With only a day in Berlin, my plan of action was to join a free walking tour and visit two museums I’d read about: the Jewish Museum and the Hamburger Bahnhof. I decided to do the walking tour first.
Sitting in Tiergarten, with the Lonely Planet in my lap and Google up and running, I discovered that there were lots of walking tours to choose from.
In the end, I settled on one starting relatively early in a location that sounded quite interesting – Alexanderplatz. Well, I think the line from the movie the Bourne Supremacy kept popping into my head: “I don’t – remember – what happened – in Berlin!” and Alexanderplatz was the spot Bourne chose for his rendezvous.
Our tour guide was David from Ireland. Where else should a tour guide for Berlin be from? He was a really great tour guide, though, and he had over forty keen sightseers following him through the streets of Berlin.
Waking tours are always good to get a rough idea of what the key attractions are in a city, but of you add “free” to the mix, you often get an interesting, funny and knowledgeable guide as well since they live off the tips they receive. Nowadays, I almost always choose a free walking tours for this reason, instead of one you pay for, when I get to a new city. David was knowledgeable and interesting, but more passionate than funny in my view. Several times during the tour he spoke with great conviction and passion. Not that we started crying or anything, but it was kind of moving, for example when he told us about the Nazi book burning at Humboldt University in 1933.
The Berlin Holocaust Memorial. Our guide David said he thought this abstract monument was meant to make visitors feel disoriented and isolated, just like the Jewish victims would have felt on their way to the gas chambers. Walking through it, I certainly agree with him. You see people for a second and then they are gone.
I went to the Jewish Museum in the afternoon, but to be honest, it was a bit of a disappointment for me. The building had an amazing design, with lots interactive exhibits, but to me, it felt a bit disjointed and out of focus. I got the impression it was trying to be too many things to too many people.
In the basement, there were accounts and memorabilia of Holocaust victims, but they were placed in such a way that only one person at the time could read the information. I guess it was meant to make it more intimate, but with so many visitors, I just felt it was frustrating. You had to wait to see every single exhibit.
One floor up, there was an exhibition about women covering (or not covering) their heads in many religious traditions and cultural settings. Could be interesting against the backdrop of the hijab debate happening in several countries in Europe, but for me, having lived for over eighteen years in the Middle East, the issues were very familiar. Also, I couldn’t really see a specific link to Jewish culture.
However, I really liked some of the old documents and books on display upstairs. I love old books. And old scrolls are also fascinating.
I almost visited the Hamburger Bahnhof, but because my Maps.me app led me way off target, I arrived with only thirty minutes to closing time and an entrance fee of €14. I do like Warhol, but €14 is a bit steep to see a couple of his paintings for a few minutes.
Instead, I headed back to the train station and my train to Leipzig.