I would highly recommend the Sachsenhausen Memorial Walking Tours by Sandemans which is a half day trip to Oranienburg just outside Berlin.
I have taken Sandemans walking tours all over Europe and they have never disappointed. You need to buy the Berlin-ABC daily ticket beforehand as Oranienburg is situated in zone C. After that it is a 15 min walk to the camp. The tour starts near the Brandenburg gate in East Berlin.
Berlin today is the hipsters capital and was recently voted as the coolest capital in Europe with a young, creative and dynamic population. Cheap rent, cheap food, excellent transport, highly international and a startup scene like never before, Berlin is truly the place to be as a young entrepreneur.
But every city has its past and few worse than Berlin.
Sachsenhausen- A bit of History:
Although it lives on as a museum today, places like these need to be visited by everyone to understand the extent to which human barbarism can reach. Looking back at the history of the holocaust, the early victims were not actually the Jews but rather political prisoners, the mentally and physically handicapped and the LGBT community.
The camp was initially started as a training camp for the dreaded ‘SS’, some of whom went on to manage bigger camps like Auschwitz. Sachsenhausen in a way became the central operating station for all camps around Europe as it was also the closest to the capital of the 3rd Reich.
PS: For visits during the summer, make sure you take proper precautions since the sun beats down heavily and the open nature of the camp means long periods without shade.
Approximately 30,000 – 35,000 prisoners died inside the Sachsenhausen camp. Strangely Sachsenhausen was not built to be used as an extermination camp as most Jewish prisoners were sent to eastern camps and by 1942 most Jewish inmates were sent to Auschwitz.
Prisoners were executed daily either by hanging, shooting or sheer exhaustion of working all day with almost no food.
In March 1943, a gas chamber was added to ‘Station Z’. It’s construction began in 1942 by the inmates and was solely used for the extermination of the prisoners. It was built in order to demonstrate the effectiveness and efficiency of gas chambers to the senior Nazi officers.
PS: The actual barracks have been destroyed but the huts are marked with pebbles. The geometric precision of the camp is striking – when seen from the air it is triangular in nature.
There is also an infamous area with small installations where medical experiments were carried out on inmates. Various torture devices were used, there is a museum inside the camp which has on display some horrendous ones. The small museum gives a much larger prospective of the camp and its entire history.
The dead were cremated in a single mass crematorium. Whenever there was smoke from the chimneys, there was death.
Concentration camps like these were initially built to house prisoners and get work done for free it was only later in the reign of Hitler that they realized that these places could be used to exterminate efficiently all those who opposed the regime or all those that the regime felt were not true blooded ‘Aryans’ enough.
Liberation of the camp (sort of):
The camp was finally liberated by the 47th Soviet Army division, later they also built the above memorial. They found only 3000 survivors including 1400 women (the rest of the prisoners around 35-40,000 were sent on the infamous death march).
Side note: the Camp was never truly shut down by the Soviets, who continued to use it for their own benefit by imprisoning and executing their own opponents.
If you have more than a day and half in Berlin then this is a must see place as it is not a sugarcoated touristy destination but if you are traveling honestly then sometimes a dose of reality is important to remind us of the past. Countless other such events have taken place in history and continuing on today. People who don’t learn from history only see history repeat itself.
“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.”
― Aldous Huxley
The tour takes about half a day and you get the rest of the day off from mid-afternoon. There is a café – (lunch and drinks) at the exit of the camp as well as wash rooms.
The Center of Berlin in 3 hrs (5 main sites within a 20 min walking radius) visit my Berlin in 3hrs post