To really experience, Berlin you need more than a few days. But, as is often the case with trips during semesters abroad - ambitious travel plans meet limited time. I knew I would only have a couple of days in the city so I focused in on a couple of main museums and attractions to get to — most of which revolved around the Berlin Wall and the Cold War. If you have a chance, I definitely recommend stopping by a few of these!
This recognizable monument became a symbol of freedom and desire for reunification post-1989. Throughout the Cold War, U.S. Presidents gave speeches calling for a united Germany at this location. The surrounding area is predominantly pedestrian only, and there are several parks. A lot of the main memorials and government buildings are near this gate so you will most likely walk by it several times during your visit. Like Prague’s Charles Bridge, this location tends to become packed with tourists so try to get there early in the morning!
Topography of Terror
If you only have time to go to one museum during your stay in Berlin, I recommend the Topography of Terror museum. The museum has a variety of exhibits both indoors and outdoors, and covers both the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, as well as the partitioning of Germany and life under the Soviet Union. The museum does a good job of incorporating individuals’ personal narratives and family histories through the use of letters and personal artifacts. Additionally, there is a section of the museum which describes the impact that separation had on culture and the public. One display discusses the widespread practice of sending care packages with luxury items such as chocolate and other sweets from West Germany and West Berlin to family in East Berlin. A portion of the museum discusses the fall of the Berlin Wall and similar revolutions in the Czech Republic and across Central and Eastern Europe — and they have a copy of one of Vaclav Havel’s plays on display!
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas)
This memorial is definitely unlike anything else I have seen. It is comprised of a 19,000 square meters space with 2,711 concrete rectangles laid in a grid. The design of the memorial leaves a lot of room for interpretation by the viewer. The blocks have been likened to crypts or coffins, which seem to stretch out forever. There are pathways, which allow one to walk through the memorial and in between the concrete blocks. Although the memorial at first glance seems quite abstract, I think it is a powerful reminder. To an extent, the piece forces the viewer to engage in interpretation and remembrance. And in that way acts not only as a memorial to those killed and the past, but also as a tool to prompt thought and discussion in our own lives.
Mall of Berlin
Not only a great place to shop or grab a bite to eat, the Mall of Berlin also has several history displays with old military uniforms, and Cold War memorabilia. I have to admit it was a bit odd to see at first, but the displays are actually quite interesting and informative and best of all free to see.
Berlin is an amazing city with a lot of things to see and do. If you have the time, I strongly recommend seeing a few of the city’s many memorials and museums. Although I learned about the Berlin Wall in school, actually seeing the physical locations of such important turning points in history added another dimension to my understanding and appreciation for the fight for freedom and democracy which this city has become a symbol of.