Thursday, October 15, 2009

Our Trip in a Nutshell- Part VII


We got to the airport really early. Our flight took off a few minutes late but it's all good. We found a luggage scale and realized we were okayish but still shuffled a few items in our bags to make sure we were under the weight limit.

When we got to Berlin it was kinda rainy but luckily my sister-in-law's soon to be brother-in-law, Batiste was there to pick us up. We got to their place and rested. It just so happens that we got there on Germany's reunification day. The city was in party mode for a few days and even treated to a parade of Giants. A French artist made these giant marionettes and used them to tell the story of a little girl and her father. The little girl woke up in the West and the father emerged from the river in the East. The father is a pearl diver and while he was out one day he and the daughter got separated. For two days the two marionettes walked through the city streets searching for each other. On the 3rd, they were reunited at the Brandenberg Gate (where the two countries came together). They hugged, played and walked the city together. It's a lot cooler than I'm making it sound. We didn't get a chance to even get close to them until the 4th day. They were toured around the city on a riverboat. They were asleep together :) Even like that they still moved (their chests rose and fell like they were breathing and made sleeping sounds).

They're a little freaky to look at at first, but their movements and the effort to make them so articulate is actually beautiful.

We got a great walking tour of Potsdamerplatz, the city's western center and got to see parts of the Berlin Wall and the permanent line showing where the wall used to be. It's hard to believe there used to be something like that there. Looking around from this side of the city you really can't tell the area we were in was once pretty dangerous.

We passed by the city's big casino, Spielbank and Aaron immediately got the urge to take Euros from the Germans. I told him we could go back at a later point in our stay. Later on that evening we met up with Batiste's brother Julian and his adorable girlfriend Julia (yeah, I thought the same thing you're likely thinking). We went to a really nice restaurant and had dinner and beer. We ate so much I felt sick afterwards. But this didn't stop us from drinking more beer.

The following day we got together with Stella, Munchkin #5, Stella's Mom, Batiste and Stella's sister Muna. We saw the marionettes and took a boat tour around the city. From the river we got to see Museum Island, which was once in the East, their government buildings around the Unter den Linden, the Reichstag, the new train hub, and a few of their performing arts centers. During the tour Stella and I had a Weisbier (white beer), the stuff is flavored with syrups. I had a raspberry one. Holy cow was it ever yummy. It was nice seeing the city this way. It gave us a pretty good idea of where things were. The entire time there were took the U and S-Bahn, their super easy train systems. Really. Their train system is pretty large and will take you to just about every part of the city and beyond, but they are really easy to follow and very punctual. When the train schedule says the thing is coming in a minute, you better believe that un under a minute, the thing WILL be there. Awesome.

We went to the site that was once Checkpoint Charle and got to see what is left of the infamous gate. Along the streets leading there there are permanent billboards that tell the history of the site and the biographies of the successful escapes and the stories of those that didn't make it through. Some of these really made me want to cry. I saw this photo of an East German soldier Conrad Schumann jumping over the Berlin Wall and loved it.

Aaron preferred another image. It's one of an It's a photo of another East German soldier along the barbed wire barricades. Instead of leaping to his own freedom, he's reaching down to help a small boy over the wire. The soldier is young, and his eyes, looking warily over his shoulder, are full of fear. And yet, he persisted. Apparently, the boy escaped but the soldier didn't. He was seen helping the boy and, moments later, was taken away. I couldn't find the photo anywhere and the one I saw was a poster but couldn't take a photo of it. I did find the image on this link for the Checkpoint Charlie Museum (Click on the "Exhibitions" tab).

In Aaron's opinion, Schumann, although brave for saying, 'Feck it' and jumping over the border, the braver one was the soldier helping the boy. He knew he'd be screwed if he got caught but still decided to do the right thing for the boy.

On our way back to Muna and Batiste's place we had one of the best snack foods I have ever encountered, Currywurst! Holy crap this stuff is delicious. I mean I could honestly eat platefuls of this stuff till I popped. All it is, is a great sausage smothered with a tomato-based sauce with a good sprinkling of curry. Not too much, just enough to give it all a good swift kick. Holy crap, I'm drooling just thinking about it. They so need to bring this stuff to NYC. I think it would give the dirty water dogs a run for their money.

The next day we got an unexpected surprise, Julian, who is a limo driver had a day off and offered to take us on a driving tour of the city to check out some of the lesser known areas of the city and sights that aren't exactly mentioned in tourist books. He took us to the East and we really got to see the big difference between the two halves. The parts that remained the way they were prior to the reunification look very drab and look like they were just thrown together (which they were). It's pretty spartan looking. This side of the city also has the largest, complete stretch of the Wall. Artists who once had murals have been invited to go back and recreate or touch up their works. It's pretty cool to see actually. We got to see some of the smaller streets of the East and got to see how far behind some sections of the city still are. Julian also drove us by the Holocaust Museum right next to the Brandenberg Gate, the New Synagogue (the remains of the last Synagogue in Berlin which got hit when the allied forces bombed Berlin) and the Kudam, an old church that was partially destroyed during WWII and was left untouched to serve as a reminder.

