Battle of Berlin: November 22nd 1943

It was at this very minute (7:50 pm) 75 years ago today – on 22nd November 1943 – that the most devastating Royal Air Force raid carried on out the then-Nazi capital of Berlin began.

A stream of more than 700 bombers – Lancasters, Halifaxes, Sterlings and Mosquitos – flying from bases in the south of England, descended on the city from the west, dropping just over 2,500 tons of ordnance. A record tonnage for a raid on any capital city so far in the history of air warfare. The attack lasted for only half an hour – from 7:55 pm until 8:25 pm local time, but by the morning of the next day Berliners awoke to learn of the disastrous fate of many of the city’s famous landmarks – and thousands of their fellow citizens.

Attacking RAF Avro Lancaster bombers over the target area during the night raid on Berlin on 22-23 November 1943

Ten churches, including the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in West Berlin, were left in ruin. Many embassies on Unter den Linden were bombed out. The world-renowned KaDeWe department store suffered a direct hit from a crippled British bomber that crashed through the ceiling. Two hospitals, numerous railways stations, many museums and theatres were also severely damaged – along with the West Berlin Zoo. Not to mention the civilian housing across the city. Not all of the targets were innocent; Albert Speer’s private office and War Industry Ministry was hit; the Naval Construction headquarters; the barracks of the Garde du Corps on Spandauer Damm; and even Adolf Hitler’s private train (although the Nazi leader was not present in the city at this time). The RAF bomber crews reported a large explosion in the city, witnessed from 18,000 feet above, that turned out to be a direct hit on the Neukölln Gasworks. Incidentally due to the mist and drizzle that had also descended on the city that night, Berliners would see little of the planes except those that came crashing to the ground.

An Avro Lancaster in flight.

This would be one of three huge raids conducted over the next five days; with Lancaster bombers returning to Berlin on the night of the 23rd – 24 hours after the original attack. Many of the same features of the previous evening would be repeated, although with a reduced number of planes. This time the Neue Synagoge, the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, the former British Embassy, the offices of the Waffen SS, and the State Kriminalamt would be either destroyed or seriously damaged. The third major raid on the night of the 26th would see the suburb of Reinickendorf suffer, and ordnance concentrated on the centre of the city and the Siemensstadt.

Earlier raids on Berlin that year had served largely symbolic propaganda value, rather than inflicting the extent of damage of the November raids. On 30th January 1943, the ten year anniversary of the Nazi seizure of power, two attacks would coincide with speeches set to be broadcast live by Luftwaffe Chief Hermann Göring and later in the day Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. The arrival of squadrons of De Havilland Mosquitos successfully disrupting the festivities. Similarly on 20th April 1943 – Adolf Hitler’s birthday – RAF Bomber Command dispatched more Mosquitos to successfully harass the city’s inhabitants and mark the occasion.

Air Marshal Harris, Commanding-in-Chief Bomber Command

Diligent city officials would eventually compile a list of the damage inflicted on the city over these five nights in November 1943: 8,701 buildings containing 104,613 individual apartments were completely destroyed. 4,330 people were killed, although not including 105 people crushed to death after panicking in an air raid shelter in Neukölln. Over 400,000 people would be bombed out of their homes with the district of Tiergarten – that had the misfortune of being in the path of the bombers every time they approached from the west – most affected.

Berlin in Ruin, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church visible in the centre

As part of the ‘Battle of Berlin’ fought over German skies by the Royal Air Force from November 1943 to March 1944, these major raids aimed to strike a blow to the heart of the Nazi regime – Berlin was attacked no less than sixteen times with immense damage inflicted. Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, head of RAF Bomber Command, would predict: “It will cost us between 400 and 500 aircraft. It will cost Germany the war.” Yet, despite the success in diverting essential military resources away from the fighting in the east, targeting the nerve centre of Nazi power served ultimately to draw attention away from the real motor of German industrial production and the war economy – the Ruhrgebiet.

The Battle of Berlin attacks would eventually cost 492 aircraft, their crews killed or captured and 954 aircraft damaged. Exceeding the 5 percent threshold considered by the RAF to be the maximum sustainable operational loss rate. Popular consensus among historians is now that the Battle of Berlin attacks were a tragic operational error; one that would have led to the elimination of RAF Bomber Command well before the destruction of Berlin – had the raids not being stopped in March 1944.

