Everywhere is full of history. All of the cities of the world hold history, but some cities you can truly feel the history of the place–like Berlin. The history of Berlin is still very recent in historical terms–although one could also argue the history of humanity in general is very recent in comparison to the history of the universe and the cosmos. In school growing up, we were taught about the general history of the world and various countries, but there seemed to be three big events that our American history classes focused on. They were: The American Revolution, The American Civil War, and World War II.
Growing up, World War II always seemed so distant and far away. It was only when I heard stories about my grandparents fleeing Holland during the 40s that it seemed so close. My grandparents never talked about the war when I was a kid. Or ever for that matter. So, it was something I only really learned about by reading books or watching documentaries. During my recent trip to Friesland, I learned more personal details of my families involvement in the war. It struck me then how very recent it was.
Touring Berlin, I knew I wanted to explore many of the places I only read about in history books. Though, I only spent two days in Berlin doing “tourist” things, I covered so much. From the Victory Column to the Berlin Wall to the Reichstag Building to the Berliner Dom to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
I’ve been to many holocaust memorials in different states around the US and even to a WWII museum in South Korea that dedicated a large section to the holocaust. The memorial in Berlin, though, is by far the best one I’ve been to. We walked through the sculpture of concrete slabs that towered over you the deeper you walked. It became like a maze in the center. If you wandered too far or took too many turns you would lose the person you were with. The blocks cast dark shadows under the gaze of the blazing sun above. Beneath the sculpture is a museum detailing the history of the war in both German and English (with audioguides available).
Two days of exploring the history of Berlin was daunting as it goes so far back. And the part I did was only recent history, from the 1930s to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. There is so much history of Berlin and of Germany that I didn’t even begin to delve into. The Germanic Wars or the Holy Roman Empire, or the German Confederation.
While it’s easy to go to a city and plunge yourself into the depths of its history, I think it’s equally as valuable to connect yourself to the present. Beyond the touristy things that is on every “Top 10 things to do” list, step out of the box and do as locals do. Saying that is easy, though. It’s hard to even know what locals do or recommend if you don’t know anyone there. But the truth is—locals probably do what you do when you’re at home. Go to the park for a picnic or lounge at a cafe and read a book. Avoid the pressure and feeling that you need to be DOING something significant every day on your trip. I was in Berlin for 5 days, but I only spent 2 of them doing “tourist” things. I’m going to talk more about this in a later post.
Summing it all up, Berlin was an amazing experience and I definitely recommend it. There is so much to do and see and soooo many amazing cafés and restaurants out there.