Germany is one of the most history rich countries I’ve ever visited. And a wild history at that. Thanks to my father, I got a love for history and couldn’t pass up the chance to visit a country with one of the most fascinating and deeply saddening histories the world has. The main thing I wanted to do was visit a concentration camp, while I am closer than I’m ever going to be. It was hands down one of the best experiences of my life. It’s an odd thing to say because of the extreme sadness that comes with a concentration camp, but it’s also one of the few experiences in life that will truly make you appreciate every single thing in your life.
I arrived in Germany around 9:30 pm on July 9 (almost two months late for this-awful). My flight was delayed but other than that, it was a successful trip out of the Scandinavian lands. The flight is only about an hour and half long, so no biggie there. This was my first trip traveling alone to another country, even though I was ultimately meeting up with my roommate. But I had to get myself to the airport on time, check in, find the bus to take me to my hostel once I arrived in Germany, and all of it by myself. It’s quite a liberating feeling to travel alone and accomplish all of these tasks that you are used to doing in the safe company of either your family or friends. It’s something I never pictured myself doing. Once I got to Germany, I tried the 10 different wifi options that the airport provided, but none of them worked, so I had to get on my way without being able to tell my parents I had safely arrived. I already had to send two text messages when I was still in Sweden to let them know my flight was delayed, because of course the internet didn’t work at that airport either and I have no way of contacting the world without wifi, unless I want to be charged for sending a text. Someone seriously needs to create a universal wifi already.
I was planning on taking a bus to my hostel but I’m not the surest of people and wasn’t convinced the bus I thought would take me to my hostel would actually be the right one, so I opted for the expensive route of taking a cab. Best and worst choice. Best because he did get me to my hostel in one piece. Worst because he barely got me there in one piece. For some reason, this man felt the desire to drive like he was racing in a NASCAR race. He gunned it to over 60 or 70 mph for a random 10 feet, cut people off like there was no one else on the road, all the while texting like an idiot and like he wasn’t driving another person around. If I wasn’t so confused about where my hostel was when I got out of the car, I would have kissed the ground. My hostel just so happened to also be a bar, so I was extremely confused when the cab driver pointed to a bar entrance when I asked him where the hostel was. I was looking for a St. Christopher’s Inn sign. Anyways, I finally checked in, set my bag down, and went to look for my roommate and internet. The hostel only had the free wifi in the downstairs bar area, which was rather inconvenient, but oh well. Glad to have some. That night I met my roommates friend from college and his wife. He lives in Germany and is a rugby coach and player. It was nice to have another English speaker around. It’s one of the most relieving things to have while traveling.
The next day was our visit to the concentration camp. We met up with our group outside a coffee shop a few blocks from our hostel and then hopped on the trains to Oranienburg, which is where the camp is located. It’s about a 30-45 minute journey North of Berlin. While we were still in Berlin, it was sunny and beautiful out, but as we traveled closer to the camp, it became eerily grey, cloudy, and cold. It was very fitting for what we were going to visit. It would have almost seemed off if it were sunny and the birds were chirping. I’ll share a few of the main things I learned, and though it’s quite easy to go on and on about the sick things that went on here, I’ll keep it to the point. Sachsenhausen was opened in 1936 and operated until 1945, just 17 days prior to its liberation. After its liberation, it ran as a detention center for political prisoners by the Soviets. The prisoners sent here were from up to 30 different countries and were mostly Jews, Jehovah’s witnesses, political opponents, criminals, homosexuals and Soviet prisoners of war or deserters. Stalin’s son was sent here and died via gun shot wound when he tried to escape. Much of the original camp was first destroyed by the Germans to cover their tracks and then again much later by Neo-Nazi’s, who set the barracks on fire. It was reconstructed and reopened in 1961 as a memorial to the atrocities that occurred here. This camp was the main bureaucracy for all of the concentration camps in existence. There were 7 different ways allowed by the Nazi’s to kill the prisoners and many of these ways were via medical “experimentation” that they were so fascinated by. One of the longest and most brutal roll calls was held here. The prisoners were made to stand for 15 straight hours. The life expectancy of the prisoners was just 12 days. I will never forget what I took away from visiting a place like this and highly recommend visiting one. It’s quite disgusting knowing what the human race is capable of, but also good that this topic hasn’t lost any of its attention over the years, hopefully to keep it from never happening again.
The rest of my days in Berlin, a few with my roommate and a few on my own, were spent sight seeing, drinking amazing German beer, and visiting old palaces and cities. My roommates friend took us on a tour of Berlin, hitting the major sites like Humboldt university, the Berlin wall, the Brandenburg gate, the memorial for the Holocaust victims, Hitler’s bunker, museum island and the TV tower. I never realized how many beautiful structures are located in Berlin. Much of these sites are under construction because they need to be restored.