Berlin

On the second full day of our trip we went to Berlin by a very packed train. We marvelled at the train station (Berlin Hauptbahnhof) and started walking to the city centre to see all the sights and start our guided tour. On our way to the centre of the city, we saw the outside of the Reichstag (German parliament building) and then on the other side, the  "Waschmaschine" where Angela Merkel, the German chancellor works and it was naturally very beautiful. We noticed it was so cold outside, especially when the wind blew so we were all dressed up nice and warm in our scarves, beanies and gloves. Then we walked past a Sinti and Roma memorial that commemorated all the gypsies that fell victim to the holocaust during World War 2. We were even approached by some gypsies asking for money inside. Then as a group we got the opportunity to go inside a gift shop which sold many German souvenirs and some of us bought presents for our friends and families. After this, we kept going until we arrived at the Brandenburg Gate where we were going to start our guided walking tour. At the Brandenburg gate there were so many different types of tourists of many different ethnicities and ages and it was so lovely to see them all interacting and appreciating the German heritage. We also saw a man that had a bigger version of a music box and very interesting tattoos. He looked like he was out of a movie! Our tour guide was a former teacher from England and he did an amazing job of walking with us around the city and showing us the different sights, asking very thought provoking questions and raising awareness to things that we would not necessarily think about. It was very stimulating and unnerving to see things like the Brandenburg Gate and other war relics in such an intimate manner. Our first stop in our guided tour was the Brandenburg gate. It was so beautiful and had a carriage with horses on the top of it. As we were about to move onto the next location, it started snowing and it was very surreal and beautiful. We all felt like we were inside a snow globe that had been shaken up. 
We then visited the memorial for the murdered Jews that commemorated the horrific genocide of the 6 million Jews during World War 2. It was a very powerful and moving experience for many of us because we were made to think about the symbolism behind how it was made and the sheer meaning behind it. The mood was very sombre as we moved on to the carpark where Hitler had his bunker and killed himself in. It was amazing yet harrowing that we were standing in the exact place someone of this nature had died and it was a very confronting moment for all of us. Especially the symbolism surrounding it - or lack of - as all symbols were taken away from this place in order to not entertain any Nazi apologists or any Nazi symbols at all. Instead, it was made into a carpark so no one would be able to know what would happen there and the significance was intentionally taken away. After this, we kept walking along the Wilhelmstraße and saw what was left of the Berlin wall which was also very eye opening given the history behind it. Next to this, there was also a building that was used during the reign of the Nazi regime which had not been torn down and rebuilt and we were told that it was a very controversial building. Possibly the most hated in Germany. After this, we decided to go to a very cute little cafe and get some food which was very cute and warm inside.
Continuing on the guided tour, we went to Checkpoint Charlie and above it was the picture of the last guard who ever manned the checkpoint and it was there to symbolise that he would forever look over from his side to the other side of the "border". After this we walked further and passed some other buildings such as the Humboldt University  and finally our tour came to an end in the square where the books by Jewish authors and political opponents were burned by students that supported the Nazi Party and their ideals. It was the place that arguably marked the start of a terrible terrible time for Germany. However, the university now sells books and emphasises the importance of freedom of expression and education. 
After this tour, we had some spare time to look at the shops and returned to our host families in Werder. Overall it was an amazing and enlightening day and we all learned so much, including the importance of investigating why things happened during the war and being confronted by the details of it all, fully understanding it in order to avoid it from happening again. Additionally, along the way it snowed so we were very lucky as Aucklanders to experience this!
It was a very beautiful day :) (by Aleece)

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