Over the weekend we flew to Berlin, Germany - again another Ryan Air special deal. It was a combined trip - tourist sightseeing as well as spending time with one of my best friends from high school, Michael Anderson. I had not seen Michael since college - so a decade later it was terrific to connect and see him nestled into his European life in Berlin. Michael is an elementary school teacher now. He rotates amongst schools and teaches children English. How cool! He is in process of applying for a PhD program in Dublin for English literature. His heart definitely belongs on this side of the Atlantic.
We were very lucky that Michael picked us up from the airport and spent the entire weekend with us - helping us navigate all over his beloved Berlin. He says that he even got to see new things with us because how often do you really take advantage of being a tourist in your own home town? It was fantastic having a personal tour guide to lead us all over.
Since returning to Brussels so many people have asked me, "How was Berlin?!?!" It is funny because I sometimes have trouble answering this question even though we definitely had a full and fun time. Berlin is unique city and difficult to describe. It is an unusual mix of tremendously rapid growth since the fall of the Berlin Wall, yet there is always an air of gloom and depressed history remembering the Holocaust and WWII and the division of Communism. The city just oozes history and remembrance. I think it is essential to try to take in this history in pieces. It is always a stark contrast to learn about a time so gruesome and troubling on a whirlwind sightseeing tour. As an example we were struck by the small bronzed plaques built into the streets marking the addresses of murdered Holocaust victims. They dot the avenues around town and serve as regular reminders of how real and horrible the Jewish history is. Can you imagine being plucked from life to endure such terror? It eats your heart; you can't be in Berlin without thinking critically and emotionally about what happened there relatively recently.
We did take time to visit the brand new Jewish museum. The site was billed as a place to not only remember the Holocaust, but as a celebration of Jewish customs and tradition. Even though we basically had to speed walk through the exhibits because Connor was tired and wiggly, I really enjoyed the experience. We did not make it to this part of museum, but I found these photos of a particularly moving and creative exhibit. It is called "Memory Void" and basically visitors walk over a hallway of these metal faces. The "groaning" and "creeking" as one walks over metal rubbing together is supposed to evoke feelings of uncertainty and remembrance. What a thoughtful way to make a point. I highly recommend this brand new museum - maybe just not with a busy toddler in tow. Although they did have kid's corners that were a hit and a help.
We also spent time checking out all of the Berlin Wall memorial and sites. I was 11 years old when the Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989. I remember the TV images pretty vividly and trying to get my young mind about what the Wall represented. I didn't understand the symbolism and history then. I still think it is pretty complicated and unbelievable to think of a city and country so concretely divided. But being in the city certainly primed my curiosity to keep learning more. Even though the Berlin Wall is gone, there is still a stark difference between East and West Berlin. It will take decades for the dividing line to blur and progress to normalize the East. Seeing the large ruins of the Berlin Wall dot the city and the Wall Memorial and bike path was eerie yet intriguing.
Michael showed us this Reconciliation Church spot where the Wall used to run. There was an old church here, but as it was in the way of the Wall and the concepts of Communism the church was demolished. Poof, gone! When the Wall came down this spot of reconciliation was built. I found it calming and particularly touching.
We did take in some tourist sights not so heavy with evocative history. We rented bikes Saturday afternoon and rode all over Berlin, hopping from East to West Berlin and noting the contrasts as well as the construction. The skyline of Berlin is literally filled with cranes. A tangible sign of rebuilding and progress. Kirk and I actually stopped in Berlin for a day 6 years ago during a 3 week backpacking European whirlwind. I remember then we set as a goal to return one day because it was clear the city was changing and growing at lightning speed. Indeed it has. There were a handful of new memorials and modern skyscrapers everywhere that were not there during our last visit. These included the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. A strange plaza full of concrete blocks meant to symbolize whatever you deem them to represent.
We also saw the "Artists' Squat" - a bombed out shell of a building that is a home and studio for many struggling artists. You can walk through the dusty courtyard or even through the floors of the building to see the alternative art on display. It was a strange combination of intriguing and disturbing to think of the struggling artists living in such dismal yet such inspiring conditions.
We rode past the Reichstag Parliament building. We did go to the top of the glass dome last visit to Berlin. I had hoped to return - this time to see it at night. But we ran out of time so we only saw it from afar this time!
Unfortunately just as we were farthest away from the bike shop my bike stopped mid-pedal. The rim and the tire had totally separated. We were stuck! Michael was kind enough to give me his bike to return to the shop while he wheeled my ailing bike back via the metro. Ugh. Thank you Michael!
I did get to enjoy lots of German food in Berlin. I never had been a very big fan of sausage and sauerkraut but Michael took us to a quaint pub place and I had the best sauerkraut ever. I am a convert. Connor didn't buy into the German food kick, but she did really like the ZEBRA painting at the cafe. I also ended up trying GREEN BEER at a restaurant in Potsdamer Platz. Supposedly it is a Berlin specialty, so why not?
On Sunday we traveled 30 minutes by train to Potsdam, Germany - a holiday retreat of Frederick the Great. In Potsdam, there are acres upon acres of grounds peppered with palaces and forests. It made for the most delightful day walking all over and letting Connor run free. Our Rick Steve's guide book really did not recommend Potsdam, but I am so happy we listened to our instincts and went out there anyway. I loved the contrast from the big city and the palaces were honestly some of the most enchanting. If you go, take the time to walk end to end from the New Palace to Sanssouci Palace. The 2 km jaunt will make you feel in touch with nature as well as in awe of the extravagance.
As we prepared to leave Berlin, we did go see the Brandenburg Gate one last time. When Kirk and I were here way back when we snapped a photo of us in front of this Berlin monument - it is one of my favorites from the trip. This time we took a duplicate photo, but this time in the glow of night and with our nearly 2 year old daughter! Wow, how time changes things! Both for us and in the growth of our family. And also for the marvelous city of Berlin and all the change and progress happening all over. Click here for photos of Berlin (full album)
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