It’s a long drive from Amsterdam to Berlin.
The distance is longer than the drive from Phoenix to Los Angeles yet appears to go by at a different pace. Maybe it’s the lack of bare desert landscape. The drive is filled with beautiful green scenery, bridges, rivers and gas stations where you must pay 50 Euro cent to use the toilet facilities. At least the toilets have an automated cleaning system. Those nasty truck stop restrooms in the USA could learn a thing or two from the European rest stops.
Once you hit the last leg of the freeway you will notice something a little odd. Bleachers. The A115 Motorway has tattered bleachers right next to the freeway. While they are currently covered in graffiti and rust they once served a purpose and were known as the AVUS.
AVUS is an abbreviation for Automobile Verkehrs und Übungs Straße. This section of road started construction in 1913 but was halted by the first world war. By 1921 the AVUS acted as a high speed motorway by week and a racing venue for cars and motorcycles on the weekend. By 1999 the A115 held it’s final (legal) race due to safety issues.
As you drive further into Berlin you will see an interesting mix of architecture. Many parts of the city appear 100+ years old with 1970’s style buildings packed in between.I suppose that’s what happened when you city is nearly destroyed by war.
Berlin consists of twelve different Boroughs. Our hotel was located dead center in the Mitte district. This was somewhat strategic as I wanted to minimize driving. The fear of driving here was amplified as we sat down for our first meal in the city.
As I sat sipping on my cappuccino we heard the telltale sound of brakes being slammed, tires skidding followed by the sound of metal colliding at a high speed. We were seated on the patio and the nearly everyone there stood up to see what happened. A car had rear ended a city bus, then fled the scene.
The waiters acted in a familiar way. Hands covered their mouths, their eye brows raised in surprise and the German equivalent of “Ohhh shit!” came out of their mouths. This was followed by light amounts of jumping around and slapping each others backs before going back to work. It resembled a group of guys watching an NFL (American Football) game in any American town.
Once finished with the meal I walked to the grocery store while my wife took the kids back to the hotel. In the 10 minutes I was gone my wife an kids witnessed another wreck at this same intersection. This time a car went through the fence smashing into parts of a construction site.
Yeah.. I’m not driving in this town.
That night we made the mistake of reading too many reviews of Berlin online. This started with a Facebook comment from my wife’s sister. She recently visited Berlin and stated that this is where she felt the “least safe” during their trip to Germany. They had an aggressive group of males approach them, and witness someone get assaulted on the train in front of them.
Since coming to Europe there have been four acts of terrorism that made news headlines. Everything from axe attacks on the train system, a mall shooting, a suicide bomb at a concert and a knife attack. Of course all of these took place on German soil.
It’s one thing to be sitting at home in Arizona watching the news about events like this. Being in the nation that is experiencing these events takes your sense of caution to a completely different level.
I ended up reading stories about Arab gangs that have taken over the Berlin. These gangs have been around for ages and typically run various gambling and prostituation facilities. Some of these gangs have transitioned into a far more violent approach by taking advantage of the Syrian refugees. The refugees come here with little to no money. People often see shortcuts as the best route so the young and physically fit males are recruited into these gangs to perform muggings, pick pockets and whatever else the “bosses” ask of them. They are told that the “worst case scenario” involves the individual landing in German prison, which is far better than prisons in the middle East.
By the time we had turned off the lights and heard the sound of police sirens for the 10th time we felt as though we had made a mistake in coming here. We wanted to leave and forgot all about exploring Berlin.
The following morning I said screw it. We are doing what we want and we are not allowing the experiences of others to rain on our parade. We left our hotel and started to walk toward the famed “Checkpoint Charlie”. A crossing point that separated where US and Soviet line began. We made a detour to the “Topography of Terror” as we noticed a crowd.
The Topography of Terror is where the Gestapo headquarters sat from 1933 to 1945. It is home to museum and an outdoor display where you can read about the events that lead to Hilter coming to power. The anti-semitic and racist themes started to appear in the 1870’s through Völkisch Nationalism. Over time these themes and ideas grew into the National Socialist party AKA the Nazi party as we know.
What shocked me the most about the Topography or Terror display is the propaganda from the 1930s on display. The images, the structure of words, the themes. All I though was “Holy hell… this is the current political situation in the USA”. Now I know many people will nod their heads and say “Donald Trump”. That’s not the individual I am pointing at. This is about Trump, Clinton, the police brutality and blatant media manipulation sweeping the USA.
I wasn’t the only one that thought this. After leaving the Topographies we walked across the street to the Curry Würst stand. While I was eating my fries I overheard the conversation from the table next to us. It was a group of Canadians in their 20’s and 30’s. When you are in a foreign country it becomes far too easy to eavesdrop when you hear people that are speaking your native tongue.
The lone female in the group started taking about what she saw while walking through the Topography of Terror. She mentioned the history and what she saw on the signs. That when I heard her say “Do you know what all of this makes me think of?” Simultaneously the others in the group said “The USA”.
Of course we finally made it to Checkpoint Charlie. This was a disappointment. It’s not worth your time. You will see someone dressed as either a Soviet or American soldier next to a guard shack in the middle of the road. In short, it’s a tourist trap. I recommend spending more time at the Topography of Terror which is a block or two away.