Berlin was a bucket list destination and we finally got there! Did it meet our expectations? What were they????
Over the years I’ve worked out what we like to do on our trips away and I try to incorporate them. A bit of history, a bit of vintage shopping, a used bookshop, sleep. So those were the expectations of Berlin.
A bit of history – that was what the trip was all about after all. Hubby has a keen interest in WWII so Berlin was always high on the list. Perhaps not so high on my list because my expectations of what history there would be there were a lot higher than the reality. I expected Nazi architecture, history explained. The reality is that this period of German history actually lasted less than 20 years. Massive as it is in world history it is not a period, clearly, that Germans want to “celebrate”, quite the contrary. As the week wore on I really came to terms with that. It’s like they’ve tried to erase it. Hitler’s bunker, for example, now lays under a children’s play park. The walls were so thick that they couldn’t destroy it so they’ve filled it in and tried to pretend it isn’t there. They say it is so that it doesn’t become a shrine to neo-nazi’s. Despite the shame we saw a few things. Probably enough to be honest. I always forget how emotionally draining I find reading about WWII and seeing the pictures of the queues of people waiting for death.
A part of their history they’ve embraced though is the Berlin Wall, it’s existence, it’s impact and the aftermath. And I learned a lot about this. Bearing in mind the Wall was up during my lifetime I realised I did not know a lot about it. I actually spent two weeks in Germany when I was 14, on a German exchange, and I remember visiting the division in Germany, close to where I was staying. I remember it being up, I remember it coming down. But I now know I didn’t understand it at all.
After the end of the Second World War the allies divided up the spoils of their victory. Germany was divided into East and West. But sitting well over in the East was Berlin, the prize of prizes! So despite the geographical difficulties Berlin was divided into East and West as well. And in the West that was divided between the Brits, the Americans and the French. The East went to Russia. Over time Russia came to realise that, given the opportunity, people would leave the East for the West. They needed to tighten up security. So they built the wall in the early 1960’s.
To stop people climbing the wall they added various security features including armed guards prepared to shoot to kill, crazed dogs and huge spot lights that were on all night. Despite the likelihood of death people still tried to escape to the West. Many people were killed trying to flee.
We visited an excellent museum which showed what life was like for East Berliners. The DDR Museum is incredibly well presented and very interactive. The vintage dealer in me particularly liked seeing all the old packaging and the recreation of the flat with all the furniture and kitchen pots to bring authenticity. Wallpaper baby! The bugging of the flat and the listening post were definitely vintage memories I wouldn’t trade in but so interesting. We could see where 1984 came from!
In terms of learning about the walls history we found it so useful to have done a bike tour on the first day of our trip. The Berlin Wall and Third Reich bike tour lasted three hours and cost less than £20 each. It was brilliant. We had an English speaking Berliner taking us to the important, must see spots in Berlin. On a bike. Amongst other things we saw the Wall Memorial, an anti aircraft turret built by Hitler, the children’s playground over Hitler’s bunker, a watch tower and segments of the wall.
So history wise I came out of Berlin knowing not much more about Hitler but understanding an incredible amount about the reasons for the wall and how the Germans dealt with it. And that is what is important about Berlin. The story of how a group of people overcame adversity. How they fought for their freedom. And how, eventually, and almost unexpectedly, they won. A great nation like Germany shouldn’t be remembered just because of what happened in WWII. But I still don’t think we should forget because we have so much to learn from it! Don’t hate a person just because of their religion. Try to work things out for yourself rather than believe the headlines and the rhetoric. Walls don’t help!
And what about the other expectations? I found a vintage shop. I found a second hand book shop. The apartment stores in Berlin are very good. Very good! And there are loads. Eating out was very good value. Meals didn’t cost much more than £15 for both of us. Much cheaper eating out wise than Copenhagen. In fact it was cheaper to eat out than in. A marked difference! Public transport was very good, clean and easy to use.
We flew in with Easy Jet and that cost us £206 for both flights. That was with extra legroom seats, speedy boarding and no hold luggage.
We stayed in an Airbnb that I found that cost £275 for 3 nights.
Museums are not free in Berlin and most cost €10-20 per person.
A travel card on public transport was about €13 for both of us, a day.
I would definitely recommend Berlin for the shopping. The department stores are lovely! I was disappointed with the history but I think that is more to do with my expectations than the reality. Definitely do a bike tour. I couldn’t recommend that highly enough!