Picking up from where I left off…
After a few nights in Prague, we took the train to Berlin, where we were staying for Christmas.
I visited Berlin in 2014, loved it, and had my heart set on returning as soon as I could (achievement unlocked). I was looking forward to showing my family this fascinating city and although we did many of the things I’d done in 2014, our stay was longer than my first, so we managed a few new-to-me sights. The highlights:
01. Hansel und Gretel at Staatsoper Unter den Linden – to say I was excited was an understatement. The opera house was closed when I visited in 2014, undergoing lengthy restoration work. They clearly did a good job – it was both grand and intimate, just what you want in an opera house.
Hansel and Gretel is a German Christmas tradition and the production was like nothing I’d ever seen (their budgets must be huge) – amazing costumes, mad lighting and crazy sets. I loved it.
02. Walking tour with Berlin Walks – I had done this tour in 2014, however, different guides bring their own perspective. This time, our guide was Sam, a guy who had spent years studying Nazi and communist architecture. The highlight – learning about the ‘ghost train stations’.
Who is not slightly thrilled by a revolving restaurant? They are so wonderfully ridiculous. And the Fernsehturm has the best I’ve ever visited. It’s not about the food, it’s about the view and the superb 1960s gold and maroon décor – felt like I was on the set of a James Bond movie.
04. Christmas Markets – there are plenty of big markets to be found in Berlin but we favoured the smaller neighbourhood ones (pic of the Sophienstraße market, located near where we were staying. And above, a view of the TV Tower and a full moon from our neighbourhood).
05. Ritter Sport – okay, this was a totally kid-driven stop on the Berlin itinerary but making our own bars of Ritter was fun, and a restorative fondue in the Ritter café proved to be a very good decision.
06. Currywurst at Curry61 – by the time we got to Berlin we’d eaten lots of sausages (and yes, the Bratwurst we had in Rothenburg ob der Tauber was very, very good) but currywurst gets a special mention (half the fun is watching them punch out those currywurst orders at lightning speed).
07. Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp – it’s difficult to put into words how deeply affecting our visit to Sachsenhausen was.
Sachsenhausen differed from other camps (it was essentially the ‘blueprint’ for which other camps were modelled on, in both design and the treatment of prisoners. It was also adjacent to the SS training headquarters, so was used as a ‘showpiece’). Although originally intended to hold political prisoners, horrific and systematic executions took place from 1943 until 1945.
I learnt so much from our extremely knowledgeable guide (Jesse from Berlin Walks) but it was the small details that left me speechless – the walk through the town from Oranienburg train station to the camp; the ‘shoe-testing’ track; the image of a desperate prisoner who had done the seemingly impossible and hung himself from a wash basin; the SS use of agricultural equipment such as cattle prods to control the prisoners (taking every opportunity for inhumane treatment); the cruel hierarchy system that forced the prisoners to ‘self-govern’; and the concealed ‘neck-shootings’.
The current German police training headquarters is located next to Sachsenhausen. At first, this may seem tone-deaf, but a sign at the front explains why the police train there – the ‘Basic Law’ of the Federal Republic of Germany states that ‘Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority’. As part of their studies, students learn about the history of what happened at Sachsenhausen and the crimes committed by the police under the Nazi regime, and that such atrocities can never be repeated. Significant, given that we had started our day at the Berlin Synagogue which incredibly survived Kristallnacht, largely as a result of the actions of one policeman.
09. Sinti and Roma Memorial – this left a deep impression when I visited in 2014 and again this time.
For those interested, we stayed in a spacious apartment in Mitte – Rosenthal Residence (Melburnians, the neighbourhood was much like Fitzroy). There was easy access to the U-bahn and trams, and there was a large supermarket, a laundromat, and lots of cafes nearby