We took a sobering trip to the former concentration camp called Sachsenhausen just north of Berlin this past weekend. It was a cold and miserable day out which was almost fitting weather for such a depressing, but also rewarding trip.
The trip got off to an inauspicious start as Adrian forgot that she bought a pass for the A and B zones of the BVG and Sachsenhausen is in the C zone. If you look at this map of the Berlin transportation system, you’ll see that it is divided into A, B and C zones. We live near to the Nollendorfplatz stop on the U1 line which is in the A zone and we very rarely travel outside of the A or B zone so to save money, Adrian bought a pass that is only good for those two ones. Unfortunately, Sachsenhausen is at the Orianienburg all the way at the top of the map, in the C zone. Dave’s pass from school is good for all the zones so he was all set but Adrian was forced to buy a ticket… after just recently paying 70€ for a monthly pass! What a ripoff!
The train trip took a long time… about 45 minutes but we didn’t mind as it gave us a chance to check out a new part of the city. Berlin really is a huge place! Sachsenhausen was about a 15 minute walk from the train station as well so it was pretty clear that this was going to be an all day excursion.
When we finally arrived at Sachsenhausen we were struck by the sight of huge concrete barriers that are in front of the memorial entrance:
Combined with the cold and windy weather, the place felt appropriately stale and desolate. We were both freezing cold and quickly went inside the memorial to grab a map and warm up for a minute. Unfortunately, neither of us had any cash to pay for the audio guide, but that did not end up mattering as the site was so full of information the audio guide probably wasn’t really necessary.
First we came upon the only standing bunkhouse left over from Sachsenhausen’s days as a prison camp. It was exactly how one would imagine: small, old and completely devoid of any comfort. There were rows and rows of bunk beds crammed into a small room, a pathetically small lavatory area and a washroom which we snapped a picture of:
The rest of the bunkhouse has been turned into a museum of sorts, dedicated to the stories of the former prisoners and the history of the camp. Sachsenhausen is different from many other concentration camps in that it held many political and war prisoners in addition to the gypsies, Jews and other minority groups that the Nazi were trying to eradicate. We were also really interested to see that one of our favorite German films, Die Counterfiters, was set in Sachsenhausen. If you haven’t seen the film, it’s the story of a group of Jewish printers and other craftsmen who were forced to counterfeit British currency during the war. We highly recommend it!
From the bunkhouse we went to check out the camp’s jail… if being in a concentration camp wasn’t bad enough, imagine being in the jail inside the camp. One cannot imagine the horrors that went on in the structure.
Many of the cells of the jail have been turned into make-shift memorials for victims who died in the camp by their families. It made us imagine the families trying helplessly to tract down lost relatives after the war, only to find out their fate. Imagine not being able to have a funeral or even say goodbye to a loved one. Very sad and touching.
From there we walked to the former execution area. There are still some remnants there of the ovens used during the Nazi regime as well two memorials to the victims of the camp: a grave built on top of the ashes of the victims and a more traditional statue type memorial. We took a picture of the grave:
In all, the trip was a very sobering reminder of Germany’s dark past. One of the most remarkable things about Sachsenhausen is that it is right in the middle of a fairly residential area in the town of Orainienburg. It was hard for us to imagine living near such a horrible place but for many of the citizens of Oranienburg, that’s exactly what they did.