Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
One key thing that most countries don’t do well is to teach future generations about the mistakes of their own past, to ensure that certain atrocities never happen again. The focus is on the mistakes made by other countries, and the glories of their own history. It’s shameful that Australia doesn’t do more in teaching about the Stolen Generation, or that Japan doesn’t talk about their actions during events like the Rape of Nanjing, or America doesn’t acknowledge the full effect of colonisation on their native people.
Germany is different, and it’s one of the most impressive things about them. There’s a lot to be ashamed about what happened in World War Two, and the effects of the Nazi regime. In addition to that, there’s the ongoing effects of a country divided by the Iron Curtain that are still being reconciled today.
For today’s leaders, acknowledgement and recognition of their past is key to ensuring that it never happens again. Students are taught their history in school – not just once, but every year. There are memorials, museums, and remnants of the past all over Berlin (and other cities) that are completely free to enter as they don’t wish for there to be any barrier to people learning more about their history. Oral histories are recorded, preserved, and made available for future generations.
Most importantly, they’ve chosen to remove any possible memorial or pilgrimage point for Neo-Nazis. There is no former key locations of Adolf Hitler’s life left as a memorial. Even the bunker where he committed suicide with his wife Eva Braun has now been filled in with concrete and turned into a parking lot for an apartment building. The message is clear – Germany does not condone the repetition of history’s mistakes.
For the above reasons, Berlin is a wonderful city to visit if you’re a history buff. There’s a hundred museums dedicated to these various points in their history, and most offer free entry. That’s not to say that it’s a city that lives in the past without looking to the future though. A famous writer once said that “Berlin is a city doomed to always becoming, and never being”. That’s certainly the case – twenty-five years later, they’re still working on rebuilding the city to better integrate East and West, and there are continual building works happening around the city.
It’s a cool city as well, home to many artists, designers, musicians, and creators in search of a friendly creative environment. The areas of Neukolln and Kreuzberg are central to the creative heart of Berlin, and it’s well-worth spending some time walking around these areas just soaking in the atmosphere…and the smoke, as there’s no smoking bans in Berlin and everyone puffs away like a chimney!
We had a few good meals while we there – a Sunday brunch buffet at Café Morgenland and a Japanese lunch at Udon Kobo Ishin amongst them. We also joined K’s cousin at a local Italian restaurant for pizza (Il Casolare) and at a little Korean fried chicken joint (Angry Chicken). The casual street food scene is big in Berlin – there are kebabs on every corner, as well as the Berlin classic the currywurst.
While Berlin is a great city for a visit, I have to say that I prefer the smaller community vibe of Munich over Berlin. It’s a lot easier to get lost amongst a sea of faces or a cloud of smoke in Berlin, whereas in Munich, there’s always someone who’s ready to give you a smile.