Where to go to discover Berlin’s wartime historyFebruary 26, 2015 5:01 pm
Berlin is a city steeped in wartime history and the capital’s unforgettable past has shaped its culture, people and contemporary world so much that you can’t escape it. And why would you want to? Berlin is famous for it and proud of it and any visit to the German capital should not omit any of the important museums or monuments that commemorate its important past.
Predominantly, Berlin is a relatively modern city in the sense that was only reunified in 1989 when the Berlin Wall separating the Eastern and Western parts of the city was demolished after 30 nearly years. Even before then the city was still recovering from the social destruction of the Second World War. So here are our top places to go in Berlin to discover everything about Berlin’s wartime and ‘modern’ history.
Checkpoint Charlie Museum
Checkpoint Charlie shouldn’t need any introduction but for those of you who are rusty on your history and general knowledge it’s one of the most important landmarks in Berlin. The Checkpoint Charlie crossing marked the border between East and West Berlin during the Cold War and stood as a symbol of this separation, as much as it stands for a symbol of reunification now. Now, there’s a museum dedicated to telling the story of the Cold War through fascinating exhibitions, original artefacts and personal tales of what it was like living in Berlin in the 1960s-1980s. Live through the brave stories of those who tried to escape and learn about the shocking facts of the Berlin Wall and life in Soviet Berlin and Eastern Berlin.
Rewind a few years to focus on the Second World War, the Jewish Museum is an honest insight into the death and destruction suffered by the German Jews during the Nazi years. As one of the largest Jewish museums in Europe, and one of the most popular museums in Berlin, it also celebrates the life and history of German Jews around the world. The building itself is considered one of the most impressive contemporary buildings in Berlin, in a deconstructivist-style, which features an emotive windowless Holocaust Tower and a Garden of Exile outside, not to mention the voids filled with 10,000 symbolic metal faces lying on the ground to be walked over.
The Stasi Museum, also known as the ‘Research and Memorial Site Normannenstrasse’, explores the lives of the infamous secret Eastern German police. After the storming of the building in 1990 when it was the Office for National Security, the Ministry for State Security of the GDR fell apart (understandably). All Stasi files were leaked and are now to this day freely accessible in the museum dedicated to the Stasi. Visitors to this fascinating modern history museum can see surveillance of GDR citizens and even walk through the office of the former Stasi boss Erich Mielke.
Anne Frank Centre
One of the most famous women in the world, Anne Frank’s reputation arrived posthumously thanks to her diary documentation and personal reflections during the Nazi years of WWII. The Anne Frank Centre is partnered with the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and showcases the ‘Here and Now’ exhibition celebrating this young Jewish girl’s life in the 1940s. Visitors can see candid, family photos and interviews bringing to life the tragedies this German girl and her fellow German Jews faced.
Berlin Wall Memorial
For those interested in the Cold War, the Berlin Wall Memorial is a must to understand the significance of this momentous reunification. You can find this historic site on Bernauer Strasse in the centre of the city, marking the memorial site of German division. It is a symbolic landmark as it contains the last piece of the Berlin Wall with the preserved grounds behind it to give visitors a sense of what it was like during the Cold War years and during the separation. On the site you can also visit the Marienfelde Refugee Centre Museum which is dedicated to the flight and emigration after 1961.