On our third day, we finally had time to get some breakfast before we began wandering the city. We booked another one of Sandemans‘ walking tours. But this time it wasn’t free and it was a trip to a concentration camp. It was quite an odd thing to be visiting during the holidays but it had to be done.
DAY 3 | Concentration Camp
Sachsenhausen concentration camp is actually in the outskirts of Berlin so we had to buy ABC train tickets (it’s cheaper if you buy as a group of up to 5 people). Our tour guide, George, hopped on the train with us and instructed us on which station to get off. Half an hour later, we arrived in the town centre of Oranienburg. A bus took us to the camp and then we started the 6-hour tour.
Oranienburg, the neighbourhood just outside the Sachsenhausen
George giving us an overview of the camp
Tower A which houses the SS camp administration
ARBEIT MACHT FREI, meaning Work sets you free, was the slogan of the Nazi’s concentration camps. Prisoners were led to believe that if they worked hard enough, they could eventually be freed. Subtext: Work yourself to death.
Prisoners were not allowed to step on the neutral zone. One time, a guard threw the hat of a prisoner to that zone and ordered him to go pick it up. Sophie’s choice: Step on the neutral zone to do it and get shot or not obey orders and get shot for not wearing complete uniform.
Some of them had to test newly-manufactured shoes, running and marching all day on this rocky track. Sometimes even while carrying 20 kilograms of sand.
Homosexuals, and even those only suspected to be, were also persecuted. They were further tortured to reveal the names of other homosexuals.
The original barracks were torn down but they recreated two.
This is where they had to wash themselves in the morning. Sometimes even up to 400 men squeezed in.
They slept in overcrowded rooms of three-tiered bunk beds.
Many prisoners died from medical experiments conducted in the camp. Of those who survived, many would have serious health problems or deformities.
When the Soviets arrived, this monument was erected to honor the Soviet prisoners of war.
If there’s a Tower A, there’s a Station Z, cynically named to represent the prisoners’ final station. It was both a crematorium and an extermination site. All we can see now are just ruins but you can still see the remains of the furnaces used to cremate the bodies.
I’ve always had a weird fascination about this part of world history. It affects me so much that I even have had recurring dreams about being chased by the Nazi and hiding from them. And this part of our Berlin visit was a very sobering experience. This camp surely is a stark reminder of what can happen when inhumanity gets out of hand.
DAY 4 | “Museum-hopping”
We didn’t have a solid plan for Day 4 since the rest of my friends wanted to go to Potsdam to meet a friend. The boyfriend and I decided to go museum-hopping but realized that it was a Monday so most of them were closed except Pergamon Museum and Topography of Terror.
Nice stroll on our way to museum island
Waiting in line for the tickets was a bummer. It took us nearly two hours to get inside and the cold wind outside made it worse. Of course you can save yourself some hassle and buy the tickets in advance but I guess we didn’t think it through enough. Regular ticket price is 12€ and half for students and senior citizens. The audio guide is free and you can choose from English, Spanish German and French. There were lockers available to leave your stuff since coats and bags were not allowed.
It was the boyfriend who insisted on going to this museum because he wanted to see the Ishtar gate and other old world antiquities. I for one went with low expectations. I thought it would be your usual history museum with dusty artefacts but Pergamon did not disappoint. They had collections of huge statues of Assyrian kings and lions, facades and doors of the Babylonian empire and even Islamic carpets and ceramics.
We were going to see the East Side Gallery, a section of the remains of the Berlin wall with a lot of graffiti art but it was already dark outside at 5 PM. We google mapped our way to Topography of Terror, a museum where the Gestapo and SS headquarters used to stand. Entrance to the museum is free for all and I highly recommend it to folks who are interested in this part of Germany’s history. This museum aims to educate people about how life was under the Nazi regime. It paints a comprehensive picture of Hitler and the Nazi’s rise and fall. On the other side, it also highlights their inhumane treatment towards the Jews and other persecuted members of society. It’s reading-intensive but also with lots of exclusive photos of different aspects of life during this era. Most of them were heart-wrenching and distressing.
Berlin has been utterly wonderful and history-wise, one of my favourites. This city played a big role on shaping world history and evidence can be seen anywhere you look. It has a very intriguing and dark past and has always been on the frontline – from the First and Second world war all the way through the Cold War and as a 20th century war history enthusiast, it has a special place in my heart. The way the Germans confront their past is just admirable – they built memorials and museums to remind their fellows Germans and everybody else in the world of the mistakes so as not to repeat them.