I could not leave Germany without a history lesson. This lesson was a hard one to swallow, as I decided to visit a concentration camp. My friends and I did a guided walking tour of the Nazi Concentration camp of Sachsenhausen. We met the tour guide in a Central location in Berlin and from there embarked on a 1-hour journey to Oranienburg, Germany via train. When we arrived to Oranienburg, the first thing I noticed about the neighborhood was how quaint and unassuming it was. The houses were colorful and the sun was shining bright. You would never think just a few blocks away, a place like Sachsenhausen existed.
As we inched closer to the gates of the concentration camp, anxieties from all 17-people on the tour began to rise. The tour guide used the opportunity to tell us that the beautiful houses that we walked by were the homes of German soldiers who spent their days murdering and torturing innocent people. They had the privilege to come back to their homes (right outside of the camp), with their picket fences and perfect families. My mind began to race before even stepping foot into the camp. How could people be so sociopathic and evil?There was an estimated 20k concentration camps in Occupied Europe. At the Sachsenhausen camp there was a classification system based on the triangle that prisoners had to wear on their clothes. For example:
- Lilac Triangle: Jehovah Witness
- Red Triangle: Political Opponents of the Nazis
- Black Triangle: Anti-Socials – Become better Germans and more keen to Nazism
- Pink Triangle: Homosexuals
Finally, we entered the gates which read in German,“Work will liberate you.”
We visited the barracks, which were extremely small rooms but would hold 250-people in it. Three people were required to sleep in one small bed. The prisoners had to deal with typhus fever, starvation, and rats. They ate stale bread, sausage, and artificial coffee. The nazi’s knew just enough calories the prisoners could eat to keep them active and alive. Some of the prisoners, with skills that the nazi’s could benefit from, were put to use. One of those being the counterfeiters, who were able to forge money, jewelry and more for the Nazi’s. We learned all about the torture techniques of the Nazi’s including visiting the gallows. Of course, if prisoners tried to escape they were either gunned down or electrocuted by the bob-wired gates. Some of the prisoners thought they were visiting a doctor but a needle filled with poison would be injected in them.Finally, we visited the gas chambers and the ovens. The Nazi’s at this camp killed 500 prisoners every 24-hours and burned them in the ovens.As you can imagine, the tour was powerful but very overwhelming. At one point, I almost fainted because of the evil that I was learning human beings were capable of. To be within the confines of such death, torture, and hatred can take a toll on you. Hate is vile and it’s sick. It has no place in the world, not then and definitely not now. Even though the holocaust happened over 80-years ago, you still get a sense, in these camps, that you’re surrounded by death.The air feels heavy and overpowering. The camp is very eerie and isolating. I was surrounded by friends but still got a sense of aloneness. I felt fear. I felt sadness.
I walked away from this experience with a strong sense and responsibility to love others more. To smile more. To not be so divided by trivial things. We’re all humans. We are all equal. We need to love one another no matter what.Ky Tip: Click Here for a link to some of the best Sachsenhausen walking tours in Berlin.
I only went to Berlin for one reason and one reason only…ART. Okay, now that I think about it. Two reasons, art and history. I’ve heard that Berlin has a huge hipster culture as well, so I was curious to find out. This was the most spontaneous trip I’ve ever taken. Usually, I have well-thought out itineraries but this time I just wanted to go with the flow. Ironically, I never did make it to an art museum or any formal museum in Berlin for that matter but my time there was still very rich. Street art covers the walls of Berlin, especially the most famous wall of all, The Berlin Wall. In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, making clear, that the Cold War and the divide between East and West Berlin, no longer had standing in the country. It was an amazing time in history and the Berlin Wall is a stark reminder of this. You can walk the Berlin Wall for miles and miles; every time you think you’ve reached the end, you realize you haven’t. The wall is filled with beautiful and colorful artwork promoting peace, unity and pride in Berlin.
In addition to the Berlin Wall, we visited Brandenburg Gate. There was a marathon going on at the time, which made the area around the gate impossible to get close to (another reason why the museum was off limits..we couldn’t get through the marathon), but it was still an experience nonetheless.
