Berlin for New Years – A Lesson in History and Fireworks

*NOTE: Alright alright, hold back your pitchforks.  I know it’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog, but between crappy wifi in New Zealand that allowed for 1 picture to be uploaded every half hour (if I was lucky), and spending most of my time trying to move back to the US, it just wasn’t going to happen folks.

But the updates should (I stress the should…I do have a full time job now) come a bit more frequently now!  I hope they do as well, because I have some seriously cool things to share with everyone!  But for now, it’s some serious catch up time.

After a wonderful Christmas week in Prague, my family and I jumped on the train headed north to Berlin for New Years!

It was a lovely and relaxing train ride, and definitely one of the best ways to traveling around Europe.

We stayed in an Airbnb for the duration of our time in the city, and it was perfect.  Despite the fact it was on the fifth floor with no elevator, the apartment was super cute, had lots of space, was in a great location, and had a killer morning view from the balcony.


Since we arrived a few days before the holiday itself, it gave us plenty of time to explore on our own.  And just like in Prague, Sandeman’s New Europe Tours became our go to.

On top of the free walking tour, we also went on the Sachsenhausen Memorial tour, and the Third Reich tour.


Sachsenhausen was a Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany, used primarily for political prisoners and as a torture training camp for SS officers from 1936 to 1945.

Work will set you free
Work sets you free

After World War II, when the area was in under Soviet control, the camp was used by the Soviets to house their own political prisoners.


Within Sachsenhausen there was a “hierarchy” of prisoners: at the top, criminals, then Communists, then homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and finally Jews.  Sachsenhausen was originally not intended as an extermination camp (those prisoners were transferred East to camps such as Auschwitz), and during the earlier stages of the camp’s existence the executions were carried out in a trench, either by shooting or by hanging.



However, in 1943, gas cambers and ovens were created to facilitate the mass extermination of prisoners.

While I had already been to two concentration camps in my travels, Dachau outside of Munich and Terezin outside of Prague, this one was the hardest to witness.  Sachsenhausen was much more ‘in your face’ – the killing trenches, the ovens, the instruments and stories of torture.  It was eerie and deeply upsetting, but a valuable experience and history lesson.



On New Year’s Day we took a walking tour around the city of Berlin to explore the history of the Third Reich.


Berlin used to be the seat of power for the SS and the Third Reich.  We learned about how Hitler rose to power in the first place, the string of events that led to the creation of the Third Reich, the cruel genius of propaganda officer Goebbels, and Himmler and his Gestapo (SS).

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We visited several memorials, including the Roma and Sinti Memorial, the Politician Memorial, the Soviet Memorial, the Homosexual Memorial, and the Jewish Memorial.


Birthday and New Year’s Celebrations

We had the pleasure of being in Berlin for New Year’s 2016, as well as celebrating my dad’s 60th birthday, and let me tell you, it was crazy pants.

First off, for my dad’s birthday, we wound up at this Vegas-esque show called Into the Wild.  It was definitely wild, with lots of acrobats, crazy costumes, and a seriously catchy theme song that was stuck in my head for DAYS.


Then, as you do, we found a typical German pub that not only served amazing food, but the BIGGEST damn thing of beer I’ve ever seen.  As you can see, my whole head could basically fit in the glass!


Germany also has some pretty fantastic Christmas markets, which thankfully were still up despite the fact that the holiday was over.  Not only are these markets storybook picturesque, they also serve you up some BOMB food.  You want to have the best bratwurst of your life?  Visit a market in Germany.

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Then came New Year’s Eve.  

People setting of fireworks in the street, having them literally miss your head by inches, and, not so much on the fun side, many of the fireworks sounded exactly like explosives going off.  Ok, well fireworks ARE technically explosives, but you know what I mean.  Talk about having your heart in your throat the whole time you’re out on the street.

The streets were pretty wild and crazy, so we unanimously decided to return to our Airbnb to ring in the New Year, thinking it would more on the tame side…boy were we wrong.  Check it out…this was from our 5th floor balcony in a residential neighborhood!

Talk about an awesome family vacation!  First we rocked out Christmas in style in Prague, then lived it up and got our fill of history in Berlin.


We’re already trying to figure out where the next Hanks family holiday is going to be spent…I’m thinking Maldives?  Yes?

Where’s the best place you’ve ever spent New Year’s Eve?

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2 thoughts on “Berlin for New Years – A Lesson in History and Fireworks

  1. I typically don’t follow very many blogs, a truthfully I find them long and boring, yours however, is light, to the point while keeping the reader engaged. Thank you from Ontario Canada and I am sure I will be reading more

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