Updated: Oct 2
I have wanted to visit Berlin for a long time. For an Israeli, Berlin is a loaded symbol. It was the capital of the Third Reich and Nazism, where the most horrifying actions were planned. The principal seat of Hitler and his fellow murderers. It's not easy to walk the streets and think about every man and woman: I wonder what their grandfather did during the war. The wheel turned, and now Berlin is a trendy destination for Israelis. All the sellers in stores and booths quickly identified us as Israelis, saying that they think half of Israel's population is visiting Berlin.
We arrived at Schönefeld Airport in the afternoon, and the first decision we had to make is to buy the Berlin Welcome Card. It includes free rides on Berlin's public transportation and many discounts for attractions, museums, and restaurants. Although we didn't have a plan for the visit, we decided to take it (In retrospect, it paid off). We took a direct train to our lovely hotel, which was just opposite the Berlin Central Station. After a few moments of settling in our room, we set off for an evening walk to some of the most known Berlin icons: the Reichstag's building and Brandenburg Gate.
We closed the day by visiting the enormous memorial for the victims of the holocaust. This impressive monument is spread in the heart of Berlin, the home base of the killers.
The next day we decided to take an organized tour to the main sites of Berlin with Insider Tours. It was a five-hour tour (it costs us only 10 Euro each with the Welcome Card discount). The journey started at Mitte district, in the Museums Island – a UNESCO World Heritage site with five museums that look great from the outside. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to go inside – but we will definitely do it next time in Berlin.
From there, we headed to the Babelplatz, a large square on the famous Unter den Linden street, surrounded by the State Opera, Humboldt University, and St. Hedwig's Cathedral – the first Catholic church of Prussia. At this square, the propaganda minister of the Nazi regime – Joseph Goebbels, lead the Book burning in 1933. 20,000 books of authors and scholars that the Nazis thought of as ideologically opposed to Nazism (or just by being Jews) like Albert Einstein, Heinrich Heine, Karl Marx, Erich Kästner, and many more.
Our next stop was at Gendarmenmarkt square in front of the Berlin Concert Hall. On both sides of the Concert halls rise two twin churches: a French one and a German. And the statue of Friedrich Schiller in the middle.
Then we walked to Check Point Charlie – one of the Berlin Wall crossing points during the cold war.
We headed to the Government district to see the building used to host the Ministry of Aviation and the brutal Luftwaffe (Nazi Air-Force) Headquarters. Both were led by Hermann Göring, one of the most influential Nazi leaders. Today the building is the house of the Federal Ministry of Finance.
Not far from there was the Bunker, where Hitler got suicide at the end of WWII. Now there is only a tiny yard left, lying between some communist-style buildings.
We wanted to see Berlin from above, so we went to Panoramapunkt at Potsdamer Platz. We paid a few euros and entered the fastest elevator in Europe to the upper floors. The viewpoint is consisting of two levels, including a café with great views. We ended that day visiting the famous Alexander Platz.
The next day we decided to join a tour that was dedicated to Jewish life in Berlin. We started in the Grunewald Station, which was the place where 50 thousand of Berlin's Jews were deported from. They were sent to extermination camps and labor camps. Several memorials were built in the station area. The most important onw is the one established by the German Rail company, who fully cooperated with the Nazi regime and sent those Jews and millions more, to their horrifying death.
Then we went to where the old synagogue stood until the end of the second world war when it was destroyed by an airstrike. In 1905, the Jewish community built an administrative center next to the synagogue. In 1943, When the Nazis arrested the last Jews who remained in Berlin, with intentions to deport them to Auschwitz, hundreds of German women demonstrated to release their Jewish husbands for days – and succeeded. An impressive monument was built here to commemorate this successful civic resistance.
Our next stop was at the poor old residence of the Eastern Jews who came to Berlin at the end of the nineteenth century. Today the place is bustling with people, shops, and restaurants. Near those blocks lies the Otto Weidt Museum. The museum tells an inspiring story about a righteous among the nations, who operated a workshop for brushes, hiring blind and deaf Jews, and continued to look after them and hide them during the war as well.
From there, we walked to the remains of the oldest Jewish cemetery in Berlin, established in 1672. Next to it stands a famous Jewish Beit-Midrash – a Rabbinical School. Finally, we ended the tour at the Great Synagogue, which outside was reconstructed after the war.
On Friday, we went on a lovely day trip to Potsdam by the S-Bahn 7 train. Although it takes only 30 minutes to get to this beautiful city, we visited the major sites by walking.
We walked to an impressive square from Potsdam central station. The court, which used to be the Old Market Square, is surrounded by the Brandenburg state's Parliament, the old town hall, Museum Barberini of artworks from the former German Democratic Republic, and the great St. Nicholay Church.
Then we headed to the Film Museum, which used to be the Royal Stables. After that, we walked to St Peter and Paul Kirche Catholic church and continued to the Dutch Quarter between Gutenbergstraße street and Kurfürstenstraße.
We saw the Nauener Tor gate – one of the old town gates from 1750 and headed to one of the most beautiful streets of Potsdam – Brandenburger Street, which leads to the Brandenburg Gate. The road is full of shops. Restaurants, cafes, and a lot of beautiful buildings.
The park is full of statues, fountains, and two more palaces. Somewhere in the middle of the park stands the Chines Tea House. We didn't get inside, but it was pretty impressive from the outside.
Behind the New Palace, at the end of the park stands the old Potsdam University.
Our visit to Berlin ended with a short walk in Bergmanstrasse Street and its Market Hall. We flew back to Israel the following day.
It was my first visit to Berlin, and it was barely an initial impression. Berlin is a vast and active city that cannot be understood as a quick visit. We didn't get to visit any other museum or significant site.
I look forward to the next trip to Berlin, which will deepen my familiarity with this fascinating and vital city.