Not all of my travel experiences are filled with laughter and joy. Not because I wasn’t grateful but because sometimes travels allows you to see the dark and ugly truth too. Of course you can ignore it, no one says it’s an obligation to see these things, but to me it is important that you see a place as a whole: the beautiful and the ugly.
Berlin is all sorts of hip and cool – everyone knows that. It is one of those popular destinations where you can go shopping, eat at the most delicious restaurant, dance at the hottest club and have a fantastic day with your mates.
For me though, my quick three days visit to this city was dedicated to learning more about its history. I decided to refresh some of the history lessons I acquired in high school and to “see” it for myself. Yes, Berlin was definitely very hip (I might actually be too boring for the city hah!) but I couldn’t help to feel a whiff of sadness and a hint of somberness in the air.
I started my trip in Berlin with a free walking tour, to just get an overall view of the city. During the tour, I was given a glimpse of Berlin. One of the highlights for me was seeing one of the remains of the Berlin Wall. I couldn’t imagine having family and friends who were separated by you on the other side of the wall. It looks like “just” a wall, but the stories were horrifying, of people trying to get across simply to see their family or lover. It’s heartbreaking. It must have been a triumphant day when it was finally knocked down.
More stories about the city was told and more memorials were shown during the trip. One of which was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This memorial was designed by architect Peter Eisenmann and engineer Buro Happold to honour the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The memorial consisted of many stelae (concrete slabs) in different heights. I was told that the meaning of the memorial is left for each person to interpret by themselves. A palpable feeling of loneliness, darkness, hopelessness swallowed me when I entered the memorial. It was so eerie. This memorial can be easily found since it is located near the iconic Brandenburg Gate. The land in which the monument occupies used to be a part of Berlin Wall’s death strip and a few metres from here, is Hitler’s bunker.
The Neue Wache is known as the Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for Victims of War and Tyranny. As I entered the building, I saw a lone statue of a mother and her dead son in the middle of this spacious, quiet building. This statue was designed by Käthe Kollwitz and is meant to commemorate victims of war and tyranny. The building itself had seen plenty of transformations. From formerly being a guardhouse to being destroyed during World War II.
It also previously held an eternal flame as a memorial to the victims of Fascism and Militarism and here also buried the remains of an unknown soldier and an unnamed concentration camp victim. In this very building, there were so many broken memories. For me, entering inside seemed it was like the noises outside disappeared and I was instantly focused on the statue, allowing me to contemplate for a while in its quietness.
As the tour ended, Berlin seemed to be as gloomy as I was. The cloud made everything around me grey but there was also a feeling of gratitude being in Berlin. I was glad I was standing in Berlin today, hearing the stories that make up what Berlin is today, walking in these streets where once were not even free to walk on. I learned so much from just my first day in Berlin.
On my second day in Berlin, I decided to visit the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. The camp was not located in Berlin, I took a train to Oraneinburg and I took a bus from the station to the camp. I purchased the audio guide since I wanted to understand more of its history. I studied about the World War II, the Holocaust, these concentration camps but they were mere pictures on history books. Being there on the ground of a concentration camp made me nervous. I was unsure whether or not I was ready to face it.
Passing by the gates with the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” on it, I could start to feel this overwhelming feeling of sadness. This was unlike any other places I’ve been. There weren’t many people that day, and it was such a huge place that the other visitors were very spread out so we all had our peace and quiet. I think it was important to feel this way here, I didn’t want this place to be just another list to tick off, it was so much more deserving than that. This was a place where we needed to contemplate and more importantly, to honour and respect the many innocent lives taken so cruelly here.
The camp somehow looked…clean. What a weird impression, I thought to myself, everyone knows how incredibly barbaric it was inside this camp. Many people died from different causes, including executions.
All around the camp I could see a wall, I was told that prisoners were not allowed to approach the wall. If they did, they would be shot. I could see one of the warnings. Then I noticed the barracks. During high school, I studied about concentration camps and how inhuman and brutal the living condition was inside these barracks. Barrack 38 and 39 were the barracks occupied by Jews prisoners. I read that around 400 people were crammed inside this place which was supposedly for 150 people. I was beyond speechless being inside these barracks, the pain and suffering resonated around its walls. It was indeed a very mournful experience.
I walked around camp and the feeling of gloom and grief followed me around. I didn’t try to shake it off though, those feelings deserved to be felt. I could feel chills all over me when I saw the gallows (people were hanged here in front of others), and even further when I entered the area that is Station Z.
This was the execution site. This was the most disturbed part of the whole camp. I read that the name Station Z was actually “a joke” since people would enter from Building A, and “exit” from this area. A sick joke. People were murdered, shot, and here you can also see the remains of the gas chamber. The gas chamber, where they used to call it the “shower room”, leading people to believe it was an innocent room, only to find out that it was the deadliest room of all.
I couldn’t bare being in there for too long.
After I saw everything, I waited for my other friends and we all took a walk from the camp to the train station to head back to Berlin. I rarely talk about my trip to Berlin on this blog because it is hard for me to process all those information. All those cruelty. I can never erase my memory of this trip and here I am writing this to you because I have thought about it long enough and ready to share it with you. I was mentally exhausted from this trip, but I didn’t regret my decision to see all that.
Without a doubt this was one of the saddest, most somber trip I have ever taken. I haven’t gone back to Berlin ever since, partly because I haven’t had the chance again and also because I needed to process my last trip in my own term. I never regretted my decision to visit Berlin, to see the things I saw. For me, it was a necessary trip and I’m grateful I was able to do it.
This week’s theme: The Saddest Tourist Destination