For more information on Berlin’s Third Reich history check out our Third Reich Private Walking Tours and Third Reich Private Car/Van Tours

Private Guide Profile: Jim

JimThis week we caught up with Jim, one of the great private guides we work with, to talk about his experiences in Berlin:

Q: Would you like to introduce yourself?

I hail from a small map dot in rural Minnesota where everybody knows everyone’s name and where the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

So I guess you could say that I was one of the odd ones to travel 100 miles north to the Twin Cities after high school where I attended the University of Minnesota, and then ended up making even a bigger leap to Berlin five years later to complete my studies in German History.

My goal had been to return to the U.S. to enroll into a PhD program and become a professor of Modern German History. But after spending an amazing and memorable year and a half as a full time student in Berlin – while meeting so many people from around the world from so many different walks of life with whom I could explore and embrace everything that Berlin had to offer – I felt the city starting to absorb me, then grow on me, and then I simply realized that I belonged in Berlin.

Q: What inspired you to become a guide?

I knew that I wanted to be a tour guide early on. When I made my way around the city with some of my core group of friends whom I had met within the first couple weeks of beginning classes at the Freie Universitaet and Humboldt University, I found myself spontaneously explaining the background behind certain sites in the city or providing historical context to certain areas due to the fact that I had learned about them or had been studying them at the time. I found myself really enjoying this and all too often one of my friends would say, “You should become a tour guide.”

So I began to extensively research the city. I visited museums, read books, watched documentaries, spoke with locals, and fully committed myself to finding out as much as I possibly could about Berlin’s past while also understanding its present. I continually took advantage of Berlin’s outstanding public transport system to visit every corner and every district, made my way down to Potsdam where I also began researching, and basically fell back on my studies as a trained historian to learn as much as I could about Berlin and its surrounding area.

Eventually, a reputable, local company then hired me in the winter of 2007 and from that point onward, I’ve been a full time local tour guide ever since.

Q: Have many tours have you led?

I’d say I’ve done over two thousand tours or more.

Q: Which tours do you specialise in?

The Berlin Highlights tour is the tour I’ve given the most over the years. Yet, since my university studies concentrated on the National Socialist period, I particularly specialize in Third Reich tours as it is the tour that I enjoy doing the most. Over the years, I’ve also branched out and spent a lot of time in Potsdam researching the city, studying Prussian history and the House of Hohenzollern, and I’ve been leading tours there on a regular basis since 2010. Furthermore, I’ve been a licensed guide at the Cecilienhof Palace (where Stalin, Truman, and Churchill – and later Attlee – sat down and negotiated the fate of the post-WWII world in the summer of 1945) since 2015.

Q: Can you remember your first tour?

When I think back and reflect on all the tours I’ve given over the years, the first tour is the one that stands out the most.

It was a balmy Saturday morning in the winter and around 35 people had turned up for a 4 hour main sites tour of Berlin.

I was scared to death.

In the past, I could comfortably sit isolated at my computer writing a five page paper on some topic of German history to demonstrate to my professors that I understood the topic of whatever we’d been learning in class, or I could comfortably and causally tell my friends about the history of certain sites as we explored Berlin together. Being an actual tour guide was something entirely different. For the first time in my life I was being put on center stage – with 35 pairs of eyes staring at me – to explain Berlin’s history and give the lay of the land to 35 strangers who were expecting a high quality tour. I knew that I knew the history, but the swarm of butterflies I had in my stomach and the profuse sweating (yes it was winter!) over four hours made this one of the most uncomfortable experiences in my life.

In the end, I got through it (although, today there are 35 people on this earth who think that equestrian statue on Unter den Linden is Fredrich Wilhelm II – not Frederick the Great). And now eleven years later, I just chuckle every time I think back on that ‘tragic’ day because I honestly felt that I didn’t think I was going to last long as a tour guide in the weeks thereafter.

Q: Can you recall a particularly memorable experience from your tours?

What keeps me going after all these years is when I get that occasional group who’s engaged, inquisitive, and clearly shows that they are thoroughly enjoying exploring Berlin. Each time this happens, I tend to draw so much extra energy from the tour itself and I’m quickly reminded how much I love enhancing a visitor’s experience in Berlin.

