Hello, Simply Emma readers! I’m John, a triple amputee, power wheelchair user and burn survivor who blogs over at . Emma asked me to share some of my travel insights with you, so I’d like to highlight my favourite European city – Berlin, Germany!
I’m a history buff, so each of the 5 “must-see” things I’m going to tell you about touch history in some way. But, that’s true of just about anything worth seeing in Europe!
An island in the center of a city? Yes! Museum Island sits at the center of the River Spree, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is home to 5 of the most respected museums in Europe.
The museums touch every corner of history through art, history and their very own architecture. Like most of the best things in Berlin, they sustained serious damage in World War II and were not rebuilt until the Cold War ended.
My favourite museum on the island, by far, is the Pergamon. The Ishtar Gate from the ancient city of Babylon awaits visitors inside. It’s not a reproduction – it’s the real thing… seriously! The gate was built in the year 575 BC and was hidden below ground for more than 2,000 years before it was found and excavated in the early-1900s. You MUST see this piece of human history!
Charlottenburg Palace was built in the 17th century and was home to 7 different kings of the Hohenzollern dynasty. While only the ground floor of the palace building is accessible to wheelchairs, the grounds are what I love most.
Wheelchair accessible pathways are spread throughout. You can roll up to the bank of Spree River or pull up alongside the lake in front of the palace. More than a few groups were enjoying a picnic when I visited last month, and the mixture of peace and natural beauty makes me happy every time.
I won’t bore you with the history of this gate, except to say that it was blocked off by the Berlin Wall from 1961 to 1989. Today, it is one of the hallmarks of the city, and any respectable tourist will stop for a photograph!
Forgive the photo – it was from one of my trips to Berlin in 2014 when I was trying out some facial hair after my car accident. Big fail, I know!
The Reichstag, however, is the perfect example of a rebuilt, rejuvenated and beautiful Germany. As the seat of the German Parliament, the Reichstag saw a long and tumultuous history. A story every student of history will remember is the 1933 fire – an arson attack carried out by a communist sympathizer. That event brought about a decree which gave Hitler enormous power and suspended most civil rights in Germany. The Reichstag Fire Decree allowed the Nazi leader to consolidate his power more rapidly, an important step on the course to his conquest through Europe.
After the Berlin Wall was torn down, the Reichstag was renovated and once again became the seat of the German government. Guided tours are provided free of charge, and are wheelchair accessible. I was even able to visit the building’s rooftop and go INSIDE the glass dome!
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
Concentration camps are a dark reminder of Germany’s past, but I don’t believe they should be ignored. Sachsenhausen is located about an hour outside of Berlin in Oranienburg. You can get there using the wheelchair accessible S-Bahn train.
Admission to the camp is free, and most of the buildings have been outfitted with ramps and wide doors. While some of the stone pathways are a bit tricky, the visit is worth the hassle.
Be prepared to encounter some troubling photographs and exhibits. Life in a Nazi concentration camp was not pretty, and the memorial has done a good job with preserving that history.