Berlin is truly one of the most unique cities in the world. As recently as 1989, East Germans were still being brought to secret prisons and coerced into giving false confessions to "crimes" that ceased to exist just months later.
We spent the morning inside the former Hohenschönhausen Stasi Prison. It's now a chilling memorial to the 40,000 people brought there between 1945 and 1989. Run by the Communist government's secret police, any political dissidents were taken there to be psychologically broken. Neighbors turned in neighbors and husbands turned in wives. Victims were often plucked from their daily lives in unmarked vehicles, then whisked away without any idea what was happening to them or their family. Some stayed days, some months, some years...but that was the whole point. The fear of the unknown.
The only positive thing I took from the visit was seeing so many tour groups on the grounds. This is a chapter of German history that will not soon be forgotten. Half of the tour guides are former prisoners. Where else in the world will you get such an experience?
If the Stasi prison is a symbol of sadistic repression, the East Side Gallery is a monument to the triumph of the human spirit. This original section of the Berlin Wall is nearly one mile long and features 101 massive paintings commissioned in 1990 after reunification. German-Iranian painter Kani Alavi led the group of artists responsible for the iconic works and was our guide. Dozens of East Germans were killed trying to cross the wall, and this section now serves as a tribute to their lives. I visited the same spot in 2003.
Despite its dark past, Berlin today is a vibrant, open-minded city that serves as the cultural and political hub of Germany. It's Europe's third most visited city behind London and Paris. About 80% of its buildings were destroyed during World War II, but its 3.4 million inhabitants have brought it back to life. And most of them eat Currywurst.
The official snack of Berlin is sliced pork sausage smothered in ketchup and LOTS of curry powder. It's usually served with french fries, and if you're brave enough, you drench those with more ketchup and mayonnaise (don't knock it until you've tried it). Curry 36 is known for the best Currywurst in the city, and I'd have to agree that it's worth the wait in line.