On the Wednesday of our week in Berlin we had breakfast at a little cafe not far from our hostel – cinnamon scrolls and coffee for Andre, so not bad but not great – before heading to see the museum at Checkpoint Charlie. Despite being relatively educated about WWII, I knew very little about post-WWII Germany before coming to Berlin, so between our guide on Monday and the Checkpoint Charlie museum I learnt a lot. There’s even a section about communism today which we didn’t spend a lot of time in, but if you are interested in communism as a whole, the museum is certainly good for more than just learning about how the soviets and the wall divided Berlin (although that’s certainly what most of it focuses on).
We then acted upon our friend Vernon’s recommendation and took the train towards eastern Berlin to have lunch at Burgermeister, which has taken up residence in a little shack below a rail bridge by the river. I had a cheeseburger (loaded with salad extras unlike a lot of cheeseburgers) while Andre had a burger recommended by Vernon which had mushrooms on. I can definitely recommend this place which also made the best chips we had in Germany. It is potentially the best burger I’ve ever had.
Our bellies full from lunch we set off to view the east side gallery, a section of the Berlin wall which has been preserved and is now covered in street art. There are some really good paintings on there, although most of them have been graffitied.
This was followed by a visit to Berliner Dom on museum island. I have visited a lot of big elaborate churches by now, but this one still impressed me. It also theologically fascinated us while we tried to figure out the denomination – big elaborate cathedrals are normally catholic, but with statues of reformers this one clearly wasn’t. It turns out it used to be catholic but was reformed and belongs to a German reformed denomination. We were lucky enough to be there while a choir was rehearsing, and it sounded amazing. The view from the dome was also pretty good, but it was getting dark and beginning to drizzle.
We spent the evening visiting the two Christmas markets at Alexanderplatz. These were my favourite in Berlin. We bought a few gifts and souvenirs and stopped to watch some ice skating, as well as Santa in his sleigh flying along a zip line over the market! I also got a stick of toffee-covered grapes which we saw at nearly every market we visited. I don’t know how traditionally German they are, but I’ve never seen them before!
On Thursday we visited two more museums on our to-do list; the Topography of Terror museum and the German Resistance Memorial Centre. The Topography of Terror is dedicated to the buildings once on that site and in surrounding areas (which were basically Nazi, SS and SA HQ) and the policies they implemented and enforced – as well as what happened to those people after the war. It was informative, but we already knew a lot of the stuff we read there. It was the first place we went to that mentioned specific political enemy victims though, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who was the subject of one of our church history conferences in Townsville a few years ago). The museum is free too, which meant we at least hadn’t wasted any money there (but could have probably spent a bit less time).
The German Resistance Memorial Centre was interesting though, and I would have liked to spend a little more time there. It was dedicated to those in the German resistance movement, mostly those who became victims of the Nazis – also including Dietrich Bonhoeffer again. It really made me consider how one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. The building used to be used by the Nazis and was the site of the attempted coup for Operation Valkyrie (and is also the site of the execution of the Operation Valkyrie conspirators). There was an interview being filmed while we were there, with what sounded like the centre’s director. He said they get about 150,000 visitors a year. This shocked me considering places like Checkpoint Charlie and the Holocaust Memorial must get hundreds of thousands, perhaps over a million. It is definitely worth a visit and is also free.