Over Christmas and New Years 2018-19 I traveled to Europe with a couple of friends. I will link to the other topics once I create them.
Munich, Germany: December 21-24
Vienna, Austria: December 24-27
Prague, Czechia: December 27-29
Berlin, Germany: December 29-January 3
Zermatt, Switzerland: January 3-5
Thun, Switzerland: January 5
Bern, Switzerland: January 5
Zurich, Switzerland: January 5-7
We arrived in Berlin a few days before New Years to get used to the city and figure out plans for New Years. We stayed in Neukölln off of the Rathaus Neukölln U-Bahn stop. These first few photos are from that neighborhood.
DSC_1976 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_1979 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_1980 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_1983 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
The sign below reads "Heisse Scheiben" which apparently means Hot Slices, but could easily be misread as "Heisse Scheissen", which would mean "Hot Sh*t". That might be the point, but it's tough to tell without context.
DSC_1984 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
We got some food and went out for drinks that night, but otherwise took it fairly easy. I brought my camera out for the night of the 30th. Here are shots from the Schlesische Straße U-Bahn station and the Oberbaumbrücke. This is where we decided to spend New Years, too.
DSC_1990 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_1991 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_1995 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
The Oberbaumbrücke has been a crossing over the Spree since the early 1700's, and the current bridge was built in 1896. During the occupation of Germany after WWII, the bridge was one of the few crossings over the Spree connecting East and West Berlin. Early on it was a checkpoint, but later in the Cold War it was essentially blocked to all crossings. It was the location of several spy trades during the Cold War.
DSC_1997 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_1999 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2002 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2003 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2004 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
This photo was taken from The Berlin Wall Museum. It was small, and a little odd, but provided some cool first hand accounts of people escaping East Germany into West Berlin (or failing to do so). And it provided a good shot of the bridge from a balcony.
DSC_1997 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
After the Wall Museum, we ventured off to a couple of breweries that were recommended to us in a neighborhood called Wedding. First we went to a brewery that resembled more of a traditional German style place with large tables that only brewed traditional Germany styles called Eschenbräu. It was curiously located in the basement of a large residential development. You had to walk through the development and down some stairs to get there. They won't serve you unless you have a seat, so if all of the tables are full (they were) you have to wait for one to open up. The second place we went to was a modern American-style craft brewery called Vagabund Brauerei. It was started by American ex-pats, and doesn't follow the Rheinheitsgebot purity law. Because of this, they can't advertise their beer as "beer" and have to call it a malt beverage or something similar. It was cool talking to the folks there about the laws. I would recommend both, but Eschenbräu was definitely my favorite. I didn't have my camera with me at the time, so there are no pictures, but it was notable enough to mention.
The next day I went on my own to the Brandenburger Tor where they have their big New Year's Eve celebration with firework and a stage. I went down there early to get some photos with enough time to make it back to to our place to get ready. This first photo is from the S-Bahn station at Yorckstraße. This was probably around 7pm or so on New Year's Eve.
DSC_2008 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2012 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2021 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
IMG_6163 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2031 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
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DSC_2051 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
I left the Silvester (New Years) festivities around the Brandenburg Gate and explored the area around it for a little while including the Reichstag, where I spent a while taking photos as kids were shooting off fireworks right on the property. There is no way this kind of activity would be allowed in the United States. It would be similar to kids shooting off fireworks on the steps of the US Capitol Building.
Below is the Reichstag with lights from the Brandenburger Tor celebrations to the right. The Reichstag was famously redesigned to include the large glass dome at the top. It's meant to symbolize transparency so that the people of Germany can see what goes on inside, which was a contrast to it's past during the Nazi era.
DSC_2079 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2103 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2106 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
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Modern government buildings sit just to the north of the Reichstag: The Paul-Löbe-Haus and across the Spree is the Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus (shown in order)
DSC_2087 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2156 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2157 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
After taking these shots, I took the U-Bahn back to our place in Neukölln to get ready for the rest of the night. As mentioned before, we returned to the Oberbaumbrücke for midnight. We went to a grocery store the night before to get champagne and beer for the evening, loaded them up in our coats, and then made our way out.
