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A day of contrast in Berlin


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It was my second time in Berlin. My first time, I fell madly in love with the city's atmosphere and modernity and buzzing, of-the-moment feel. This time, I decided I would firstly delve into the darker realms of Berlin's recent past and then once again swirl around in the delights of the zippy metropolis as it is today. And so I did, and it turned out to be a day of great distinction. 

No educated person is unaware of Germany's grim 20th century history, but to be in Berlin is to see it all around you. The city has faced this history with honesty and dignity in its plenitude of museums and galleries on the Nazi state and the effect of the Cold War on the city, and indeed Germany as a whole. I started my day by going to Topography of Terror, an indoor museum and outdoor gallery on a site where once stood the headquarters of the SS and Gestapo, which deals with the Third Reich's terror and suppression tactics. There is so much information there that you might end up spending hours as I did, but it's all worth seeing. The outdoor gallery speaks more of the persecution of certain minorities and the systematic robbing of their freedoms and personalities that they faced. The indoor museum is an in-depth look at how the secret police system came to be, how it was run throughout the Nazi state and how it worked and didn't work at particular points of the regime. It's definitely worth a visit.

Outdoor gallery at Topography of Terror

After this, I swung around to Checkpoint Charlie and was faced with a remake of the famous sign and two guys dressed in American military uniforms taking corny pictures with tourists for a fee. Of course, it was interesting to stand at the once crossroads of the East/West divide, but the actual place felt somewhat removed from the history. This was except for another outdoor gallery just across the road which spoke of the hundreds of people who attemped to cross the wall from their repsective sides to the other, most of the time failing and resulting in death or imprisonment. This was a truly powerful look at the deprivating effects of the wall on the Berliners of that time, who had family and loved ones trapped away from them on the other side. 

This was just a glance at a very small amount of the history showcased brilliantly in Berlin's exhibitory venues. Walking around these places really made me feel that Berlin has got it just about right in how they deal with these subjects. There was absolutely no evasion or timidness in the approach. There was however a compelling and influential sense of warning and sorrow in all of these displays which felt genuine and which was really affecting. 

View of Berlin t.v tower and Berlin Cathedral

After all of this walking and museum-going and generally being a cultured little so and so, I needed a sit down. There's no better place to rest your feet than on a bench in one of Berlin's gardens or parks. To be honest, I sat in a little garden which I couldn't tell you the name of because I didn't know it then, just stumbled across it while walking back to my hostel. Even the small gardens like that one in the city are teeming with trendy atmospheres. All around me were the coolest, immaculately dressed people playing cool music, drinking beers with their friends and there sat I, slouched over a water feature dipping my feet, scoffing currywurst down my esophagus and not looking ashamed. It was almost 40 celsius; this Dora the Explorer needed a break.

When I was ready to set off again, I darted for the modern face of Berlin. Starting by ascending the imposing structure of the Fernsehturm t.v tower, which you can do with a 25% discount if you've got yourself a Berlin WelcomeCard, I saw Berlin from above. And it was lovely. I've talked a lot about Berlin's atmosphere and how it makes you feel but it would be a diservice to the place to not mention how beautiful it is to look at. After this, I S-bahned my way around to Potsdamer Platz and again saw the results of a thriving, successful city in impeccable, strapping skyscrapers. 

Buildings at Potsdamer Platz

To end your day wisely in Berlin, you'd do well to explore its amazing food places. Make your way to Hackescher Markt and sample one of the tens and tens of restaurants and bistros, offering everything from just Haagen-Dazs to suave Italian dining. It's all very nice. After food, go be a pretentious arse and buy yourself an overpriced Moleskine notebook in its store just around the corner and make people think you have your shit together. One of my favourite things I've done in the city is walk the swirling dome of the Reichstag building up to a stunning view of a lit-up Berlin in the night sky. Chuck them an email a few days before to tell them you want to do it, and there's no price to pay.

Whatever you do in Germany's restless capital, you'll most likely feel the sense of contrast that I felt. Of course, it would be absurd to only learn about the recent, disagreeable histrory of the city and country that I've mentioned but it is important. And once you've done this, once you've stood small and lost next to the great concrete blocks of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, you'll feel something like a sense of thrill and gladness when you walk the streets of Alexanderplatz or Friedrichstrabe two hours later and see a city that has dusted itself off and grown tall from such a history, without forgetting it or hiding it away in any manner. I already loved Berlin for many reasons, and this was another one to add to the list. 

Travel provided by Eurolines with coachpass, available at

Berlin WelcomeCard provided by visitberlin, available at

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