Who is silly enough to decide on a Tuesday in early December to journey to Berlin by train the following day, spend two nights in a hotel, and three days to sightsee? And to use a booklet from 1973 as one’s guide? At least it was the 8th improved version from 1983!

My youthful optimism and burning desire to re-visit Germany’s capital which I only knew from an organized tour some thirty-odd years ago made me choose this course of action. During all my previous sojourns in Europe, I did not have or make the time to plan such a trip, and, lacking the foresight again during this last one, I resorted to this whirlwind excursion. As I knew full-well before I left, three days (two and a half, to be exact) were not nearly enough, but only afforded a brief glimpse into a metropolis with a convoluted history. I am glad I had the opportunity to get this glimpse, but when a friend asked me afterward about my impressions, I responded that they were mixed. I am still in the process of digesting them.

I arrived at Berlin’s Main Train Station. The Reichstag Building can be seen behind the Christmas wreath.

Crossing the Spree River, looking east toward the Fernsehturm (TV tower) on Alexanderplatz

Reichstag building, former home of the equivalent of the German parliament

The new dome of the Reichstag (completed in 1999). The original dome burned down in the fire of 1933 which was used by Hitler as a pretext to suspend the Weimar Constitution.

Berlin became the capital of Germany in 1871, after Iron Chancellor Bismarck’s multi-pronged machinations united different German regions and interests. Immense growth at the turn of the 19th century was followed by intense bombardment in World War II, and the division of the city into four allied sectors after Germany’s capitulation. This separation culminated in the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, and the subsequent existence of two parallel universes that lasted for 27 years, until the Wall was torn down in 1989, Germany reunited, and Berlin resumed its original role as capital of a unified Germany. As I moved across the Atlantic from Europe in the mid-1990s, I followed subsequent events from a distance only, but was curious to see the changes since reunification for myself.

Brandenburg Gate

Quadriga atop Brandenburg Gate

I remembered vividly the concrete, steel, and barbed wire from my visit in the early 1980s that separated the city into two, and West Berlin from the surrounding German Democratic Republic, a bizarre reminder of a bizarre situation. If the Brandenburg Gate was previously the center of the divided city, today it embodies the new Berlin. This became evident when I was able to simply walk up to it, and through all of its five arches. Even though remnants of the Wall are scattered along streets and thoroughfares, and former checkpoints and museums continue to recall this chapter of German history, I had the impression that this is something the country has, largely, put behind.

What Germany has, and probably should not, put behind is its infamous role during WW I and WW II, especially its racist, elitist views that led to genocide and a bottomless pit of pain and death. While it is impossible to ever right the wrongs committed, Germany has tried to take responsibility for its past actions. Monuments have been erected to commemorate the murder of Jews, Sinti and Roma as well as homosexuals during the Third Reich. Even though it took three generations to reach this juncture, persistent undercurrents in German society continue to laud Hitler’s “accomplishments” and espouse his evil racial views. I have always had trouble with my German heritage, on account of my birth country’s horrendous history: two catastrophic wars which led to the demise of at least 16 million in the first, 60 million in the second. Unlike a former chancellor, I can’t lighten my conscience by claiming “the mercy of late birth”.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Memorial to the Murdered Homosexuals

I grapple with the tension of how this nation can take responsibility for its past, and continue to celebrate its achievements, institutions, and elites, without belittling other states and claiming, once again, supremacy. Germany – and Berlin  still struggle to find answers to yesterday’s troublesome questions, while trying to heal internal divisions, and solve today’s challenges.

Neue Wache (New Guardhouse) on boulevard “Unter den Linden”, commemorates victims of war and dictatorship

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

26 thoughts on “Berlin

  1. I can well understand your difficulty with your heritage and being German. I would feel the same. I find war and civil unrest of any kind difficult to fathom even today. I’ve been to Germany but not Berlin.

    “We” said there would never be another genocide but it is still happening today all over the world.

    I guess there will always be greed and discrimination no matter where we go. I’ve even found discrimination in my working life at one job here in Melbourne, Australia.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I really want to visit Berlin! Everyone has such good impression of the city. I’m intrigued by the sad past and the positive turn around the country and city has done.
    Living in the Middle East I’ve met so many people from countries that are in or has been in very difficult political situations. And I want to emphasize on the word political. Because that’s what it is and we are in the hands of other people’s choices. people just wants peace and live in harmony without being judge by a passport.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I know so many Germans dealing with the same issue. I can’t give any advice. But I know that the past of a whole country can be very heavy. Thank you for your thoughtful post and greetings.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you, Tanja for sharing all these amazing photos, history and perspective. There’s much more here than a vacation!

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  5. On a whirlwind excursion last minute, sometimes they can be some of the best adventures! 🙂

    Beautiful photos of Berlin, Tanja. Your post was very informative, thank you for sharing. I am glad you took the excursion for yourself and us.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Very moving post with beautiful impressions and informative, well-written text, Tanja! I live(d) in Germany for some 35 years and love the country. My last visit to Berlin was a couple of years ago. At that time I had little energy due to a previous illness and found it biiiig, a bit noisy and overpowering and still “Wunderbar”.
    Warm greetings to you from 🙋‍♀️🇬🇧

    Liked by 1 person

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