Several years ago, I did a private Third Reich tour for a family of four from England. The parents had brought their son and daughter to Berlin for a long weekend and wanted to have an educational tour since the daughter was about to take a large exam on the Nazis’ rise to power as part of the completion of her A-levels. A few months after our tour, I received an email – which had been forwarded to me by the office of the company for which I was working at that time – from the father of the daughter informing me that her daughter scored very well on her test and was convinced that my tour – as well all of the questions I’d answered for her – played a large role in her doing so well on her exam. He then went on to say that she was also seriously considering studying German History when she got to university, based a lot on how my tour had inspired her to keep reading and learning more and more about the subject. I was truly flattered and I’d have to say that this was one of the most memorable experiences out of all the tours I’ve given.

Q: If you were to visit Berlin again for the first time what three things would you want to experience again for the first time?

If I were visiting Berlin again for the first time, I’d first take a boat trip on the Spree River. Each time I do this, I’m absolutely blown away by Berlin’s impressive and creative modern architecture that has been the product of the city’s massive building boom that got underway in the mid 1990s. Indeed, one can easily appreciate this architecture by simply walking through the city, but traveling through the heart of Berlin by boat offers a whole different perspective than what you can fully embrace on land. In other words, do a boat tour while you’re here!

The second thing I’d do is make my way to the top of the Berliner Dom. Completed in 1905, it is one of the last remaining bastions of the House of Hohenzollern, the former ruling royal family that reigned over the Kingdom of Prussia until 1918. Unfortunately, much of the church was severely damaged during WWII so it’s gone through a few different reconstruction phases over the years. Today the church has a beautifully and sumptuously designed interior and offers visitors a spectacular bird’s eye view of the city from the base of its dome.

Finally, I’d be more adventurous and explore areas on the outskirts of Berlin. The city has a gigantic area of 345 square miles (890 square kilometers) and every corner of the city can essentially be reached by taking advantage of Berlin’s efficient public transportation network as well. One of my favorite places to ‘escape to’ during a busy work week is Altstadt Köpenick. This historic area, which used to be an independent municipality until 1920, is located around 10 miles (16 KM) east of the city center and much of it escaped major damage during WWII. Charming architecture – including a 16th century palace situated above the Dahme River – and the area’s narrow, cobble stoned streets – are home to some fantastic traditional German restaurants and cafes, making this one of the loveliest areas in all of Berlin.

Q: Do you have a particular book or movie about Berlin that you like to recommend to clients? Why?

Since a large majority of people I take on my tours are interested in the city’s Cold War history and the Nazi period, I always recommend the book Stasi Land by Anne Funder and the 2004 German film, Downfall (Der Untergang). Funder’s book is a fantastic page-turner that explores the surveillance of the East German state and how it ran, controlled and manipulated its citizens through its internal army, the East German Ministry for State Security (Stasi). And Downfall is a highly compelling film that chronicles and examines the last 12 days of WWII during the Battle of Berlin, as it particularly focuses in on Hitler’s final days in the Führer Bunker.

Q: What advice would you give a new guide?

Berlin is one of the most historical cities in the world with a very complex past. I think it’s important that new guides are sensitive to this and understand their audience on each individual tour. There are times when you can go into great detail with your guests, and there are other times that you need to keep things simple while still explaining the city’s history accurately and professionally.

Q: What’s your favourite Berlin recommendation for travellers with young children?

If travelers come to Berlin with small children, I always recommend taking a summer boat ride on the Spree or even more interesting, seeing the city from above. My three year old twins love going to the top of the TV tower on Alexanderplatz, or taking the fastest elevator in Europe (25 stories in 20 seconds) to the top of the Kollhoff Tower on Potsdamer Platz. Both places offer spectacular 365 degree views of the city which is enjoyable and entertaining for all ages.

Q: How do you unwind after a day of touring?

As is the case for most guides in Berlin, the summer months are my busiest time of the year. On the real hot summer days, I really enjoy escaping to one of Berlin’s several freshwater lakes to unwind after a tour. Krumme Lanke in the southwest part of the city or the Mueggelsee in Friedrichshagen (in the eastern part of the city) are two of my favorite lakes to visit during the summer months. Krumme Lanke is mostly isolated in what seems like the middle of a forest where you can choose a quiet and remote spot to occupy next to the water. The Mueggelsee does have some quiet spots because of its size, bit it also has a couple of beaches where you can relax among other swimmers and buy food and drinks at concession stands. Either way, spending time at one of these two lakes is always physically and mentally soothing and both of them quickly recharge my battery after a long day of tour guiding.

Q: What is your favourite place for a day trip from Berlin?

