Over 70 years ago, World War 2 tore Europe apart, leading to communism, another time of repression. Now, that history is depicted in anything from powerful murals on the remnants of the old Berlin Wall portraying the horrors people have experienced from all over the world to the beautiful churches and museums that have been rebuilt. Since we have visited numerous countries in western Europe, we planned a two week trip to explore central and Eastern Europe (Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Budapest, Vienna).
We were fascinated to find all four countries to be so safe (more so than other large European cities), welcoming, and brimming with culture. Our first stop was Berlin!
Berlin is city with a myriad of cultures, traditions, and people. It is home to more than 3.6 million people, with more than 12% of the population being immigrants. We were surprised to find vegetarianism to be so popular, so much so that we ate at multiple vegan and vegetarian restaurants throughout our trip. In Berlin we loved Soy where we dined twice. Public transport is so accessible, cheap and useful.
Berlin has dozens of museums, including a place called museum island. It is comprised of five interesting museums including the Pergamon, the most famous of the five. The Pergamon is one of the few places in the world where you have the opportunity to learn about the Mesopotamian civilization in depth while being exposed to real artifacts from the era. One of its most famous collections - Vorderasiatisches Museum - houses approximately 270,000 objects that were mainly found during the major German excavations in Mesopotamia and Syria. That includes massive architectural reconstructions of the colorful Ishtar Gate and Processional Way of Babylon, dating from the time of Nebuchadnezzar II (6th century BC). No less important are the earliest written documents known to humankind: cuneiform scripts on clay tablets from Uruk, dating from the late 4th millennium BC.
How can one come to Berlin and not talk about The Berlin Wall? The picture above marks a spot where the historic defection (change in loyalty) of East German soldier Conrad Schumann took place where he jumped over the barb wire marking the border between East and West Berlin on August 15th, 1961. Now though, The Berlin Wall is better known for the East side gallery. At almost a mile in length, the open-air art gallery on the banks of the Spree in Friedrichshain is the longest continuous section of the Berlin Wall still in existence. Soon after the wall came down, 118 artists from 21 countries began painting the East Side Gallery, and it officially opened as an open air gallery on 28 September 1990. We took pictures practically in front of every one of them- with the first picture right at top being my favorite. Rest of the pictures can all be seen here.
As we all know, the holocaust is dark part of history, but the important thing is that they do not hide it. We visited "Memorial to Murdered Jews of Europe" which was very sad but we also learned a lot. It is located close to area where the entire Nazi murder machine operated from. The memorial is located near Berlin's foreign embassies, allowing political diplomats and leaders from around the world to observe how Germany acknowledges its past while continuing to move forward. The monument is composed of 2,711 rectangular concrete blocks laid out in a grid formation. It is designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere and depict a system that has lost touch with human reason. The information center, which is located below the memorial, has a timeline that lays out the history from when the Nazis took power in 1933 through early forties. The rest of the exhibition is divided into four rooms dedicated to personal aspects of the tragedy, e.g. the individual families or the letters thrown from the trains transporting them to death camps.
While there are innumerable sculptures scattered throughout the city, one which struck us most was housed in Neue Wache which is the"Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Dictatorship". It is an enlarged version of Käthe Kollwitz's sculpture, Mother with her Dead Son. The sculpture is directly placed under the oculus (circular window in the roof) and so is exposed to the rain, snow and cold of the Berlin climate, symbolizing the suffering of civilians during World War II.