Read the full article on Scotcampus.com here. Go on. Please make my day.
How we got here: train
Where we stayed: Generator Hostel (9/10)
Attractions visited: The Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, The Jewish Memorial, Hitler’s Bunker, Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Cathedral, Berlin Zoo
Easiest way to navigate within the city: for local travel, Trams are a necessity. For further-out gallivants, the Metro is most efficient.
I feel compelled to begin this entry with an image that still hasn’t managed to evade my mind after visiting Berlin.
This is the Monument to the Murdered Jews in Europe which was built in 2005 to commemorate what journalists have described as the ‘most terrible crime’ – exactly as it says on the tin. The reason for its construction was the fast approaching 60th anniversary of the ending of the war and, coincidently, today marks the 70th. Berlin should be famous just for the number of memorials they have. They litter the town like puddles in summer reminding Berliners how the country has moved on from their dark history but I felt as though they were just drawing attention to it. It just made me feel as though the country was still wounded, as though Germany had just suddenly awoken following the conclusion of the war and immediately understood the errors in their ways. So, while many of these monuments – like the Jewish Memorial – are beautiful, I was horrified by just how many people Nazi Germany affected: one for Jews, one for Gypsies, one for homosexuals… In walking through the rising concrete blocks of the Monument to the Murdered Jews, I felt closer to them than I ever have before.
Our journey to Germany was our longest of the trip at six hours (which didn’t feel that long at all, really). Berlin train station is something else. Four or five floors of shops and restaurants give St Enoch Shopping Centre in Glasgow a run for its money – let’s not mention how it utterly defeats Glasgow Central Station’s small shopping quarter.
If you remember form my first ever Diary of a Backpacker entry London I wrote that we stayed in Generator Hostel in Russell Square. Generator are actually a company of hostels who occupy territories in many of the countries we have already visited. The unfortunate thing is that their crisp white sheets and unrivalled wi-fi access come at a price, and one we generally couldn’t afford everywhere. Generator are a very friendly and accommodating hostel to stay in. They always have plenty of information leaflets and provide their own maps for tourists free of charge. They also have their own social area complete with vending machines, bar and restaurants – but the food is pricey and there is no public kitchen access. There are two Generators in Berlin: ours was a ten minute tram journey from the centre and exactly half the price of the one two or three miles closer. It’s always worth researching and weighing factors up before you book somewhere to stay because a slightly longer tram journey doesn’t cost you extra in most European countries – you pay for 60 minutes travel usually Irregardless of how many changes you make.
For the duration of this trip we used Hostel Bookers to book our accommodation, an app for android and iOS. You search for hostels in the location you are travelling to and select a price, number of beds and number of nights. The app then rounds up a list of accommodation to suit your refinements – but this is not exhaustive! Also, I’d fully recommend not making a decision based entirely upon Hostel Booker’s ratings as by reading the reviews under each hostel on the app you can see that some attendee’s experiences differ greatly from the app’s initially quite inviting star ratings.
A lot of what there is to see in Berlin can be seen free of charge by simply walking around the right places. For example, we began our first day quite late on after a much needed lie-in and we still managed to visit all of the attractions listed above except from the Berlin Zoo. There are museums you can visit outside Checkpoint Charlie and The Berlin Wall. We didn’t go into either of these. It’s amazing what you can learn about a place by just walking around and reading information placards. Or, if you’re able to get up early and participate in one of many, many free walking tours (which, regrettably we never were) this is also a great way to find out information, I’m told. But remember, although it’s free it’s rude not to tip! These guys make a living off telling tourists information and answering questions all day.
Our second day was spent going back to the same places we rushed through on our first day and going to Berlin Zoo (like Edinburgh Zoo minus the pandas and with much cooler exhibits). One of the most interesting places to see is Hitler’s Bunker (Führerbunker) – that’s if you find it. Had I not been travelling with someone who had been before, I’d have walked straight past it. Nestled among a housing estate at the end of a very long street of offices is what is left of Hitler’s secret hiding spot from 1936 until his death: nothing. A large sign bearing information in German and English and a map of the entire bunker is all that is left to remind people of the cruel man who once fled to safety in this area. It is situated where Adolf Hitler and his wife’s bodies were allegedly burned following their suicide inside the bunker. It is very minimalist. Berliners probably want to forget it ever existed. The most striking thing about the area is the sparse, yellowed grass that tries to grow there in uneven patches *shivers*.
The war might be over but Europe bears scars that can never be concealed, particularly in Berlin.
**I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I did my first ever wash in a washing machine in Berlin. The situations backpacking throws you into, eh?