Berlin: Much More Than Its Past

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I've begun this post about four different times now. And each time I've deleted everything, leaving me to just stare at the blinking cursor on the page.

And it's not because I disliked Berlin, or that I don't have anything to say about it. In fact, it's quite the opposite — I LOVED Berlin, and feel like I could write a whole month's worth of posts about this fascinating city and its history.

But the world doesn't really need another blog post about Hitler, does it?

Berlin

It's tricky, writing about Berlin.

How can I – an outsider – sum up where the city has been and where it is going in a few hundred words? The truth is, I can't.

Yes, I could rattle on about Berlin's history. About how the city was thrown into economic turmoil after WWI. How, by 1923, $1 was equal to about 4.2 billion Deutschmarks because of outrageous inflation. How the economic and political instability of the post-war Weimar Republic paved the way for Hitler and his extreme Nazi party to gain popularity. How the mysterious burning of the German Reichstag building in 1933 basically gave Hitler the power he needed to take over Germany.

How Berlin suffered during WWII, when 80% of the city center and 200,000 civilian lives were lost during the 10-day Battle of Berlin. How the city was divided between the East and West after the war in a way that, even today, it has not quite recovered from.

Berlin

You probably already know a bit about this history; about Hitler and the Nazis, about the Soviets and the Berlin Wall. These are all things we learn about in school and see on History Channel specials – even in America.

But you don't really get it until you see Berlin for yourself.

Berlin

Berlin is a scarred city, both physically and mentally. Some buildings still bear marks from that bloody 10-day battle in 1945 when 8 million rounds of ammunition were unloaded into them. And plenty of people bear scars here, too – but most of those are unseen to the naked eye.

“I would never, ever say that I am proud to be German,” Julia, my Urban Adventures guide, tells my small group as we sit on stones at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Someone in our group has just asked her if there is still guilt felt by the average German over the events of WWII. After some thought, this is how the 30-something responds.

Having grown up in West Berlin during the Cold War, Julia describes to us the typical education children received: plenty of lessons on the Third Reich and an emphasis on responsibility. The guilt isn't quite taught, she tells us, but it's almost implied.

Berlin

Another tour guide I meet, Barnaby from Insider Tours, makes note of this, too. While not a native Berliner, Barnaby has worked as an English tutor to older Germans in the city.

“One man,” he says, “no matter what our conversation was about – the weather, football, whatever – would always find a way to slip in an apology about the war.”

Yes, Berlin has scars.

But scars imply that some healing has taken place. And I think it has.

While the older generation is still looking behind and feeling guilty for Germany's actions during WWII, and the Cold War generation is still feeling the sting of separation, Berlin's younger generation is clearly ready to move on.

Berlin Alexanderplatz
Alexanderplatz on a Friday night

The moving on will not take place overnight, of course. After all, it's only been a couple decades since the Berlin Wall was torn down and Germany was once again reunited after 28 years of intense separation.

But Berlin IS nevertheless making some massive strides forward.

Berlin

Walk down any street in Berlin and you will see signs of construction. Julia says there has always been a lot of construction in Berlin – even back before the wars – but I see it as almost symbolic. Berlin is rebuilding and reinventing itself.

This re-invention is thanks mostly to that younger generation I mentioned; the one that wants to remember and acknowledge Berlin's past, but that also want to move forward.

Head over to the hip and alternative Kreuzberg neighborhood to get a taste of Berlin's young, creative side. Hit up a beach bar or perhaps an underground warehouse rave. Take in vibrant street art, have a picnic in Görlitzer Park, and maybe even stumble upon an impromptu dance party at a U-Bahn station on a weekend night.

Visit these parts of Berlin, and you will realize that Berlin is much more than its past.

Berlin

I still haven't quite found the right words to describe Berlin. Maybe the right words don't even exist – or at least don't exist yet.

All I can tell you is that yes, Berlin has been through a lot. And yes, many of its scars are still visible. But Berlin is going somewhere; somewhere interesting and exciting.

The city has a vibe to it that I immediately connected with, and I'm already looking forward to going back some day.

Berlin Strandbar Mitte

Have YOU been to Berlin? If so, what did you think of the city?

*Note: I visited Berlin as part of my Busabout trip around Europe. They provided me with transport on all 3 of their Europe loops, but all opinions of the destinations I visit are entirely my own! Additionally, the Urban Adventures tour I mentioned in this post (“Storyline of Berlin“) was also provided to me free of charge.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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57 Comments on “Berlin: Much More Than Its Past

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  1. Hello Amanda,
    your post about Berlin is amazing. I am a travel blogger from Germany and I live in the south of Berlin. It was a special feeling, to read your perspective on my favourite city.
    There are so much monuments and historical buildlings in berlin, right. But the citziens of Berlin don´t think about Hitler and the WWII all the time.
    We are happy, that the wall is over and that there are so many beautiful places in Berlin.
    Thank you so much for your interesting story and for the great view.
    Mandy

    Berlin Jan 30, 2016 to Feb 3.

