We crossed the German border on the train and a policeman came in to check our passports. It reminded me that no one ever checked our passports when we arrived in Czech Republic. I read on the train about passengers belong obligated to show their passports at borders even when the border was crossed late at night, but they never checked ours!
The train ride into Berlin was beautiful and very green!
We arrived at Berlin Hauptbahnoff station, the largest train station in Europe! The train station itself is 4 or 5 levels and even has an entire shopping mall several levels higher.
We couldn't check in to our Airbnb for another two hours and didn't want to walk around with our heavy backpacks for that long. But we also didn't want to pay for a locker or storage for our bags for such a short amount of time. There was a McDonald's in the train station and we knew from the McCafe in Prague that they had good wifi and I could find an outlet to plug in my phone. We decided we would sit there for about an hour then make our way over to our Airbnb.
Alexanderplatz was the big train station nearest to our apartment. Every train station we passed through in Berlin was huge! From Alexanderplatz we walked about a mile and found our apartment on a quaint residential street with a few cafes and restaurants. Our host answered the buzzer and asked us not to talk as we walked up the four flights to the apartment. She said she would explain when we got up there. We've have a few hosts request that we don't mention Airbnb at all to anyone during our stays because the local government and people weren't very happy with things like Airbnb and VRBO. I assumed this was the case here too. We got up to the room and our host Claudia told us that her and her husband had 8 trained hunting dogs in a unit downstairs and they would bark and go crazy if they heard any unknown voices. She showed us around the apartment and to our room.
Hotels and other accommodations in Berlin have to collect a city tax, like many places. However, at a hotel you'll see that on the bill and for something like Airbnb that's usually built into the cost. Claudia wanted us to pay the city tax in cash upon arrival to the apartment. She could have easily included the extra €4.20 into her price on Airbnb. I think her and her husband decided not to do that so that they could probably just keep the cash and avoid Airbnb taking a percentage of it. After I gave her the coins, she gave her one-year-old son one of them to play with and he dropped it. She said she knew he would probably lose it. So that made me think she definitely wasn't using any cash she collected from Airbnb visitors to actually pay this city tax.
It was also a little apparent that she didn't like Americans. She told us that because we were Americans she had to teach us how to unlock the door and how to separate the trash and that she simplified things for us just because we were Americans.
After we settled in to the room, we walked around to find a place to eat dinner. We were in a nice neighborhood that was mostly residential and apartments but the ground floor of each building was restaurants and cafes down each street. We also found what Claudia told us was the largest organic food supermarket in Europe.
We had a hard time finding any menus that had any English on them. There were a ton of Thai and Indian food restaurants too. After a while of searching, we got so hungry that we just settled for some pizza. We walked around the area a little more just to explore before heading home for bed.
We got up and went straight to meet our tour that we had booked the day before to go see Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial Site. We got student pricing (€10) for the tour and just had to buy a day long public transport ticket that we would have bought for the day anyway. Our tour guide Asaf was originally from Israel, eventually moved to Beijing worked for a big hotel chain, then moved to New Zealand to finish school since he never finished high school in Israel. Then he moved to England to get bachelors in hotel management and spent his last year in Ethiopia studying tourism. Finally he looked for a place to settle down and moved to Berlin because his grandfather was from there. He got his masters in ecological economics since tuition is free for anyone and everyone in Berlin! You don't even have to be a citizen! Now he is working on his PhD at the same university he studied at in England and researching how tourism and tour guides interpret dark parts of history in Berlin. He was very knowledgeable about everything!
We arrived in Oranienburg, a town just outside the camp. We walked about a mile to the main entry.
The first thing was saw before entering the camp gates was a monument commemorating all those who died in the "death marches" across Germany to the ocean. As they learned they were losing the war, the Nazis were ordered to march nearly 30,000 prisoners in the camps north to the Baltic Sea. None of the prisoners actually made it to the end destination because many Nazi soldiers attempted to flee and pretend to be citizens. Many prisoners died along the walk either at the hands of the Nazi soldiers or from starvation. The remaining prisoners were liberated before reaching the final destination.
We learned that Sachsenhausen was a concentration camp in charge of 1200 other concentration, labor, and extermination camps all across Europe. Its purpose was to control and oversee the other camps and transfer prisoners to different camps, and to train Nazi officers.
Before we entered what they called "Station A", the main gates, we saw the building where Nazi officers used to be trained. They started as a few dozen officers to protect Hitler, and grew to over half a million. The building is now used as a police training facility.
We also saw a building that prisoners called "the green monster". It was where the officers went to hang out, eat, drink, gamble, and many women prisoners were used here as sex slaves.
