I have been to Berlin three or four times in the past eighteen months for work, but have never been able to see more than the airport, the inside of a taxi, the inside of a focus group facility, and my hotel room. When I went back last week, I decided I would finally set things right, so I set out on a 3.5 hour walking tour of the city (The Original Free Berlin Tour – would highly recommend).
Here are the top five things I learned/saw (a little random, granted, but variety is the spice of life):
- Berlin is 800 years old – relatively young for a major European city.
While there have been people living in the Berlin area for thousands of years, the earliest evidence of the city as we know it is from the late 12th century. Indeed, while the Romans did found German cities such as Cologne and Trier, they never reached the area of Berlin.
- Alexanderplatz was named after the tsar of Russia, Alexander I, after he visited on 25th October 1805.
The heyday of the area was in the 1920s when, along with Potsdamer Platz, it was the heart of Berlin nightlife.
- Tegel Airport was built during the Berlin Blockade.
After the Second World War, Germany was divided up into four occupied zones, each under the control of an Allied power (Britain, France, America and the USSR). As Berlin was in the USSR zone, that too was divided up between the Allies, something Stalin was not too happy about. In an attempt to push the Allies out of Berlin, he ordered a blockade of their sections of the city, which lasted from 24th June 1948 – 12th May 1949. Long story short, it failed, as the British, French and Americans were able to airlift supplies to their sections of the city. Tegel Airport (the one I flew into), was built by the French to accommodate the sheer volume of planes flying into the city each day – at the time it was the longest runway in Europe.
- This year, part of the bank of the River Spree was named after Vera Brittain (Vera Brittain Ufer).
Vera Brittain is one of my heroes; she is a woman who lost everything – her fiance, her brother, her best friends – and yet still found the courage to continue living and to fight for what was right. The bank has been named in her honour due to her prominent role as a pacificist during the Second World War, speaking out against the British bombing of Germany, which resulted in the deaths of many innocent civilians.
- Last but not least (for me anyway), there is a chocolatier in Berlin called Fassbender & Rausch with a humongous chocolate replica of the Titanic.
I have no idea why it’s there, but it makes me happy.