One of the best ways to get to grips with the rich and layered history of Berlin, and Germany as a whole, is to take part in one of the many free walking tours on offer.
There are so many to chose from but we opted for the Original Free Berlin Tour here.
This tour covers many of the darkest days of Berlin’s history from the horror of Nazi Germany to the division of the country post war and the history of the infamous Berlin Wall.
One of the most saddening, and poignant stops on the tour is the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe.
Also known as the Holocaust Memorial is was designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold. It is a 4.7-acre site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs or “stelae”.
Eisenman’s project text, the stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.
However individual interpretations of the meaning behind the memorial are very varied. Regardless of the original idea behind the project, the whole place evoked in me a sense of growing claustrophobia and panic as you began to feel lost amongst the every bigger, formidable, grey stones. The feeling of being trapped in an inhuman, alien landscape.
Moving on from the memorial we get our first glimpse of one of the most complete lengths of the Berlin wall. Now many removed, there are still a few places where complete pieces remain.
This stretch runs alongside the former site of the SS. Now appropriately housing a museum called the Topography of Terror.
The wall divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989 and was constructed by the German Democratic Republic in an attempt to stop the intellectual ‘brain drain’ of people fleeing the repressive East German sector into the more liberal and well off West.
The Eastern bloc portrayed the Wall as protecting its population from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the “will of the people” in building a socialist state in East Germany.
Regardless of the difficulties, people continued to find ever more daring ways of trying to escape over the wall including hot air balloons, driving cars at full speed through the border, swimming canals and even jumping out of buildings close to the wall and into the other side.
As time went on the fortifications of the wall, and its policing, became ever more draconian. This did not stop people from trying however and official figures claim 140 deaths throughout the wall’s history, mainly a result of the shoot to kill policy put in place by the East German government.
Having seen our first glimpse of the wall we are heading to one of the most well known sections now – Check Point Charlie. On-route we pass by a tethered balloon that offers amazing views of the city.
Checkpoint Charlie (or “Checkpoint C”) was the name given by the Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War.
Checkpoint Charlie was designated as the single crossing point for foreigners and members of the Allied forces who could not use any of the other crossings.
What is left now is basically a reconstruction and a bit of a tourist trap but it does give you a sense of how restrictive life would have been.
After a good four hours of walking we are more than ready for one of our favourite German traditions – Cafe und Kuchen!
Lots more to come from this fascinating city!