Checked Berlin off my list. Very glad I went. Clearly, however, I don’t have an affinity for Germany. I don’t quite understand why not. You’d think I would – one grandfather was of German descent. There are a lot of Germans in Minnesota where I grew up. And some of the country side looked so much like Minnesota… but: Nope. Nothing. (Interesting how so many immigrants kept going west until they found a topography that reminded them of home…)
My European persona continued in Germany. I was asked directions three times – by Germans! I could only respond that I spoke only French and English. (My sister appreciates the fact that I am taken for a European so often. After the recent terrorist activities in Tunisia (I wont go there!) and France, the State Dept has issued a Travel Alert.)
Back to Berlin.What was I expecting? A city like Paris? How did I forget that between 60-70 percent of Berlinn was bombed out. Totally destroyed. That after the war, women between 20 and 50 had to clear rubble – sorting bricks and fragments – those large enough to be reused from the smaller stuff. That much of the smaller stuff was left in place and became hills. Just before my trip I read two books by Jospeh Kanon – Leaving Berlin and The Good German. One was set in 1949, the other in 1945 when the Allies were dividing the city. It was great background. Imagining the Berlin airlift – where a plane landed every three minutes at the Berlin airport, bringing in supplies. Every three minutes. Hard to imagine. The Good German asked the same questions I was asking – how could the Nazis have happened?
An acquaintance told me she had to leave Berlin after 3 days – it was too depressing. I avoided those museum places – like the Topography of Terror – the site of the SS headquarters. I read enough outside in the display standing in front of the remains of the Berlin Wall. I walked through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. (Where I spoke strongly to a group of teens who ran through laughing and shouting.) It’s located in a large square, just down from the Brandenburg Gate, filled with large stone – granite blocks – some lying, some standing, oppressive. Disconcerting. Peaceful. Meaningful. And I decided to avoid all art museums. There were things I wanted to see – but once there, those sculptures and paintings didn’t seem important. So I rode the Hop On Hop Off bus. One friend shudders at the thought of those buses as too touristy! For me, it is an excellent way of quickly understanding a city. I usually ride the full circuit before I do any hopping. I stumbled upon several “stumbling blocks” – these are small blocks replacing a cobble stone with a brass plaque – name, date, deported or killed. I found an NPR story about it. http://www.npr.org/2012/05/31/153943491/stumbling-upon-miniature-memorials-to-nazi-victims What surprises me is that some people consider them disrespectful. I didn’t find them that at all. I found them a sobering reminder.
Maybe that’s the thing about Berlin… There are too many reminders… Even the wonderful dome on the top of the Reichstag – the parliament building. It’s a beautiful design. And even it is part of the memory for war – as the glass dome was meant as a symbol for the need for transparency in the new German government
All of the war things – it was over 70 years ago. The people born now have nothing to do with it. And yet, I found myself wondering about how it could have happened. How do you live with the history of it? Moral questions beyond my simple brain power.
Let’s talk currywurst instead! It’s a Berlin craze. Their own fast food invention. Take a wurst of indeterminate type, slice it, pour ketchup over it, and add curry powder. With or without fries. I sampled three. The first was the best – it was in a restaurant in Alexanderplatz. The sauce was not pure ketchup, it had a sweeter tang. The other two were from street stands – the ketchup overwhelmed the curry. Been there, done that.
Gay parade – how did I miss the fact this is a global event. I knew it was happening on the streets in Paris the day I flew to Berlin. Why was I surprised to find a bus deviation due to the Berli gay pride parade going by my hotel? No worries. Found another bus and walked an extra two blocks. Speaking of walking – I seem to reach 10,000 stepson my fitbit faster than before. The walking distances seem shorter – as well they should have after 4 months. I went to the Brandenburg Gate to mingle in the Gay Pride activities. For me it was a great celebration of our Supreme Court decision. Finally. Germans can party. And drink beer. It reminded me of Bourbon Street in a way – never seen beer on the street like in Berlin. No one was drunk, mind you, just beer bottles in hand. And when I walked past a café, instead of the wine glasses I see in Paris, there were the tall beer glasses at each table. I wonder, what defines America? Soft drinks and beer and wine? (and why are the cokes much less expensive in Berlin than Paris?) Maybe our ubiquitous bottles of crystal geyser The Brandenburg gate was a surprise too – it is small. Well, smaller than I expected – nothing like the Arc de Triomphe.
The tour books all say checkpoint Charlie is a tourist trap. But I didn’t care. The wall and Checkpoint Charlie is a huge memory for me. So they have a replica of the little hut and two guys in US army uniforms holding big American flags. And they stand there and tourist get their pictures taken with them. No, I didn’t. But it was a representation of what it must have been like. And a block from there is the Topography of Terror – the site of the SS headquarters mentioned above. Maps show where the Wall used to be. And the wall is traced on the ground by bricks as a constant reminder. I saw three places where sections remain – there may be more. It was smaller than I expected – thin. Not like the medieval ramparts I have seen. But I suppose I should have expected that – it did go up overnight. It wasn’t like they brought in skilled masons. And it did it’s job, didn’t it?
The weather was sunny and warm and perfect for a cruise on the Spree. Finding a boat was frustrating and I will spare you the details – just that it involved a long walk and retracing steps. Finally a nice boat and a suntan. I am seeing a theme here – Berlin was a surprise…
Without a Care – Sans Souci
The trip to Potsdam is a piece of cake – the S line from my hotel took me there in 40 minutes or so. We passed through a densely wooded forest. Which raised questions – was this new growth? Had this been bombed flat too? The Tiergarten – Berlin’s Central Park – was a beautiful place in the 30s. I read a book about Walter Dodd, US Ambassador to Germany in the30s – the park was described several times… but it was bombed flat and had to be replanted. As you drive through it today, you’d never know. Maybe that’s what’s behind some of my questions – always wondering if this was the same landscape you would have seen in 1924?
This Berlin trip was also different from many other trips – I didn’t rush. I took my time getting ready, lingering over meals, not feeling like I had to visit every site, experience every moment. No, relax and breathe. Is this my new travel style? For an older and wiser traveler?
I do know that I was happy to have my hair short again. On Friday before I left, I had lunch with Laurel – and wondered if I should cut my hair short. She said sure! Do it. So I called Michel and he had a free appointment in 2 hours. Sign from the Universe. Happy with it and particularly delighted when I returned to Paris to the 103 degree weather. Long hair would have killed me – I wilt enough without it. Wednesday the flying day was very slow – sleeping in, packing, trying one last currywurst and taking the bus to the airport. To discover an hour and a half delay. Funny – you find out these things at the counter – the Berlin airport doesn’t update their departure screens. Simplest security I have ever had – she didn’t even check my boarding pass to a passport. Saw the boarding pass and the passport in my hand and waved me through. And touchdown in Paris to 103 degrees. And of course the airport bus was a 45 minute wait and then traffic. Good thing I had no where to go. Except to a hot apartment..
I posted on FB the temps for the week – and many responded – oh just like Sacramento. No. My friends. It is not just like Sacramento. You all have air conditioning! I do not. I eventually eeked out 3 hours of sleep. It didn’t get down to 75 until 3 am. Next night – hotel!