April 2024: As part of a 3 weeklong baby bonding family trip with our infant daughter across Europe and Morocco, we visited Berlin and Bavaria, Germany for a week in conjunction with a few nights in the Austrian Alps.

Nothing interests me more than the Cold War and WWII and Berlin was the center of action for both events and the city is riddled with landmarks. Berlin was on my list of places I have wanted to visit for a long time and even thought it wasn’t easy to squeeze it into our ambitious itinerary, I found a way to make it work even if we only had one night and almost to full days to explore the city. To try and pack in as much of the highlights as possible to allow us to easily see the city on foot, I booked us a hotel across the street from the Topography of Terror Museum, once the HQ for the Nazi SSS and Gestapo. Berlin is a huge city and there is so much to see but we were able to see most of the highlights on foot and with a baby within the two days we were there. It was freezing cold and there was occasional rain, but we really loved walking the city, especially at night when the ghosts of the cities past seemed to come to life.

 

 

 

Our route across Germany

Our highrise hotel overlooking the city

Cold War Era Berlin

When the Nazis were defeated by the Soviets and Allied forces in World War II, the country and capitol city of Berlin was divided between the two forces. Eastern Germany became communist and the west democratic. The situation in Berlin was furtherly complicated because it was completely surrounded by communist East Germany, but the western half of the city was controlled by the Allied forces. Citizens wanting to avoid the confines of communism fled East Berlin and to put an end to this, the communists constructed the Berlin wall with barbed wire and soldiers manning watch towers. Citizens trying to flee were killed on the spot. The Soviets tried to blockage west Berlin but failed due to the success of supply air drops from allied forces. In the end communism fell in 1989 when its citizens revolted, and the government collapsed along with that of the Soviet Union that supported it. Eventually Germany was unified and today most of the Berlin wall has been removed as an ugly reminder of the oppressive past of communism and only a few sections remain. Many of the other vestiges of communism have also been removed. Communism bloc apartments have been torn down and replaced with modern ones and others that still stand have had a major face lift. I wanted to see a guard tower and followed it on Google maps but was disappointed when I finally found it and discovered that it was not a construction site and was completely enshrouded by a metal container and would be removed to another location. The only watch tower that remains now is Checkpoint Charlie which has become very touristy section of the city full of venders selling cheap souvenir trinkets.

 

 

 

Berlin wall checkpoint charlie

Paula pushing Indie near a remnant of the Berlin wall

Small section of Berlin wall near an apartment building

One of the old communist german cars no longer used except for collectors items

Section of Berlin wall at night

Nazi Era in Berlin

Another past that Berlin is not proud of is Nazi one. Like with any evidence of the communist past, there has been a huge effort to move on from this era and to prevent any kind of white supremacist worship of nazi leaders, so few buildings remain from this era, mainly because they were bombed in World War II and for those that do remain, they have been turned into a museum or memorial to the victims of World War II. The bunker where Hitler died was buried and today an apartment building parking lot sits above it and the only indication of its existence is a small information sign.

Probably the most iconic location I associate with the Nazis that still remains is the Brandenburg gate. Even though it was built well before their arrival, I remember growing up watching documentaries always showing Hitler giving fiery speeches and Nazi assemblies and rallies in front of the gate.

One of the most poignant reminders of Nazi horrors is the Topography of Terrors Museum built on what remains of the Gestapo and SS Headquarter buildings that were destroyed in WWII. The largest remaining section of the Berlin Wall is also located here. The museum is free to the public and full of reminders of the atrocities that were committed by the nazis.

 

 

Brandenburg Gate built in the 1700s and once the location for Nazi parades and assemblies

Holocaust memorial monument

Hitler Portayed at the ruins of the SS and Gestapo Building

Somewhere below the parking lot is the ruined bunkers where Hitler, and his wife committed suicide. Hitler’s wife-a cyanide pill and Hitler a self-inflicted bullet to the head. Hard to imagine living a normal life and raising a family in an apartment above the ruined bunkers where Hitler spent his last moments in life before taking his life as the Soviet troops invaded Berlin and the end of the nazi regime was imminent. Somewhere in the garden above, SS soldiers cremated Hitler’s body to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Soviets, who they believed would desecrate it.

Onlya sign remains at the location of the bunkers where Hitler took his own life at the end of the battle of Berlin

When I visited this place, I saw what I thought were stray dogs in the tall grass next to it. I was wrong. it was a large population of huge dark rats fighting with each other over the food that someone was leaving for them or pigeons. There were dozens of them, and they were brazened enough to scurry across the sidewalk in plain view next to pedestrians. This experience kind of summed up my observations of berlin. it was historical, modern and yet very gritty at the sometime. 

An Oldbuilding half demolished by bombs in WWII that still stands

German Parliament Pre-World War II Era Reichstag Building that was deliberately set on fire by the Nazis and blamed on communists and jews in orderto justify an emergency act to remove basic rights from citizens. This emergency act eventually paved the way to the rounding up, and extermination camps of jews. 

