Unless you’ve been living in another world, it’s impossible not to know something about the history of Germany. From being the centre of one of the most powerful empires in Europe, to falling under Nazi control and being divided between Western and Communist powers, the capital, Berlin, has one of the most chequered histories of any city. Berlin is fast becoming a popular destination for culture vultures, foodies and those looking for a darn good beer. But the history of this fascinating city lies within every wall and can be uncovered with little effort.
With an entry fee of just five euros (or €2.50 for concessions), the architectural masterpiece that is the Jewish Museum is an ideal starting point. Spanning two millennia, the museum paints a vivid portrait of German-Jewish life through personal objects, photos letters and interactive displays. In order to understand much of what occurred in Germany in the twentieth century, it helps to see how inseparable German history and Jewish life were. Although, refreshingly, the museum isn’t centred around the Holocaust.
Berlin has chosen not to ignore its history, no matter how troubled it has been. Around every corner is a sobering reminder of control, suppression and genocide, but the city is by no means in denial of its history. It has chosen to accept its past and the actions of dictators and extreme regimes have not made the city ashamed, instead they have inspired the people to remember and memorialise. Evident in the Holocaust Monument, a controversial but effective, memorial to the Jewish population who suffered under the Nazis; this undulating maze of 2,700 concrete plinths is unnerving and disorientating but forces reflection and contemplation.
A short distance out of Berlin is the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Built to intern political prisoners, it is much smaller than many other concentration camps, but no less unsettling. A strong disposition is needed to visit such a camp where medical experiments and brutal mistreatment were commonplace. The House of the Wannsee Conference, where the plan to murder all Europe Jews was discussed, is equally as thought provoking. Situated by the Greater Wannsee Lake, one can’t help but wonder how such an horrific decision could’ve been taken in such a beautiful location. Even if museums aren’t your thing, it’s worth a visit; it makes you think, it takes you back to 1942 and it makes you picture the scene and wonder why…