26 August 2011

Berlin, Germany: Despite Sad History, a Truly Great City

We began the day by taking the hour-long train and the half-hour walk to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.  This camp, known as 'the model concentration camp' was opened in 1934 as a camp for political prisoners and other undesirables in the early days of Hitler's regime.  It gradually developed into a full-blown death camp and all that entails, though--likely because of its proximity to Berlin--the death toll here was only in the tens of thousands instead of the hundreds of thousands, and the atrocities committed here had to be more hidden because this camp was often the site of visits from other leaders who were aligned with Hitler.  Still, the visit, though informative, was incredibly sad.  The picture above is of Grandpa standing by the main gate, which has an inscription that reads "Work liberates".

These are some of the ovens that were used as crematoriums for prisoners who may have been either dead or alive when they were placed inside them.  One of the more interesting things about this camp was that not only was it used as a concentration camp during World War II, but it was also the Soviet 'Special Camp No. 1'--the place were all the undesirables from Soviet-ruled East Germany were sent.  Therefore, these ovens weren't actually out of service until the late 1950s--something none of us knew and was horrifying to learn.

On our way back from the moving Sachsenhausen, we stopped at Nordbahnhof, one of the so-called 'ghost stations' in the former East Berlin.  This station, which was on an underground line that started and ended in West Berlin, was walled up from the surface and heavily patrolled by border guards from 1961-1989 to prevent East Berliners from simply hopping on the subway to get out (the trains passed through but didn't stop at this station during those years).  This particular station actually saw some successful escape attempts by the East Berlin border guards themselves, as it was so close to the border that one exit is in the former East Berlin and one exit is in the former West Berlin.  In 1990, it was reopened, and has been turned into a free museum and memorial of the 'ghost stations'.  This is even more appropriate as, upon exiting the station, you are greeted with the site of a memorial with a piece of the Wall and the East-side 'death strip' that was left intact as a reminder of the horrors of East Berlin.

Our final excursion of the day was much more cheerful: a water tour of Berlin's vibrant city center!  The day was beautiful, the way was beautiful, and we had a great time seeing Berlin's new and old buildings by water.

A view of Berlin's cathedral and the arcade of the National Gallery from the water.  This was a great way to say goodbye to one of my favorite cities thus far, the excellent mixer of the new and the old: Berlin.

1 comment:

linda feldt said...

glad you ar getting some boating in. More interesting tidbits. Miss you Love & prayers mom