Berlin-A Hipster’s Paradise
Berlin, in my opinion, is one of the coolest and most hip cities in all of Europe. There is definitely a different type of feel to this city as compared to Munich, Hamburg, etc. There is literally so much going on here and I only scratched the surface during the four days I was there. Attracting people from all over Europe, Berlin is a haven of culture, with artists of all types, from traditional art to the prominent graffiti scene. Never have I ever seen a higher concentration of septum piercings, leather jackets, and other fashion-forward looks. Berlin also has a fascinating history, with World War II, coupled with the more recent Cold War. There are so many remnants of these time periods and in some parts of the city, I actually felt like I had gone back in time! So, if you happen to be an art, culture, or history buff, Berlin should definitely be added to your travel list!
I found the representation to be extremely fascinating. The memorial consisted of over 2,000 large stone blocks that stretched over the square. Each was of a varying size and represented a life lost during the Holocaust. Walking down the rows, it was easy to lose one’s self, as the blocks were over 3 meters tall. Below ground was a museum, which housed many first hand accounts of the victims of the Holocaust. There was a section that detailed how different families were torn apart by the Holocaust. Sometime when thinking about large scale tragedies such as this, it’s easy to diminish the victims to a statistic. Actually fleshing out the stories of some of the victims helps to understand how truly horrible the crimes against these people were.
Berlin Wall Memorial
I learned a lot about World War II and the Holocaust in school growing up, but very little about the Cold War. There are sections in the city where the Wall is still standing and audio and visual panels are set up along the wall’s path, providing insight on how it was to live alongside the street which lay on the border between East and West Berlin. I was shocked to learn just how quickly the wall was built, practically overnight! For those who lived close to the wall, their lives were changed. Many people had family and friends that lived on the opposite side, or their office building lay on the other side. While people on the West side could choose to move to the Communist-run East side, residents of the East side were forbidden to leave. This caused some people to go to great lengths in their attempts to escape the East. Some traversed through the sewer system underground, while a few bold people tried to scale the wall. These people were often less successful, and some even lost their lives trying to escape.
“Palace of Tears”
Another homage to the Cold War, the “Palace of Tears” was a station that facilitated some crossings of the border between East and West Berlin. It was referred to as the Palace of Tears, as many people had tearful goodbyes to their East German counterparts, who were forbidden to leave East Berlin. There also were some firsthand accounts of people who were able to escape to West Berlin early on, before security was tightened. It was another sobering exhibit that tugged on my heartstrings, but I was glad I did.
Stasi Holding Center
The Communist side of East Berlin had a tight hold over the people. Anybody who gave off even a hint of sympathy towards Western culture and ideals was arrested and taken to a holding center where they were vigorously questioned. People in East Berlin constantly lived in a state of fear; phone lines were tapped, mail was read, and people were spied on and reported to authorities by their own neighbors! Once arrested, they were treated to very inhumane conditions. There were many rules enforced in the holding center, including no sitting on the bed during the day and no exercising in the cell. The guards would also turn on the lights every 15 minutes during the night to ensure the prisoners hadn’t escaped, making it extremely difficult to get any sleep. There was also a “punishment room”, which was a tiny dark room that wasn’t even big enough for a person to lie down. I was shocked to learn some of these things, but found the tour to be incredibly informative. As the popular saying goes, “if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.”
Berlin’s Art Scene
Like I mentioned before, Berlin is a mecca for art in all types and forms. I went on a free walking tour of the urban art scene. The urban art scene is constantly evolving, with new pieces popping up all the time. Some artists and crews have become famous throughout the city for their pieces, including “Stereo” and “1 Up”. Subway cars are considered to be one of the hardest surfaces to tag, due to them constantly being in motion. Here is a link to a Youtube video showing 1 Up in action.
There are also a section of the Berlin Wall with graffiti, although now they are blocked with fences, making it difficult to create any pieces over the existing ones.
My attempt (and failure) to get into Berghain
Berlin has a wide variety of bars and clubs, and the scene is constantly evolving. Other than when I lived and studied in London in the spring of 2011, I haven’t been a fan of the “club scene”, preferring to spend time in bars instead. When I was doing some research on Berlin though, I learned that one of the best clubs in the world, Berghain, was located here. Open only during the weekend, from midnight on Friday and not closing its doors until Monday afternoon. It is housed in a large factory building several stories high. Berghain is shrouded in mystery, cell phones are forbidden inside, and people have remarked that it is very easy to lose track of time. It is also known as a place of hedonism, with no rules inside and an “anything goes” sort of policy. It is also EXTREMELY difficult to gain entrance, as the bouncers are very strict on who they admit. I read articles and a few blog entries from people’s experiences and tips on gaining entrance. Some were successful, others were not. I tried my best to follow the tips, and arrived there around 10pm on a Sunday night. Because it was the tail end of the weekend, there wasn’t a line. Instead people weaved through the queue when they arrived, and were either let in with a nod of the head, or forced to “take the walk of shame”, if they were denied. Unfortunately, I fell into the latter category and was not allowed inside. I was extremely disappointed, as I was extremely curious to see the inside and what actually goes on. I had read that sometimes the bouncers make decisions on a whim, and people which were denied one night, were allowed in another time. Since I wouldn’t be sticking around Berlin until the following weekend, I did not have another opportunity. Oh well, I guess the true goings on inside Berghain will remain a mystery to me.
Other must-see sights that I enjoyed include the Brandenburg Tor (gate), Checkpoint Charlie, the Topography of Terror and the Berlin Wall panorama. I hope one day to be able to return to this interesting city and to delve a little deeper!