We also learned that the Nazis were not always as systematic and organized as it seems they were. The total number of prisoners in and out of this camp is not truly known. Prisoners of the camp included political opponents of the Nazi party including but not limited to Czech students, a large group of French miners, many Hungarians who resisted occupation, Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, and anyone else who may have spoken out against the Nazi party in any way.
The camp was still under construction and being built as prisoners were held in it. We entered through the main gates. Station A. Where thousands and thousands of prisoners entered and never left. The Nazi soldiers told prisoners that they entered through Station A and left through Station Z. When Station Z was finally completed, it housed the gas chambers and the crematorium with a large chimney.
The German words on the gate loosely translate to "work will liberate you" in an attempt to crush any bit of rebellious spirit or thoughts in the minds of the prisoners. It forced them to work because they believed they might one day be set free if they worked hard enough - not yet knowing what Station Z was.
To the right of the main gates sat two of the very few remaining barracks left in the camp. We learned that these were the first Jewish barracks on the camp, as many of the first thousands of prisoners were not even Jewish. Many inhabitants of these barracks were artists and were forced to create counterfeit money for the Nazi party to use. Our tour guide mentioned a movie that was made about this called The Counterfeiters. He said it's very historically accurate, so I'll have to watch it when I'm home.
Next we saw a building that was once a barrack but became a prison after the camp was liberated. A watchmaker from Munich who had attempted to kill Hitler was one of the many imprisoned here. He built a bomb and went to the beer hall that Hitler and many Nazi soldiers were at. Unfortunately for him, there was bad weather that evening so Hitler decided to end the night earlier than usual. Hitler missed the bomb by ten minutes. The watchmaker was then caught at the Swiss border because he had his watchmaking tools and a post card from the beer hall. We learned that there were 42 attempts to assassinate Hitler. Some of them even by Nazi officers who wanted to kill him because they disagreed with his decisions regarding the war.
Martin Niemöller, famous for the poem that ends with, "Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me" was also among the prisoners in the jail.
As we made our way towards the exit of the camp, we saw a huge dugout. It was where thousands of soviet soldiers were lined up, shot, and killed - most upon arrival at the camp. Opposite from the dugout sat a memorial for the soviet soldiers who lost their lives here.
Finally we arrived at "Station Z". The remains of the gas chambers and crematorium were eerie. A covering had been built as a sort of roof to preserve all the remains. A monument had been built to commemorate all the victims who lost their lives here.
We made our way out of the camp just as a storm was moving in. Gloomy and rainy days seem to be pretty typical for German summers. Our tour guide said, "summer is the best week of the year in Germany!"
We got back on to train into Berlin and a Spanish high school was on school trip. It was kind of funny to be able to listen to and understand them talk, bicker, and gossip. They were speaking very loudly and probably didn't think anyone could understand them. I felt like an undercover spy.
After a long train ride, we got back to Berlin around 4pm and hadn't eaten since our coffee and muffin at 10am. We found a small restaurant to grab a late lunch/early dinner and I found some beer that I actually really enjoyed! Luke ordered a beer and I tried some and decided I wanted one too. I am not a huge fan of beer, so for me to actually want to order and finish a beer is very rare! Especially a beer this big!
While we were eating we realized that it was pride week and saw several people walking and biking by with flags or in rainbow outfits. After some Googling, we realized that we missed the huge Pride parade earlier in the morning!
We made our way over to the Berlin Wall Memorial next. We spent about an hour reading all about it and learning all about the different barriers along the border.
We wandered around town a little bit more before settling at a place near Alexanderplatz station for a beer and some light food since we had eaten "dinner" so early. We discovered a beer drink called a radler that was beer and Sprite.
We started walking back towards our apartment and decided to stop at the beer garden we had passed several times. They had a huge outdoor seating area with tons of picnic tables and high tops. We went inside to find a huge room with over twice the amount of tables inside as outside. They had the same beer that we had earlier that I really liked so I ordered a large mug of that. The glass was literally as big as my face and so heavy when it was full! I had to use two hands to drink from it.
The band played a few German songs, a Spanish song, did a German toast, then even played Sweet Caroline, County Roads, and What a Wonderful World. Everyone in the whole place sang along and knew all the words. People were even getting on the tables singing and dancing! The dance floor in front of the band was full for every song. Luke ordered another big beer mug but I could feel my beer before I was even half way done! Luke spotted an NFL player, Tyrann Mathieu, so we googled him to double-check and then snapped a few stalker photos.
Our apartment was a four-bedroom unit with one bathroom so we had to wait a while to be able to use the bathroom and brush our teeth in the morning. Two girls in the room next to us kept taking turns going in and out of the bathroom to do their makeup so no one else could use it. I started to get a little annoyed. Finally we left and went straight to the bus station to go to the airport. Next up - Stockholm, Sweden!