Berlin: 5 Tips for an Alternative City Trip
Berlin is perfect for a short city trip or weekend trip. Yet there is more to do than just shopping and seeing the Brandenburg Gate or the Reichstag. 5 tips for a varied trip to the German capital.
Sachsenhausen concentration camp
The Second World War is never far away in Berlin, full of commemorative monuments for all victims of the Nazis. But nowhere until now have I experienced the blackest page in recent German history than in Sachsenhausen, the concentration camp that Hitler built at just a short half-hour drive from Berlin. Under the guidance of 'protective custody', from 1936 onwards political opponents and so-called 'asocials' (Jews, homosexuals, Jehovahs, Catholics, gypsies, communists) were locked up to be taught the 'right' norms and values of life. Sachsenhausen was primarily not a death camp, even though over 100,000 people died of hunger, disease, exhaustion, torture, and execution in nine years.
When you are at the information center, please look around, dear reader, there is a message written by a prisoner that was locked for 6 years there, and the only thing that kept him alive was his hope to go home one day to his family. It’s a very small, but powerful piece of paper.
The Hackesche Höfe
This cheerful network of gardens and courtyards located to the north of the city center is a popular, green oasis in the somewhat grayer part of the city, full of artists' and knick-knacks where you can wander around for hours. Here is also one of the big shops of the Ampelmann, the characteristic playful figure with the hat that decorates the traffic lights in Berlin.
The Berliner Philharmoniker
This German orchestra has been one of the best for over a century, even the best orchestra in the world according to some. It is advisable to order tickets in advance to visit a concert because most performances have been sold out months in advance. In that case, a visit to the world-famous Berliner Philharmonie in the Tiergarten district (just beyond Potsdamer Platz) is still worthwhile. After the devastating war, Berlin no longer had concert halls and the architect Hans Scharoun was commissioned to design the special pentagonal yellow building. The fine example of the post-war architect was unique in 1963. The stage covers the central part of the hall, with around 2500 seats for the public. The rows mix with the perspective of the five corners so that you can see the orchestra well everywhere in the room. Before the concert, the square in front of the building is a bit like a market, where pretzel vendors, street newspaper vendors and people who are looking for a ticket fight for attention. My suggestion, even if you don’t manage to get tickets, go have a look at the beautiful architectural building.
Much of the history of Berlin has taken place over the past century. In the system of bunkers and subway tunnels, you can see the dark rooms where people hide with their families during the war from bombardments. There are daily countless tours of this huge underground tunnel system in various languages; tickets cannot be ordered in advance, so being on time is essential. Try to determine in advance which tour you would prefer to follow. Most of the time the tickets are sold out, so go one hour earlier to be sure you get your ticket and believe me it is not a waste of time. The guides and their stories manage to take you back to those times at least figuratively speaking. Also, you will have the opportunity to see in front of the metro station, the “one-person” bunker.
With a total weight of 48 tons and connected to a keyboard, the 68 bells which represent The Carillon in Berlin-Tiergarten is a large manually played concert instrument and it is one of the largest of its kind in Europe. The carillonneur, Jeffrey Bossin, sits in a playing cabin in the middle of the bells and plays with his fists and feet on a baton-and-pedal keyboard. The purely mechanical action makes it possible to play all dynamic gradations from very soft to very loud.
Most of the audience likes to sit on the grass around the base of the carillon tower where the bass bells are best heard, which is around 100 to 200 meters from the tower and where they can also be seen directly – the massive corners of the tower not only block them from view but also muffle their sound. We actually visited it by a total accident; we were walking around and checked to see if we could go up to the tower to take some panoramic shots but instead, the actual Jeffery Bossin asked us if we are there for the scheduled tour but since it wasn’t very crowded we thankfully joined. It was an interesting experience and a hidden gem that I recommend whole-heartedly. By the way, the areas east of the Große Querallee and directly next to the east side of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (accessible from the bar on the right side of the lower level) are also good places to listen.