Statue damaged by bombs in WWII

Indie’s First Train Ride

From Berlin, we took the train to Munich and for a small extra fee, I booked us in Business Class, with a little extra room. This was my daughter’s first train ride, and we had a good time seeing the German countryside from the comfort of the train. Once on the train the ride was great. But getting on the train with all of our large luggage cases was a nightmare. I am accustomed to easy travel with one backpack but traveling with a baby definitely presents new challenges and with our rental car, the luggage isn’t as big a deal but when on public transport, we needed to somehow carry all of the luggage and we had more suitcases than arms so we had to improvise and then on the train the aisles were too narrow and we couldn’t find our seats. We felt like rookie travelers, and it was frustrating. But a few kind passengers jumped up to help us and block the aisle so we could get by, and they helped us find our seats.

Train from Berlin to Munich and Indie’s first train

Bavarian Alps

We arrived in Munich in the afternoon, and we promptly picked up a rental car for our journey to the Bavarian Alps, where I had a room booked for the night in a traditional Bavarian Inn. The drive was only going to be a few hours, but it became clear right away as we ventured further into the mountains and the snow fell heavier that this would not be an ordinary drive. Visibility at night in the snow was almost zero and I could barely see the lanes of the highway. I followed in the wake of the big eastern European trucks in the slow lane because their giant reflectors in their rear was easy to see and gave me a reference point. But after an hour of this kind of driving I decided it was more important for my family to be safe than to get to our destination and I booked a local inn for the night off of the highway. Even though I didn’t get to do the hike to the eagle’s Nest I hoped to do, we did get to explore a new village with a beautiful old medieval church.

A traditional Bavarian inn we stayed at south of Munich

Catholic chirch in bavaria

Statues of Vatholic biships from Bavaria that were very old

One day in the German Alps, we got lucky and had perfect weather and the beauty of nature’s tapestry was in full display.

German Alps

German Alps

German Alps

To the Home of Hitler and Eagle’s Nest

We visited the small village of Obersalzberg, once a small obscure alpine village until Hitler took a liking to it and decided to build his 2nd home, The Berghof here because of is idyllic alpine beauty.  The whole village and surrounding areas became part of a restricted area to protect Hitler and other top SS commanders, who followed in building their homes here. As a result, the Bavarians who had lived in the village for generations were forced to leave and abandon their lands and homes. Huge networks of underground bunkers, tunnels, air raid shelters and protective measures were enacted to protect Hitler and the nazi commanders living here. Hitlers spent almost 1/3 of each year in the Berghof and it was here that he made many key battle and holocaust decisions.  The Berghof and homes of other commanders were destroyed in the war and now all that remains of any nazi structures is the Eagles Nest and a giant underground bunker complex used by Hitler, which is located beneath a museum dedicated to the history of the nazis and Hitler’s impact to the area. It was fascinating to walk the tunnels and I wondered if Hitler ever thought that the bunkers designed to protect him would someday become a tourist attraction popular among Americans, and one of those tourists being my infant daughter in her stroller. Odds are this thought didn’t occur to him I am guessing.

Nazi bunker complex in the town of Berchtesgaden southern bavaria where hitler lived

Nazi bunker complex in the town of Berchtesgaden southern bavaria where hitler lived

The Eagles nest, a location high above on a mountain where Hitler would sometimes hold meetings with SS officials, although rarely because he was afraid of heights, is located nearby above the snowline and to get there I would have to hike a long trail buried in deep snow. I really wanted to do this but just didn’t have enough time. In the summer months when the snow melts, the road to the Eagle’s nest is open and easily accessible to tourists and a beer garden is located at the Eagles nest, where tourists can sit back, admire the view and chug beers where Nazi officials once met to discuss conquering the world.

Kehlsteinhaus-Eagles nest where Hiteler and some of the nazi officials would meet on a Mountain top

Near Death Experience Driving on the Autobahn

On the way to Munich, we were driving in the middle lane, my preferred lane to drive on the Autobahn because I stay out of the fast lane where small German BMWs drive 200 mph and out of the slow lane where Eastern European trucks drive 50 mph. But as we drove around a bend downhill, a truck suddenly veered into our lane because a car was stalled out in the slow lane and like most places on the Autobahn there was no shoulder to pull of safely to. I had to slam on my brakes to avoid rear ending the truck and swerve into the slow lane. I barely avoided the truck in front of me and when I came to a complete stop on the highway, and now we were stopped on the blind bend and I watched in horror in my rear view mirror as other cars and trucks slammed on the brakes behind me and I thought for sure we would have someone come barreling into us so I had to make the decision to gun it into the fast lane from a complete stop and get around the truck. I barely pulled off this maneuver and it was terrifying. We spent our last night of the trip in Munich near the airport, but we made sure to stop at a beer garden and some much deserved 1-dollar giant beers, pretzels and huge chunks of meat before leaving Germany.

 

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