Famous JFK words at the entrance to the Kennedys Museum

Free Walking Tour
On the first day I decided to do the free walking tour offered by the NewEurope people. Id done the same tour last year but thought may as well do it again. It starts off at the Brandenburg Gate, explaining the history of it and the square in which it sits. Right next to it being the American and French embassies. And something which wasn’t pointed out last year is the hotel in which Michael Jackson infamously held his baby off the balcony. The tour guide humouring that this is often the highlight of the tour for some people. From there its a quick walk down the street to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This thing is monstrous, it contains 2700 concrete ‘boxes’ buried in to the ground at different heights. Its a fantastic memorial, you take and think of it whatever you want to. There is no signage saying what it is and what it stands for, its just simply there, making you think about what it might stand for and mean for yourself. Across the road from that is a carpark, and beneath it is the site of Hitler’s bunker, and his place of death. There is now a lone sign there explaining the site, but there used to be nothing and you would never know it existed. From there we walked down the road for a bit and came to what used to be the Luftwaffe Headquarters, and now its the tax office. It is a monstrous building, made of huge cut stones, something that was definitely made to last. Checkpoint Charlie is just down the road from that, and when people come to it they are rather surprised. It is totally Disneyfied and nothing is original, its all made up. What is great though is that there is billboards all along the surrounding streets explaining the history of the wall and the checkpoints, making a visit to the museum a rather expensive waste of time. After a quick break for lunch we walk through a few significant areas, such as the spot of the book burning, where there is know a fantastic memorial. The tour ends on ‘Museum Island’ infront of the Berliner Dome. The guide proceeds to tell us the story of how the wall actually fell, which was hyped up as the greatest story that we would ever hear in our lives. Its ok I guess. I tipped him 10 euros then went on my way.

Alternate City Tour
One of the favourite parts of the trip to Berlin last year was this tour. Unfortunately this was done on the last day we had there so wasn’t able to go back to any places we saw. So I decided this year to do the tour quite early on in my stay. Whats great about this particular tour is that because it follows the art, graffiti, squats etc of the city its always different as they are ever changing. The first stop is at a place called ‘Tachelles’. A huge ex-squat that is now filled with artists doing work and selling their stuff. The building is in a lot of trouble unfortunately though, with it likely to be demolished very soon. There are a tonne of petitions to stop this but I doubt it will help. Every wall inside is covered in graffiti of some sort, with quite a few pieces by guys such as Alias and El Bocho. The tour goes on to another place in Hackescher Market where it is actually legal to do any kind of graffiti that you want. So obviously the place is covered in a lot of good stuff. Walking along the street now in Kreuzburg the guide stops and points down an alley way at a chimney that has the ‘6’ painted on it, that particular dude is everywhere in Berlin. She then explains that the chimney is part of a really awesome abandoned factory that if one was so inclined could probably find a way inside. So I put that away in the back of my head for later. Right near there is the Copi Squat, which is I think the largest one in Berlin. A lot of people think that these ‘squats’ have people living in absolute squaller, but the living conditions aren’t actually that bad. They have running water and electricity etc. Just don’t go inside there wielding a camera. The tour ends at the start of the East Side Gallery, the longest surviving stretch of the Berlin Wall. It is now covered by awesome murals by various artists. The tour wasn’t as good as the one last year, but I put that down mostly to the fact that I already knew the majority of the stuff existed, where as last year I had fresh eyes on the subject matter. I got some great tips on places to go back to later though.

Hitler und die Deutschen
On one of the not so good days of weather I decided to have a museum day. I don’t usually like museums, I find them boring and I always forget everything I read inside them. But there was a couple of great exhibits on at the moment, one of them being ‘Hitler und die Deutschen’ at the Museum of German History. I arrived and went to buy a ticket and the lady says nein nein today it is free. Sweet. I don’t really know why it was, but I think it had something to do with the fact that today was the anniversary of the fall of the wall. The exhibit was a first for Germany, it was directly aimed at exploring Hitler, his life and how the hell he managed to get an entire nation to approve of what he wanted to do. It was an extremely well done exhibition, there was a tonne of original memorabilia. All of the information boards were also both in German and English so that was good. It covered his entire life, from birth to death, and for once I actually remembered a lot of the information that I read. Having absolutely no interest what-so-ever in history at school, I have no idea why now I have so much interest in WW2.

