I prefer winter and Fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape — the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show. ~Andrew Wyeth

Friday, December 21, 2012

Lost in Berlin...kind of.

Oh yes you can.
One late afternoon my sister and I decided to walk a few blocks from our hotel to the Brandenburg Gate and then to a bigger Christmas Market (Bigger that the one near our hotel.) that I had seen on the bus earlier in the day.
Yea, we decided to take a walk... in a town that we were unfamiliar with... without food or water... and without directions, on a very cold rainy evening. I have always had a really good sense of direction, (I actually brag about it.) and it has only failed me in a few situations, I rely on this sense of direction without hesitation. I inherited this ability from my father. He always said that you will never get lost if you remember landmarks and "Know your directions (north, south, east and west)."  "Look at the sky.", he would say.
 And it works... most of the time. I always seem to know what direction I'm going. But, in Berlin, this sense of direction acquired some kind of inner ear malfunction.
That evening my sister and I walked down past the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, one more block, to the Brandenburg Gate. We walked into a gatehouse, one of two corner buildings that flank each side of the gate, and marveled at the wonderful columns and style of the building and the lights that  are suspended from the ceiling. There was an abundant combination of neoclassic, Greek/roman architecture with some 1920's  accessories. Considering what this city has been through, the wars it has fought and the restoration  it has gone through every hundred years or so, it all looks pretty good. It all seems to work together beautifully.
At this point I thought that we were looking east and that the north was to our left. Wrong, wrong, wrong! I proceeded to tell my sister that we needed to walk left up the Strasse des 17, Juni which was west and I thought was north.  We walked along the edge of a beautiful park area that was shiny with rain.The sky was still kind of bright, but overcast and darkening.
The street was void of shops and buildings. This was not like I had remembered on the bus.
This was another memorial to the Russian soldiers.  I didn't remember seeing this one before. So we decided to turn around and go back toward the Brandenburg gate, where there were lights and activity.
It was getting darker and the lights were coming on everywhere. How could I have been so sure that the market was down this street, in this direction?
On our way back to the Gate we saw this plaque embedded in the sidewalk.
Does anyone remember President Reagan saying this? I do, but then I'm older than  most of you.

The Brandenburg Gate has always been something I wanted to see. It's the iconic landmark of Berlin and was the only structure that was left standing in this area in 1945, after the War was over.
This massive gate is the last of 18 original gates.
The first Brandenburg Gate was built in 1734, when a wall was constructed around the edge of the city. This wall was not for defensive purposes but for controlling the flow of people and goods to and from the city. 

The current Brandenburg Gate was constructed between 1788 and 1791 as part of a programme of building works to improve the wall and many of its gates. The Gate was designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans in the classicist style and in 1793 the Quadriga, the triumphal statue of the winged goddess of peace driving a four-horse chariot, was added on top of the gate.
In 1806 the Quadriga was stolen by Napoleon following the occupation of Berlin by the French army and it was removed to Paris. It was returned to Berlin in 1814 following Napoleon's fall from power, and the statue's olive wreath was exchanged for an Iron Cross.
I think this is the most beautiful chariot. A chariot drawn by four horses driven by Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory.
My sister is showing you how to look very confident under the Brandenburg gate, when you're cold and tired. Her older sister said "Smile for the camera."... and she did.
We continued walking south... no, I meant west... I was so sure it was south. 
Across the Pariser Platz and continued on down the wide boulevard,
and into what looked more familiar... more like a city street with shops and stores and lots of people.
One of the rules for being lost is that you should stay with the flow of people. This appears to work and although we could have retraced our steps back to our hotel, we were determined to find the Christmas Market that was here... some place.  So, we weren't completely lost. We just really had no idea where we were going. As it turned out, we walked four very long blocks in the rain and cold before we went into a store and ASKED directions. A lovely young Berliner, who didn't know very much English, finally figured out that we wanted to go to the Christmas Market. She pointed WEST down a street called Friednichstrasse (which was actually SOUTH) and so we walked four more blocks.
By this time I couldn't feel my legs anymore. We are talking LONG blocks and it was very, very cold. I was praying for a taxi sighting.
We finally saw the entrance to the Market. There were hundreds of  people out there enjoying the evening.
These folks acted like it wasn't WINTER. They were all having FUN. Children were laughing and eating all kinds of goodies. They were truly enjoying the whole Wintry, Christmas, "sausage in a bun" and hot Gluhwein scene. They did not seem to mind the COLD.
We looked around, bought a few things but really needed some food.
The market was surrounded by beautiful old buildings.

