Berlin - What I Wish I Knew, What I Learned

Brandenburg Gate

Visiting Berlin

What I wish I knew & What I learned

Berlin is a city that was never high on my Bucket List. As an Austrian, Germany, in general, is not my number one destination for a vacation. However, when a good friend of mine decided to do her internship there, I took the chance to visit a place I wouldn't have otherwise: Berlin. And honestly, I'm so glad I did. Berlin is such a beautiful city, full of history and an amazing diversity of people. So what expects you when visiting Berlin?

1. Berlin is defined by its history

While this is probably true for every place on earth, I have encountered very few places where history is as present as in Berlin.

This might be random, but I feel like when you travel from Rome to Vienna to Berlin, you'll not only traveling places, you'll be time traveling through European History. Rome is famous for its antique history, for the Roman empire that stretched over half of Europe. Moving to Vienna, I'm always bewitched by the magic of the time of the Emperors and Empresses - anything pre-WWI really.

And when I came to visit Berlin, it fascinated me with its recent history (WWII and everything since then). It's present in every part of the city and especially in "touristy" places - not without reason "Checkpoint Charly", the Eastside Gallery and the numerous monuments sprinkled all over the city in memory of people killed during WWII are on top of every "What to do in Berlin" - List.

 Checkpoint Charly

Checkpoint Charly

2. Berlin is for everyone

Berlin and this probably comes as a surprise to most people, considering WWII, was one of the first cities where the public discourse on same-sex love and the political movement to win rights for it started in the late 19th and early 20th century! (If this topic interests you, check out this article)

 French Cathedral & German Cathedral 

French Cathedral & German Cathedral 

Tolerance in Berlin didn't stop there - Religious freedom, as well as Equality among all Nations in Berlin, was a core part of its identity as early as the 17th & 18th century! For example, when visiting the Gendarmenmarkt, you'll realize that there are two exactly identical churches at either end of it. One of them is the so-called French Church, the other is the German Church. The French built their French church first, where all masses were held in French. After this, the Germans also wanted their own church - and to show that both are equal an exact replica was built - no better, no worse than the French Church!

While a lot of this was buried by years of Nazi - Rule, Berlin is now finding its way back to those old traditions of equality and acceptance. A friend who lives there once told me "You know, everyone who doesn't feel like they belong in their hometowns or who feels like they're not accepted where they come from finds a home here. Berlin accepts everyone, quirks and all!" This is also what I experienced during my short visit. If there's a place that has learned something from its history, it's this place. 

 French Cathedral

French Cathedral

3. We can't change history - but we can do a lot to avoid it from repeating itself.

On the plaza in front of the university in Berlin, there's a memorial that says "Whoever starts by burning books will end with burning Humanity." While Heinrich Heine said that years before the Nazis even took control of the city (he referred to the Spanish Inquisition), this is exactly what happened then - and students from the university took part in it. Thousands of books written by Jews, gays, POC or even just with content that went in contra the Nazis' ideology were burnt. That's why today, students of the university are constantly organizing fleamarkets for books in order to make sure that something like that will never happen again.

 Memorial to the Burning of the Books

Memorial to the Burning of the Books

4. If you pretend to be someone else, eventually you'll become that person. And you, the true you will be held captive by that person.

This is the main message of a theater play that coincidentally I saw while in Berlin and I think it also holds true for this beautiful, sometimes messy, sometimes alternative city. Only recently the "true spirit" of Berlin is blossoming again after the years of oppression throughout the cold war. Being held captive holds true for Berlin like it does for few other cities. In the course of one night, the wall was set up and families were separated, the western part of Berlin being completely surrounded by the wall, and the two parts being separated. The wall is nowaday eternalized by a line on the ground that you'll step across so many times during your visit, you'll stop noticing. The end of the cold war and the years since have given this city a chance to become this open, welcoming and accepting city again it used to be before WWII came along.

 Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall

5. There's power in not knowing

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe at one of the most central places in the city consists of 2711 different but very similar concrete blocks. Nobody really knows what they're meant to stand for exactly and the only thing the architect ever said about it is that the exact number of 2711 doesn't mean anything. While this was slightly frustrating for us at first, when discussing it, it brought so many different theories to light! It could be a cemetery; it could represent the path of darkness that lead toward the light of better times ahead (in the middle the blocks are higher than human beings and you're surrounded by this darkness, towards the beginning/end they get smaller); it could represent the "depersonalization" of jews that the Nazis systematically practiced - a faceless mass, all the same, non-human, but if you look at them, you do see that every individual block is an individual, no two are the same and each has their own personality. And those were just a few of the interpretations we came up with in the moment! Not knowing gives rise to a form of creativity that would never have occurred if we had just been given the answer.

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We are a team of four feminist travelers coming together from different parts of the world to share with you what we have learned from traveling, living, loving, and exploring all over the world. Join us and tell your story about female solo travel, relationships, mental health, city guides, or whatever else comes to your mind.

 Author of this text is Viktoria, founder of the Female Travel Collective, wanderluster, photography enthusiast, outdoorswoman & theater geek!

Author of this text is Viktoria, founder of the Female Travel Collective, wanderluster, photography enthusiast, outdoorswoman & theater geek!