As a travel writer, I am constantly seeking to discover hidden gems, places the majority of travelers don’t know about and unique adventures. My recent trip to eastern Germany was no exception.
Everyone knows about German beer, but did you know Germany’s State of Saxony has an 850-year-old wine-making history?
You’re probably familiar with the beautiful Meissen porcelain from the town of Meißen, but did you know you can experience a three-course “time travel” luncheon there with each course served on a porcelain pattern from a different century?
You may assume that Dresden has been busy rebuilding since the reunification of Germany 25 years ago, but did you know the city’s historic buildings are being reconstructed to match the original architecture?
And, I’m sure you’re familiar with Checkpoint Charlie, but did you know that Berlin’s World War II history is still alive underground?
These are just a few of the experiences I had while visiting this fascinating region of Germany. Sipping wines, dining on fine porcelain, exploring history—all memorable experiences—but perhaps the most memorable of all was exploring the underground bunkers in Berlin.
OK, so I admit it—I have a touch of claustrophobia and the idea of going underground to do anything really isn’t all that appealing to me. Yet the tour of a World War II bunker had an allure to it that even my claustrophobic brain couldn’t resist.
The start of the tour gave the usual warnings. If you feel uncomfortable going underground in small spaces, let us know. If you have a moment of dizziness or any other discomfort, tell the guide. (I realize these disclaimers are necessary but I really didn’t need any reminders of my claustrophobic handicap!)
Ignoring all the warnings, I followed the guide down the stairs to a green door—a green door that Berlin subway riders probably pass every day, having no idea what rich historic treasures lie behind it.
Although the unrealistic expectation would be that Hitler himself had resided here, that wasn’t reality. But, the reality is thousands of Berlin residents—men, women and children—sought refuge in the very bunker I was touring.
I cannot tell you it was a pleasant story. How could it be? These were people doing whatever they could to survive the bombings that plagued Berlin throughout World War II. There was heartbreak—even suicide—but seeing the places these historic events took place was an amazing experience.
What the tour gave me was a realistic perspective on life in Berlin during the war. Men, women and children were affected by the horrors of war. Children learned to cope through the use of board games themed around the events of the war. Mothers did the best they could to shield their children from the realities outside the bunker. The men were mostly missing—having been called into combat.
I realize this isn’t as much fun as wine tasting and dining on fine porcelain…but consider for a moment my perspective as a travel writer. Did I want to go underground in a place with limited oxygen? No, not really. But when I realized I could write an incredible article about all that Berlin has to offer by including the underground tour, I didn’t hesitate. Because, despite my claustrophobia, it was worth every minute.
Besides, is there anything more claustrophobic than being stuck in an office in a job you despise? For me, the answer is, “Absolutely not.”
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