cities in Europe. Although not the most beautiful city, the history more than makes up for it.
My first stop was to the Stasi Museum. The Stasi was the name given to the secret police in East Germany. The majority of the museum was a display of the way that GDR citizens were monitored. It was fascinating to see how dissidents were psychologically manipulated by the Stasi. Now it is difficult to imagine what life in East Germany must have been like because Berlin is bustling with activity. Apart from a couple of sections where the wall is on display, the only thing that you see that shows a former divide is a simple line of bricks running across the streets and sidewalks, marking where the wall used to stand. I find it quite admirable how hard Berliners and the German population have worked to merge West Germany and the GDR since the wall came down. It felt like every street was a construction site, and even the basic buildings in East Berlin have changed drastically. Since housing was so cheap in East Germany in the 90s, a lot of young people moved to those districts and now the areas are quite artsy and full of expression.
The next day was a walking tour of the city, focusing on the Third Reich Era. Most of the buildings from this time were destroyed either during WWII or afterwards when the Soviets took over. Our tour guide was very informative, and took us to a few museums and sights dedicated to the events of WWII. It was a heavy day, but so so interesting. The tour ended at the Topography of Terror Museum, erected on top of the site of the former SS and Gestapo headquarters. The museum is all about the Nazi era in Germany and Europe. Very sad, but very well done.
It’s hard to capture the sheer size of this building. It’s massive!
I began our last day with a tour of the Reichstag (home to the German Parliament) dome. That was amazing! Groups get to go to the roof of the building and walk around, which is neat, but the highlight is the dome. A walkway curves around the inside, and an audioguide gives a history of the building, the dome, the Bundestag (similar to Parliament), and information about the skyline. That was one of the highlights of the whole week.
We took another tour, around some of the most famous spots in Berlin, for our last day in the city. One spot that still resonates with me is the Memorial to the Victims of War and Tyranny. It is a statue in an empty room of a mother holding her dead, grown son in her arms. There is a hole in the roof directly above the stature, so when it is sunny, the stature absorbs the sunlight, but when it rains or snows, it collects on her clothes and her son. It really embodies the idea of being a victim of the elements and things that we don’t have control of.
Due to its fascinating history, Berlin was one of my favorite cities that we visited (I think I have been saying that about every place, but it’s true!). 10/10 would recommend.