And overseeing the whole Gendarmenmarkt was a guardian. A winged lion that represented, to me, the toughness of these German people.
 That lion sure didn't represent this "California girl.". I was so tired that I couldn't enjoy the shopping. That's a first.
 Then we found a small cafe that was INSIDE ... and warm. It was kind of a tent but there were solid walls and the warmth must have been from all the people that were in there.  No one spoke English but somehow we conveyed, to the young waiter, that we would like some soup and a bottle of water. It was a miracle. He came back with good hot soup, bread and our bottled water.  I was never so grateful for hot food in my life.

We had no idea how to get back to the hotel without  retracing our steps and that was not going to happen.
They would have found me lying on the steps of a store front the next morning. The headline would have read.
Stupid American found dead a few blocks from her hotel. Cause of death: Inability to withstand mild winter conditions on streets of Berlin.
As it turned out, the fates were with us. We walked out of the Market and crossed the street. There before us, pulled over and waiting for someone, was a TAXI. I ran over and knocked on his window and said, "Are you working? Can you give us a ride? Please!"
Can you believe I said that? Isn't that what he does for a living?
Sis and I jumped into the cab and we went through this "nobody knows what anyone is talking about" conversation about where we were staying and he said, "Yes, The Berlin Marriott, OK." He never said another word to us, nor we to him, until we arrived at the hotel. It was worth every euro we had to pay... and the tip.
The next day we left for Dresden.
In retrospect, it was a grand adventure. In reality it was beyond what a 67 year old with bad feet should have been doing on a rainy, cold, early winter night in Berlin, when she had been walking and touring all day long... and this walk had been my idea. But I got to see the Brandenburg Gate, at night, with its beautiful Chariot driven by a Roman goddess. Now, I'm glad we did it.
Our warm hotel room never looked so good.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

My German Christmas Tree

I thought I would take a break from the German travelogue for the day. We all need a break from the tragic incident of last week. So my little Christmas tree is my spirit offering. The tree has a German attitude but it's not as rigid or heavy as the huge old buildings of Berlin.  It stands in my dining room quietly reminding me of my trip... and the beauty of Christmas.
This is my little German Christmas Tree. It's filled with things that I brought back from Germany.
 Last year I was looking for a small tree to put on my Mother's old buffet. My sister found one on sale, after Christmas, and brought it up here on one of her visits.
Coming home sick was not pleasant. This illness is still with me, but the "bug" is slowly releasing its hold on me...very slowly. So I have been in the house, taking medicine and resting a lot.
This tree was my way of remembering the trip, in retrospect, and giving it a better perspective.
The photo of our tour group is leaning against the container that holds the tree.

My birthday card that the "California girls" gave me at our last breakfast in Munich, has sticky notes from all five of them inside. This was done so I could reuse the card for Christmas. It's an advent calendar. I will never send it to anyone. It still has the sticky notes inside of it. I was so sick that morning before we left, but this one thoughtful card from these women made all the difference.
This little tree holds some postcards that I brought back with me. This one says "frohliche Weihnachten! which means "Merry Christmas:" in German. It's charming.

This one is from Rothenburg...a beautiful old town and my favorite of the trip.
One of the photos I took, below, is in the same exact location.  It really hasn't changed that much in hundreds of years.

There is another postcard tucked in to remind me of the sadness that was levied on a single town during a war. This is Dresden in 1945, after the Allied bombing virtually destroyed it.
It's as if this statue was asking "Why?" as she looked out over her city. "Why has this happen?"
I can't wait to write a post on Dresden. They have restored almost every building now and it's a most beautiful city, with some of the most elegant buildings you can imagine.

Then I have some ornaments that I bought from one of the German Christmas markets.
A lavender filled heart
And a "munchkin" from Munich. This is a tiny ceramic ornament that has the German spelling of Munich on it.

I also added some of my Mother's old ornaments ,
 A set of hand made felt ornaments that my friend "D" made me almost 40 years ago.

A few of my gourd ornaments.
 And some dried manderin orange peels. Yes, they make pretty decorations and they smell good too.

A very special clove heart hangs in a place of honor. My sister bought it for me when she went to Salzburg. I was sick and couldn't make the trip, on a train. She bought me a beautiful warm scarf and this lovely ornament.
So, this is my little German Christmas tree.
It represents my first trip to Europe, the experience of a lifetime... and the beauty of the season.
I feel better... somewhat, and we are looking forward to Christmas.
It will be a while before I travel that far again. I want to see some of my own country now. A trip, with the Prospector and the dogs... and our feet on the ground. This sounds really good. No more planes for a while.

Think on the children of Sandy Hook, Connecticut and their parents...
 and the women who died trying to save the children at their school.
Count your blessings. Life is precious.