Berlin has a huge, and very dark, history that I learnt more about while I was there. We spent a week in Berlin, and I could have stayed so much longer- there is so much to see in this beautiful city. I was lucky enough to be staying right by Kufurstendamm Strasse, the well known high-end shopping street of Berlin. That meant that I was a 10 minute walk from KaDeWe (the massive department store), as well as all of the high end shops, such as Dior, Chanel, Burberry, and almost every other brand that has a show at Fashion Week. I had an incredible time checking out these shops, and ended up getting a Dior silk scarf for myself (which was possibly the most exciting moment of my life). Getting to see garments that I have seen in ads and on the runway was completely surreal, and I spent tons of time inspecting them and seeing how it was all made. The stunning part of such high end, expensive pieces are not just how they look, but how they are made.
Chanel is one of the best examples of well made fashion, since Coco Chanel was very exacting about how each thing should be made. They continue in her legacy, and all of the finishing details are the same as they were in the 20s. The tweed that Chanel uses is from very specific weavers in France, and is extremely difficult to work with. Since it is so loosely woven, it frays very easily. This makes every moment of the process of making a typical Chanel jacket, for example, much harder. And then there are little details that make a Chanel jacket a Chanel jacket. Those details include a chain sewn across the bottom of the jacket to get it to sit right, a quilted lining (quilted to the outside fabric, but not seen from the outside), and bold metal buttons. All of the high end brands use unique methods and include beautiful extra details. If you take care of your purchase, it could last you for generations.
I loved the more classic styles that many of these brands carry. I have so many ideas that I have brought home with me, and a bit of determination to finish the inside of my garments better (if you have followed me for a while, you might know that I give up when it comes to finishing...).
We also went to a ton of tourist attractions, such as the Victory Column and Bradenburg Gate. Seeing these don't take up much time, since you basically just take a picture with it and leave, but it was very neat to see something in real life that you can see in pictures and movies all the time! We also went to Checkpoint Charlie, which has an amazingly well done Mauer (Wall) Museum beside it. The Mauer Museum looks much smaller than it is, but I would recommend putting aside at least a few hours to go through it if you plan on visiting. Seeing Checkpoint Charlie was amazing, and it is so strange to think that the wall did not come down very long ago. Another interesting thing was that many of the visitors that we went through the museum with were German, and not all tourists.
Not far away from Checkpoint Charlie is the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, and just beside that is the Topography of Terror. The Memorial takes up a block, and is surrounded by busy streets. Once you get inside the blocks, it is very quiet. It is a place of reflection, and of mourning. The day we went was very windy and cold, but once you walk in a bit, everything stops.
The Topography of Terror, which is very close to the memorial, has a less calm feeling to it. The museum is in the spot where the SS Headquarters were during World War Two. You can still see the outer wall of the basement, and just above that is a piece of the Wall still standing. The Topography of Terror reminded me a bit of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Manitoba, not just in information but also in the feeling that you get from going through. The Museum goes through from 1933 to now, and talks mostly about the SS and the gestapo. It also talks about the aftermath of the war, and what happened to some of the top officers.
On our last day in Berlin, we went down to Sachsenhausen, one of the first concentration camps built. It is about an hour train ride from Berlin, and is a whole day trip, if you are planning on going. It was very cold on the day that we went, but the weather suited the feeling that I had going through the memorial and museum. Sachsenhausen has a long and terrible history. It was originally built as a test for camps, built in a triangle shape so that the guards in each tour could see the whole camp (the shape was not used for other camps because they could not add buildings easily without wrecking the sight lines). It went on to hold up to 70 000 prisoners in 1945, and was the site of many atrocious experiments. After it was liberated by the Soviets, they used it as a camp for political prisoners, until they decided to turn it into a memorial to the people they liberated. The memorial was heavily biased (it has just red triangles on the massive monument in the middle of the camp, which means political prisoners, so the Soviets who were caught wore that triangle), and made the Soviets out to be the heros. Ironic, since they used the camp as well.
The camp was massive. It is impossible to convey how huge and empty it was inside the walls. Many of the barracks that the prisoners were held in have been taken down, but gravel marked out where they used to be. There are a few buildings left, such as the morgue, the hospital, the camp prison, a barrack or two, and the house of the head of the camp, just a few feet outside of the camp. There is also the burnt remains of 'Station Z', the building that had held the gas chambers and the crematory. The camp is free to the public, just like the Topography of Terrors, so that no one has an excuse to ignore the atrocities of the war. As someone who had learnt about the Holocaust since elementary school, nothing that I read was a shock. But that did not stop it from being an emotional journey. I had at least three moments of understanding how awful the memories were that that ground held. One was in the morgue- the upstairs held am autopsy room, and each person who died was given reasons like 'heart failure' for their reason of death (even of they had been worked to death, or shot, or beaten), and then sent into the basement. They would stack the bodies, and there is a ramp from their for wheelbarrows to take the bodies to the crematory, or to be buried. The building was quite crowded when we had gotten in, since there was a tour group going through, but once I saw how huge the basement was, I wanted out. Unfortunately, there was a rude tourist blocking the door so he could take pictures (and there were a few people taking selfies in the basement... who does that?). Going outside doesn't give you much relief, since every part of the camp oozes a terrible feeling, but it is better than being inside those buildings. By the end of the day, I was emotionally exhausted, but so glad that I went. I think it is so important for everyone to learn and understand what happened during the Holocaust. What are your thoughts about taking photos in places like that?
I ended up really loving Berlin. It is a gritty city, with a twisted past, but it really has grown past that. Many of the people that I talked to said that one thing that they loved about Berlin was the fact that it was so open and accepting, and that it is multi-cultural.
Have you been to Berlin? Did you love it as much as me, even with the dark past?
You can see more of my photos from Germany on my instagram account here, my account is @funk_katherine