It was a very sobering experience. It showed how the Nazis came to power and the development of the "Final Solution." The design and lighting in each room made the place a little unsettling. One room was very dark with lit up tiles in the floor that had quotes from journals, letters and postcards of the prisoners of concentration camps. Another room was dark with names projected on each wall while a voice recording told their story. The museum told the story of the Holocaust by telling the stories of the individual prisoners who experienced it. That's what made this museum interesting. It made the event personal by telling you the names and about the history and the family of these prisoners.
When we left that, we decided to go ahead and head up to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, which is about an hour north of the city. We figured that by the time we finished visiting the camp, the Rechstag wouldn't be as busy and we could do that right before heading to the train station.
The camp was a massive installment right on the edge of a cute little town called Oranienburg. The contrast is kind of strange: we were walking through a regular little neighborhood and bam, suddenly we were at the camp. It was free to walk around but we decided to drop a few Euros to get the radio tour around the area, just so we'd know what was going on. We didn't quite realize what we got ourselves into.
Each little listening point on the audiotour was extremely long. They put every little ounce of information that they possibly could into each little station. It was way too much! I definitely learned a lot, but even more went straight in one ear and out of the other. Much of the camp was still intact, surprisingly, so you could really see how things might have been back in the '40s. Much like the museum, it was very sobering to hear the stories of the prisoners here and see in person what the conditions must have been like. They had two barracks where the prisoners stayed so that we could walk in and see what kind of conditions the prisoners lived in. These were made for 150, with triple-decker bunk beds for them to sleep in. But as the camp started to get full of prisoners, the officers started shoving as many as 300 people into each barrack. There was no room for them. And they had maybe nine toilets for all the prisoners and a very small washroom.
It was shocking to see what kind of conditions they were forced into. As we were walking around we saw a dark cloud forming and decided to go ahead and cut out before it started pouring rain on us. We got back to the train station before the rain and managed to avoid it all. When we finally got back to central Berlin, we went over to finally go up in the dome of the Reichstag. To our surprise, at 8 p.m. the line was still just as long as it was at noon when we walked by the first time. So we decided to bite the bullet and go ahead and get in line to go up. It took us about 45 minutes to get through the line but when we got to the top it was totally worth it. From the glass dome you can see all around the city. And, to make the view even more amazing, a small storm was coming through and the sun was setting. It was an amazing mix of purples, oranges, yellows and greys painting the sky. I really hope my pictures are able to show how beautiful it really was. It was a perfect way to end our time in Berlin: getting to see the entire city from above.
A night train on Sunday brought us to our second country of the trip: Holland. We made it to good 'ole Amsterdam about 10:30 surprisingly rested seeing as how we had to sleep on a little bunk in the train. We found our hostel and got our stuff checked in so that we could explore the city. We ended up walking all the way out to Vondelpark, which is this massive beautiful park on the southwestern edge of the city. People were laying down all over the place, enjoying the beautiful weather. We decided to join them and ended up taking a little nap. It was so nice to lay out there on a nice spring day.
Eventually we left and found a little place to get some food. After enjoying Happy Hour at the hostel, we decided to check out the storied Red Light district. It was everything I could have expected. There were tons of sex shops, peep shows and girls standing in windows with little red lights above them. It's funny how up front it is here. It's completely legal and even a part of the economy. The girls rent the windows for the day/night and even have a union. They fill out tax forms and are an official occupation: some even say the oldest occupation.
Today we took another free tour with New Europe around the city. It wasn't as good as the one in Berlin, but that's only because Amsterdam doesn't seem to have as much history as Berlin. But the tour guide did the best with what he had. Oh, and our guide was Australian again. Go figure! We toured around and saw some of the nicer canals, the Red Light District (again) and, of course, the Anne Frank house. We haven't gotten to go there yet, but we might try to make that happen tomorrow. One of the best things I learned on the tour was about the bikes in Amsterdam. It's well known that bikes are everywhere here and almost everyone rides them. It's kind of hectic. But what we learned today was that there are over 40,000 bikes thrown into the canals every year. Some accidently fall in, but many Dutch people do it on purpose because it's fun and "good luck." Then, every now and then, they dig through the canals and fish the bikes out to make new ones. Talk about recycling!
OK, I think I've got you all caught up now! I still am having trouble uploading pictures, but I hope I'll be able to make that happen soon. Tomorrow we're going to a hostel in a campground outside of the city, so I might not have internet. But Thursday we go to Bruges, Belgium for one night and I should be able to update there.