The transport in Berlin is pretty convenient and relatively easy to navigate as long as you have a copy of the rail plan. There are S Bhans, U Bhans, trains, trams and buses and it can get a little crazy if you’re not on the right level for your desired means of transport. (there were a couple of times where I was standing on the underground looking for the S Bhan- forgetting that I had to get to the second level) But once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to navigate at ease.
There are a variety of different tickets that you can get at the ticket machines in order to use the transport and there are also English versions if you click on the British flag on the machines. It is important to note that if you get a single ticket you can only travel in one direction for 120 minutes (this will not cover going back on yourself), if you’re travelling further than the city centre to the very outer suburbs then you will need a ticket to cover all 3 zones (A, B and C), and finally if you’re planning to travel all day then it is best to buy a day ticket which will cover you until 3am the next day.
Things to see and do:
There are a lot of things to see and do in Berlin and your best bet is to head into the city centre and walk around. There are museums, churches and memorials scattered about everywhere. In my experience Hackescher Markt is the best station to start your adventure as the Berlin Cathedral and Museum Island are right beside it and Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag building, the Holocaust Memorial site, Checkpoint Charlie and Topography of Terror are all a walkable distance away.
But if you truly want to get a feel for what Berlin was truly like in the past I would suggest that you start with the Berlin Wall Memorial site and read the information at this place before getting the S Bahn from Nordbahnof to Oranienburg to see the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. (Both sites have free entry) It won’t be an enjoyable day but it will be a humbling experience.
Other things to see- The East Side gallery of the Berlin Wall and Potsdam if you can get there. (It’s just outside of the city)
The food in Germany is superb. It’s fresh, real and incredibly tasty. There literally isn’t a single meal that I didn’t enjoy here. I was also really fortunate to stay with LM’s Family who were simply incredible and held a German inspired menu for me to experience authentic German food. (LM and I met in Melbourne)
Hospitality and People:
The people here are unbelievably friendly and hospitable. There wasn’t a day where somebody didn’t offer to help me with the transport system, translation and general enquiries. LM’s family also deserve a special shout out here as they were amazing and made me feel right at home, along with LM’s friends who were fantastic at translating conversations into English so that I could keep up with them.
Berlin is a beautiful city that should definitely be on your ‘must see’ list. It also has some fantastic beer and nightlife that attracts crowds from all over Europe. But Berlin also has a vast amount of history which will claw at your emotions due to the nature of its past and it is very important that you experience this. Seeing the various remains of the Berlin Wall scattered around the city and understanding how the country had been split only 27 years’ prior, walking around the concentration camp whilst listening to prisoner’s accounts via audio and seeing photographs of the deceased are experiences which will affect you in ways that you can’t imagine.
There were moments when walking around the concentration camp where I physically couldn’t enter a room due to being terrified. The camp has been maintained and hardly any features have changed: The tiered beds in the dorm rooms, the tiny washrooms where they crowded people in (frequently beating and murdering them during the night because they could) and the hospitals where they carried out inhumane experiments on the prisoners were haunting as I walked through the halls listening to the detailed audio guide. I quite often found myself alone in these rooms as I walked around the camp and was struck with fear.
I left Sachsenhausen concentration camp feeling physically sick at what humans are capable of and dumbfounded that I had voluntarily entered a place that so many had prayed/begged/fought to leave. But it was something that I needed to experience in order to fully educate myself.
Teaching in Berlin:
Germany has taken in a large amount of refugees and regardless of where you stand on this topic, I urge you to read on. We all hear about the stories in the media about refugees and the boats that they flee their country in. We read the stories and acknowledge them, but we don’t imagine the true atrocities that these people have faced. We don’t appreciate that they are having to relearn everything that they already know in languages foreign to them. We don’t even consider what they have seen, the weapons that have been brandished before them, who they have lost, or which family member they have witnessed “going up to the sky” before their very eyes. But they’re here, safe, trying to learn at school despite what they have been through.
I was fortunate to be given the privilege of watching and participating in the German equivalent of an ESL class (English as a Second Language- but German in this case) here in Berlin. Watching the teachers communicate and teach these beautiful children, (some of which who have so many terrifying barriers to learning due to their experiences) was an absolute honour. Learning from experienced staff who are so patient, encouraging and resourceful is an opportunity that every teacher should experience.
What a city.