    My 25 yr old daughter had a business trip to Prague the week before. She followed this with a week of vacation. I vacationed with her during these two weeks. She chose to visit Berlin and Munich following Prague. Berlin wasn’t my choice and I probably would never have visited the city if not for her.

    I used the Lonely Planet Berlin guide, trip reports and blogs for background. I’m not sure why but the prospect of visiting Berlin excited me much more so than Prague or Munich. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that it was hard to get a handle on. Even after our visit I still feel it’s hard to sum up the history, art, architecture, culture, food, neighborhoods, events that surround you.

    On Tuesday night as we packed up for our morning flight we had a beautiful view of the Sony Center and saw a red carpet event in process. We went down to check it out and got to experience a movie premier with all the Hollywood glitz. Zoolander 2 – selfies with Owen Wilson and Justin Thereuo (sp), and even got free tickets to the premier that required we walk the red carpet to get into the theater.

    So what can you say about Berlin. How do you blog about the heart wrenching experience of The Memorial to the Murdered Jews and the premier of Zoolander 2. The pieces don’t fit and it doesn’t make sense but that was what happened on our visit.

      I totally understand, though! Berlin is such an interesting city with so many contrasts. That’s what I loved best about it, though!

    Hey Amanda, just saw your blog:) I’m german and loved the things you’re writing about Berlin. I love the city, it’s so young and full of life! I’m really curious about your next journey ?

      Thanks, Charles! Berlin is definitely a cool city – probably one of my favorites in Europe!

    […] not ashamed to admit it: I have fallen in love with Berlin. You could actually say that it was love at first sight, as I felt an immediate connection with […]

    Hi! I loved the post. I’m moving to London in 2 weeks and I’m considering going to Berlin as my first solo-trip. Is Berlin a safe city? Would you recommend it?
    Thanks!

      Berlin is no more safe or unsafe than London! 🙂 It’s a really cool city, and pretty easy to get around using public transportation. If you’re a history geek like me, you will love it!

    Loved Berlin – a city taking its history with it. Memorable things: the Stasi HQ as they left it in 1989; the tiny circular chapel midway along the Wall Memorial where at noon each day there is a short, simple but moving service; and the Komische Oper performance of Mazeppa. Lots more of course.

    […] We stop at the International Wall, as well as another, taller, wall covered in graffiti that separates the Catholic Falls Road from the Protestant Shankhill Road. Again, I can’t help being reminded of Berlin. […]

    Hi there!
    This is a really informative post about Berlin. Well done!
    I live in Berlin and I absolutely love it. Yes, it’s history is a complicated one but that should not deter people from seeing other things too: the language, culture, art and the people.
    I volunteered to be a stadium hostess during the FIFA World Cup and I was so proud to be wearing the German and British flag on my jacket showing the world the NEW BERLIN!

      That’s great to hear, Victoria, and I’m really glad you liked this post!

    Oh boy, I love Berlin.

    It was the first time I went to a foreign country alone to meet people I only knew through the internet. It was fantastic. We did so much and had such a great time. One of the people I met was German living in Berlin and I had a conversation with her a year or so ago about what they’re taught about the war and so on. I just found it interesting to know, as it must be very difficult. I think there is some guilt in there, but also an incredible determination that this will never happen again. That is one of the things that came across to me both in Berlin, and in Munich when I visited. We stayed on the east side of Berlin and it was beautiful, and cheap, and interesting. I loved it there, but as soon as we crossed into the West Side of Berlin it was an obvious change in the buildings you could see it! It was strange, but incredible. Our friend also still explains whereabouts things are in Berlin firstly by whether its in West or East Germany, even now all this time after the wall has been pulled down.

      It really is a fascinating place, and I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it, too!

    I adore Berlin: I was there in 2008. I cannot wait to go back. Very interesting points on the feelings of guilt. My grandparents are German and when they came to Canada, I never got the sense that they weren’t proud to be German but they really embraced Canada. They never taught their children German and things like that. But as a historian, history is about never forgetting what happened so it can never repeat itself. You should not put the sins of the past on the present. I find myself trumpeting Germany far more than Germans themselves: patriotism is downplayed but it should not. Their history is not solely one based on Nazism; there is so much more. Over a thousand years of wonderful history…..I wish people would focus more on that. But yes, Berlin is a wonderful city. I love that it is starting to thrive.

      It IS great to see Berlin beginning to thrive. Maybe a generation or two from now, German will start to be proud again.

    Berlin is such a complicated and amazing city – I’m so glad I got so show you a little bit of it while you were here. And I’m even more glad that you came away impressed with the city!

    Bis bald!

      It was great seeing you and seeing a bit of “your” Berlin. I definitely loved the city!

    I really enjoyed this post! I haven’t been to Berlin yet, but you beautifully expressed some of the questions I’ve had regarding German guilt and healing. I can’t wait to go experience the place for myself!

      I really hope you get to, Heather. It’s swiftly become one of my favorite cities in Europe!

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