For anyone who hasn't been to Germany for New Years, it's wild. It feels like a legitimate war zone (as best as I can imagine). Fireworks are not sold for most of the year, but a few days before New Years, every store gets tons of them. For about 48 hours there's a near constant barrage of powerful fireworks going off. People will run out into the middle of a residential street, light some big ones, and then take off. You have to be careful to watch where you're going when you turn a corner, because you could be walking into a set of live fireworks. The first couple scare you pretty good, but after a while you kind of phase them out. On New Years Eve even the subway stations have the smell of spent fireworks because some kids shot them off on a platform. I'm not sure how the rest of Europe is on New Years, but this is a pretty crazy experience. I didn't take my camera out for midnight, but did take my phone and recorded some videos and photos I'll link to in the comments after this post.
About an hour and a half into the New Year, we took the U-Bahn to a club called Ritter Butzke in the Kreuzberg neighborhood. We weren't trying to go to one of the infamous nightclubs where they turn you away at the door for little to no reason, but wanted to still experience the general vibe. This was a more relaxed environment than some of the pretentious clubs, but you still had to dress appropriately (mostly all black with jeans was fine). We got there around 2am (which is apparently what most people do in the Berlin club scene) and waited in line to get in, talking to some of the other people going. Since it was New Years we pre-purchased tickets so we wouldn't be left outside. For anyone looking to do something similar, it was a great experience. The club had multiple floors featuring multiple DJs and live electronic acts. The event we went to technically went on all day every day until the morning of January 3rd. We left after the sun came up on the 1st around 8am or so, but there were still people dancing the morning away when we left. The train ride home was what you would expect. A lot of drunk people staring off into space as their brain tried to understand what was happening.
Most of January 1st we spent sleeping in and then walking to get food. Not much eventful happened, and I didn't take my camera anywhere as we were recovering from the night before.
On January 2nd, we ventured out to Brandenburg State to visit the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. We got off of the S-Bahn and went to the city of Oranienburg before going to Sachsenhausen. These first photos are from the town.
DSC_2164 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2166 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2167 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2169 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
The Havel River separates the historic old town (though largely leveled during WWII) to the new town (where the train station is).
DSC_2170 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
The Oranienburg Palace (Schloss Oranienburg) is one of Brandenburg's oldest castles (the oldest Baroque castle in the state), and was constructed in the 17th Century.
DSC_2175 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2180 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2182 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
I didn't take a photo of the map on an information display outside of the castle, but Oranienburg was one of the most bombed areas of Germany during WWII. It was the center of the Nazi's nuclear energy research as well as a manufacturing hub for their air force and a major transit hub for the country. The Soviets largely invaded Berlin in order to get control of the area's military research facilities before the Americans. In response, the US launched a lengthy, full-forced attack on the Oranienburg region to destroy any useful military targets the Soviets wanted to acquire before they reached it. Practically every building in Oranienburg was hit, and the military research and manufacturing sites were left to rubble. Today, Oranienburg is expected to have the highest concentration of unexploded bombs in Germany. According to wikipedia: "By 2017 about 200 [bombs] had been disposed of, and 350 to 400 were estimated to remain."
Now we go to the Sachsenhausen Gedenkstätte (The Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp). Down a quiet residential street is a concrete wall with Gedenkstätte in large white block letters.
DSC_2184 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2187 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2191 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
The grounds are controlled by the Brandenburg Memorials Foundation today. They offer free tours of the site, and for a modest fee (about €3 or so) you get a full audio guide and map that is very informative. We probably spent a little too long in Oranienburg, and the sun started to set a little earlier than I would have preferred, but it was still a humbling experience. I expected a large portion of the museum to be dedicated to the Holocaust in general, but I was pleased to see that almost all of it was dedicated to this specific site: the buildings, the people, and the history of the town in relation to the camp.
