I think that if people are going to a new city, it is good to find someone who will show them around, show the most interesting things and talk about the place and its history, as well as about people living there. Reading a book is not the same. Therefore, if I do not know anyone in a place, I always try to find a guided tour.
Only one person from our group been to Berlin before and we only very briefly we knew what we wanted to see there. We asked Uncle Google and Aunt Tripadvisor for help. That’s how we found Darren from the Original Berlin Walks Tour. Original Berlin Walks
I mean, we did not know straight away that Darren would be with us. The meeting place was set in a central location on Hackescher Square at 10 am. When we arrived, we saw big crowd of tourists, but fortunately the girl who was selling the tickets (we had ours already bought online, thanks to which we saved 2 euros per person) said that the entire crowd would be divided into several groups. This way we got Darren, and it was the best gift we could get on a Saturday morning. Darren is an Irishman who has lived in Berlin for over 6 years, where he is doing his doctorate in the history of the Second World War. He impressed us with his knowledge. He opened our eyes several times to certain historical issues and undermined our previous understanding by asking intriguing questions.
We started our trip with a talk near the impressive Berlin cathedral. Although it looks like an ideal example of Baroque, with its huge dome, its construction was completed only in 1905. Darren told us about Berlin’s architectural impetus after the unification of the German Länder into one Germany. The new capital wanted to catch up with the splendor of other metropolises like Paris or London so a lot of great buildings were created to pretended to be old. Listening to Darren, we walked through the whole city, we visited Lindon street, the Brandenburg Gate, Memorial of Murdered Jews, Hitler’s Bunker, Berlin Wall, a square where in 1933 Nazi burned books, and Checkpoint Charlie.
At the landmarks related to the history of the Second World War, Darren asked a lot of difficult questions. For example, he made us realize that it was not Hitler, Goebbels or Himmler who took guns in their hands and methodically shot people in camps, in forests or even on the streets, they did not themselves pack Jews like cattle into overcrowded carrygies and take them without blink of an eye to the gas chambers. They who did it, were like us: ordinary people. Now we can’t even imagine it. We think that we would never do such a thing, but …
Darren mentioned to us about the book called Ordinary People, in which author Christopher Browning talks about Battalion 101, formed from normal people, drivers, policemen, a few businessmen, doctors, builders or factory workers. It was a group of about 500 people aged 30-40, people who had families at home, often with small children. The purpose of Battalion 101 was intended to solve the so-called Jewish Question in Poland. These people were told: we are going to kill Jews in Poland, we know that you have wives and children, so you have a choice of not going. But only few have withdrawn. Killing and hating Jews became the norm. Unfortunately people are often like sheep, they do what others do. It is very difficult to go against the flow. As the famous Polish writer Nalkowska once wrote, in her stories about Auschwitz: “people doomed people for this fate”.
At some point, Darren brought us to a fairly large ordinary car park, surrounded by blocks of flats. He asked if we know why we were there. It turned out that underground used to be Hitler’s bunker. There is no plaque, no annotation, and the bunker itself was discovered accidentally during construction works. Darren asked if the things that were in the bunker should see the light of day. If is a positive thing that for decades, attempts have been made to remove this place from human memory. We had all good answers that both Hitler and his place deserved to be forgotten. Darren just nodded his head and said he did not agree that it was like a sweeping problem under the carpet, the bunkier should be examined, explored to understand where such ideologies came from, to learn how to prevent similar fanatics in the future. It shocked us that despite the lack of a plaque, someone places flowers on this parking lot on a regular basis for all the Hitler birth or death anniversaries. And it wasn’t his grandchildren.
We ended our trip at Checkpoint Charlie, a place where there was one of the border crossings point between East and West Berlin. We saw the Berlin Wall built in the sixties, but it was not the construction that shocked us the most, but the fact that there is something called no man’s land, where about 200 people were killed, mainly shot by guards. Among the victims were also children. At present, this is called the death belt.
As you can see, the Berlin tour was not the happy one, because unfortunately the history of the city does not really makes you bubbly but Darren created an amazing atmosphere, colored the stories with interesting anecdotes, and we didn’t get bored. Even from time to time, there were loud bursts of laughter.
With all my heart, I would really recommend Darren and his Original Berlin Walks and I promise they did not pay me to write this. http://www.berlinwalks.de/