Monthly Archives: December 2012

Touring historical Berlin

Marilyn and I took off toward the Brandenburg Gate for the first top on a three and one half tour of historical Berlin. Historical in a misnomer, as every inch of Berlin plays a part in the remarkable history, the wars and the revovery that created the personality it beams out today.

Our guide, a historian and great teacher, began leading the tour when we all lined up near the gate during a cloudy and often wet day.

We saw sites that explained the events that led to wars, and the aftereffects of war, beginning with the view of the Reichstag – the German parliament which had been ruined during WWII but made safe in the 60s, and finally completed the restoration in 1999.

There were many sites along the way, some just took my breath away when I learned of the significance. One was the Holocaust Memorial, the name of which is really more appropriately called, “The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe”. It was designed by an artist who never felt a reason to explain his motivation, but to leave it to each person’s interpretation.

Memorial to the murdered Jews

Our guide told us that you could walk through the memorial, see someone turn a corner and never see them again. The concrete boxes vary in height and the pathways are narrow for one person. The path rises and falls.

I felt a quiet respectful silence as I wound around the path within the walls of the structures.

After experiencing the memorial, the guide told us to compare the memorial structure with what she was about to show us. We walked about a block away where we stood on what was just a simple parking lot surrounded by apartment buildings.

That insignificant space was made such by design, for under it was the final bunker where Hitler and his girl friend – turned wife – Eva Braun took their lives when they knew he had lost the war.

The German government didn’t want to create anything that would be construed as a ‘shrine’ to Hitler so left it as is, with no access to whatever is left of the underground bunker, if anything.

The tour took us throughout the scene of early wars up to the wall that had been created to separate East Berlin from Western Germany, and we saw a portion of the original wall. Many people braved the almost impossible escape to West Germany and some were successful, but many people perished trying. It stands as a reminder of the times.

 

A French inspired building in the Pariser Platz near the biggest Berlin Christmas Market.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking over the earth

“Take that bridge over there and walk over the earth to the subway station,” said the young man who Marilyn stopped to get directions.

Over the earth? That was one man’s way of explaining in his best English where we needed to find the next station. We were headed to a doctor’s office way on the other side of Berlin so I could get the medicine’s I’m required to take. Every three months I need to get another supply, and the rules for purchasing medicine varies in every country.

In Ireland it was required that I get examined by a doctor before getting a prescription, and that I did. I showed him all the paper work my doctor back in the states had given me. I walked out with a good medical report and a prescription. In Ireland, as in many other countries, you cannot even purchase the brand Tums for a mild tummy ache without a doctors’ permission.

In Spain, all I did was to ask the pharmacy for the medicine, and they required proof that it was prescribed by a doctor. Proof was easy, with the paper work I carried, and I got my medicine.

In Morocco, all I did was hand a list to the pharmacist, wait for it to be packed up, pay my bill and leave. Easy.

Today, I realized that Germany has strict rules in many arenas, and therefore, I made an appointment to see a doctor. I did see one and that cost thirty euros, and I received a prescription that I filled immediately.

Getting to the doctor’s office involved a tram and an underground subway, and a walk over the bridge.

Marilyn, who is expert at nearly everything, even using a chain saw to trim away tree limbs that are dry and a fire hazard in her Vallecito, Colorado home, became the navigator around Berlin. That’s fine with me, as she does a great job, getting us where we need to go, and I get to look at the architecture.

We were headed into a part of town where buildings were older and some covered with graffiti. Some of it is quite good art, while some is strange, and other just trash.

Marilyn lives on a hilltop in Colorado, where, when it snows, and the road up to her house is covered with it, she leaves the car at the base of the hill and walks up a steep grade to the house. She is an energetic woman with many skills. In the case of walking around Berlin, she is always two feet ahead of me, while I try to get my legs moving at my best speed.

When I began this tour, back in Iceland, I couldn’t walk even half a block without feeling pain.  I can walk long stretches now, just proving that walking helps your health.

