Learning about the Holocaust in Berlin

Having previously visited the south of Germany, I didn’t really know what to expect when planning my trip to Berlin. My Bavarian experience had been consumed by beer gardens, pork knuckles and 1 liter steins of beer. The most shocking thing I’d seen was a middle aged woman sitting at a pub in Munich, finishing off her 2nd liter of beer. It was 9:00 am.

Berlin, however, was the epicenter of one of the largest events in world history. This fundamental part of Germany’s past cannot be ignored here. After the amazing sightseeing, eating, and partying I had done, it was time to spend a day to learn about the holocaust during my European adventure. Germany, and its neighbouring countries would undoubtedly offer a perspective I could never have learned in school.

I decided to do a tour without a guide, so that I could take it all in at my own pace, and make my way around the city as I pleased. Here are my recommendations for  a 3-stop tour that every visitor to Berlin should take the time to do.

Photo: The “new” synagogue, Berlin

First Stop: The New Synagogue

I started my tour at the “new” synagogue, an old, Jewish religious building that held service up until March 1940. When I walked up to the building, I had to step back and stare up at the amazing dome at the top. The building was so well designed, and it was much larger than any synagogue I had ever seen. Upon entering the building, I learned that the front of the synagogue was restored but the rest of it had been completely bombed during the war, and was never reconstructed. The “new” synagogue was only a reminder of the significant religious building it once was to the Jews of Berlin.

Visit their webpage Stiftung Neue Synagogue Berlin, or better yet, go there in person (Address: Oranienburger Str 28/30, Berlin). The New Synagogue is open from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm every day expect Saturday, and offers different exhibitions.

Next stop: Jewish Museum

As classic as was the exterior of the “new” synagogue, the modernity of the Jewish Museum was equally as impressive. The design resembles what one would imagine a futuristic, art storage warehouse to look like. Chrome-like walls carved with a huge star of David out front. Really, I can’t describe it, visit their website to see what I mean.

The building itself seems to wind through the museum’s impressive gardens: nothing is in a straight line. Audio-visual displays and varying exhibitions are scattered throughout the building, making a multiple hour visit to the museum seem to go by in minutes.  Before leaving, make sure to hang a paper flower with a wish, on their wish tree, seen in the photo (left).

Final Stop: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

By the time I left the Jewish Museum, it was already getting dark. Although very hesitant to do it at first, I decided to visit the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. I’m not very good with tight spaces, or mazes. Add the obscurity of night to that mix, and I was one jumpy tourist.

The layout of the memorial is set so that you wander through a labyrinth of thick, rectangular, cement slabs. These vary in height, but are all about 7 feet wide (don’t quote me on this, I’m usually very bad at guessing distances, heights and spaces). The deeper you get into the labyrinth, the taller the cement blocks become. Eventually, you feel lost and trapped, trying to make your way out.

This is exactly how the architects of this memorial intended for its visitors to feel. Going through the maze you end up experiencing a very small fraction of the disorientation and fear the Holocaust victims would have felt. A well conceived site: http://www.holocaust-mahnmal.de/en.

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