Berlin… We didn’t get off to the best start. We arrived around 7pm, figured out tickets for the U (subway) and S (rail line), and then made our way over to Tri’s place. It took us a little while to actually find her flat and when we did there was no one home. We didn’t have a phone number for her yet, so we popped into an internet cafe around the corner to see if she had messaged us while we had been on the train. Sure enough there was a message from her with her phone number. We tried calling and calling, but the same message came through, in German; we assumed it was going straight to voicemail. So we left a voicemail and waited: in the internet cafe, in front of her door, at a Turkish place down the road. But we never received word from her and each time we buzzed her flat there was no answer. So finally around 11:30pm we decided to leave and find a hostel. I knew of a few to go to, but quickly stumbled upon a Meininger hostel in the popular Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood. A bit pricier than we would have liked, but Mackenzie was exhausted. It definitely wasn’t a normal hostel… it was more like a hotel. After a night in our little palace we packed up and dropped off our bags at another hostel down the road for the day. We then headed into the city center to see the Brandenburg Gate, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and info center, the Reichstag, Tiergarten park, and walked the line of the Berlin Wall.
After some street stand bratwurst we hopped another train to Charlottenburg Palace. Wow! Sophie Charlotte and the rest of the family line really knew how to live it big. We got the day pass which allowed us to visit everything. They enjoyed serious opulence and then some. Much of the Charlottenburg was severely damaged during WWII air raids, but it has been restored extremely well. The French style gardens were lovely and stretched a good distance along the Spree River. Berlin has a distinctly un-royal demeanor beside this special spot. Potsdam has much more to offer in that architectural genre, but that can be saved for next time. On our way back through the city we stopped for some photos of the Memorial Church that has been left in ruins since the air raids. Quite a sight to see. We closed the day on a bright note as we checked email to find that I had been dialing Tri’s phone number wrong all along. Got a hold of her and suddenly had a free place to stay for the next 3 nights. She isn’t even staying there now so we have her room and a great guy from Brooklyn has the other room in the flat. Quincy gave us such a warm welcome and took us to a nearby Italian place for dinner. Perfect end to our first full day in Berlin!
Saturday took us to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp north of the city, the first established by Himmler for political prisoners in 1936. The layout is massive and it took us a few hours to take it all in. The camp held around 250,000 prisoners during its existence and around 100,000 were killed in various ways. The stone fences, towers, and gates greet you past the info center. A couple of barracks are standing along with the prisoners’ kitchen, infirmary, and laundry facility. A gigantic memorial stands in the center built under Soviet occupation. It recognizes the 18 different nationalities held prisoner, but leaves out any mention of religious or ethnic groups who were persecuted and killed there. The shoe testing track was a unique feature to this camp where prisoners tested out new SS boot soles by running back and forth with weights on their back. The execution trench is an eerie sight that makes you feel odd to walk through. Nearby are the ruins of the gas chamber, crematorium, furnaces, firing squad room, and other mortuary facilities. There is a burial ground a few yards away filled with ashes of victims. As the prison grew and the war raged on more and more prisoners were sent here from other locations. Political opponents, Soviet POWs, Gays, Gypsies, Intellectuals, Artists….they were all killed here through amazingly brutal methods. Survivors were sent on a death march in the final weeks of the war. Fortunately for some, Allied military units intercepted some of the death marches in the area and the SS fled. The prison fell under Soviet control after the war and was used for their own less than virtuous purposes for 5 more years. The camp opened to the public in 1961.
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