As mentioned previously, I had the entire week off for Semana Santa. After seeing two whole days of the processions in Sevilla, my friends and I left early on Tuesday morning for Berlin. Ever since my European History class in high school, I have wanted to go to Berlin, so I was very excited leading up to this trip. I was sure to refresh my WW2 / Cold War knowledge before heading that way, just so I could fully understand and appreciate what I was going to see.
When we first got to Berlin, we decided to do a walking tour of the city and all of the important historical landmarks. Although it was advertised to be a three hour tour, it ended up being four! Our guide was an American who “never came home from study abroad,” and is now getting a Masters in history from the most prestigious university in Berlin. I won’t even list all of the landmarks that we visited on this tour, because we saw pretty much everything there is to see in Berlin.
One of the things that I admire so much about Berlin is its openness to its dark and complicated history. Berlin is full of thoughtful and artfully designed acknowledgements of its history. Here are some examples that particularly stood out to me:
- On the tour we saw The Bebelplatz, which is a famous site where the Nazis burned books. The site is marked by a subtle, yet harrowing, memorial.
- The entire line where the Berlin Wall once stood is marked with red brick. Obviously, this line now passes through busy streets, malls, etc, but it is still there as a reminder of the once-divided city.
- There are memorials all over the city dedicated to the persecuted Jews, Homosexuals, and Roma people.
- Hitler’s bunker is now covered by a parking lot with a metal sign that reads “Hitler’s Bunker” indicating that this site is not celebrated, it is simply acknowledged.
On the second day in Berlin, I decided to peel off from my group and visit the Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen, which was a Nazi concentration camp used primarily for political prisoners. The majority of the original buildings are still standing and the curators have woven “museum content” into the existing structures. The result is an unparalleled experience that is equal parts educational and emotional. This was truly an experience that I will never forget. After my visit to Sachsenhausen, visited the Topography of Terror, which is a museum located in the former Gestapo headquarters. Again, very interesting and I am grateful to have visited it.
On Thursday, we flew to Amsterdam – another place I’ve always wanted to visit. We ate breakfast in a cute little (this place was literally so tiny) cafe. By some amazing stroke of luck, we miraculously got tickets to the Van Gogh museum, which was previously sold out for that week and the following. We purchased the tickets at 2:00 PM for the 2:30 PM times-slot that same day, so we dashed to the museum rather quickly. After the museum, we explored for a bit and ended up at a nice restaurant for dinner. I had pasta with pesto and it was delish.
Ever since seeing “The Fault in Our Stars” (not a fan of the movie, just FYI), I have wanted to visit the Anne Frank House. I was majorly disappointed when I realized (about a month ago) that they were already sold out for the rest of April and beginning of May. I did read online, however, that they release 20% of the day’s ticket allocation on the morning of at 9:00 AM….CHALLENGE. ACCEPTED. After not being able to get tickets for Thursday morning, we woke up with a strategy on Friday morning. By another amazing stroke of luck – we got tickets for Friday evening at 8:00 PM.
We decided to have ourselves a day full of museums, starting with The Moco Museum and ending with the Anne Frank House. The Moco museum is a fabulous modern art museum that has lots of Banksy’s work. This museum was definitely a highlight of my week.
After The Moco Museum, we did some exploring and eventually ended up at the Anne Frank House. The Anne Frank House was every bit as touching, jarring, and thought provoking as I had imagined. It is insane to me that the Third Reich fell in 1945 – that’s not even that long ago. It is absolutely crazy to think that such horrible and barbaric events happened in the twentieth century. One of the things that stood out to me most was a video at the end of the Anne Frank House tour. The video showed celebrities and tourists reacting to their visit to the Anne Frank House. One of the people interviewed said “all of Anne’s ‘would-haves’ are our opportunities and possibilities.” I’d like to start living every day thinking about Anne Frank, her unfulfilled aspirations, and the encouraging optimism that she maintained even when facing the darkest of situations.
With the Anne Frank House still sitting heavy on our hearts, we decided to go for an “easy” bike ride on Saturday morning. Amsterdam is known as the “city of bikes” and that could not be more accurate. There are literally so many bikes all over the place. It seems like there might be more bikes in the city than people – there are literally tons. So anyways, my friends and I rented bikes for the full day with plans to just ride around the city. Easy enough, right? Within twenty minutes I had already hit the back of the tire of a biker riding perpendicular to me at an intersection….. Shortly after, I realized that I had no idea who had the right-of-way at 99% of the intersections I encountered. I quickly decided that I wanted to get the heck off of that bike ASAP. Eventually, my friends and I stopped for Dutch pancakes at a lovely little pancake restaurant (Hallalujah!). After that, we just wandered around the river and visited the tulip garden at the Rijksmuseum. I then took a pretty hefty nap at the hostel – I needed it!
Sunday morning, my friends and I got up early and came straight home to Sevilla. What an adventure. I am so grateful to have seen, learned, mourned, and cherished all that I did this weekend.