I’m currently in the fourth week of my travel and journalism adventures in Berlin, and I must say that I’m already beginning to feel like a true Berliner—it seems as though I’ve lived here for much longer. Aside from getting to know the fellow students in my journalism internship program, shopping for my weekly meals at the local grocery store and experiencing Berlin’s exciting nightlife scene, one of my most memorable moments to date was taking a free Sandemans New Europe tour of some of Berlin’s major attractions.
Founded by Chris Sandeman in 2004, Sandemans is a city tour company based out of Berlin that offers free (tip-based) daily walking tours of 11 major European cities including Amsterdam, Hamburg, Munich, and Madrid in addition to Berlin. The tours, which are mainly offered in English and Spanish, last around three and a half hours and lead you past sites of historical significance within the city you are visiting.
The free tour of Berlin started at the Brandenburg Gate with a lively storytelling session of the early history of Berlin. Our guide continued to reveal interesting facts throughout the tour—the city was built on a swamp (Berlin means “swamp city” in Slavic), hence its light, looming stench.
Photo of the Brandenburg Gate: forki23
Smells and all, I got to see many of Berlin’s major attractions in a reasonable time frame, including Babel Platz (the famous site of the 1933 Nazi book burnings), Checkpoint Charlie, Museum Island and Gendarmenmarkt, which houses a French and German Cathedral. At one point, our tour guide led the group to an unpaved parking lot which houses the remnants of Hitler’s former bunker. Aside from a small plaque signifying the location, you wouldn’t think the area is anything more than an empty parking lot.
I found the Holocaust Memorial most impressive. Officially called Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Holocaust Memorial was designed by Peter Eisenman and consists of 2,711 concrete slabs of varying heights covering approximately 4.7 acres. The memorial, which was completed in 2005, doesn’t include any sort of description of what the solid concrete blocks symbolize—our guide explained that Eisenman left it open for interpretation. For me, walking through the memorial was like weaving through a maze of massive gravestones, each signifying the life, pain and story of a Holocaust victim.
Photo of the Holocaust Memorial: Andrea Pyka
Despite becoming familiar with the city’s history, transportation system, culture and quirky student traditions (instead of clapping, students in Germany knock on their table multiple times), I can’t claim that I’m a Berlin expert. I still have so much to see and do, including trying a döner kebab, a popular Turkish dish of vegetables and slices of lamb meat covered in yogurt dressing all stuffed into a pita bread. But that will be for a future post.