Berlin Keeps it Echt

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.

Some not so stylish Berliner men in traditional German Tracht we encountered while walking back to our hotel one evening

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.

Standing above Hitler’s bunker
Standing above Hitler’s bunker

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.

PINNABLE

berliner

What city have you been to that keeps it echt? 

  • I completely agree, Dana! The first time I went in 2009, I was covering the 20th anniversary of the falling of the wall, and I was expecting Berlin to be all those things you said: cold, austere, unfriendly. On the contrary, it wound up being one of my favorite cities in all of Europe (if not the world)!

    • Dana Carmel

      It would’ve been amazing to be in Berlin to celebrate that landmark moment. Berlin is definitely a place that I want to return to and explore more!

  • I agree with you that the past can make you weary of the type of people but we all have our bad history. To this date I have hardly ever met a German person I haven’t liked and can’t wait to visit the country one day.

    • Dana Carmel

      I hope you make it to Germany someday soon, Ally! Thanks for reading!

  • Most of my days in Berlin were spent bar hopping in the eastern part (c/o my Hospitality Club host) and me going around in the Museum Island. Too bad I didn;t get to go to the memorial. That would have been an experience. I did have a memorable incident in the metro, when a Berliner guy propositioned me out of nowhere LOL

    • Dana Carmel

      There are definitely parts of Berlin that we missed out on as well so that means that we’ll definitely be returning one of these days. And it’s funny because we also got propositioned by a homeless guy selling porn out of his backpack. Go figure! 😉

  • Good thing your bitter memories of Germany got washed away! You’re brave to have wanted to give it another chance! I’m not a huge fan of Germany, but then again, I’ve never been to Berlin…

    • Dana Carmel

      Curious to know why you’re not a Germany fan. With that said, you should definitely give Berlin a shot!

  • Good article and photos, Dana. I love Berlin. Glad your second experience was different. I need to return to some cities as well…

    • Dana Carmel

      Thanks for reading! This was actually my second time in Germany, but my first time in Berlin. In any case, I also have some places in mind that I need to revisit.

  • Racist tour guide? That must have been a nightmare to you. I visited the same places in Berlin on my own back in winter 2012 and I had a blast in the city. At that time I was doing couchsurfing :).

    • Dana Carmel

      I wouldn’t say it was a nightmare, but it definitely led to some misconceptions I had about Germans. Glad you enjoyed Berlin – I hope to go back someday!

  • Gosh I miss Berlin. Its been a while since my visit there. I dont think I went to this memorial though. There were a few I went to in the city, I think I would have remembered if I went to this. Great pictures!

    • Dana Carmel

      Thanks, Bianca! Hopefully you’ll get back to Berlin soon. It’s such a great city – one that I can see myself returning to again and again.

  • Ironically probably the city that, while I’m not a world traveler yet, has been the most “echt” in my life has been my own! Reno. That’s another story. I’m so very sorry for your trepidation about Germany but it is totally understandable. As I’ve mentioned to you both online and offline over the past year that country is my #1 bucket list. It has been all of my life. And hopefully I’m getting closer to getting there, Dana! I’ve studied WWII history all of my life and very specifically the European Theater and even more specifically Germany. I have a ton of German blood in me and my dad was a history teacher (and a few other subjects) over his 30 years. He introduced me to some of his own books to read when I was high school (not your normal high school reading) so that I had a realistic view of my infatuation. I loathe what happened in the war….don’t get me wrong. I’m just fascinated by the juggernaut that they formed and more overjoyed that we, the good guys, defeated handily in the end. This post meant a lot to me Dana and I’ve been waiting for it! Thank you, thank you for sharing it our dear friend. We send our love to you and Jave always! 🙂

    • Dana Carmel

      I thought about you as I wrote this post because I know that a trip to Berlin add Germany in general is top priority for you. I’m hoping that you’ll get there very soon. It’s always a wonderful feeling when we can actually visit the places that we so often read about in history books.

  • So glad it was much better for you this time around. We just got back from a week in Berlin last week, and l’m just editing images to post next week. We really had a great time. I really liked it, and there is something refreshing that they do not try to hide the history. We didn’t make it to the bunker area. I was pretty depressed after Checkpoint Charlie and the wall. Maybe next time, as we would definitely like to visit again. We are headed back to Budapest in the next few days. I hope we like it as much as we did the first time.

    • Dana Carmel

      I’m glad you also enjoyed Berlin. It seems to be one of those cities that really does live up to the hype despite its depressing history. Have fun during your return to Budapest!!

  • I’m glad you had a better experience this time round.

    ‘you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge’ – PRECISELY!

    • Dana Carmel

      I always remind myself of that saying whenever I need to improve something in my personal life!

  • Germany’s my favorite European country by far, so I’m glad you had a better experience! What part of Germany did you visit the first time with the terrible tour guide? I’ve never been to Berlin, or been any further north than Frankfurt actually, but have spent a lot of time in Germany’s south, particularly Bavaria.

    Love your little jab about taxes at the end. 😉

    • Dana Carmel

      I’m trying to remember where we were the first time when the incident occurred – I believe it was in or near Koblenz. I think that you’ll love Berlin when you finally make it there, and I’ve heard great things about Bavaria. That’s the region I most want to visit the next time I’m in Germany.

      • I’ve always had this idea that eastern and northern Germany have the most intolerant, bigoted types, but honestly you can find them anywhere. I’ve seen a few DailyMail articles over the years about how antisemitic and racist attitudes are still prevalent in Europe. Sorry you witnessed that firsthand. =\

        I’m definitely biased but Bavaria is gorgeous. Visits to Neuschwanstein Castle, Rothenberg, and Wurzburg are musts!

        • Dana Carmel

          So true that there are bigots everywhere, but I don’t doubt that they’re partial to certain regions where maybe there’s not as much diversity. And I’m definitely adding all the places you mentioned to my list for my next go round in Germany!

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