Wednesday was our first road trip with the Passat. We headed about 30 km north of Berlin to Oranienburg, site of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Of course it was also our first time on the famous Autobahn. Contrary to popular belief, there are often speed limits on the freeway, especially close to cities (usually about 100-130 or 60-80 mph). But once we got out on the open road I couldn’t resist taking it up to 200 km/hr (about 120 mph) just to see what it felt like. That was about as much as the Passat (and I) could take. A more relaxing cruising speed was 100-105 mph. The crazy thing was that, even at that speed, there were Audis and BMWs that would pass you as if you were standing still.
As you might expect, the concentration camp was a sobering experience. The Sachsenhausen camp was primarily used for political prisoners, so one of the exhibits included a lot of anti-Nazi propaganda. It wasn’t originally intended as an extermination camp, but about 200,000 passed through Sachsenhausen between 1936 and 1945, with 30,000 victims, mostly Russian prisoners of war. Ironically, prisoners were greeted at the main gate, which contains the slogan, “Arbeit macht frei,” or “Work will set you free.”
One of the creepiest moments was viewing the Execution Trench. It’s basically a concrete ditch that slopes downward to a wall composed of large posts set on end. Turns out the posts were there to catch the bullets. Equally frightening was the Neck Shot Facilities. A prisoner would think they were undergoing a medical examination, including weight and height measurements. Instead, when their height was being recorded, an officer on the other side of the wall would open a secret door and deliver a lethal gunshot. Our tour ended with the nearby creamatorium and gas chambers.
After Sachsenhausen, we got back in the Passat and headed for the House of the Wannsee Conference, where the “Final solution to the Jewish question” was devised. Unfortunately the main entrance of the museum was closed. We had trouble finding the temporary entrance and eventually gave up. We did, however, get an excellent view of Lake Wann before heading back to the hotel.
For dinner, we decided to try McDonald’s, of all places, just to see how it compares to U.S. restaurants. We had used up our 3-day pass for the subway, so we decided to walk the mile-long trek to the McDonald’s near the Zoological Garden. Jay had a McChicken and I had a Quarter Pounder, although in Germany it’s called the Hamburger Royal TS. The food was very similar to what we’re used to, but the general quality of the ingredients was better. Jay liked the large packets of ketchup they gave us, rather than those baby packets that are only enough for two french fries.
Leaving McDonald’s, we glimpsed the towering Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The original church was built in the 1890s, but it was badly damaged by bombs in 1943. A new church was built on the site in the early 1960s and the old spire, which is 370 feet high, was retained as a memorial.