Ber­lin

Away from the hip club­bing strips of the vi­brant Ger­man city ex­ist some of the most stark, eerie and in­cred­i­bly mov­ing wartime mon­u­ments from across the west­ern world

Sunday Territorian - - FRONTIER TRAVEL - STORY AND PIC­TURES: PHILLIPPA BUTT

BER­LIN has al­ways been known as a city with a check­ered past, but many young trav­ellers now re­mark on its hip­ster vibe and all-night clubs. How­ever, you don’t have to look far past the moder­nity of the new city to find rem­nants of its his­tory.

It has gone through many dif­fer­ent styles of gov­ern­ment — dic­ta­tor­ships to democ­racy — and has evolved into a metropoli­tan city proud of some of its his­tory, and ac­knowl­edg­ing and re­mem­ber­ing the rest.

Here’s some high­lights of a two-day trip to the city.

Day One

BER­LIN cre­ates the ul­ti­mate choice. Do I drink the cheap beer or ex­plore the city which fea­tured some of mod­ern his­tory’s most sig­nif­i­cant mo­ments?

Even­tu­ally, af­ter some se­ri­ous in­ter­nal de­bate, his­tory won out and I was on my way to a walk­ing tour of the city, start­ing from the Bran­den­burg Gate.

De­spite be­ing in Europe, if you’re an Aus­tralian, you’re bound to find other Aussies trav­el­ling around. I joined the walk­ing tour and im­me­di­ately heard an ac­cent from home.

Our guide had moved to Ger­many from Mel­bourne, and ended up run­ning tours.

As we raced through the city — de­spite be­ing called a walk­ing tour, the 2.5 hour jour­neys tend to move fairly quickly with lit­tle time to me­an­der — we saw many sites in­clud­ing a large sec­tion of the Ber­lin Wall.

Built by troops in the Soviet con­trolled East Ber­lin in 1961 to keep Eastern­ers from mov­ing into West Ber­lin and, in turn, be­ing able to move into the rest of Europe and the world, the wall re­mained in place un­til fi­nally be­ing torn down in 1989.

From there we walked on to Check­point Char­lie, where diplo­mats and sol­diers had to pass though if they wanted to travel into and out of East Ber­lin while the wall was in place, and the site of Hitler’s Bunker.

This was the grim lo­ca­tion where Hitler hid out to­wards the end of World War II and ended up com­mit­ting sui­cide in­side. It has since been caved in to stop it be­com­ing a site for neo-Nazis to con­gre­gate.

Along the way we also stopped at the Memo­rial to the Mur­dered Jews of Europe.

The in­ter­ac­tive memo­rial al­lows vis­i­tors to walk among the 2711 con­crete blocks, all dif­fer­ent sizes, shapes and an­gles, and de­ter­mine their own mean­ing from it.

The black blocks grow taller as you pass through, cast­ing long shad­ows in the aisles.

Cast against the blue sky, the memo­rial stands out as a sea of con­crete and re­minds vis­i­tors of the atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted dur­ing WWII.

Day Two

THE next day I stuck with the his­tory les­son and trav­elled to Sach­sen­hausen Con­cen­tra­tion Camp.

While it is free en­try, and the pub­lic trans­port sys­tem is fairly easy, I opted to go on a tour as this meant the guide talked us through all the dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the camp.

Sach­sen­hausen was the first con­cen­tra­tion camp to be set up in the area.

Orig­i­nally cre­ated in 1936 to house po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers, the camp con­tin­ued run­ning through­out WWII and then on­wards into the 1950s un­der Soviet rule.

While some of the camp has been turned into memo­rial forests and other beau­ti­fully quiet places, the ma­jor­ity re­mains a stark re­minder of what hor­rors were seen there.

Most of the orig­i­nal stone walls are still in place and barbed wire marks the no-go zones.

In the med­i­cal block, the tiled benches where pris­on­ers had med­i­cal ex­per­i­ments per­formed on them look ready for the next per­son to sub­ject to its hor­rors.

The yard is dry and dusty with lit­tle grass to soften its ap­pear­ance. Not all of the build­ings re­main. Gi­ant rec­tan­gles filled with stones mark out where many of the board­ing houses would have been, and some build­ings have been re­done to look like the orig­i­nals.

But it is the foun­da­tions of a build­ing just out­side of the orig­i­nally planned com­plex that is the most sin­is­ter.

Each room leads into another, un­til they reach a room where the walls are dou­ble bricked.

These rooms would have been sound­proofed.

Pris­on­ers were lead through the dif­fer­ent ar­eas, be­ing told they were go­ing for med­i­cal treat­ment, only to then be or­dered to stand against a wall in the sound­proof room where their height would be mea­sured.

Once stand­ing there, an SS soldier would shoot them dead.

Two pris­on­ers would come in and clear away the body and clean the room, be­fore the next per­son was told their height would be mea­sured.

The hor­rors of places like Sach­sen­hausen are hard to imag­ine.

The visit brought dif­fer­ent things to each mem­ber of the group, some need­ing to take a break while tears flowed down their faces.

For an Aus­tralian who had been taught rel­a­tively lit­tle about Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camps in high school, the ef­fi­ciency of the killing shocked me.

But it was scary to re­alise, as our guide pointed out, the Nazis were not aliens who dropped into Ger­many in WWII, and then dis­ap­peared af­ter­wards.

Their treat­ment of pris­on­ers of war was not all that dif­fer­ent to oth­ers in other pe­ri­ods of time — the sto­ries of Ger­man death marches not dis­sim­i­lar to Ja­panese death marches in a dif­fer­ent sphere of the same war.

The dif­fi­cult thing about vis­it­ing a place like Sach­sen­hausen is how to de­scribe the ex­pe­ri­ence af­ter­wards.

The best word I can come up with is worth­while.

The atroc­i­ties of WWII need to be re­mem­bered, and vis­its to places like Sach­sen­hausen help to re­mind peo­ple why this can never be al­lowed to hap­pen..

The oddly still scene at Sach­sen­hausen Con­cen­tra­tion Camp

Check­point Char­lie Memo­rial to the Mur­dered Jews of Europe

Bran­den­burg Gate

Sach­sen­hausen SaSachch­sesesenhn­hauauaua Sach­sen­hausenSach­sen­hausenSach­sen­hausen sesen Con­cen­tra­tion Camp

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