We have fun meeting and asking questions of people when we need a bit of direction, and one of those was that young man who referred to the under a bridge as ‘over the earth.’

Another guy we met yesterday, is, in his own words, ‘a gypsy’. He was looking at some photos in his camera,  so when he looked up I smiled, and he asked me how I was doing. He began to speak English.

Turns out, he takes photos of folks and some video’s of street musicians, and puts them together on YouTube or Facebook. “I believe that beauty isn’t as important as what a person beams out. You must be full of love,” he said and we were convinced he meant it.

Today, we found the doctor’s office in an old building, up a flight of curving stairs and a wooden banister. We waited until the room full of people were seen and then it was my turn.

Prior to seeing the doctor, I was required to show all of my paper work, but the doctor hadn’t looked at it when I went in to her office. She just listened to me, and I gave her a list of the medicine I needed and she wrote a prescription. She apologized that I had to wait for such a long time. It didn’t matter, for while we waited, the sun shown through the clouds.

 

 

 

The Gate

Just catch a tram and go anywhere you want in Berlin. Yes, even when you get lost, if you keep trying, you’ll get back home.

Marilyn and I started out for the heart of Berlin after a bite to eat and some ‘make-do’ coffee in the hotel. We had an idea on what tram we needed to take to the  Brandenburg Gate – a  well known landmark, and the remaining old entrance to the city from the 1700s.

Since it was a Sunday, our mission was to get an idea for touring the city on a weekday and thought a good place to begin would be at the gate.

“Excuse me, I have a question.”

“I do not speak English,” the tall, handsome young German man said.

“Do you know what tram to take to the Alexanderplatz?” I pointed to the tram tracks.

“Go on line six,” he said, and did I detect he was delighted to help the two American ladies? Yes.

We made it to the Brandenburg Gate and it began to rain. I mind less about getting wet from rain than I do carrying another ‘burden’…an umbrella. There is just too much to take care of while moving around as a tourist. But Marilyn opted to purchase an umbrella.

We found a restaurant where we thought we’d get a little lunch. The restaurant door was covered with a black velvet curtain. That reminded me a bit about the part in the book I wrote, “Too Close to the Sun” a Dutch boy becomes a man during WWII, when heavy curtains blocked out the light in buildings and homes to keep the enemy in the dark during night time raids.

But the gentleman was friendly and welcomed us in. As we sat in the warm restaurant, we noticed the sky became lighter as the sun gently peeked through the cloudy sky, but it was only a tease.

We left and decided the best bet on a cloudy, rainy day would be to take the ‘hop-on-hop off’ bus. This type of bus is a regular thing for me to do in every country. You are able to get an overview of the city and know what you’d like to go back later to further explore.

A charming and funny British man, who has lived in Germany since the 80s, was our guide. As the bus took us from the Brandenburg Gate to twenty popular Berlin sites, he gave factual information with humor.

The Brandenburg Gate, one of the most well-known landmarks is located in the city center. It was commissioned by King Frederick II of Prussia as a sign of peace in the late 1700s. The gate was damaged during WWII and restored in the early 2000’s.

I thought people visiting the Brandenburg Gate would be quiet and respectful, and that was partly true as, before getting on the bus, we observed people taking part in a daily program of meditation. A few people sat in a circle quietly, while more rambunctious activity was going on around them.

A mobile cart of some sort, loaded with laughing people, heading right toward me, barely missed me as I jumped out of the way after taking a photo of them.

I moved just in time!

There were other people working the tourists for pay; folks standing as soldiers, one guy holding an American flag, and so on.

Instead of taking photos of those folks, I got a shot of Marilyn in her new hat, and she got one of me near the gate.

 

Marilyn in her new hat

Back to the bus; we drove by the parliament building, the Berlin Wall, the house where the president of Germany lives, the exclusive shopping area, where the guide said you’d need a lot of money to shop there and another Christmas market.