My favorite place for a day trip from Berlin is taking a two hour train ride south to the city of Dresden. This historic city perched above the Elbe River was the former capital of the Kingdom of Saxony. Its rulers built magnificent buildings and turned the city into an architectural and artist beauty, molding it into a city of international importance from the beginning of the 18th century onward. Unfortunately, the cruel realities of the the 20th century history intervened in 1945 when Allied bombs wiped away around 90% of the historic city center. Yet, Dresden has gone through several different phases of reconstruction since then – mostly occurring in the last twenty-five years – and much of its impressive pre-war architecture has been meticulously brought back to life, fooling most visitors into thinking that the city went untouched during WWII. This lovely city is the home of a few of the most renown museums in the world, and it’s a place where art, history and culture flourish today.

Private Guide Profile: Matt

Berlin Experiences - Private Tours Of Berlin - Matt RobinsonThis week we caught up with Matt, founder of Berlin Experiences, to talk about his experience as a private guide in Berlin:

Q: Would you like to introduce yourself?

I have spent more than a third of my life in Berlin but I’m originally from the north of England – a town in Yorkshire called Pontefract, famous mainly for its liquorice and now ruined castle where King Richard II was imprisoned and mysteriously died.

I arrived in Berlin on my way to the Balkans, after completing a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. I decided to ‘pass through’ the city to see what was going on for myself, with no intention of spending any longer duration of time here.

Moving to Berlin though was undoubtedly one of the greatest decisions of my life. I found not only a city I felt I wanted to live in but also a country admirably dealing with its troubled history in a way that remains both confronting and fascinating.

Q: What inspired you to become a guide?

I’ve always considered tour guiding in Berlin to be journalism by another name; the story-telling, the presentation, the editorial process, the performance – the pursuit of the truth. Naturally, one can’t be a good journalist without being a good historian – and somewhere between those two things (with a touch of dramatic flair) is where the exceptional tour guide can be found. A gatekeeper in the pursuit of ideas.

I have never been interested in fridge magnet tourism – ticking boxes on a long list of must-see sights. Guiding in Berlin goes beyond that. Tourism may well be the arena but education is the real intention. To dispel myths. Counter ignorance. I’ve discovered that in the context of guiding – where dialogue is paramount – these things are more easily realised than with other mediums.

After more than a decade of working as a private guide in Berlin for numerous different companies and clients, I founded Berlin Experiences as a way to channel and share my years of ongoing research here – offering private guided tours to people who are equally curious. I try to split my time between guiding, developing Berlin Experiences and helping run the Berlin Guides Association as the current President. Somewhere in between all of that I sometimes have time to write; which may be the fundamental connection between all three things.

Q: Have many tours have you led?

Somewhere in the thousands.

Q: Which tours do you specialise in?

Beyond the Classic tours – Berlin Highlights, Cold War, Third Reich, Jewish Heritage tours – I also offer tours of nearby Potsdam and the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial. In 2018, I commemorated the anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall by cycling around the entire 160 km stretch of Mauerweg (the former path of the Wall) with the Berlin Guides Association. I now offer cycling tours of the city and areas around – including a Berlin Wall ride that I think is quite unique. There are certain tours which I understand I don’t have the expertise to lead, such as the Craft Beer and Street Art tour, although fortunately I work with some truly exceptional guides who are experts I trust 100% with these things.

Q: Can you remember your first tour?

I do. It was a public tandem tour – with another guide. Which is never really a good idea. I was also woefully unprepared. I eventually made my way to the tour to be confronted with a group of about fifty people. Which was entirely unexpected. A few seconds into trying to introduce myself – imagine a hoarse voice projected at four dozen attentive listeners struggling to make out a word – my mind went completely blank. I could barely think of a thing to say, so to the confused mass of people I excused myself and handed over to the other guide. And that was that. I remember I slept quite well when I got home but it took my another year before I tried guiding again – the next time with a much more intimate group size.

Eventually I spent over a decade touring with large groups on a regular basis. The distance between a private tour, however, and a public group tour is significant. Private tours are like extended conversations. But a huge public tour is a performance. And a performance takes preparation.

Q: Can you recall a particularly memorable experience from your tours?

