Jack and I tied the knot on the 7th September 2019. Given all that's going on currently, that day seems like a very very long time ago!
We had the most perfect day in Devon with our nearest and dearest celebrating Greek-style in the marquee at the top of the field at Jack's Mum's farm. The next morning after a BBQ breakfast of sausages and bacon in crusty rolls and mugs of tea, we headed off for Gatwick, and Kefalonia.
We spent three days on my favourite island (where we met) before we got the ferry to the mainland and spent nearly three weeks driving the sites, such as ancient Olympia, Nafplion, Sparta, ancient Tyrins, and the Corinth canal. It was amazing! Then, we went back to Kefalonia for two nights, before flying to.... Berlin.
Yes. Rainy cold Berlin.
Why would we subject ourselves to such a thing?! Because Jack was running in the Berlin Marathon in aid of Parkinson's UK. He lost his father Peter to it, and my Uncle Martin died from it and other complications, the previous year - so it is a very worthy charity to get all hot and sweaty for.
So picture this. We'd spent nearly a month in the marvellously mellow climate of Greece in late summer, and now we touched down in grey raining windy and cold Germany. The shock to the system was something else... and there was silly old me in my shorts and flip flops, wondering what the hell was going on. I quite literally had to hold back the tears - I loathe cities at the best of times and this was a culture shock like nothing else! It was so unfriendly.
Tegel airport was a hellhole of epic proportions, the decor' largely consisting of black and dark grey walls floor ceiling, and everywhere red metal railings. It smelled of a city. That dirty rubbery wee smell. It was so crowded too, by hundreds of bodies. I genuinely felt something like a panic attack coming on, and had to hide by a pillar whilst Jack sorted out our bus tickets to get to our hotel. It was horrendous. Into the drizzle and wind we went, and ran to the bus station.
I was sweating buckets thanks to dragging my beast of a suitcase and and rather substantial hand luggage bag. Jack had been sort of sensible and had chosen a massive parachute bag, but now thanks to our habit of collecting rocks wherever we go, weighed a flipping ton. Neither of my bags wanted to cooperate particularly, and the wheels on one went wonky and kept trying to tip the thing over mid run, and the other kept on falling off my back and sagging around my middle putting me totally off balance. Once on the bus (overcrowded to the point of not being able to put your own body anywhere but in the faces of the other very unfriendly silent passengers) my case decided that, when the driver put in an emergency stop, it would gallop over the feet of the scary looking man in a suit who stared into my face like a blue-eyed ice man, and then continued reading his paper. I said sorry profusely but it didn't have any effect. The landscape was drab dull and miserable. But there was a light on the horizon. The hotel, a place to hide from it all.
I was glad to hole up and secrete ourselves away, even if there were bloodstains on the wall and carpet. The foyer of the reception had those handy racks of leaflets for tourists to amuse themselves. Only here they had titles like HITLER - HOW COULD IT HAPPEN? rather than petting zoos and tea shops.
Next day, Jack had to register for the Marathon which was on the following day. That done, we had the rest of the day to kill - and so we got on the train to Oranienberg and walked the rest of the way to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
It was a cool grey sort of day, and after a good forty-five minute walk, even my bare legs (yes friends, I neglected to bring actual trousers on my honeymoon because I'd only packed for Greece) were quite toasty. We approached the entrance to the camp by a strangely domesticated little road. Then you see the great grey concrete sign, and you can literally feel the chills. You are directed past the SS buildings (now used by the police) and towards the reception centre. There you can opt to take an audio guide device with you, take a guided tour, or simply set off on your own, We opted for the latter. There were a few other visitors but not the huge crowds I'd dreaded.
We made our way out of the visitor centre...and there it was. The imposing white entrance to the camp itself, with the black iron gateway proclaiming Arbeit Macht Frei, work sets you free. We were then standing in the vast open space of Sachsenhausen concentration camp - the area immediately before us was the role call zone. An immense concrete roller is the only thing to draw the eye here in the immediate vicinity, and I wondered why it was there. Latterly I read that it was used to punish the inmates, who would have to pull it.
Several of the buildings in the camp remain, although the majority have been pulled down. They are represented by raised gravel beds. Some of the fencing remains as do the painted signs warning inmates to stay clear (see my photo page), and all around the new perimeter fencing are memorial displays to the people who existed and died here. By the mass grave relatives have laid flowers.
We enter the first building. It is cold and feels very empty - although in each room off the main corridor there are beautifully done visual display boards. The gritty floor remains, but tinted glass has been laid over so that you won't damage it. It was unsurprisingly, utterly silent. The rain began to pummel down, and I looked out of the window onto that bleak place, and began to soak up the darkness. Inhale.
I found that we were alone, and so I left Jack and began to record using my phone. I hadn't reckoned on this opportunity, but it felt so right that I had to do it. I recorded in bursts, only totalling about fifteen minutes all in, but what I got back was incredible but hardly surprising. (See my EVP Locations page to hear).
We spent over three hours on site, sometimes with others, mainly alone. Always the atmosphere was reverential and heavy, aside from the girl we saw taking a thumbs-up selfie through the gates. Utterly unbelievable...
We saw the medical lab, the morgue, the slope down to the morgue overflow, the barracks, the kitchens, whatever still stood, we went inside. We saw the ovens and where the gas chamber stood, the almost subterranean network of rooms and corridors in this maze of death that is now undercover yet open at the sides. We saw the The Polish barrack (38) is the one in which Leon Szalet once lived until his unexpected release from the camp. I have read his book which details day to day existence at Sachsenhausen, and cannot believe that any human being could stay alive here. It's a heart-breaking read, but worth it. We saw the execution slope, the prison, the torture posts.
It's the most humbling experience to have visited Sachsenhausen, and I urge anyone with the opportunity to do so, to go.
I recorded thirty-eight EVPs in the camp, some very clear others of less quality, but these are genuine sounds of the souls who were here.
"Do not leave this place without hearing our voices. We are the murdered of this war and we do not want to be forgotten."
Sachsenhausen victim, words recorded in the book by Leon Szalet, 'Experiment E'