There were twenty sites in all, and soon we will see most of them up close.

 

 

 

Laureen standing at the Brandenburg Gate

We took a tram back to the hotel, and missed the stop, got off and took the opposite tram back to the right stop. We found a snack shop where we purchased some ‘take-away’ dinner from some delightful gentlemen who serve international food, and who come from other countries, as well.

A good day, and looking forward for a closer look.

 

 

 

Parliament building

Exploring Berlin

Marilyn and I set off for the heart of Berlin early this morning on tram number six. We walked through the slush on the sidewalk and on the way asked a young man which number would take us to Alexanderplatz – which is a major shopping district and also where many museums are located.

At first the young man said he didn’t speak English but somehow he let us know which tram to get on and he was right.

Marilyn and I discussed the fact that many people probably know the language but are initially shy about trying it out.

We arrived at the Galleria and did some ‘in-door’ window shopping. If you remember, my luggage is light and I have three more months to go on my one year adventure, so making purchases isn’t going to happen for me.

However, Marilyn found the nicest, furry-looking black hat that looks great on her. It reminds me of Russia and the cold winters there. I’ll post a photo of her in her new hat later.

Marilyn looks at the beautiful display of fruits and vegetables in the Galleria.

Meanwhile, we walked and looked throughout the store, for what I always say, is ‘just getting ideas’.

Standing guard!

We saw displays of fruit and vegetables, which included a fruit that I had on desserts way back when I was in Iceland, and couldn’t locate the name of it. Well, I took a photo so I could remember the name…physalis. Anyone remember that? Wasn’t that back in April? Who knew I’d find it again in Berlin.

We stopped first at a coffee shop and had broccoli soup for breakfast. Yes, you read that correct. We thought the restaurant was having a 20 % off on soup, so we opted for that, and besides it sounded healthy.

We also had coffee and ordered a second helping of that. When we paid we learned that the 20 percent off was for another time. It’s the language barrier, again, but that is what makes traveling interesting.

We spoke to the manager who sported a handle bar mustache, and who informed us that 80 percent of his business was composed of English speaking tourists. He also said he travels all over the world, and especially enjoys Thailand.

After that we walked through the Christmas market and observed kiosks of arts, crafts, food and drinks. Later we had gluhwein – a hot mulled wine that is a must-try if you’re in a German Christmas market.

At the Christmas Market in Berlin, Germany

After eating a healthy lunch on the top floor of the Gallery, we headed back to our hotel and got off near a mini-market where we found our oasis. A charming Russian girl told us about her hard-working mother who cooks fresh food everyday and would be delighted to cook breakfast for us everyday, and also lunches and dinners whenever we wanted.

Her mother, who doesn’t speak English came out to greet us. A delightful mother and daughter team – with good food, and close to our hotel. We purchased some food that we will warm up in a micro-wave and eat later in the hotel. I’ll tell you about that tomorrow.

Min Jie with Luka

BONUS PHOTO: This is Min Jie with little Luka. Luka arrived from Shanghai with his daddy, Daniel and mother Min Jie to visit Daniel’s family in Germany.

 

First day in Berlin with Marilyn

Woke up today and went down the elevator to the restaurant in the hotel. The breakfast buffet was over, but I didn’t want that anyway, so I ordered scrambled eggs, because the guy who asked me what I wanted was eating that and it looked good.

Then I wanted to use wifi to write the blog, but to pay for that seemed a bit extravagant, so instead I purchased a day pass on the tram with the intentions of using wifi at McDonald’s.

When inside McDonald’s I asked a man for the password for wifi. “You have to use a German phone number to log on to wifi here in McDonald’s.”

“I don’t have a German phone number. Can I use yours?” I asked tongue in cheek.

“Nien.” He said very seriously.

“Okay, do you know where else I could go to use wifi?”

A clerk went over to the electric outlet to show me where I could plug the computer in.

“No, I don’t want to plug it in. I want a password.”

