We were up and gone from our hotel at 4.30, and proceeded smoothly through check-in and security at Geneva airport – there was no passport control at either end (a bit strange!).
We arrived in Berlin at about 8.30am and stopped at the airport for coffee and regrouping. We’ve learned the hard way that a new city, new country, new language can be discombobulating, and the best thing to do it take some time to get the lay of the land and figure things out. A strong coffee later, we had the trains and the language all sorted.
We found our hotel only a 20 min walk from the central station and in a lovely area by the river. We dropped our gear and went out for an explore. The hotel is very close to most of the things we wanted to see, so we headed straight for the first of these – the Victory Column
It was built in the 1860s to celebrate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian war. The monument was enlarged moved to its current location (at the end of a long avenue, the other end of which is the Brandenburg Gate) by Hitler in 1939 – the Nazis needed the space for some other grand buildings. You can climb to the top and get a great view of the city. What struck me was that the base was covered in scars from bullets….it obviously saw some action in the war.
We started a city audio tour at this location, which took us past the Chancellory (not that interesting, built in 2002), the Riechstag (the current government offices, the Berlin Wall used to run right past the front of it), the Brandenburg Gate built in the late 18th century, badly damaged in WWII and restored in the early 21st century.
All the while we were wandering back and forth between the old East and West Germany. There is so much history in this place! Our walking tour took us next to the Holocaust memorial – called the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – and information centre. The memorial is a group of 2711 large stones that kind of look like big gravestones, but they are all different heights. I think it’s supposed to express the simultaneous order and chaos of the time.
The information centre was extremely emotional and powerful. It focussed on the people – lots of photos and as much as possible, details of who was in them, what was happening, and the stories of the people behind the numbers. And the numbers are just staggering. I think I’ve become used to the idea of 6 million Jews dying in the war, but the centre really personalised this for me. I noted to, that the language used was very direct – the words murder and genocide were used, making the point again and again that the Jewish people didn’t just die, they were murdered.
We emerged from the centre reeling a bit, and so wandered along to the Potsdamer Platz – important for the part it played during and after the cold war. The original square (platz) was the old heart of the city, and the central train station. It was destroyed in WWII (along with most of the rest of Berlin), and then had the Berlin Wall running right through the middle of it, so all the buildings in the Platz are now shiny new. In 1989, this was one of the first places that the Berlin Wall was breached, and was the location of a concert that was held here celebrating its removal (I remember this concert!). It was so cool to see such a long history in one place, but a history that included important events that I remember!
We stopped in at the Haagen Dazs store for a treat before jumping on a train back to the hotel about 6pm. It had been a long day and we were done for now! We will pick up again in the morning at Potsdamer Platz and continue our tour of the city.