BERLIN: A Maze of History
Learning on the Go
Berlin. Our trip to Berlin with kids is a short break that gives us the possibility of tasting History. It’s good to see the children enjoy as well as make questions about facts of the past. It’s encouraging to discover that learning on the spot has very positive outcomes. This learning experience had started with the Neues Museum and the Berlin Wall. Yet, several other places will also leave a mark on us. Here, a few of them in a quite linear itinerary if you are planning a short trip to the city.
Morning: The Brandeburg Gate, the Reichstag, and Memorial Monuments
This first part of the visit begins right in front of The Brandeburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor), built in the 18th-century. The arch, in the heart of Mitte, receives hundreds of tourists each day who start their Berlin tour here. How do we attract the attention of our kids? After all, it’s a Gate and it can lose its magic in seconds.
We concentrate on two key things. First on the fact that it was impossible to use it during the division of the city, as the Wall was right next to it.
The second point we focus on is the Quadriga on top and the symbolism. A chariot with four horses and the goddess of peace, Eirene. In fact, its first name was the Gate of Peace.
We then move on towards the Reichstag, the impressive architecture of the main building produces a contrast with the modern curves of the dome. Remember to book the visit in advance to enjoy the spectacular views of the government district as well as sights of the city.
In front of the Reichstag there is a public garden where it’s not rare to spot squirrels having lunch on the trees. Following its paths, you reach the Memorial to the Sinti and the Roma. A circular garden with a sad violin music and a pond. Around it, memorial stones on the floor with the names of concentration camps carved on them.
A silent atmosphere away from the hustle of Berlin. It has been described as a site of nothingness. A site of tears and water. Everyday, a fresh flower is placed tn top of a small stone in the middle of the pond which sinks and rises, in memory to those persecuted and murdered as Gypsies.
The grey skies go with this heavy feeling you carry away inside. A few steps away the Holocaust-Mahnmal is a view impossible to forget. Walking inside this huge maze produces a pervading sense of emptiness and oppression.
This site was designed by Peter Eisenman who wanted “to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason“. And that’s the exact feeling inside the complex of pillars of this huge labyrinth. There is little to say as we walk along the alleys. The feeling of loneliness and desperation is enormous.
Sometimes you feel the need for air, even if it’s an open area.
Right across the street, in Tiergarten, the Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism. Lonely and tilted, it keeps no proportion at all if compared to the Memorial of the Murdered Jews (as has been argued by many), it evokes a further idea of segregation which adds even more pain to the experience.
A grey cube of concrete with a small window on the front. Through the window you can see a short repeating film of two men kissing.
Afternoon: Topography of Terror and Checkpoint Charlie
On Niederkirchnerstrasse, quite near Postdamer Platz, stands the Topographie des Terrors. This museum is in the former headquarters of the Gestapo. The boundary between the East and the West during the occupation of the city used to run along this street, here the Wall was never demolished.
There is a documentation center open to the public, with a permanent exhibition of the elements of Nazi propaganda. It hosts temporary photo exhibitions related to the Holocaust.
We see an impressive collection of pictures called The Faces of the Ghetto, showing everyday life inside the Litzmannstadt Ghetto. The shots portraying the routine of the children were particularly touching and brought up a lot of deep but also innocent questions in our kids.
This day ends in Checkpoint Charlie. Even it has been sadly turned into a pantomime for tourists, the checkpoint still stands there.
There is a copy of the guard-house and sign that used to mark the border. As one of the main attractions in the city, tourists wait in line to take a picture with actors dressed up as soldiers.
The crossing point introduces you to Friedrickstrasse, with a series of imposing buildings and an old-fashioned feeling to them. On the same street there is a more interesting place to see.
The private museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie or Mauer Museum displays documents and pictures of successful escape attempts from East Germany. It’s possible to see creative devices built for those escapes: a hot-air balloon, chairlifts, a U-boat as well as Trabant cars, a museum really worth a visit.
It is a very intense day, with questions, observations and a sad feeling to it. It is still beautiful for what it represents. Exactly as the rest of Berlin.
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