An inexpensive flight out of London on Ryan Air brought me to Berlin where I planned to stay for a couple of weeks while exploring this dynamic city and surrounding area.
Some might say my choice of staying in a hostel while travelling in a part of the world where the weather dictates that I bundle up and deal with occasional snow and ice underfoot, is not the most pleasant way to travel. But when the hostel is walking distance to many of Berlin’s fascinating historical sites and has all the amenities needed for a comfortable stay on a budget, including good WIFI connection, a good buffet breakfast, and interesting international travellers to converse with, it can be a grand experience for an independent traveler such as myself. Being off season, occasionally I score with a private room for the price of a dorm bed (20 Euros), as I have now as I write this posting for my blog.
My exploration of Berlin began with a leisurely walk to the famous Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of the reunification of East and West Germany.
For 40 years the Brandenburg Gate had been hidden behind the Berlin Wall in the German Democratic Republic (GDR/former East Germany) during the Cold War. The newly constructed US Embassy flanked one side. On arrival, I stood pensively observing the USA flag which was flying over the embassy, trying to grasp the full impact of the fact that it was flying in the same place the Berlin Wall stood 26 years ago.
I joined a free walking tour near the Brandenburg Gate. There were 20 people from 10 countries in our English-speaking group, all dressed to handle walking several hours in the brutally cold weather that day. Our professional tour guide was a young lady from England who has lived in Berlin for years. During introductions she told us she makes a living from tips on these walking tours. Thus she set the stage for us to decide at the end how much we thought she was worth, and then tip her accordingly. Two significant places she took us to were Checkpoint Charlie and the Holocaust Memorial.
Checkpoint Charlie is one of the powerful symbols of the Cold War. It was the principal gateway for foreigners and diplomats travelling between East and West Berlin from 1961 to 1990. Only a replica of the building stands here that processed these people. The original building was at the Allied Museum. I decided at that moment to go there the following day in anticipation of seeing it.
We stopped at a free open-air exhibit which took us through significant events of the Cold War. This introduction to open-air historical exhibits in Berlin propelled me to search for them in the coming days. My search was often rewarded. (more on this later)
Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial is Germany’s main memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. It is close to the Brandenburg Gate on the former grounds of the Berlin Wall. 2700 concrete slabs of varying heights are in a grid pattern on uneven ground. We carefully walked through a few of the narrow corridors created by the stelae, slipping and sliding along the way. Despite the fact that ice was prevalent on the ground throughout, few in our group chose to forego the experience of walking through the memorial by walking around it.
Later I went back to this site and visited the underground information center where some of the most important memories of the Holocaust were displayed. With thousands of anonymous concrete slabs above, I felt like I was in a tomb.
The Allied Museum, located in an old theatre used by US troops and their families stationed in the former American Sector of West Berlin, was founded in 1996. One of the highlights was the documentation of the successful Berlin Airlift of 1948-1949, which took place during the Berlin Blockade.
Included outside were original buildings in excellent condition from Checkpoint Charlie and a segment of the Berlin Wall covered with upbeat street art. Across the street the US flag was flying over the US Consulate, formerly the US Embassy.
The Allied Museum left me with a feeling that somehow I had come home.
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