First off, Wednesday was technically not my first day in Berlin as I arrived on Tuesday (25th October 2016). However, I didn’t do much in the way of sightseeing and all that can be really said was that I had a nice flight and that self-service restaurants are very weird. Very weird.
After a relatively slow start on Wednesday morning (Slow being slightly subjective, I was up at 8:11 am and out of our apartment by 9:40am), my parents and I had booked on to a free walking tour of Berlin which was, despite what some may think, very interesting and engaging. We met the tour guide and fellow tourists about 150 metres from the Brandenburg. Our tour guide introduced himself as Duarte and he said that despite being a tour guide of Berlin he was not in fact from Germany and was instead from Portugal. He was brilliant none the less.
Our tour consisted of 8 stops and it began, surprise surprise, with a talk on the Brandenburg gate. It is effectively one of the most important monuments in Berlin and it has seen the victory of the Napoleonic army over the Prussians, Hitler’s rise to power and the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, to name but a few. Our next stop took us to the Jewish Memorial. Consisting of 2711 stone towers, all different heights, it covered an entire city block. It’s quite hard to explain the effect it had as it is a very individual thing but I found it confusing and thought-provoking. Even my interpration isn’t fully expressive of how I felt. The following stop took us to a car park that sat above Hitler’s bunker during the WW2. There is no recognition of Hitler except for a map of the bunker. Fitting, considering the atrocities he played a heavy role in. The last stop before a break was the Luftwaffe Building which is where many important decisions were made on the German military actions of WW2. It survived the bombing by the British Air Force and has since been used by the USSR and is now a tax administration office.
After a 20 minute break we went outside the cafe we had breaked in and Duarte talked about the most feared building in the whole of Europe when it was in use: The Gestapo HQ. Today it is a wide open space with the only remaining parts of the HQ being a few bricks. Right next to the open space was some of the original Berlin Wall which was fascinating to see. We then moved onto Checkpoint Charlie which I found a little over commercialised but it was rather cool to see it none the less. Whilst moving onto our next stop we walked along Zimmerstrasse. When the Berlin Wall was up, this street was no man’s land and it interesting to think about what it had once been and what it now was. The penultimate stop was Gendarmenmarkt which contains the concert hall and two near identical churches, one German and one French. It was peaceful and quiet for an area with such a tourist appeal. The final stop on our tour was Bebelplatz which was in fact the location of the Nazi book burning, mostly because it was where the Royal library was (It has since been replaced by the Law faculty for the Humboldt University). The monument in recognition of this event sits underground with a simple room containing empty bookshelves. Subtle and effective, in my opinion, in commemorating the destruction of people’s ideas.
After the tour, my parents and I wandered around Berlin. We went to Alexanderplatz which is where the big television tower is as well as numerous shops so, as you can imagine, it was very busy. Potsdamerplatz was similarly busy but more so with business people. The Mall of Berlin finished the day, at least for me, where I had my first Currywurst and got to look around ToyRUs (Though I did not purchase anything).
My first day in Berlin was very interesting. The walking tour gave me more background knowledge on the city and it gave a purpose to buildings that I would have probably walked past with little recognition of them. All in all,a good first day in Berlin. If you have any thoughts or questions please leave them in the comments.