During the first fortnight of September I enjoyed the pleasures and bore the anxieties of solo travel, and went on a little expedition to Berlin and the Brandenburg area in general. My summer had been initially rather directionless, so during my couple of months of employment I decided to take measures to rectify this and book myself into some German youth hostels.
I decided to start my adventure with heavy subject matter, taking the train to Oranienburg, a town whose most famous tourist attraction is a concentration camp. Sachsenhausen bombards you from all directions with copious amounts of information detailing the various humiliations, atrocities and violations of human dignity which went on at every corner. The main memorial statue depicts a Soviet soldier sheltering two cowering prisoners with what appears to be a cape. On the colossal tower which serves as a backdrop to this sculpture there is an array of red triangles, the symbol denoting political prisoners, the main victims of this particular camp.
On day two I spent the morning and early part of the afternoon in Potsdam; a beautiful city with impressive neo-classical architecture, seat of the German Kaisers, and the heart of the Prussian Empire. The town is eager to point out that it houses the original Brandenburger Tor – Berlin’s much bigger gate is only a copycat.
My first proper day in die Hauptstadt started with a walking tour of the city. The journey began with the backdrop of, the this time real, Brandenburger Tor. From there to the Holocaust memorial, an eerie piece of sculpture spoiled somewhat by the oppressive summer sun and the unfilterable sound of children’s ignorant capering. I resolved to return later and visit the museum below.
We were ushered down the street to a curiously inconspicuous car park. This was the largely unmarked site of Hitler’s bunker. Partly demolished post war by the Russians, the remaining structure was filled in with concrete so as not to fuel the Hitler cult. A plaque, hidden away in the corner, was paid for by residents sick of the constant enquiries of inquisitive Third Reich tourists. The German federal government has provided no commemorative funding.
I took a walk to the Eastside Gallery, a preserved section of the Berlin Wall. A sizable portion is not merely maintained, but updated, with the political emphasis accordingly renewed. It is a shame about the fence which cordons off a significant chunk. However, those parts without a fence do seem to receive a fair dose of less than artistic graffiti – but isn’t that then more authentic?
Can one take in Prague in a day? I tried anyhow, and miraculously managed to get there and back on schedule, arriving promptly to discover that the Czech Republic is not indeed in the Eurozone when I tried to pay for the use of the toilet with a 50 cent piece. The Czechs use crowns.
I bore witness to the revolving Kafka sculpture outside a shopping centre, and photographed the obligatory astronomical clock. Then I hiked up to Letna Park, where I am informed the world’s largest statue of Stalin once stood. This was toppled with the fall of Soviet communism and in its place now stands a beguiling animatronic arm which perplexingly rotates for no clear reason. Between two great cauldrons formerly flanking the dictator is now stretched a line, upon which several pairs of shoes are strung.
My trip reached its conclusion with a few days’ worth of cycling around the Spreewald area and biking through to Cottbus as well. Highlights of the holiday as a whole included the DDR exhibition, the Wall, and the National Museum. Were I to give advice to anyone considering making a similar trip, I would warn them about the lack of free public toilets and to check your currency before you start thinking about crossing borders.
[Image: Alasdair Flett]