Soon a manager came out, and I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman, with the message that, “You must have a German telephone number.”

“Yes, I know, he told me that.” I mentioned to the first man, to give credit to him in front of his manager. “I want to know if you know of any coffee shops where I can use wifi.”

“Nien.” The manager said.

So back I went to the tram on the snow covered, slippery street. While I walked there I thought about my son, Brad. He seems to know how to handle situations like this. I need wifi so I can write the blog and post it, but I cannot pay such a huge amount of money just to log on to wifi. What would he do? I asked myself and then came up with a plan.

When I got back to the hotel, I asked in my nicest voice if there was a manager on duty.

“Yes,” said a lady at the front desk.

“May I speak to him?”

“Yes, I’ll tell him you want to see him.”

A few minutes later a nicely dressed, well-groomed gentleman came to where I was sitting in the lobby, told me his name, and shook my hand.

I used the attitude my son would use and told him that I was a traveler and writing a blog every day.

“I will be in this hotel for twenty-one days, and I’m finding it too costly for me to use the wifi for my blog.” I thought my son would then ask him for a discount, (but what do I have to lose?), so I asked for the use of it free of charge.

“Of course. I can set it up for you so you can use it whenever you want and as often as you want. Just give me some time and I’ll get back to you.”

Well, now I learned something. If you find something not to your satisfaction; don’t get mad, ask for what you want.

 

Later, my friend Marilyn McCord showed up, a bit earlier than I expected, so I was happy to be in the room when she arrived. She had taken a taxi from the airport right to the hotel, and now we have had dinner, lots of conversation, and we’re making plans for tomorrow.

 

This is a day late: the internet is slow and I couldn’t post all day yesterday.

The first day in Berlin

Woke up today and went down the elevator to the restaurant in the hotel. The breakfast buffet was over, but I didn’t want that anyway, so I ordered scrambled eggs, because the guy who asked me what I wanted was eating that and it looked good.

Then I wanted to use wifi to write the blog, but to pay for that seemed a bit extravagant, so instead I purchased a day pass on the tram with the intentions of using wifi at McDonald’s.

When inside McDonald’s I asked a man for the password for wifi. “You have to use a German phone number to log on to wifi here in McDonald’s.”

“I don’t have a German phone number. Can I use yours?” I asked tongue in cheek.

“Nien.” He said very seriously.

“Okay, do you know where else I could go to use wifi?”

A clerk went over to the electric outlet to show me where I could plug the computer in.

“No, I don’t want to plug it in. I want a password.”

Soon a manager came out, and I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman, with the message that, “You must have a German telephone number.”

“Yes, I know, he told me that.” I mentioned to the first man, to give credit to him in front of his manager. “I want to know if you know of any coffee shops where I can use wifi.”

“Nien.” The manager said.

So back I went to the tram on the snow covered, slippery street. While I walked there I thought about my son, Brad. He seems to know how to handle situations like this. I need wifi so I can write the blog and post it, but I cannot pay such a huge amount of money just to log on to wifi. What would he do? I asked myself and then came up with a plan.

When I got back to the hotel, I asked in my nicest voice if there was a manager on duty.

“Yes,” said a lady at the front desk.

“May I speak to him?”

“Yes, I’ll tell him you want to see him.”

A few minutes later a nicely dressed, well-groomed gentleman came to where I was sitting in the lobby, told me his name, and shook my hand.

I used the attitude my son would use and told him that I was a traveler and writing a blog every day.

“I will be in this hotel for twenty-one days, and I’m finding it too costly for me to use the wifi for my blog.” I thought my son would then ask him for a discount, (but what do I have to lose?), so I asked for the use of it free of charge.

“Of course. I can set it up for you so you can use it whenever you want and as often as you want. Just give me some time and I’ll get back to you.”

Well, now I learned something. If you find something not to your satisfaction; don’t get mad, ask for what you want.

