Okay so day 1 was a success in Berlin and we had big plans for our second day.
We woke up early and started the day off right with a great breakfast at our hotel. Yum!
We had to take the tram over to the main train station because we wanted to reserve two seats for our train ride to Prague the next day. Throughout our backpacking trip, we went by Interrail so we could use one ticket and go anywhere Interrail goes (lots of options here from Norway to Spain to Switzerland to Turkey) within the time period we chose, but these tickets don’t necessarily give you seats on the specific trains you want. Standing with a heavy backpack and all your things is not ideal for four or more hours, so I always recommend reserving seats in advance on trains in Europe – and I am still extremely grateful we did!
The train station in Berlin is huge!
And outside they have an exhibit for Jewish athletes, which I thought was really interesting to look at:
After leaving the station we walked over to a very busy tourist area of the city where we could see many important buildings including the Parliament and the Brandenburg Gate:
And even the famous hotel where Michael Jackson held out his baby from the window:
We also got to take a look at a new memorial meant for the Sinti and Roma people who were murdered. I found the memorial to be incredibly peaceful and beautiful:
After a busy morning of seeing so much within large crowds of people, it started to rain quite a bit. We decided it was the perfect time to make a stop somewhere to wait for the rain to end and enjoy a delicious treat:
We all know that I’m totally crazy about ice cream and make an effort to try some every new place I go!
The rain finally stopped right after we bought an umbrella (of course!) so we decided to make our way to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – a museum and giant memorial dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust. When you arrive there, you have to go downstairs to get to the museum after being checked by security. The museum has several rooms, each with different kinds of themes about the events of the Holocaust.
First is general information about the events of the war and a timeline:
Other sections include personal quotes and stories taken from victims’ diaries and letters. This was extremely moving and almost brought me to tears. You hear stories about the war and the Holocaust all the time, but when you read what people actually wrote – how desperate and pained they felt, what they were thinking, how scared they were for the future – that’s something that doesn’t leave you. They’re not just stories anymore, they’re real people’s lives and what actually happened to them.
They also have a room dedicated to specific large families and what happened to each family member if it is known – most members were taken to concentration camps where they were murdered. In the different families it was rare to see members who had actually survived the war. This really affected me because I think about my own family and how many people were murdered and how different my lineage and family history would be if not for the Holocaust. The exhibit really lets people understand how deeply families were destroyed.
Then you enter a dark room with many benches to sit down on. This is a special place to reflect and think about everything just seen. Here, names of victims of the Holocaust are read all day with brief stories of what happened to them, if it is known. It would take 6 years, 7 months, and 27 days to go through each name, a fact that really captures the immensity of the horrors of the Holocaust.
They have computers with a database where people can search for any victims of the Holocaust. Here we were able to actually see our relatives’ names and all of their information and what happened to them. This made it so much more personal to me and helped me connect on an even deeper level to everything I had just seen.
Something I really like about the museum is that it has free entrance for anyone. This means people don’t have to pay to learn about what took place, and therefore, more people will be able to attend, be educated, and can experience the touching exhibits.
Outside the museum is the famous memorial exhibit, designed by Peter Eisenman, which consists of huge stones of various sizes that act as a metaphor for the confusion and chaos of the Holocaust, creating what is similar to a maze.
All around Berlin are signs and memorials related to the Holocaust, like in this small block of old architecture full of shops and restaurants where they mention the Jewish community that once existed there before the war:
We then headed to a big tourist section of the city where the World Clock sits:
There were all sorts of interesting street performers that captured the unique energy of the city:
And there was this bubble thing. Now Berlin was the first big city we went to on our trip so we thought this bubble craziness was so cool, but as we continued on our journey we ended up seeing these bubble things in every single city – so it got less cool over time:
We didn’t feel like we had seen enough yet that day (jokes) so we decided to make our way to the Berlin Wall Memorial Park. This was something I found very interesting because its simple design is well thought out and makes visitors really understand what it was like for people trapped in East Berlin and how desperate they were to escape.
Along the buildings are giant photos taken from different years over the decades when the city was divided:
And posts are lined up where the wall once stood so people can imagine the height of the wall and the way it looked, yet now be able to actually see what was on the other side, something people couldn’t do for decades. I thought this idea of a memorial was healing in a way – that what once existed is not fully destroyed or forgotten, but there is change.
There are also stone paths marking the old underground tunnels built through which people attempted to escape into West Berlin:
It is complicated to know for sure how many people were killed trying to escape from East Berlin, but estimations are well into the hundreds.
After seeing so much all around the city and skipping lunch in order to have ice cream (probably not the best idea in hind sight), we realized we should probably grab some dinner! We went to this great Singapore restaurant called Mirchi and had a huge delicious meal:
Then we headed to a bar called Monkey Bar that is on the tenth floor of a building. We sat outside and couldn’t get over the amazing view:
And learned that it is called Monkey Bar because it overlooks the Berlin Zoo and the monkey exhibit is right below:
It was the perfect spot for some selfies!
After such a crazy day of running around, learning so much, and seeing the city, we were all exhausted and headed back to the hotel. The tram/train ride back was long because we needed to take 4 different ones. But I think it was perfect after the long day because we all had a chance to talk and reflect on the incredible day we had just experienced. I think that’s one of the most important parts of traveling, to take a moment and realize what you’ve seen, what it all means, and how it affects you.