Journey to the East II: Berlin, Magdeburg & Sachsenhausen

During these last three weeks it’s been cold but definitely not as cold as I would like. We had one week with quite a lot of snow but not much since then and the lowest temperature has been -7 degrees Celsius but I want it to get down to -20.

Anyhow, last Friday I took a train to the federal capital, Berlin, which is exactly three hours from Erlangen. I first visited Berlin about four years ago and back then I had mixed feelings about it. So this was a chance to reassess the city from a slightly different mindset. During my stay in Berlin, I also took the chance to visit the German states of Sachsen-Anhalt and Brandenburg.

On Saturday morning, I caught an early Flixbus to the city of Magdeburg, the capital of Sachsen-Anhalt, and spent the morning walking around the quiet yet impressive city. I sauntered through the old market place which is home to the town hall and the Magdeburg Rider, a free-standing equestrian sculpture, then headed towards the Elbe river and not long after found myself at the Magdeburg Monastery.

 

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The Magdeburg Rider

By this time it was almost lunch so I headed to the Rathaus Café. Luckily I got there just after it opened since every table but one was already reserved. I ordered the Magdeburger Grünkohlteller (“kale plate”), which consisted of kale with Bratwurst, Kassler (“smoked pork loin”) and roast potatoes, and then washed it all down with a bottle of the satisfying local pilsner.

 

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The Magdeburg Grünkohlteller

 

After lunch I headed back to the main train station and noticed that the police presence had increased exponentially. There were a few anti-racism events taking place that day including the Schule ohne Rassismus (school without racism) initiative (of which my school is part of) and clearly the police went there for because of this. I also noticed some Antifa, militant antifascist, groups, who the police were keeping a close eye on and actively barred them from entering a shopping mall. The central train station itself was surrounded by at least 1000 police officers, some in riot gear; there were dozens of police vans and a couple of police buses roaming the streets. I eventually learnt that the anti-racism events had attracted about 150 neo-Nazis, who launched a counter-demonstration, and this was the reason for the insane police activity.

 

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Please don’t feed the wolves!

 

However, I was back on the bus to Berlin not long after the neo-Nazis started making noise, which was a slightly frustrating end to a nice day trip. Anyhow, once back in Berlin, I headed to Friedrichshain as Thomson, a former colleague of mine from Adelaide, was staying there on his Topdeck trip. It was nice talking to Australian people again; I realised how much I’ve missed the casual, relaxed and frank way that Australians interact with each other. I grabbed an extremely delicious Gemüse (veggie) Kebap (which ironically had chicken in it) and we explored a bit of Friedrichshain and even saw the famous Hausboot from Berlin Tag u. Nacht, which will surely make German readers cringe.

 

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Veggie Kebap (with chicken)

 

Later that night, instead of resting and recovering (I had a slight cold), I decided to go on a pub crawl organised by the tour company, Sandemans. I’ve done a few of these pub crawls all over Europe and usually at most there are 20 people or so, but on this one there were more than 50 people, so it was a frantic night. A couple of the pubs we visited were basically empty but there were enough of us to totally fill them. At the end of the night, we ended up at the, also cringe-worthy, Club Matrix, which wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be, and I even bumped into Thomson and the Topdeck crew there. I called it a night at about 2am since I needed a decent amount of sleep as I had to be alive for a tour on Sunday.

On Sunday morning, I caught up with Anna, whom I met through Couchsurfing some years ago, and stayed with in Aachen. We had decided to do the Sachsenhausen tour, which takes in the town of Oranienburg in the state of Brandenburg, about 50 minutes from Berlin.

 

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Sachsenhausen’s Tower A gate: “work sets (you) free”

 

Sachsenhausen was a concentration camp during WW2 which subsequently became a Soviet camp, our tour focused predominantly on what happened there during the Nazi era, which was equal parts fascinating and depressing. Our tour guide was a Canadian who was exceptionally good and knew a considerable amount about its history. The most disheartening aspect of the tour was seeing the foundations of “Station Z”, a building devoted entirely to killing people and disposing of the bodies. Most of the deaths at Sachsenhausen took place in a “medical examination room”; victims were shot in the back of the head through a slit in the wall whilst having their measurements taken. After which, the bodies were thrown into cremation ovens.

 

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Around 250 people were crammed into these sleeping quarters.

 

After the tour, I got burgers with Anna and then returned to my hostel and had an early night since I was exhausted, I returned to Erlangen the following morning after a nice long sleep in.

My reappraisal of Berlin was positive; I liked it much more this time and now, controversially, I would definitely say that Berlin is better than Hamburg (especially when you compare their central train stations).

 

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A very unfortunate surname to have.

 

So far I’ve visited 13 of Germany’s 16 states, the remaining three states being Thüringen, Rheinland-Pfalz and Saarland, and I’m looking forward to seeing them.

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