I often get asked by clients whether constantly talking about the same topics gets exhausting or whether the weight of German history gets too much. After much contemplation I realised that the act of sharing these stories and seeing the reactions of people I meet is one of the core reasons I love this work. In a sense, every time is the first time when it’s the first time for someone else. To see revelation at work is an awe inspiring thing; that powerful moment where the pieces come together for someone and there is a click of understanding. Clarity. Rather than one particular memorable experience, I would say that is an overall experience that I keep returning to, with the help of the people I meet.

Q: If you were to visit Berlin again for the first time what three things would you want to experience again for the first time?

When I first arrived in Berlin, the city was a little different to how it is now – in essence the same, with the same rawness to it – but darker; perhaps best explained as closer to the source of its anguish. It is often said that Berlin is incomplete – or in the process of being defined – doomed to be eternally unfinished. I’ve seen the city refine itself in many ways since I arrived – largely for the best. But that has swept away some of the intensity that Berlin has since become known for – and many still arrive to seek out.

The Berlin techno scene I found fascinating when I arrived, it reminded me of the UK anarcho-punk scene I grew up admiring in my teens. The complete disregard for a mandate for expression.  The DIY ethic. The minimal, industrial sound, the reappropriation of spaces – bomb-damaged buildings, power stations – but overall, the Alice In Wonderland sense of exploration that came with it. All that died with Google Maps. The scene has no doubt moved on. To revisit that would be impossible now, no matter how many other people are searching for it.

To say Berlin’s citizens are a politically active bunch would be an immense understatement. The tendency for grassroots activism has always been there. However, with the country’s current climate of commemoration, where there were once citizens’ initiatives there are now numerous government supported projects. Two of my favourites examples would be the Topography of Terror museum and the Stasi Museum (housed in the former headquarters of the East German secret police). Both were much less co-ordinated (or less polished) when I first visited them, it was obvious how much attention and pride in dealing with the history had been taken when introducing these projects by the citizen caretakers. With government funding both of these places are now more accessible to the general public; but I can’t help but feel some sense of nostalgia for the handwritten and photocopied dedication to preserving and presenting history that existed when the two locations were volunteer-run and driven by a passionate belief in the preservation of history. Many of the staff still working at the Stasi Museum have personal stories of their experiences interacting with the East German secret police, as victims of that oppressive organ, and the time I have spent working alongside them has gifted me a sense of humility and respect in light of their diligence and dedication. Although I continue to be impressed by the official way of dealing with history in this country, there is something about making history official that takes it a step away from the reality – and the people who experienced it.

Lastly, I would say the third thing I would like to experience again would be a certain Döner kebab stand that I ate at (that no longer exists). Everyone has that place that they recall visiting that managed to elevate something conventional to mythical status. The tomatoes that tasted unbelievably divine, the bread that was softer and more satisfying than any other bread you can recall. In a city of Döner kebab stands, I have never been able to find anything that stands up to the original experience I had my first time in the city. Although I know lots of places that come close and are exceptional in their own right. Nothing tastes like that first late night Döner when it’s done right.

Q: Do you have a particular book or movie about Berlin that you like to recommend to clients? Why?

I have found it fascinating in my time in the city how the fictional character of Berlin has changed. Since German reunification there has been a renewed attempt through film and television to spotlight the city, and the country, and show its true face (wrinkles and all). To define, or perhaps better redefine, what Berlin means. That has been most evident in films like The Lives of Others and Goodbye Lenin, attempting to present aspects of the East German story in a format that can be understood in the aftermath of German reunification. Similarly there is the Baader Meinhof Komplex, that deals with the terrorist group in 1960/70s West Germany, even Berlin Calling and Victoria – which is a true masterpiece in film, shot in one take – both with Berlin’s legendary nightlife scene in a starring role. More recently I’ve taken to recommending the TV series Deutschland ‘83, which deals with Cold War espionage in East and West Germany. No doubt one of the major movies that frequently resurfaces in recommendations is The Downfall, detailing the last days of life in Hitler’s bunker. I’m uncertain whether it would be best to see these movies before experiencing Berlin or after to reassess the city. But their impact and relevance is undeniable. As for literature, that would be an even longer answer that I’ll save for another time.

Q: What advice would you give a new guide?

Give 150%. And then tone it down to what feels natural.

Speak louder than think you need to speak to be heard. Learn more than you think you might need to learn. Always carry water. And be friendly to the people you see while out on the street, whether they are other guides or the person cleaning the toilet, because you will see them again.

Q: What’s the quintessential Berlin souvenir?

The sense that things can be different.

