Berlin day 3: Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

As a child, I was always fascinated by history, specifically the Ancient Egyptians, Medieval Period, Romans, Spartans, the Civil War, and World War II. I’m not sure why, I’m just eclectic. Because of my historical slant, my dream has always been to stand at those specific sights, where everything happened. If you think about it, those time periods were probably only a mile or two beneath the earth we walk on today. Crazy.

My first day in Berlin I visited the Topography of Terror and the Jewish Memorial which only fueled the fire to move up my concentration camp visit. The closest concentration camp to Berlin was Sachsenhausen in Oranienburg. Sachsenhausen was one of the first concentration camps in which they started to murder its inhabitants. You can reach the memorial through public transportation (either a regional train directly to Sachsenhausen or the C zone for the S-Bahn to Oranienburg). From the S-bahn station, there’s a bus every 30 minutes that takes you to the memorial. However, it’s definitely walkable—maybe 3km even though the signs all say 2.2km no matter how close you get.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect regarding my reaction to standing on soil so rife with blood, misery, and history. Some people have no reaction to the sights whereas others take a large emotional hit. I fell somewhere in the middle.

As I saw the entrance into the memorial, I felt a bit anxious; before I get too spiritual, I’ll just say that I was already feeling the soul of the place, something that would continue to happen throughout my trip; it affected me so much that I felt cold the entire day even though it was sunny. It may have been the wind; however, I felt cold from the inside out. Throughout the length of my stay on the grounds, I wondered how its inhabitants managed to survive when I could barely survive with a puffy vest under a puffy coat.  black and white gendenkstatte entrance

Entrance is free but the audioguide is 3€—totally worth it and cheaper than hiring a tour guide; you get to go at your own place but some disembodied voice is still talking to you. I did see Seb, my Sandeman tour guide, walking around so I’m pretty sure their tour would be pretty quality, albeit 5 hours long. One complaint I do have about the audioguides is that they could’ve designed them better. These were like old telephones—you need to continuously hold them up with a hand or prop them on your shoulder with your jaw.

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The walk toward the famous gates, although not as famous as those at Auschwitz, still felt treaded, historical. This was the same path that had seen the weathered soles of the Jews not too long ago, the same sights they must have seen before entering into the camp.

IMG_4634 IMG_4635 IMG_4637 After pausing at the doorway uncertainly for a few moments, I pushed past the gate and crossed into the threshold of the camp.

It was a lot emptier than I thought it would be; in my mind, I pictured a place physically ravaged by its history, that the emotional scars created in this place would be physically apparent to us decades later. But it isn’t apparent at all. Here, the grounds are open, tranquil.

IMG_4638 IMG_4641 It wasn’t until I stepped into the first barrack that I felt something.

IMG_4644 IMG_4654 IMG_4657 IMG_4671-2 IMG_4667 IMG_4669 What I first noticed was a smell. It was.. indistinguishable. Nothing I’d ever smelled before but it gave me the creeps anyways. I imagined it as a first layer of cleaning solution covering up the layer underneath, which smelled like misery and death. Something old… something dying.

Furthermore, for some reason while I was in the eerily quiet barrack, a kind of fear grew irrationally in me. It was preserved so well that I half expected that someone was going to pop out of the bathroom at any moment. I felt this so much that I heard a sound and almost jumped out of my shoes.

Needless to say, this entire 4-hour journey was exhausting. Somewhere during the 3-hour mark, I found a room that showed a 30-minute documentary—solely for educational purposes, I told myself. Before long, I was fast asleep. Not even subtly. The kind of asleep where your head lolls back to rest on a seat-back that is far too short and your mouth drops open. The kind that makes you feel asleep… even when not at a concentration camp.

But it was far from over. The last hour of my time there was probably the most intense part, comprised of visits to the prison barracks, which contained cells with pictures commemorating those that stayed there; the kill-ditch; and finally, the site of their gas chambers.

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 As the sun set over the camp, I felt another shudder of dread; how eerie would it be on the grounds at night? So I left, feeling… not exactly happy that I visited, but a sense of gratitude for my own life and burdened with thoughts of the past.

Berlin: 

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  • http://eatseedoblog.com/ Anna

    I really love your Berlin posts. I generally don’t like b&w photos but the ones here really suit the subject matter perfectly – colour just wouldn’t be right. Your thoughts mirror a lot of what I felt about Auschwitz and there seem to be a lot of similarities with Auschwitz unsurprisingly. I think everyone needs to go to a concentration camp at some point in their life, just to see it and feel it. I also felt leaving humble? thankful? I don’t know if I know the right word either.

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Mishfish13

      Thank you—that means a lot to me :) yeah, colored photos would’ve felt weird… but when I visited, it was actually a beautiful day, which also felt weird! Even though I’ve already been to one, I still feel like I should go to Auschwitz. I’ll search through your archives for info about Auschwitz!

  • Lkpopo

    I understand how did you feel while you were visiting the sorrow site.
    So sad to read it.
    Feeling something stucked in my throat.

  • http://unlockingkiki.com/ Kaelene @ Unlocking Kiki

    Beautiful pictures of your visit but I could imagine all the emotions that were around it as well. Such a sad part in history but I think its important we learn about it and I would like to visit one day.

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Mishfish13

      Thanks, Kaelene. Yeah, it’s kinda tricky. When people think “travel,” it’s usually happy traveling, but I think it’s necessary to do a bit of historical (but maybe depressing) as well.

  • Arman @ thebigmansworld

    Definitely would have been incredibly emotional….ups downs and thought provoking.

  • Shabby

    Hi! I just got back from a trip to Germany, and I visited this concentration camp. I know exactly what you mean about the smell. It was sweet and damp and sour like nothing I’ve smelt before, it made it hard to stay. It made me feel sick. I felt like I would have to stay there forever to get my head around what happened. It’s awful what they went through. I picked up the shirt I wore there a couple of days later and smelt it, and it had that smell on it, I literally gagged. I’ve always had strong senses but I’m Glad someone else felt the same! (Lovely pictures by the way) xxx

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Mishfish13

      Thanks for commenting Shabby! I do believe that everyone should visit a concentration camp just for the historical impact it had on everyone. It’s certainly not fun and games, haha.