Monday, September 24, 2007

Berlin (A Day and a Half is a Week Too Short!)

A note to anyone planning a trip to Berlin: If you plan to stay for any less than a week, you will leave knowing that you absolutely MUST come back, for it is absolutely impossible to absorb everything the city has to offer in less than that. Allowing two weeks or six weeks (or a year… or a lifetime) would be a much wiser plan.

We, on the other hand, had all of a day and a half. Fortunately, our guides were former Berlin residents and current Berlin- fanatics. Both Laura and her sister were born in Berlin and her parents eagerly showed us, in abbreviated time, all there was to see. (OK, not all, but they certainly tried!)

We left the fairytale Kassel area, where they live, at about 5:30 PM on Friday, arriving in Charlottenburg at about 9:30. C and B treated us to a wonderful hotel right in the heart of this bustling, yet quaint and personable section of the city. Upon arriving, we at dinner at the sidewalk café area of a friendly neighborhood bistro.

I had been to Berlin twice before, once in ’73 and once in ’80. I wish I could remember those trips better, so I could fully appreciate the contrast, but my memories are hazy. I DO remember the wall, and even viewing it in the “touristy” area of Potsdamer Platz, where we climbed a few wooden steps and were allowed to see over the wall into East Berlin. And I remember Check Point Charlie, where the guards with machine guns tore apart my brush, opened my tampon container, and slid mirrors under the car. I remember seeing the Brandenberger Gate… sort of. I remember the world behind Check Point Charlie as completely gray – the people, the buildings, the air… everything. But those areas bore absolutely NO resemblance now to my memory of them then. None. Instead, they are surrounded by shiny new buildings, beautiful open areas and energetic, colorful people.

Bright and early on Saturday morning, we arrived at the Reichstag, the seat of the German government, and a fabulously restored building with an architectural marvel, a huge spiral viewing area on the large dome situated on top of the building. Somehow (I can’t begin to understand the engineering and optics involved!), the moveable mirrors allow just tons of light into the history-laden (some of it tragic) building itself. I love the symbolism.

The Brandenberg Gate is now wide open, bustling with people (yes, tourist bus after tourist bus!), the path of the former Wall marked only by a line of square rocks in the road. Potsdamer Platz, which was a no-mans land during the years of the Wall, now houses the absolutely immense Sony Center, a business and economic hub that screams of a contrast to its former identity.

Elisabeth and I visited the Holocaust Memorial, a collection of 2500+ simple, stark, charcoal gray rectangular (grave-shaped) monoliths placed on a large expanse of rolling earth, some hip-high and some many times taller than a person. Without even realizing it, one could get lost in the stark, yet overwhelming denseness of it all. I love the symbolism. Under the memorial is an exhibit commemorating the murder of the 7 million Jews (yes, the German people have faced their past head-on), which I found to be overwhelming.

We enjoyed dinner at a fabulous and very authentic Italian restaurant and topped it all off with a night cap at yet another sidewalk bistro, many of which seemed to be open all night.

The next day we had a lovely breakfast at Anna Blume, an example of a thriving bakery and café (and flower store!) in the former East area. Wonderful! Then off to the TV tower and the beautiful buildings surrounding it (by this time I was feeling overwhelmed by history and information and, admittedly, retained fewer details!), and then off to the palace of Sans Souci in Potsdam before returning to Kassel, exhausted, and falling into bed – but only after the arduous task of packing for Tom’s return to Seattle (I sent much home with him) and Elisabeth’s and my continued trip.

Before we went to bed, Laura’s father made us all “Strammer Max,” a German specialty consisting of eggs and ham atop brown bread (yum). And then, Laura’s wonderful parents and our dear new friends, presented Tom and I with two “German clouds” (as I call them), the individually-sized fluffy down comforters which are found on all beds here. Really – they were just far too good to us!

Saying goodbye was excruciating again, because this time we weren’t just saying goodbye to Laura, but to her whole family… people who we definitely regard as part of OUR family now, and who we have come to love as much as we love Laura. We insisted that they come to Seattle soon, and hopefully next summer we’ll be able to share some of our home with them!

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Anonymous said...

Isn't it great to make new friends like that! And I do hope that Laura's parents will come to visit you. I find it truly exhilerating to show someone who hasn't been here our beautiful state and find that all of them are awed by the sheer beauty of it.

swenglishexpat said...

Thanks, Carol, for inspiring me to go to Berlin later this autumn. We have been thinking about a destination for a week in late October, a toss-up between Berlin, Valencia and Barcelona. Berlin is top of my list now! You are apparently having a wonderful time in Germany. Great slide show BTW!

Dixie said...

Isn't Berlin great to visit? I always have such a good time when I visit there.

You trip has just been amazing so far!

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