Berlin, you were not what I expected

If Germany is the "heart" of Europe, than Berlin its heartbeat.

I don't know how exactly I pictured Berlin, but it was nothing like I imagined.

When I travel in Europe, I'm used to strolling along charming cobblestone streets, surrounded by ancient buildings and houses. Berlin isn't soft and pretty, it has rough edges. It's rugged, resilient and intriguing.

Berlin, like most cities in Germany, lay in ruins when World War II finally came to an end. The city was rebuilt, and as a result, the skyline is a mismatched assortment of architecture from various decades. It has a spacious layout, which makes the city seem emptier than it actually is.

I'm generally not a fan of guided tours or bus tours because I prefer the freedom to wander around on my own accord. However, I am very glad that we took the free walking tour because there is so much history buried (literally) in this city.

Buried underneath this playground is Hitler's Führerbunker, where he committed suicide in 1945. The bunker was not preserved because people feared that neo-Nazis may turn it into a site of pilgrimage.

Books were among the first causalities of the Nazi regime. We stood where the German Student Union burned the books outside of Humboldt University in 1933. I was shocked to learn that it was actually the students that burned the books, I always assumed that it was Nazi officers.

Albert Einstein studied at  Humboldt University from 1914-1917. Two decades later his books were torched because they were deemed "un-German" and "morally corrupt".

Heinrich Heine (Jewish German Poet) once said "Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings." Ironically, his books were also burned. Tragically, he was right.

There is a sunken monument to commemorate the 20,000 books that were sent up in flames. You can peer through a window into a room full of empty bookshelves.

We crossed "Checkpoint Charlie" into what was once Allied-occupied West Berlin. Naturally, McDonalds is on the American side of the boarder.

Notice the dull 1950s-1980's architecture that is very characteristic of Berlin. It's worth noting that the initial work of reconstruction was done by the Trümmerfrauen, or the "rubble women". With so many men killed in the war, the Allies relied on women to do the labour of clean-up.

The Berlin wall or the "Iron Curtain" is one of the most iconic symbols of the cold war. I thought that whole wall was covered in paintings, but it's only a certain section referred to as the "East Side Gallery". What was once a symbol of repression is now a monument to freedom and resilience.

The car in the painting above is "The Trabant", an iconic symbol of East Germany. Dubbed a "spark plug with a roof", it had no tachometer or fuel gauge! Built out of plastic and socialism, it was the only car manufactured in East Germany. The wait list to purchase a Trabant was up to 8 years long!

When the wall finally crumbled in 1989, images of Trabant cars crossing the boarder were broadcast around the globe.

The integration between East and West would take decades, and the culture shock for Easterners would be more than just getting used to pop music. Many would lose their jobs, and have to start from scratch. It was a time of liberation, but also one of great upheaval.

Berlin is now a magnet for creativity, the arts, entrepreneurship and technology.

*insert over-exposed iPhone selfie to prove we were actually here*

Berlin has done an admirable job embracing its turbulent history. Its past remains very much its present. Monuments and memorials are sprinkled throughout the city to remind passersby that we must look back in order to move forward.


  1. nice Mrs. Natasha.. I hope I can go there too :)

    1. Thanks! I hope that you get to travel there too :) I would love to go back to Berlin!