Walking into Sachsenhausen is one of the most bizarre, eery and emotional things I’ve done as a tourist. I went on a chilly day at the start of the year. Only two nights before had I been celebrating the new year and gazed at the fireworks. Now I plowed through the new snow and felt an instant unease as we approached the site.
Walking around the old concentration camp is so impressive. It is like the spirits of all those people who were once there, are still present. You can feel the chill of the horrors that went on there. Walking around I barely dared to talk. I’d never experienced something quite like it and became pretty emotional. Just being there, thinking about history, is so impressive.
Sachsenhausen was used as a model for all other concentration camps around Europe. This means many new ideas were tested here, including the gas chamber. It was also the place where new SS soldiers were trained. Basically it was the birthplace of more hatred. After the war the camp was reopened by the Russians. They made a monument of it, but unfortunately it was more to remember what happened to the communists and the jews, political prisoners, criminals and homosexuals that had been imprisoned were forgotten about.
As a prisoner it was tough in Sachsenhausen. Most were there for no grounded reason at all and were forced to work ridiculous hours on little food and water, fighting to find a place to sleep at night. Since this camp was a test ground, it was also used to develop products for the army. Prisoners were for example forced to walk up and down a track all day long, to test shoes. They wanted to find out what the perfect shoes for soldiers in the field would be.
Days were long and exhausting and many people didn’t survive in the harsh circumstances. If you were strong enough, this was no guarantee for life. Sachsenhausen had gas chambers. Entering the rooms where this happened was truly horrifying. People were told they were to have a shower. Only they would never return. So many people were killed and cremated. As a prisoner you could smell the burning bodies, but not know what was going on.
Visiting a concentration camp was an intense experience, but one that should be done. I don’t remember a lot of details about WW2. All those history classes I’ve had are nothing compared to this one visit. The vibe that still hangs around these buildings is unreal. This is something you will never forget.
I joined a New Berlin tour to Sachsenhausen. We took the S-bahn there and you could easily go by yourself. What I loved about the tour was that I could share the experience and that we had a guide that told us about the place and the stories that it harbours. The trip to Oranienburg takes about 40 minutes from the Brandenburger tor.