Berlin is noted for its “platz” (squares/plazas). Popular are the Potsdamer Platz, Alexander Platz, Gendarmenmarkt, and Bebel Platz.
Quite historically interesting is our photo stop at the Bebel Platz, the “Book Burning Memorial”, the site of the infamous 10 May 1933 Nazi mass burning of books and works by journalists, writers, scientists, and philosophers regarded as un-German and seen as threats to Nazi ideology. Among the ostracised maligned authors are Ernest Hemingway, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, and Karl Marx. In the middle of the square we find a sunken glass plate window on the ground that provides a view, on closer inspection, into a room full of empty bookshelves, the subterranean bookshelves as you might call it.
Gendarmenmarkt, the most harmonious square in Berlin, is another must-see, worthy of photo ops from the centre where a monumental statue of German renowned poet Friedrich Schiller stands. The platz is an ensemble of the Theatre (Konzerthaus), home to Berlin Symphony Orchestra, the French Cathedral and the German Cathedral.
However, the largest square in the capital city simply called by the locals as “Alex”, named after Russian Alexander I, is the Alexander Platz, home to World Time Clock showing the name of foreign cities in different time zones and the Fountain of International Friendship with a circular fountain consisting of a series of basins along which water flows.
In the Potsdamer Platz you’ll see the Sony Centre, with its high glass cupola, and DaimlerCity and the Film Museum. The platz is also famous for the bunker in which dictator Adolf Hitler committed suicide.
If shopping is your pastime go to the largest department not only in Berlin but also in continental Europe, the KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens – Department Store of the West) with a space area of over 60,000 square meters (the equivalent of 9 football fields). Or you might as well visit “Kurfuerstendamn” for upscale shopping. The “Ku-Damm” as it is known locally is home to expensive boutiques, hundreds of stylish restaurants and cafes and also nightclubs.
Quite brief is our stop at the Oranienburger Strasse Synagogue, the main synagogue of the Berlin Jewish community built in 1859-1866. Because of its splendid Moorish style and resemblance to the Alhambra of Spain, the New Synagogue is an important architectural monument in Berlin.
And last but not the least is our informative but emotional three-hour visit to one of the most somber and chilling destinations – the former Nazi concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, a memorial near a place called Oranienburg just north of Berlin. Passing through the entrance gate of the concentration camp complex that is still haunted with the slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes You Free) you will get a sense of sadness that still clings to this camp today. Built in 1936 and a reminder of the darkest days of Berlin , the concentration camp was used primarily for more than 200,000 political prisoners – Jews, communists, intellectuals, gypsies, and homosexuals – all regarded as political opponents of the Nazi regimes. Tens of thousands of them died of starvation, disease, forced labour, and maltreatment, or murdered. Inside the camp are buildings that have been preserved in their orignal form like the barracks where many Jewish prisoners were incarcerated, the punishment cells, the execution grounds, the crematorium, and the pathology laboratory where the Nazis performed excruciating medical experiments on the inmates. After Germany was occupied by the Allied powers in 1945 at the end of World War II the concentration camp was taken over by the Soviets to house their political prisoners.
Don’t forget: The Euro is the only accepted currency in Germany. You’ll need euros to buy food and for any alternative transportation and shopping. ATMs however spit out cash if you use a credit card.
This concludes our Berlin experience.
TRIVIA: In the 18th century King Friedrich II banned imported coffee to encourage sales of the local beverage: BEER! (bier).