Private Guide Profile: William

WilliamThis week we caught up with William, one of the great guides we work with, to talk about his experience as a private guide in Berlin:

Q: Would you like to introduce yourself?
Hi, my name is William and I am originally from Sydney, Australia, but have been living in Germany since 2009 and Berlin since 2011. Originally I came to Germany to study German literature and history (University of Cologne), but in 2011 made the plunge to Berlin as it is such a dynamic city.

Q: What inspired you to become a guide?
First and foremost my German background. My father emigrated from West Germany in the early 1980s and I was raised bi-lingually. I always had a fascination with Germany as a child and guiding is one of the ways that I explore this.

Q: Have many tours have you led?
That is a tough question, as I have led a lot of tours! I have also led a lot of different tours, such as two week-long trips within Europe as well as all over Berlin, so it depends how you count them. I would guess somewhere north of 500, heading close towards 1,000 these days :).

Q: Which tours do you specialise in?
The tours that I feel I do best are all of the classic tours (Berlin highlights, Cold War, Third Reich), but I especially love showing people Berlin’s thriving Craft beer scene as well as it’s funky street
art.

Q: Can you remember your first tour?
Yes very clearly. I also remember being very nervous. But after no one laughed at me, it was quite good. I think!

Q: Can you recall a particularly memorable (positive) experience from your tours?
The most positive experiences for me are the discussions I have with people and then witnessing their “ah, now I get it” moments. These moments are all extremely satisfying :).

Q: If you were to visit Berlin again for the first time what three things would you want to
experience again for the first time?
1. Sitting on the canal drinking beer and watching the sunset go down.
2. Bicycling the entire path of the Berlin Wall.
3. Witnessing awesome buskers near Warschauerstrasse entertain more than 300 people at once. It was really intense!

Q: Do you have a particular book or movie about Berlin that you like to recommend to
clients? Why?
The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen). It’s an incredibly honest, yet also enjoyable film that gives a bit of insight into the workings of the Stasi (East German secret police).

Q: What advice would you give a new guide?
Be flexible. Don’t stick to a script and expect everything to go the way you want it to. Our profession is based on having discussions and so I think it is very important to listen to a given
client and react accordingly.

Q: Is there a particular aspect of Berlin’s history that you find fascinating?
I think the 1950s is an era that I’m always surprised about. You don’t read as much about it because the building of the wall in the 1960s overshadows that decade. But it is the decade that saw the foundation of the modern city as we know it.

Q: What’s the best thing about working as a guide in Berlin?
Being able to travel throughout Berlin and discover new things all of the time. Friends who work in offices here say to me that they have never been to some places and yet those same places are my office ;).

Q: What is your favourite place for a day trip from Berlin?
Potsdam. It’s so close, yet so different in that it is very walkable, very beautiful and offers a very different version Germany.

Private Guide Profile: Sam

SamThis week we caught up with Sam, one of the great guides we work with, to talk about his experience as a private guide in Berlin:

Q: Would you like to introduce yourself?

I am Sam. I’m a tall English person who was born between the rolling hills of the South Downs and the seaside in West Sussex. I have a bachelor’s degree from King’s College London and moved to Berlin in 2012 having become jaded with life in London. Aside from being a guide I’m also a writer, mostly working on my own fiction but also for small publications here and there in the city. I spend my spare time studying Aikido and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, making pizza, and hiking in beautiful places.

Q: What inspired you to become a guide?

Honestly, I rather fell into tour guiding. I was finishing up in an editorial role that wasn’t stimulating me anymore and was looking for an active job that allowed me to indulge my interests for the summer. I had friends who were guides, and through them ended up becoming one myself. So I guess it’s more a case of what inspired me to continue working as a guide: the freedom; the active and social nature of the job; the storytelling; my keen interest in German history; the forever changing nature of the city; other guides that I have learnt from. Those are but a few of the things that keep me inspired.

Q: Have many tours have you led?

No idea. I’ve been guiding since 2013 and on a full-time basis since 2014. I’m going to give an educated guess and say around a thousand. I mean, who counts the number of days that they go to work? I know I don’t.  

Q: Which tours do you specialise in?

Berlin Highlights; Cold War Berlin; Third Reich Berlin; Potsdam; Shore Excursions; Craft Beer and Brewery.

Q: Can you remember your first tour?

