Contrary to most of my chatter, we did in fact do more in Berlin than run and watch a half-marathon. Because my love of enumeration is ever-lasting, here are four of the most interesting things we did during our Berlin excursion.
1. Toured an underground bomb shelter
This English-language guided tour took us beneath one of Berlin’s U-bahn stations, through restored bomb-shelter areas used during World War II when train-riders were forced to hide during raids. Although we weren’t allowed to take photos in most of the rooms, the photo-approved location in the image above shows some of the original beds used during long raids. The tour also took us past the bathrooms (totally more interesting than it sounds – people often committed suicide in the stalls), the holding rooms where candles would measure the levels of available oxygen for passengers, and much more. The collection of historical artifacts was great – board games teaching kids what to do during a bomb scare, war propaganda manufactured by the German government, old war-items-turned-household-goods, such as a Nazi helmet made into a colander. We learned a lot and the tour was well worth $10.
If you’re going to Berlin and interested in the tour, you can find more information at www.berliner-unterwelten.de.
2. The Stasi Museum
Pre-wall fall, Germany was quite Orwell-esque in its Big Brother spying techniques. The German Democratic Republic had an extensive monitoring system led by the Ministry of State Security (a.k.a. the “Stasi”), which employed more than 90,000 people at its height, plus more than 170,000 unofficial informants.
Stasi leaders modeled their organization after the Soviet KGB and would regularly arrest people who appeared in any way to be against the East German regime. Surveillance, especially in workplaces, apartment buildings, schools, etc., was huge. Tiny cameras to monitor citizens’ daily activities were planted everywhere from tree stumps to purses to trash cans. The museum has a great collection of these spy devices, plus original office spaces for Stasi leaders, like the one above.
More information: www.stasi-museum.de
3. Topographie des Terrors
Thoroughly depressing yet extremely interesting and well-done, the Topography of Terrors maps the anatomy of the Nazi regime. Photo- and text-heavy displays leave nothing to the imagination; sections are divided by country or demographic (i.e., children, homosexuals, Jews) and detail how each was affected – and slaughtered – by Hitler and his cronies. You can also check out a still-standing section of the Berlin Wall next to the museum and walk past the former sites of Nazi government buildings, such as the Gestapo headquarters.
Admission is free; more information at www.topographie.de.
4. Stroll down Unter den Linden
Starting just past Berlin’s huge TV tower (above) and the beautiful Berliner Dom, Unter den Linden is one of the most historic streets in the city. A one-hour walk on this road – ending at the Brandenburg Gate – takes you past the Lustgarten, site of many a Nazi rally; the childhood palace of Frederick the Great; luxury automobile showrooms that even a non-motorhead can enjoy; and more.