We started the day quite early so we would be in the city in time for our Third Reich walking tour. Unfortunately it was a wet day which put a bit of a ‘dampener’ on the tour, but still it was interesting and a good way to see some of the city.
We started with the Holocaust Memorial where the guide explained some interpretations of the monument, then we moved on to the site where Hitler’s bunker had been located. Unfortunately all that remains is an information sign on the edge of a carpark between some buildings. After the war they tried to blow up the bunker, but didn’t succeed because it was so strongly built. Then more recently someone wanted to develop apartments on the ground above, but needed to remove the bunker to lay the foundations. They dug it up, and removed the first layer of cement. After a lot of effort, they decided it was too much hassle to destroy so gave up (they ended up building the apartments on the opposite block). So, a half destroyed bunker still remains underneith, but I guess there’s nothing to walk through anymore so we couldn’t. It was interesting hearing about how the bunker was used as an office by Hitler and other military officials during the last few days of the war. We were told that the water table in Berlin in quite high, so pumps had to constantly remove water to keep the bunker dry. The conditions would’ve been terrible, particularly given so many extra people would have been down there (and it wasn’t decided for living in 24/7). It was also at that site that Hitler and his wife (whom he married the day before) committed suicide, and their bodies were burned by soldiers. Apparently there’s a piece of his skull on display in Russia, but our guide was somewhat doubtful as to its legitimacy.
We went past the current government offices, which were built during Hitler’s time. It was one of the few buildings not destroyed during bombing. It was quite an intimidating building, with high windows, sharp square pillars and corners and large, plain grey stones. It was built that way to help show the civilians the power and authority of the government.
We stopped into the museum for a warm up coffee (it was quite a chilly day – probably one of the coldest we had on the trip), then wandered through the Topography of Terror where the headquarters of the National Socialist SS and police had been located. The foundations of the buildings actually remain, and along the strip of brick walls are posters and information detailing important dates during Hitler’s time in Berlin. The information was presented in German, although there was a smaller English translation below. It was strange seeing English as the secondary language, because at home any tourist information is (obviously) in English, but another language might be present as a translation.
As we walked through the city we crossed a thin paved strip in the road. Throughout the city, two lines of bricks have been laid down where the Berlin wall used to stand – quite a clever way to remember the structure. Our guided tour ended at Check-point Charlie which was one of the key crossings from East Berlin to West. It was here that Russian and US tanks came to a stand off, and was also the site of a number of amusing illegal border crossing stories (There was one guy who apparently drove under the boom gate in the lowest convertible he could find. A few weeks later someone else crossed using the same method, after which the East lowered the height of the boom gate so it couldn’t happen again.) Once someone had crossed from East to West Berlin they were able to safely travel to West Germany.
It was interesting throughout the day noticing the difference between the buildings on the East and West of the city. The (previously) communist East were much more rigid buildings, with very little decoration – basically they were buildings built for a function. On the West the buildings were slightly more elaborate.
Bud, Jess and I went for some lunch after the tour, then Bud and I wandered the city for a little while. We checked out the main strip where we found some very cool traffic light man t-shirts (the whole shop was dedicated to the little guy with his hat – t-shirts, pants, shoes, pens, books, key rings, stickers, etc etc).
We met up with Aaron, after which Bud went back to the hostel for a nap, while Aaron and I wandered through the park and back to Check-point Charlie where we met up with a couple of others who were waiting for the bus back to the hostel.
That night a pub crawl had been organised. We were all given David Hasselhoff t-shirts (apparently the Germans love him…which was proven on our way back to the hostel when the lady we were buying hotdogs from got very excited at the sight of my t-shirt). We visited three bars, all with a slightly different style. They were all nice places, with couches and a good atmosphere to sit and talk. We ended at a night club which was pretty much like a club at home. One difference, though, was that they charged an extra 50c for drinks as a deposit for the glass or bottle. Then, when you returned the glass or bottle, they gave you back the 50c. A clever way to keep the bar tidy without having to send people around to collect glasses, but also a nice way to make some extra money since, especially if you’re not going back for another drink, returning your glass can be a bit of a hassle.
Well, that was the end of the day, and we headed back to the hostel way too late given that our bus out of town was 7:30 the next morning. Overall, Berlin was a nice city, and reminded me a bit of Melbourne. It was one of the newer cities we visited, since most buildings had to be either rebuilt or undergo heavy repairs after the war. So although there was a lot of history in the city, there were less buildings showing the history as a lot of them were destroyed.