Yes, vividly. I was rather dropped in the deep end, so to speak. I was working as a chaperone, bringing a group of tourists to meet their actual guide for a public tour – my first tour with that particular company was scheduled for later that week. The group turned out to be enormous and company policy was to split large groups between two guides. Thus I was persuaded to conduct my first ever tour then and there on the spot. I’d prepared, obviously, but wasn’t prepared to do it that particular day. After a shaky start I found my groove, then got a migraine half-way through and couldn’t really see and felt very nauseous for the second portion of the tour.

Q: Can you recall a particularly memorable (positive) experience from your tours?

Generally speaking, all my tours are positive experiences for me – otherwise I wouldn’t be working as a guide at all. Very recently I did a tour made up of several different groups of people. One group had two young girls, aged 4 and 7 I believe, with them. The tour was 6 hours long, and at the very end I asked the entire group a question pertaining to an explanation I’d given much earlier in the tour. No one could answer and then the elder of the two girls put her hand up and answered the question perfectly. Everyone gave her a round of applause. It was wonderful.  

Q: If you were to visit Berlin again for the first time what three things would you want to experience again for the first time?

Walking into the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park for sure. The place is just so overwhelming, I’d love to experience the awe of seeing it for the first time again. I’d also, were I a bit younger, like to experience Berlin’s nightlife for the first time again. I remember it being so different and so much more exciting than anything I’d ever encountered before elsewhere. And for number three I’m going cheat and say a few restaurants/foodie places that I’d like to rediscover for the first time: Stranero, Lava and Thai Park.  

Q: Do you have a particular book or movie about Berlin that you like to recommend to clients? Why?

The book I usually recommend to people is Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada. I think the novel paints a great, if bleak, picture of the lives of regular citizens under National Socialism – the quiet heroism of some, the ruthless opportunism of others. I also have a lot of time for the BBC three-part documentary Berlin by Matt Freithe narrative is really well crafted and weaves together different aspects and eras of Berlin’s history deftly. More recently I’ve been getting into the TV series Babylon Berlin, and always recommend people binge on that. It perfectly captures the excess, the sex, the nihilism, the economic hardship and the political instability and intrigue of 1920s Weimar Berlin.

Q: What advice would you give a new guide?

Be yourself. It sounds cliché to say so but that’s what I always tell people when I’m training them. Find your own voice, share your personality with people – that’s when they will relate to you. You will communicate more effectively if you speak with your own words about something you have a passion for, and for me communication is the most important thing about being a guide.

Q: Which Berlin museum do you think would be the best to spend the night in? (If you were accidentally locked in and giving the chance to explore)

I’m going to go with my heart here and say the Natural History Museum. I’m basically a big kid, and still really just want to spend my time looking at giant creatures that don’t exist anymore pretending that they still exist. There’s the massive dinosaur skeleton in the entry hall, all the taxidermy, and the endless halls of bizarre sea creatures set in formaldehyde and illuminated by spooky green light. Plus their solar system exhibit is wonderful during the day – in the dark of night and with no one else around to bother you it would be spectacular.  

Q: Do you have any memorable client stories from your tours?

One particular example springs to mind. I had an elderly gentleman on one of my tours who had been born in a concentration camp. His mother was a Polish Catholic who had sheltered Jews and was deported for doing so. He spent the first seven years of his life in the KZ – first as an infant prisoner and then several more years as a displaced person when the camp was converted after the war ended. He finally managed to emigrate to the US. His mother had already died. His wife had brought him back to Germany, to Berlin first then to the site of the former KZ, for catharsis. He obviously and understandably still held a lot of anger and in many ways was quite challenging to deal with as he was quite disruptive for the other guests. Ultimately though he became comfortable enough to share his story with the group. It was a special moment.

Q: What’s the best tour you’ve ever taken, as a tourist, and why?

I spent two months travelling around the Balkans in 2015 and in Mostar, Bosnia took an all-day tour organised by the hostel I was staying at on recommendation from a friend. It was incredible. Bata, the man who led the tour, was a force of nature. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone so entertaining and with such infectious energy before or since. We loaded up in his van and cross-crossed Mostar and the surrounding countryside. We swam in waterfalls, ate börek hot off the coals, drank homemade tea and cordials with a grandma in a near-abandoned village and wandered through partisan monuments. Bata was by turns hilarious and serious, challenging our perceptions on the breakup of Yugoslavia. The tour ran from ‘Majda’s Hostel’ (run by his sister) in Mostar. Go stay there, go do Bata’s tour.