Topography of Terror
To round out my day of museums I headed to the Topography of Terror. This is quite a new museum, I remember last year the site was nothing but dirt and rubble. It seems that I have come to Berlin at the perfect time for certain things. Where the museum is is extremely significant and very deliberate, its sitting on what used to be the SS Headquarters. A large part of the museum is outside, and runs along a surviving part of the Berlin Wall. The walls of information that run for about a 100m contain history from various decades. A large portion is of course dedicated once again to WW2 and also the wall. I’ve read about some of this stuff maybe 10 times in various places on this trip, so its starting to stick. The museum was also really great. Quite a nice building, nice and open inside with huge glass walls. The information in here was more directed at WW2, with it split up in to different sections covering various years of the war and significant parts of it like the concentration camps. One thing that I really like about all these exhibitions is the photographs. The photos are often more powerful than any words of information can be. After walking and reading that for a couple of hours my brain was sufficiently fried, so headed back to the hostel for the night.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
I went through this memorial maybe 15 times in my stay in Berlin. It was built in an area between the Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamerplatz so its a high foot traffic area. Underneath the actual memorial is a museum. The most memorable part of the museum is the huge dimly lit room which on the floor has extracts and letters from people that were at concentration camps. Reading a letter from a young girl to their mother saying that they are looking forward to next week as thats when they’re scheduled to be let out, when really that was their date of death, is pretty sad. The entire holocaust can sometimes feel like it never really happened, its too hard to comprehend that it was possible. Reading about and seeing photographs is one thing, but seeing real accounts in their original written form really gets your attention. Another great not to miss museum full of information and its also entirely free.

Berlin Underwelt
There’s a company in Berlin that runs various different underground tours of the city, most of them only being run April to October, but one of them is all year around so I went and did that one. It was a tour of one of the best preserved bunker / bomb shelters. Its built right in to the tunnels of one of the S-Bahn stations, so you hear the rumbling of the trains constantly. It was quite a good tour, a little annoying because you weren’t allowed to take any photos. Stupid rule. In a lot of the rooms there is strips of phosphorous style paint, old school glow in the dark paint basically. One room is covered floor to ceiling with it and its been preserved. Its amazing how well it works even today, with the lights off it still lit up the entire room. It was just walking from room to room and the guide explaining what each room would have been used for, and showing us bits and pieces of original memorabilia. It was worth the time and money to do, but if they were running at the time id have preferred the tour of the abandoned subway tunnels.

The Kennedys Museum
I really wasn’t planning on going here at all, but I was walking past it one night and thought why not, nothing else to do. The museum is, obviously, devoted to the Kennedy family, the ‘American Royal Family’. JFK has a significant role in Germany’s history, and especially the Berlin Wall. In 1963 he would stand infront of it and say the words ‘ich bin ein Berliner’. (Side note: contrary to popular belief this sentence is 100% perfect German, and although it *could* mean ‘i am a jelly donut’, it doesn’t in this case and no German would ever think it did.) I never really had an interest in the Kennedy’s, all I know about them is JFKs existence and that they are an extremely unlucky family. One of the great things was all of the original memorabilia there was, the Kennedys had a huge part in the making of the museum, and donated a lot of things as well as people who worked or had anything to do with the family in the past. So you had things such as his Louise Vuitton luggage to a letter from Jackie written to his secretary to pay for the dance lessons he had. The most interesting part for me was the photographs, with JFK being the first President to realise the power of the media, and have the first official White House photographer. This is why its thought America connected so much with the family, this was the first President they had any kind of insight in to outside of the politics. There was also an exhibit on, which consisted of about 50 portraits of Obama and the team surrounding him that makes America tick over. Some of the best portrait work ive seen, the people were photographed as if they’d just finished the most stressful day of work in their life. As in ‘come inside, stand there, look at the camera any way you want, click, ok thanks’. So you had people like Hillary Clinton (Secretary of State) looking quite serious and then Reggie Love (Personal Aide) really relaxed and joking.