DSC_2197 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
The main roadway on the southeast side of the site is pictured here with the last physical barrier and towers. To the right of these photos is land that is being transformed into a police academy. The government is very aware of the perception of this development, and the police academy is going to have a special focus on civil rights and police abuses. They will use the proximity to the concentration camp as a learning experience.
DSC_2198 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2202 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2207 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2209 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2210 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
The main entrance was called "Station A". The Nazis later installed a killing site they cruelly named "Station Z" since it was the last site for the prisoners.
DSC_2214 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
To the right is a newly built museum building that features art and a history of the camp. It included information on how the Nazis used propaganda to make citizens of Germany and Oranienburg turn on their Jewish neighbors. One story in particular that stood out was that the Nazis had informed the town that the first people brought to the camp (originally located in a former brewery building in the main part of town) were prisoners of war or traitors to the country. When the train unloaded the first passengers, the people in the town threw rocks at the prisoners and yelled at them as they entered. It's largely believed that the local residents didn't really know what was happening at first since it was at first a prison and they were told most were prisoners of war.
DSC_2219 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
Most of the large rectangular foundations are former barracks for the prisoners. Most were demolished when the Soviets occupied the site and turned it into a Soviet Camp (Special Camp 7). Most of the prisoners during the Soviet era were former Nazis either waiting on trial, or left to die without trial.
DSC_2263 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2222 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
Any prisoner who approached the wall was likely shot on site.
DSC_2227 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
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After the Soviets took control of the camp and Germans were imprisoned there, a German animator made murals in the basement of one of the few remaining original structures: the kitchen.
DSC_2277 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2278 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2279 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
By the time we left the kitchen, the sun was set and there was almost no light. We went to Station Z before returning to the main building to drop off our audio guides. I didn't take any photos of Station Z, but it has a very interesting history. They set up a crematorium to burn victims. It was expanded multiple times, and many suspect the Soviets to have continued using it after the war on German prisoners. Before the Soviets turned over the site, they largely demolished Station Z. The foundations of the building and basement rooms still exist, but most of the structure is gone. The museum has since created a large roof over the remaining area to protect it from the environment, but it is still open air as there are no walls. Station Z is to the left on this photo. The large monument on the right is a monument to the Soviet POWs killed at the camp during the Nazi operation of the site. The monument was constructed by the East German government. It was also the East German government that demolished most of the buildings on the site. It was operated as a museum under East Germany starting in 1961.
DSC_2280 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
The last place we went to was the infirmary.
DSC_2286 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
We left Sachsenhausen and went to the Jewish Museum downtown. I checked my camera at the coat check, so I have no photos of that, but if you're in Berlin, this is the thing I would recommend the most. The design of the building is very deliberate. The exhibits in the hallways are all artifacts donated to the museum from victims of the Holocaust and their families. It's not a history museum, it's meant to be an experience, and it doesn't disappoint. Each hallway leads to a large cavernous room with a different theme. Take your time and experience the space. It's hard to not be moved by the experience.
Before we went home to pack for the next day, a flight to Switzerland and train ride to Zermatt, we took a quick tour of the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) at nighttime without all of the festivities from the New Years event two days prior and Checkpoint Charlie nearby.
DSC_2291 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2294 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
Right next to the Brandenburg Gate is a large site called "Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas", or "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe". It's a series of large coffin-shaped stones that protrude from the ground at different elevations. The topography of the land changes as well, so you go from standing among 2 foot pillars to being surrounded by 15 foot tall pillars. Another powerful monument to compliment the Jewish Museum.
DSC_2299 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2300 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2302 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
The dome of the Reichstag is clearly visible from the monument.
DSC_2307 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
DSC_2310 by Ryan Lammi, on Flickr
The rest of the trip will be much lighter, but I hope you enjoyed my tour of Berlin!