 

Later, my friend Marilyn McCord showed up, a bit earlier than I expected, so I was happy to be in the room when she arrived. She had taken a taxi from the airport right to the hotel, and now we have had dinner, lots of conversation, and we’re making plans for tomorrow.

 

 

P.S. The wifi  is slow. I tried to post this yesterday, but couldn’t get it to work. Here it is a day late.

 

 

I’m in Berlin

One bus, two trains, one taxi, one escalator, one elevator, a flight of steps, and here I am in Berlin!

Tomorrow my friend Marilyn McCord will be here. She’s leaving the snow in Colorado for the snow in Berlin. It’s very beautiful here, and it gets dark very early.

When I got here, I ate lunch and then took off to the town, which I learned isn’t as close as the booking website would have you believe.

A nice young lady told me where to get on the tram so I could do some shopping at a supermarket.

I got on the tram, and asked around if anyone spoke English. One lady did, but the five or six people standing near wanted to get in on the explanation. I learned that I should have gotten on the back of the bus and paid for my ticket. If you don’t pay, there’s a chance you get dinged by the inspector who makes surprise visits and checks everyone’s ticket. A big fine is levied if you can’t come up with a ticket.

No inspector, and I was told by three people where to get off the tram and where the super market is located. When I got off the tram I saw good old McDonald’s across the street and thought I’d go see if they have free wifi there. They do!

I met a lovely lady who is from Portugal in McDonalds. She has lived in Berlin for 18 years. She is a nurse, and gave me some help about how to get the next stash of my medicines, which is something I’ll need to do within the next few days.

I then went to the supermarket and found that I needed a shopping cart where you have to  use a coin as deposit (great idea, in my opinion – keeps shopping carts from appearing all over the city), but I just picked up what I wanted and carried it all to the cashier under my arms and under my chin. I had carried a bag with me, a smart move, if I don’t say so myself.

When I got out of the supermarket I decided to walk back to the hotel, even though the young lady who told me how to get to the supermarket said it was too far to walk. Well, I need to keep up the exercise that I started all those months ago, so I set off down the icy sidewalk.

On the way I came to one of those cheap stores that sell all kinds of great, and cheesy ‘stuff’. I purchased a few items that will make it a little Christmasy here in the room.

 

This morning I left Juliane and Lenny and little Jonathan, who spoiled me royally for a bit over a week. it proved to be a great place to land for awhile. They let me sleep as long as I wanted and then all day long, I was treated in the real German cosy tradition.

 

Last night Lenny and I joined Maria and Otfried to pick up Maria and Otfired’s son Daniel, his wife and two year old little boy from the Hannover train station. They came all the way from Shanghai to spend Christmas in Germany. It was quite fun to see Daniel after many years. And now he’s a business man, with a beautiful wife and son. What memories we all have and now we’re making more. It was just a brief moment in time that Daniel and I got to see each other, and here’s hoping they will all come to the United States some day.

Daniel, Min Jie and son Luka, Otfried, Maria and Lenny in back at the train station in Hannover

 

I look forward to many Berlin stories yet to experience and post here. It’s going to be awesome so check back often.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The baby sitter…me!

It’s been a long, long time since I took care of a small child. None of my kids crawl on the floor, and neither do my grandkids. Singing or making funny sounds are no longer necessary to make them laugh or to keep them occupied. I almost forgot what that was like all those years ago. Those years came and went way too fast.

Today I took care of Jonathan for fifteen minutes while Juliane took her little nephew to kindergarten. He had arrived with his daddy, David, earlier in the morning.

Everything went fine, while Jonathan was happy looking at the little world globe I wear around my neck. He could put his little fingers around it and put it in his mouth…where everything goes these days.

Then he cried a little bit but I picked him up and went to the window to watch the snow fall. I sang, “Let it snow.” He made me feel proud of my singing, when he didn’t cry: not even once. He actually seemed to enjoy it…he’s the only one so far in the world who doesn’t howl like a coyote when I sing.

