Ever-changing Germany

I really liked Berlin. It seemed to still be in a state of transition — a state of moving on from its rough recent history. Because of this, it was a very relaxed and creative place, if you knew where to look.

I got the hardest part of the visit out of the way first. I spent Tuesday touring Sachenhausen, a former Nazi (and, later, Soviet Union) concentration camp. I’ve always been interested in World War II history, but seeing the horrors of it in person is a completely different experience — as one person on my tour said, the Nazis were “disgustingly smart” in how they built and ran the camp and killed millions without drawing much attention from the surrounding community. Not a lot of it was left — instead, gravel enclosed in a wooden frame marked where buildings were — but the Jewish barracks still remained, as did remains of the gas chambers and ovens. “Haunting” is probably the best word to describe the experience, and even years after the fact, the grounds still had an eerie feel.

IMG_2259

The gate into Sachenhausen — the misleading German words translate to “work will set you free.”

Despite the difficult visit, I’m really glad I went. I think it’s really important to remember what happened so we can prevent things like this from ever happening again.

On Wednesday, I took two more tours. The first was a general tour of the city. It featured, among other things, the Holocaust Memorial, the Berlin Wall and a “gravel, dog-poo-filled parking lot” which sits on top of Adolf Hitler’s former bunker where he committed suicide. It was nice to see various areas of the city and hear about their various uses throughout the years — the Germans don’t like to waste things, so a lot of today’s government buildings were former Nazi or Soviet Union buildings.

IMG_2275Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War.

The second tour was of something I didn’t know Berlin was known for: street art. Apparently, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the old Jewish Quarter became a gathering place for artists. The city contains a lot of cool graffiti — much of which makes political statements — and in recent years, the city has even commissioned graffiti artists to create large work on the sides of buildings.

IMG_2349One of the commissioned works, obviously, because it’s so big.

The tour concluded at the East Side Gallery, a portion of the Berlin Wall on which artists have painted pieces. It’s most known for its painting of the kissing politicians, but the other portions of the wall were great, too.

IMG_2357One of the East Side Gallery pieces.

A friend from GHP, a summer program I did in high school, and I met up for dinner. It was so great to catch up! The last time I saw her was that summer, in the hot and humid Valdosta, Ga.

I spent Thursday morning walking around the city. The highlight was the Salvador Dali Museum, which featured his paintings, drawings and sculptures. I’d previously only seen his most famous work, so I enjoyed seeing what else he created.

Germany concluded my Easter holiday traveling, and it was a nice place to end. I’ll never forget those three weeks!

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