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Berlin

Postcards from Berlin

We are home, the unpacked bags scattered in the entry the least favorite reminders of any holiday. But the bags, along with the very dry Christmas tree, can be dealt with later. Now it’s time for one final set of postcards from Berlin.
My Instagram-ed photo from atop the Reichstag.

 One child is not camera-shy; the other tolerates mom’s request for photos.

Though he did not ride, Clayton Theodore was welcome on the Berlin Metro.

The KaDaWe (Kaufhaus des Westens), continental Europe’s largest department store. Seven magnificent floors of all that shoppers dream of in one place, including an oyster bar where we paused to toast Jack’s college acceptance with plates of Scottish oysters. (No need to wonder; the KaDaWe is open at night.) 

The former East Berlin main train station, all gussied up by capitalism.
 
Our car had been parked adjacent to this electrical box for most of the week. Once we discovered that Berliners were just as nutty about their fireworks as the Viennese, we put the car into a secure garage. 
The Berliner Dom.
 

The Hamburger Hauptbahnhof is now a modern art museum, within which we poked our usual fun at art we don’t understand.

Herta Heuwer, the inventor of Currywurst. We learned about her (and had a foam pomme frites fight) during our visit to the Currywurst Museum, an informative and much-needed diversion from Berlin’s history.

The five of us enjoyed a sunshine-filled day in Potsdam, at Schloss Sanssouci (Frederick the Great’s summer palace) and throughout the park.  Yes, Clayton Theodore was welcome in the park!  (Hint, hint, Schönbrunn and Belvedere…)

 Another for my collection!  The former West Germany/East Germany border crossing.

One of the “Bear”lin Bears sprinkled around the city. This one sits in the entry of the American Embassy, most appropriately.

East meets West at the Brandenburger Tor subway.  After the wall fell, many underground lines had to be reconnected.  Time travel, if you will.

Potsdamer Platz was at the confluence of the British, American, and Russian-occupied zones, and was essentially wasteland. Now it is a thriving hub that we all agreed could have been somewhere in midtown Manhattan.

Berlin. We were here.

Berlin’s Food Scene

In a word, exciting! Anna Grace became an expert this week on currywurst, Berlin’s signature street food. (Even I, a certified ketchup hater, had to admit that the marriage of the tomato-y sauce with curry spices, slathered over a grilled bratwurst was top-rate street eats.) And when paired with perfectly crispy fried potatoes and a Berliner Pilsner at a cozy Alt Berliner Wirtshaus, it became a rather civilized street food.

Continue reading “Berlin’s Food Scene”

Life Behind the Wall

Quite possibly one of our top museum experiences of the holiday, the hours spent at the DDR Museum. More than just exhibits of “Ostalgia,” the museum offered real, and sometimes interactive glimpses into life behind the wall. We all came away more informed, and humbled.
I took the interactive quiz to determine if I could rise in the “Young Pioneer” ranks. Let’s just say my Levis-wearing, smuggled-Nivea-cream-from-friends-in-the-West-self would not have been promoted.
Collective potty training.  Talk amongst yourselves.
After the potty break, time for Panzer Counting!

 “Do you know the Soviet Union?” flashcards. I’ll bet the answers are still correct today.

Not so sure I could rebel on my government-subsidized holiday in this manner, as so many East Germans did. Then again, swimsuit shopping does suck…

Wall or no wall, a universal constant of sorts. Home from work, straight to the kitchen for the working gals.

My kitchen does not have helpful guidelines for floor-scrubbing and ironing. Then again, I do not engage in either of those sports.

 A couple of weeks ago I commented on the socialist-inspired bath tissue at TESCO. Mmmm, hmmm.

 Nearly 40 periodicals were available to the East German reader, all with the same opinion.

As is most often at the foundation of failed socialist empires and regimes, some people were more equal than others. The average East German family saved and waited nearly 16 years for a Trabant while the average Socialist Leader puttered around town in Volvos.