He got heavy while holding him.  But holding him and singing to him  seemed to keep him happy for quite a long time, until I had to sit down.

Fifteen minutes went by fast and Juliane came back and took over. I must say I admire how hard she works as a young mother, as it doesn’t seem easy. She packs Jonathan in a buggy and goes for walks in all kinds of weather, every day and sometimes more than once a day.

So everyone should get fifteen minutes of fame, someone said a long time ago. I got fifteen minutes of caring for a baby…that’s better than fame.

 

 

 

 

 

What I like about Germany

What I like about Germany

 

  • The peoples’ willingness to speak English
  • The peoples’ desire to be helpful
  • The little cookies and candy pieces that is delivered with your cup of coffee in a coffee shop.
  • The great tasting coffee. Never is a bad cup of coffee served in Germany.
  • The mix of old and new architecture
  • Modern kitchens
  • Modern gadgets
  • Cleanliness and order inside homes
  • Art work in public places
  • Interior decorating of public places and inside homes
  • Transportation – buses and trains will take you wherever you want to go.
  • Most folks appear of normal weight and healthy.
  • The attention given to children
  • Great restaurants and good customer service.
  • Unusual Christmas decorations/not only red and green, but other colors, as well.
  • Christmas Markets – arts/crafts, food/drinks
  • Good wine
  • Outdoor coffee shops have warm blankets on the chairs. Many smokers use the outdoor area, and stay warm while smoking.
  • Trees

Celle and Hannover family

Today we woke up to snow on the ground and snow falling for a very long time. And Juliane, Lenny, Jonathan and I were invited to the city of Celle where Maria and Otfried had breakfast waiting for us.

Lenny drove expertly in the snow both to get out of Hannover and then the autobahn and then in the city of Celle, where the snow was heavy on the street to Otfried and Maria’s home.

The table was loaded down with good food and they kept bringing more food in from the kitchen.

Otfried loads the table with all kinds of food.

David and his wife Jana and their baby Elias joined us for breakfast. By the time we all got ready to eat it was around noon. We had yoghurt, the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever tasted, all kinds of bread and rolls, jellies, jams, and then there were planks full of salmon, ham and other types of meat, cheese of various types, and on and on…

The camaraderie was fun to see in the warm family atmosphere.

Ha ha, David, you missed!

Then they got a call from Otfried and Maria’s son, Daniel and his wife, Min Jie and son Luka, in Shanghai by Skype. Everyone had a chance to be seen and get a bit of a hello from Daniel and his wife and little boy.

Most of us then got into two cars and went to the city of Celle’s Christmas market. I noticed this family’s favorite place to stop was the wooden toy kiosk. They had fun trying out all the puzzles and games.

It began to rain, so it fell on top of us and on top of the snow on the ground. We headed back home but first stopped off where Maria purchased many types of cakes. Those were devoured later when everyone was home and dried out from the rain.

Winter in Celle, Germany

Yesterday, I was treated to a tour of Hannover by Lenny, who took me to see the city Rathaus (city hall), a park, the building Nord LB, (the mother company who Lenny works for), and a lake.

The lake has some history which involved the early days of Hitler’s  powerful influence before WWII. The lake, called Maschsee was man-made by  people who were out of work and given a job. During the summer, people find it a beautiful walk around the lake where you can see ducks, swans and geese, and many coffee shops along the way. You can swim and paddle a boat, as well.

Winter in Celle, Germany

Lenny and I had cake and coffee inside a coffee shop close to the frozen lake. I got some great photos of the early sunset over the lake.

Later yesterday, Juliane and her girlfriend met Maria, who came by train to the opera house in downtown Hannover, where we saw a ballet. It was an avant guard and very modern ballet. More than the talented dancers creating a story in ballet, they were also adept at acrobatics and swinging on ropes with hoops.

I’m very much enjoying my time in Germany with this wholesome, lovely family that I inherited through marriage.

The lake where Lenny and I had coffee and cake