Sunday, 26 November 2017

A City of Two Tales

Saturday 16th September

After our bumper day yesterday we had a bit of a lazy morning. We hadn’t planned what to do today and so we toyed with visiting the Zoo, going to the chocolate museum, hanging around town or putting in a bit more effort and visiting Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.

Established in 1936 and based in Oranienburg, 22 miles outside Berlin, the camp was used primarily for political prisoners and became a training centre for SS officers. The camp is an equilateral triangle and was designed so that the machine gun post in the entrance gate could cover the entire area. Watch towers were later added to the perimeter and you certainly get the impression that you’re being watched. Surprisingly, you can also go in to the main building. How anyone posted here can deny what happened in the camp baffles me because the view is expansive.

Everything from counterfeiting dollars and pounds (to try and destabilise allied currency) to medical experiments took place here and some 30,000 people died. Some very famous people were held here, including Martin Niemoller (author of the below statement “first they came…"), the RAF pilots Harry Day, Bertram James, Sydney Dowse, Jack Churchill and Johnnie Dodge who escaped during the Great Escape from Stalag Luft III and Yakov Dzhugashvili, Joseph Stalin’s eldest son. He died under unclear circumstances and it is said that Stalin was given the opportunity to trade Yakov for Friedrick Paulus, a German Field Marshall who had been captured by the Soviets at Stalingrad. Apparently, Stalin responded “I will not trade a Marshall for a Lieutenant.”

Statements like that, where a father is prepared to let his eldest son die in order to maintain a war time advantage, highlights the absurdity of war. I am writing this months later, on remembrance Sunday and as I think about all those people who lost their lives fighting for my freedom, I am grateful. Over the years millions have suffered so that I can live a life of comfort and safety. There are no words to thank these people. There’s a quote that says “older men start wars, but younger men fight them.” How sad that decades later this statement is still true.

Feeling humbled and glad we made the effort to visit Sachsenhausen, we headed back to Berlin and experienced the other side of Berlin. The artsy, vibrant city is home to great food and so we joined the long queue to get one of Berlin’s best burgers. Naturally cheesy bacon fries were a must. Despite being shamefully stuffed we decided to go all out and headed back for another delicious hot chocolate. As we’d committed to an absolute nicey sesh we went to Dunkin Donuts, bough an entire box of donuts and headed back to the hotel, stopping at the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag for one final farewell.

This was as last minute as a last minute break can be. We decided a few weeks before that the flights were a good price and so we got booking. As with all of our trips we had an action packed few days and managed to fit just about everything in. One day we will have a relaxing holiday but for now I’m glad we spent three days in Berlin, getting to see what is an exciting modern city, with a rich, troubling and thought provoking history. Germany we will be back.