Topography of Terror

Another European adventure..

Holocaust memorials and museums of terror. Sounds like the makings of an exciting adventure!

As you can imagine, Berlin bears horrific scars from World War 2 .

It was the capital of Hitler’s regime from 1932 to 1945, with all of the Nazi party directing their military chess pieces from the Reichstag (German parliament). When the regime capitulated, virtually the whole city was obliterated by Allied forces during the Battle of Berlin in 1945. As a result of WW2, Germany was divided into four sectors – one for each of the main allied forces – to prevent an uprising like that of the Nazi party.

The Berlin wall was constructed overnight in 1961 to prevent people fleeing the poverty-struck, communist East Germany to West Germany. Heavily guarded and virtually impenetrable, it completed the separation between the two states until the fall in 1989. I’m still amazed at how relatively recently the wall fell, and you can still see parts of it standing through the city.

Today Berlin is  a somewhat ugly city with rather bland post-war architecture. Virtually all of the pre war relics have only been rebuilt very recently, so genuinely historical sights are few and far between (perhaps visit somewhere else if you’re an architectural buff!). Aesthetics aside, Berlin has become the political heart of the largest economy in Europe and headquarters of some of the biggest worldwide multi-national companies.

Whistle-stop tour

If you’re visiting Berlin, you’d be mad not to go on a segway tour (We booked with

Riding the segway was an experience in itself; it’s incredibly intuitive to pick up and master. But it was made all the more memorable by our hilarious guide Walid, who described himself as a “black gay Bangladeshi from east London” (though he wasn’t black – don’t ask!) As it happened he also used to work at the same company/office as me a few years ago. Anyway, definitely book with him if you want  the most entertaining and informative tour of your life. For 3 hours we covered all the key sights of central Berlin, from the Reichstag – the historic parliament building – to Check Point Charlie, one of he American/Russian crossing points during the time of separation.

Berlin 2015 - 7

Walid fancying a goodie from my satchel while I orient myself


Berlin 2015 - 24

Checkpoint Charlie. The image here is of a Russian Solider signifying the entrance to East Germany. The original sign is on the right of the image.


Museums and Memorials

Berlin’s museums are world-class and makes it a must visit place on this basis alone. Museums are so plentiful in fact there’s even an island devoted to them. There’s no shortage of memorials either, but that’s no surprise for a city that was the epicentre of 20th century human conflict. With museums and memorials aplenty, you really have to pick carefully the ones that appeal else you’ll have to set aside weeks to visit them all.

Some I’d put on top of your list. First, the Jewish Holocaust memorial. Set just opposite the Tiergarten – the largest park in Berlin – and a few seconds walk from Hitler’s bunker, it’s a array of 2711 concrete blocks of differing size. Walking through is like a maze; the area is surprisingly huge and the effect is to try and eerily reproduce the feeling of being lost and powerless in amongst the clutches of the Nazi regime. Beneath the memorial is a museum which really showcases the true horrors that the Jews were subjected to. You’ll leave this well presented, modern memorial feeling sick in the mouth but much more appreciative of everyday things we often take for granted.

The Topography of Terror museum is another devoted to highlighting the conflict, and covers it from end to end from a more informative “point-blank” perspective. There’s a lot of reading to do here and not any artefacts as such, but go here for a very comprehensive journey and see the accounts of those who lived through the war. It’s actually set on the site of the commanding base of the SS and Gestapo, and beside a preserved stretch of the Berlin Wall.

Berlin 2015 - 140

Entrance to the Topography of Terror museum


Speaking of the Berlin wall, the Memorial of the Berlin Wall is another must visit. Set outdoors a further stretch of wall has been preserved/reconstructed to it’s original impenetrable state, along with watch towers and barbed wire. 125 people unsuccessfully tried to cross while it stood, and after seeing the obstacles they faced in person, it becomes clear they didn’t stand much of a chance.

Berlin 2015 - 75-2

Museum of the Berlin Wall



Berlin 2015 - 84-2

Some more Berlin Wall


Almost all of the museums we visited had English text everywhere, and they’re all cheap/free to access and incredibly well presented. Worth noting though that most are closed on a Monday (we found out the hard way after endlessly knocking on the door of the Natural History Museum).

Sombre thoughts

My experience of Germany previously was that the people are the friendliest in Europe. And after Berlin I still feel the same way. Of course it’s hard to generalise but I’ve never met anyone in the country who’s not genuinely friendly and welcoming, or anyone who isn’t prepared to lend a hand to some occasionally lost travellers.

Nowadays Berlin has moved on built a reputation for becoming a hipster hotspot in Europe. For example the swimming pools in rivers, stunning graffiti painted across the city and all sorts of weird and wacky public transport vehicles. All this makes for a city that’s quickly forming an iconic cultural identity as it recovers from its brutal past. But the plethora of memorials are an omnipresent reminder of the unfathomable scale of humanitarian destruction that was rooted here, and a poignant reminder of the struggles of those living in Nazi Germany. Berlin is a must visit  – not for a city break or holiday –  but for the greatest, sickest and most gruesome history lesson you’ll ever have.

About the Author