Berlin is the most interesting city that I have ever visited. It owes this to its vast historical heritage. Berlin is the city where East met West, literally. While Berlin might not please those who are interested in Roman aesthetics and European bylanes, it will deeply fascinate the history buffs.
Brief Historical Background to Berlin
Berlin is steeps deep into the history of World War II. When the World War I ended, Germany had to sign a humiliating treaty i.e. Treat of Versailles. This treaty took away Germany’s most industrialised area and required Germany to make exorbitant reparation payments. Acceptance of this treaty by the German Delegation caused resentment amongst the German people. There was hyperinflation as a result of these reparations and seeds for nationalism were sowed.
Hitler rose to power by taking advantage of the discontentment amongst the German public. While it is disputed, many people believe that Hitler started the Reichstag fire as a tactical move to gain power by blaming the communists for it. However, the official version is that the fire was started by one man, who was a communist. It is difficult to comprehend how such a big building could be set alight by just one man. Hitler proceeded to capture bordering European territories. These actions followed by some other events led to World War II. When Hitler realised he could not win the War, he committed suicide by first consuming cyanide and then shooting himself.
Post War, Germany was divided into East and West Germany. West Germany was under US, UK and France whereas East Germany was under USSR. Since Berlin fell in the Eastern territory, it was divided into East Berlin (controlled by USSR) and West Berlin (controlled by US, UK, & France). East Berlin was poorer than West Berlin even though everybody had a job (because of Socialism). Public and private lives of individuals were also seriously regulated.Because of cheaper costs of living, many people lived in East Berlin and worked in West Berlin. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, etc. Were leaving East Berlin for better work opportunities in the West. by 1961, over 3 million people had left East Germany for West Germany.
The Soviets built a wall dividing East and West Berlin in order to prevent this brain drain. This wall came to be known as the Berlin Wall. They built this wall overnight in great secrecy. The Wall was actually built around West Berlin because Berlin was in East Germany. Consequently, many people would die without ever seeing their loved ones again. The ones who survived would see them after 28 years.
Our tour manager told us several tales of great escapes from the Berlin Wall. One man drove his car under the barriers at Checkpoint Charlie (the East Berlin CheckPoint). Another man used a rope to escape from the roof of the building adjacent to the wall. But these people were lucky as 138 people died while attempting to escape the wall. East Berlin couldn’t compete with West Berlin in terms of prosperity. East Berlin had a great barter culture. East Berliners had to wait for several years after ordering a Colour TV set to receive one. There were also very long queues to get a model of the Trabant, the only car choice available to East Berliners. It has now become the symbol of Berlin.
However, you will be surprised to learn that most East Berliners (approximately 80%) voted that life was better under the communist rule in a survey (name of which was not disclosed to us by our tour guide). This was because in East Berlin everybody had a job and a house. There was no competition. Therefore, many people were happy. It was also because almost everybody was a spy for the Soviets ;-P.
The Berlin Wall was actually brought down because a press conference mistake made by an East Germany Communist Party official. Due to the mass defections by East Berliners to West Berlin, the Communist Party came up with a plan to allow day trips to West Berlin. The official responsible for the press statement blundered by stating something equivalent to saying that the border was now open. When he was asked when does this order take effect, he said that it takes effect immediately without delay. Upon hearing this, the Berliners gathered in large numbers on either sides of the Wall. This forced the guards to open the gates and soon the wall would be demolished. The destruction of Berlin Wall would fuel the demise of USSR and signal the end of Cold War. Therefore, Berlin is truly the city where the East met West despite its geographical location.
Berlin is the most interesting city you will ever visit because it has a unique story with great historical significance. The most significant events of the past century have taken place in Berlin. Berlin’s history has a great role to play in the way our lives have turned out today. Visiting Berlin is like taking a step back in time. I recommend Berlin to anyone who is interested in history.
What to do in Berlin?
- Take a walking tour explaining Berlin’s history.
- East Side Gallery (the remaining parts of Berlin Wall). It is a beautiful work of art by different artists.
- The Reichstag – to learn more about the fire, the Nazis and of course meeting Merkel for afternoon tea ;-).
- The Brandenburg Gate
- Checkpoint Charlie
- The Wall Museum – to learn more about the Cold War.
- Book Burning Memorial at Bebelplatz
- Fernsehturm (TV Tower) – The only high rise built by the Soviets during their 30 years of governance. Climb up to the top.
- Berlin Catherdral
- Potzdamer Platz (Shopping Area)
- The Holocaust Memorial
- Drink German Beer