Berlin Keeps it Echt
Echt (adjective of Germanic origin)
: true, genuine
I expected to hate Berlin. In complete contrast to my expectations of Budapest, I went to Berlin hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst. The thing is, during my first trip to Germany several years ago, my travel mates and I encountered a blatantly racist German tour guide (of all people), and though it’s unfair, that experience left a sour taste in my mouth about Germany and Germans in general.
Cold. Austere. Racist. Before my recent return to Germany, based on its Nazi history and my personal experience there, those were the three adjectives/stereotypes that came to mind whenever I thought of Germany. And while I’m well aware that there are still a fair share of hateful and misguided racist and neo-Nazi Germans, I’ve always prided myself on not letting isolated incidents affect my opinion of an entire destination or its locals. But sometimes, you just can’t rinse out the sour taste.
Berlin changed all of that. To be clear, most of our interactions with Berliners weren’t “warm and fuzzy” in the American sense. That’s to say, we weren’t met with particularly warm smiles or sugary salutations. Nevertheless, we found Berliners to be pleasantly approachable, helpful, and real. Echt.
Berliners are very stylish. To my surprise, I personally liked their collective sense of style more than Parisians’. That’s saying a lot.
Yet, despite their fine fashions, during several of our U-Bahn rides, it wasn’t an uncommon site to see books and beers being pulled from locals’ knapsacks as consolation during their commutes. If that’s not echt, I don’t know what is.
But beyond these superficial observations, as we explored some of the city’s historical sites of interest, I was surprised to discover that Berlin doesn’t try to sugarcoat its past. From remnants of the Wall that are still standing to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin seems to be a city that acknowledges the ugly parts of its history. As someone who strongly believes that you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge, these sites were refreshing to see.
But there’s one site sitting underneath this unassuming apartment building that’s not really marked for acknowledgement or praise – Hitler’s bunker.
From January 1945 until the last week of WWII, this bunker was Nazi command central. Hitler even married Eva Braun in this bunker before they committed suicide forty hours later.
Our walk around the city also led us to the former headquarters of the Luftwaffe – the German Air Force during WWII. While Jave admired the architectural style of this building, I thought it looked downright oppressive. Behind the walls of this building, civilians and prisoners of war alike were used as “lab rats” to test Luftwaffe equipment. These tests have been classified as war crimes as many people died as a result of the cruel experiments.
Today, this building is known as the Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus and it’s where the German Finance Ministry is located. This ministry is responsible for all facets of tax and revenue policy in the country, holding true to its oppressive roots. Kidding.