There was much, much more to explore at this museum, but I won’t spoil it for you. You’ll just have to visit and experience it all for yourself.

Never Forgetting

Berlin does not hide from its history. 
Along our street, a residential building noting significant moments of its architectural history.
Outside of the Reichstag, slate tiles for the members of the Reichstag who were eliminated after the Nazis took power. 33 slates, each slate representing 96 members who were murdered.

Near Alexanderplatz in the former East Berlin, a memorial constructed in 1933 to honor all victims of tyranny and war.

Wittenbergplatz, the U-Bahn station nearest our apartment. One of the oldest U-Bahn stations in Berlin.  

The plaque to the right is a memorial that lists the concentration camps to which Jewish people were transported via the Wittenbergplatz station. “The location of secrets we must never forget.”

A section of the Berliner Mauer (Wall) along the River Spree.

A section of the (former) wall near the touristy Checkpoint Charlie, trodden upon by tourist after tourist eager to pose with the fake “checkpoint” guards instead.

Perhaps the most emotional is the Holocaust Memorial near the Brandenburg Gate. Beneath the 19.000 m2 space is a center that contains a list of all known Jewish Holocaust victims. For the ignorant above, however, the blocks are little more than Instagram fodder. Never Forget? They likely Never Knew.

The Former East Berlin

We really should have gone to Berlin over the school holiday last spring. Tony and I were here almost 12 years ago for a mere three days as part of our “East Germany” driving holiday and had time for little more than the most touristy checklist items. Now, older and wiser, and with an entire week to devote to the city, we and the children have been charmed and impressed with Berlin. Gritty and cosmopolitan, historic and modern and–with apologies to Vienna, the temporary home that we love–open for our enjoyment on Saturday evenings and Sundays.
There is no way I or my camera could capture our impressions of the former East Berlin. I can offer only these images.
Atop the Reichstag dome in the early morning.
The East Berlin “Ampelmann” turned pop star. T-shirts, cookie cutters, dog chewies and more can be yours at the Ampelmann Store. Nothing like a little capitalism to help shake off the dust of years of Communist oppression. 

During our visit in 2002 the Brandenburger Tor was covered for restoration. This year close-up access was blocked with preparations for New Year’s. Maybe our third visit will be the charm.

The Neue Wache at the eastern end of Unter den Linden, a memorial to all victims of tyranny and war.

The Französischer Dom at Gendarmenmarkt, the home for the French community since the time of the Huguenots.

This VW bug at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum helped 500 people escape from East to West.

Also in the museum were columns of donated DDR passports, tokens of a time not worth remembering, but a time that will never be forgotten.

A few sections of the kilometer-long “East Side Gallery,” a preserved section of The Wall along the river Spree.

We Took Our Own Advice

Winter driving in Central Europe is not for the easily intimidated, as we learned on last year’s post-Christmas holiday to Prague; again for small stretches across the Italian Alps coming and going to Florence in February; and finally during the wintry slog across Slovenia on our failed spring break trip to Croatia, wherein we decided “We Should Have Gone to Berlin.” 
For this holiday we took our own advice and headed to Berlin. To our great happiness, the skies were blue and the sun shone for nearly the entire drive, affording us unobscured views of castle ruins sprinkled across the Czech Republic. I did not have my handy-dandy field guide to Czech castle ruins in the car, so all I can report is that this ruin sits somewhere between Lovosice, CZ and the German border. 
For the week this Clayton Theodore-approved apartment in the Charlottenburg neighborhood of Berlin will be home. He could almost be an IKEA showroom canine model, couldn’t he?

Exploring the Berliner Weihnachtmarkt near the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedachtniskirche was the only activity of note for our first day…

 (Flames danced into the sky from the Weihnachtsterrasse every time someone ordered a Glühwein.)

 If you’re not in the mood for the “1/2 Meter Bratwurst”

The Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche in the background, just barely illuminated by all the lights along the Kurfurstendamm.

Gute Nacht, Berlin!

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