Once again we had currywurst. Aaron got a delicious chicken wrap that needs to be given its proper dues. This thing was drool worthy also. It had veggies galore, freshly grilled chicken strips and some kind of sauce that I would consider bathing any kind of sandwich in. I mean damn! And of course, there was beer. Ah beer.

Later that night Aaron and I hit the casino. He was feeling pretty damn lucky and after being reminded of the past, he was ready to, "take some money back for the Jews." Sigh... I swear it was him who said it. He went in with 200 Euros and about three hours later, he walked out with 460. I lost 20 Euros on the slot machines. I sat down at a 1 and 2 cent machines, so I was there for a while on each machine. I also got currywurst and a beer while he wrapped up his game. We cut out early because the train going in our direction stop running at 1:00am. We ended up missing the train and had to cab it back. This was an adventure because I had learn to say the street name. They live on Schlangenbader Strasse. Luckily, my brother was still in Jersey. I called him and learned how to pronounce where we wanted to go rather than call Muna and Batiste at that time. The cab driver didn't understand a word I was saying. Luckily he spoke English.

The following say we spent the day in the city on our own. We hit the Bode Museum. The work there was nice. But to be honest, after having spent over a week seeing some of the best works of art the world has ever known, other museums kind of fall short. We skipped the other museums and checked out the New Synagogue. We didn't realize it till we got to it that they had an exhibit there. We went through a security system the rivals the airport but got to go into what's left of the Synagogue and got to see some of the items that were left. Considering that Berlin once had a huge Jewish population, the shockingly few items in the place was beyond sad.

But wait, the sadness continues. Aaron and I went to the Holocaust museum. I won't go into the details. I can't do it justice. The memorial on the street level takes a moment to understand, but it is powerful. The museum below is... I can't even find a word. The exhibits give a timeline of the persecution but primarily focus on the people affected. One room in particular, is dark and empty except for benches that face the walls. Every minute or two a name is projected on the four walls. The names are of those who died a narrator says a little something about who they were, their age and where they died. If I remember correctly, if played nonstop, it'll take over nine years to get through all names of those who were killed.

The following day we were going to go to Sachenhousen, the concentration camp right outside Berlin, where most of the city's Jews were taken after the Kristal Nacht raids. After seeing that memorial, I didn't really have it in me to go. I really wanted to, but emotionally I was pretty fucked up. I think we need to go there the next time we're in Germany.

That night we had a more laid back diner. We still had beer and tons of food, but we just hit a small traditional German restaurant/pub with Stella. We were joined by a friend of hers and had a really nice dinner. Her friend swiped a stein for Aaron. :)

The following say we spent repacking our bags then shopping with Stella at KaDeWe. This was once the biggest shopping mall in Europe. It's still massive and super expensive, but the 6th floor has one of the best food sections I've ever seen. The place has every conceivable kind of gourmet food you can think of and then some. I love it. We had lunch there and of course, beer. The place has its own brand of beer. I meant it when I said it has one of the best food sections ever.

That last night we had a lovely dinner with the family and spent a good portion of the night chatting away. And drank beer.

So there you have it. That is our trip in one of the biggest nutshells I have ever seen. I hope you've enjoyed reading about our trip. Don't worry, I'll have more travel stories in April. Aaron's putting together a friends cruise to Bermuda. Given the people who I know will be there, this will definitely turn out a lot of funny-ass stories. Cheers!


Keri said...

I've always wanted to return to where my relatives are from... my grandfather Gerhardt was born there and his parents escaped before the war. Your stories make me want to go there even more.

and OMG... those marionettes put our T-day ballons to shame... awesome.

and the images of the soldiers... those that went against the reicht risking their own lives... so powerful. I am glad to see that slice of history is so strongly portrayed and remembered so it is not repeated.

and I need to be making some of that currywurst... gotta find a recipe somewhere cause those are my two fave flavors...

BeeOhVee said...

I'm really glad I put those images up, then.

When I first got there I wasn't sure of what to expect. Bow that I've been there, I have to say, Berlin has some of the hands-down nicest people ever. The place really is rich in history and change. They have many reminders about what happened in the past (for example, you will see many structures that survived the war still have bullet holes in them. They kept them this way on purpose), but make sure to keep things modern. It really is a great city. I'm looking forward to going back and perhaps getting a chance to check out other parts of the country like the Bavarian region.

Anonymous said...

My mom lives in Stuttgart and I lived in Germany when the Wall came down. I never got to go to Berlin though sadly.