Our hotel was located in Alexanderplatz, so we frequented it’s large public square often. During our casual walks in the vicinity, we couldn’t help but to notice the Fernsehturm, which is a large television tower constructed between 1965 and 1969.Checkpoint Charlie Museum was filled with excitement for us. One of my friends actually kissed one of the soldiers there…AHHH! They were quite frisky if you ask me. Apparently, Checkpoint Charlie was the name given by the Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War.River Spree, which flows through Berlin and as far as the Czech Republic, was the perfect time for reflection. Sometimes I need these moments of serenity to express gratitude for my travels. The only reason I am here is because of God and I give thanks to his power and plan over my life.Some of the people in Berlin are not very warm and fuzzy. It also didn’t help that we had no knowledge of the German language. However, using a map and our phones we were still able to maneuver our way around their train and bus systems.Like I mentioned before, I wanted to get a slight taste of hipster culture in Berlin. We tried to go to a reggae bar/beach club called Yaam but it was not a popping night…at all. Me and my girls got dressed up looking like some dance hall queens only to be greeted by Rastafarian men chilling, smoking and getting their drink on. It was weird and I could’ve sworn I saw a rodent crawling on the roof. That was enough for me to run for my life. All of the rastas were confused AF by my sudden exit. But I heard this place is pretty cool on a good day.
- I read a really good piece about Berlin on Travel Noire that inspired me to want to go. You can read it here. I don’t think I experienced the essence of this city which is unfortunate. If I was to ever go again, it would have to be with someone who knows the city like the back of their hand, because it’s expansive.
The first time I visited Amsterdam, I fell in love with the city. I was only there for a long layover, but it was enough for me to know I wanted return as soon as I could. You can read about my first Amsterdam trip here. Two years later, I did. This time for a week and I can honestly say, it’s still one of my favorite cities. Amsterdam is charming. From its canals to its industrial architecture, it feels like a city that fuses nature and tradition with innovation (if that makes any sense at all).
Like anyone visiting Amsterdam, the first stop was the coffee shops. I had a pumpkin spice latté with not one, not two, but three cakes. The cakes were delish. It didn’t hit me initially, but as I was walking back to my friend’s apartment, it had done the deed. We had plans to take a weekend trip to Berlin, but because of our coffee shop pit stop, we ended up missing our Mega Bus (or Flix bus as they call it in Europe) by 20-minutes. I was convinced the bus left at 11:52pm when in fact it was 11:25pm. That was the absolute worst feeling ever. The feeling of defeat and paranoia is a recipe for disaster. I won’t bore you with all of the details of how this night ended.
The next morning, feeling more like myself (a little), we rushed back to the bus station, only to discover, it would cost us twice as much to get to Berlin. Whatever it took, as we had a hotel reservation and a friend meeting us there. We hopped on the bus and embarked on a 9-hour ride to Germany. Sherma and I caught up on sleep, talked and played games to pass the time. Every so often we would jump out at rest stops in random spots in Germany to smell the German air. We even ate German Burger King.
Of course, people stared at us, especially as I complained about having to pay 0.60euros to use the bathroom. When we finally got to Germany, our taxi driver started out being a mean grump but he ended up being a nice old man, who had a contagious German laugh. We settled into our hotel and roamed the streets, coming across a beer garden where we cheered to a good time and positive vibes in Germany.
- Mega Bus (Flix Bus): Yes, you can take a bus to Berlin from Amsterdam and you can actually travel to a lot of places using Flix Bus. These buses are a fraction of the cost that it would take you to fly but as you can imagine, you need time. Most people hate coach buses. I actually love them. One of the things I did notice while coming to and from Berlin on these buses is that everyone wants their own row. For the most part no one sat next to us, but we were one of the first ones on the bus and claimed our territory before anyone had the chance to.
- Public Restrooms in Europe: Paying to use the public bathrooms is a thing in Europe and it really makes you appreciate the luxury of walking into a restaurant or even Target and not having to pay to use their restrooms in America.