A slightly different travel guide to Berlin.
I travelled to Berlin for a few days in 2016 with a fellow mechanical engineer friend, which is an important fact, as our propensity for technical stuff is going to shine through in the photos. We are probably the only two people who ever visited Berlin, that came out without any decent pictures of the Berlin wall (you will see).
The Berlin wall was a concrete wall, separating the East and West Germany from 1961 to 1989. It was built by the GDR (German democratic republic), which was part of the socialist East bloc during the Cold war era, and was meant to protect the good citizens of the GDR from the big bad fascists of the West. All in all, the events of that era are pretty nasty and well-known, and they’ve left behind some very interesting technical souvenirs, as well as the miracle of sound that is Pink Floyd.
So, it’s not that we weren’t interested it in, as we went to see all the big sites (the Charlie checkpoint, the Brandenburg gate, the East side gallery, the Berlin war memorial and Postdamer platz), but somehow the pictures are still few and more or less bad, since we were wandering around during the evenings a lot.
Best of the failed pictures of the Berlin wall sites
Besides the Berlin wall, Berlin has quite a lot to offer, and you can clearly see and feel the differences between the Eastern and Western parts to this day. For us, the most obvious ones were seen in the metro (U-bahn) stations and the people returning from work, as the Western parts of Berlin are thriving with businessmen, while the Eastern parts are still more working class. The vibe was definitely different and more subdued in the Eastern part, excluding the hipster cafes.
Impressions of Berlin
The first night in Berlin we stumbled across an expensive car dealership, where they seemed to have an exhibition of sorts, so we just had to go look at the pretty engine blocks. In Potsdamer platz we found a fancy elevator with a garden and apparently you can rent Trabants allover the city. The Trabant car is probably the world’s first systematic attempt at recycling and an undisputable proof, that you can, in fact, make a car out of nothing. The ingenious East Germany had zero resources, but still wanted to produce their own special car. So, they used waste cotton from Soviet Russia and leftover dye resins to produce Duroplast, which is essentially felt, and made cars out of it. They were not the best of cars of course, but they were driveable, so they did the job. Genius, right?
Tech impressions of Berlin
Like everyone who ever visited Berlin, we saw the Jewish memorial, the Cathedral Berliner Dom, the TV tower, the GDR museum (super fun), the Energy museum (housed in an old power plant), the German technical museum (the one in München is better!), the Pergamon museum (which, like the British museum, basically contains everything the German explorers stole from other nations) and so on.
We also went to see the Charlottenburg palace, since my friend unfathomably likes extreme amounts of gold decorations and baroque, a lesser known, but extremely interesting attraction – the Stasi prison, and an air-raid shelter. Those three deserved a bit more attention, so you can read about them below:
The Charlottenburg palace was named after the first Queen consort of Prussia, who hosted the “court of muses” at the palace: gatherings of poets, musicians, philosophers and artists, for which even her husband, king Friedrich I. had to ask her to extend him an invitation. It was built in the 17th century and is the largest palace you can find in Berlin, renowned for exquisitely decorated rooms, including the famous blue-pink room. Even I, who am usually not one for opulence and palaces, found it quite beautiful.
The Stasi prison
The Stasi prison at Berlin-Hohenschönhausen was a GDR remand prison, intended for political prisoners, which were deemed obstructive to the communist authorities. From 1951 to 1990, the prison housed various political figures, from protest leaders, party critics and publishers, to Jehovah Witnesses and people who attempted to cross the Berlin wall. The prison was meant for interrogation and often employed psychological torture tactics, as the prisoners were never told where they were held, prevented from sleeping etc. and held in complete isolation.
Nowadays, the Stasi prison is open for the public, but only if you join a tour. It’s a bit of an obscure site, which was recommended to me by my uncle, but it is well worth the visit. Personally, I avoid tours like the plague, but this was one of the most informative ones I’d ever been on and was really well planned, as we learned every little detail about the history of not only the prison, but also the GDR political struggles for power.
Another thing we visited and that I would heartily recommend, if this is your thing, was an air-raid shelter. It is one of the few underground structures recently opened to the public by the Berliner Unterwelten, an organisation committed to restoring and curating Berlin’s underground war remains. They do not allow photographing during their tours, but the tour was again very good.
To conclude, Berlin is a pretty interesting city to visit, from the many tech-related intricacies and the Cold war era remains, to modern quirky art and design stuff that would surely appeal to people who are not me. There is literally something at every corner, so you will not be disappointed. If you want a more “normal”, not so engineering focused guide to Berlin though, check out this great guide to Berlin.
Some photos by P. Jare.