Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems. ~Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, in Berlin

This memorial bothered me more than any other place that I saw in Berlin. Of course, I had only read about the Holocaust in books like The Diary of a young girl by Anne Frank and A Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. This was a very long time ago. Last month I read some online articles before I left for our trip, to inform me of Germany's history and understand the philosophy of the German people.
I also started reading a book that my mother always had in her library called Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.I haven't finished this book,yet, but I'm sure it will inspire me to find meaning in what I saw here.
A few days ago I read a blog post that didn't find this a very "impressive" memorial and complained that there were no names on the concrete slabs.
My sister and I had decided to walk to the Brandenburg gate from our hotel. It was in the late afternoon of our second day in Berlin. We passed a whole block filled with concrete slabs just as it was getting dark. The lights of the surrounding town were just coming on and the darkness was settling into this memorial like a shroud.  It was very cold.
This was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
The slabs vary from 8 inches to 15 ft. 9 inches. Each is different. Some are crooked. All are stained with a blackness from, I think, the weather. There is no mention of this stain being part of the design. All paths lead down into the darkness of its center.
Looking down into the cobblestone walks was eerie and because it was getting so dark, we decided not to walk through it. It was enough to stand and look into the downward paths of each walkway.
If you stand anywhere on the sidewalks around this memorial you feel the depth of sadness and horror that it represents.There was a similar feeling yesterday when I heard about the shootings in Connecticut.
This was, and is, a very controversial memorial and seems to be criticized most by the Jewish community. Still, it produces this amazing combination of  sadness, evil and ghostly remembrances that represent, as the architect Peter Eisenman said "...  a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason."

It is interesting to note that the fastest growing population in Germany today is the Jewish immigrant. Go to this link to learn more about the Memorial.

" We have come to know Man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord's Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips." ~Viktor E. Frankl~

Friday, December 14, 2012

Oh, no.

My God, it's happen again. No words can say anything that will make this better. Nothing will ease the pain.
My heart is broken for the children and their parents in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.
You're right, Carol, we need to do something. I would bury my handgun to bring one of these children back. I'm sure I'm not alone.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A tour of Berlin: Art and Graffiti

Tuesday, the 27th of November was the first day that we met our tour guide, Carl (with a "C"). We met him in the lobby and had drinks and hors d'oeuvres that were like a dinner. Carl was Austrian and very entertaining. We met the other 34 people that would be on the tour with us. My sister and I were two of the six women that came from California.
The next morning we had breakfast and boarded our tour bus at 8:30 a.m. for a short Berlin City tour. This really helped orient us to the sights and gave me what I thought was a sense of direction and getting my bearings. I needed this because I was feeling very disoriented. Kind of detached and like a stranger in a strange land.
At around 11:00 a.m. some of us went on another tour to East Berlin. This was an option. My sister decided to stay at the hotel and rest.
 A local Berliner took us on this tour. She knew a lot of information, but she had a voice that was very hard to listen to. We saw many old buildings that were restored after the war. They were beautiful, but we rarely got out of the bus to take pictures because the weather was so awful.
 Finally we stopped where a long row of the Berlin Wall had been set up and artists were commissioned to paint each section with a political statement. This is called The East Side Gallery and it's on the Spree River. It is the largest open air gallery in the world.
The most famous of these paintings was created by Dinitri Vrubel in 1990. It's called, "My God, help me to survive this deadly love". It is a reproduction of a photo, in 1979.
The painting depicts Leonid Brezhnev (leader of the Soviets) and Erich Honecker (the East German President) in a fraternal embrace, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic. This iconic photo represents a sign of mutual support and an agreement to trade important goods. The painting was removed and redone by the artist in 1990 because of vandalism and graffiti.
Many of the paintings have been badly damaged.
Some of them were very interesting.

 The graffiti was so invasive that sometimes you couldn't tell what the artist had done and what was added.
 This painting, above, speaks for itself.
This one had wonderful color and interesting windows but that rabbit is not a happy rabbit and it's watching us with suspicion.
 "Free Palastina" was certainly not the intent of the artist, with these doves carrying the Brandenburg Gate, but it is all about peace, freedom and human rights so the message is there no matter who added what.
 "Blind Respect for Authority is the greatest enemy of truth" Einstein said this... not Lady Gaga.
This is me standing in front of a very strange painting. I'm freezing!! This was before I learned not to go outside without layers of clothing, gloves, a warmer hat and a bigger scarf. Look at this painting. It's very strange and I can feel its fear.
The saying below the painting translates to "Puppet of the remote Stucks ( "Stucks" didn't translate. )

Behind the row of street paintings was the River Spree and a beautiful bridge.
The "Floating Lounge" appeared to be a Hostel. How cool would that be to stay their for a while. We didn't have time to check this out. We had to get back to our bus and move on. Besides, we were REALLY COLD.

The next stop was the Check Point Charlie Museum. This is where I think that I may have picked up a "bug" of some kind. The museum was very small, very warm and we were all packed into it like sardines. Then we were back on the cold street.
There were two stories and lots of pictures of the Berlin Wall and the efforts people made to get to West Berlin. How would you like to be "luggage" in a Volkswagon Bug trunk? The museum was very interesting, but so filled with people, breathing on each other and very, very warm. Maybe that was a "special effect" for the tour. To let you get an idea how it would have been to be in a tunnel under the "death strip" during your escape to West Berlin. I couldn't wait to get outside.
Check Point Charlie was the most famous crossing between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. If you are interested, read about this restriction of emigration here. It's amazing what people did to leave East Berlin.
Throughout the city of Berlin you can see where the "Wall" was in the city's streets and sidewalks.
A double row of cobblestones follows the invisible wall over the path of where it use to be, as a reminder of its existence during the Cold War.


I have been sick since I got home. I thought it was a cold but it's a bit worse that a cold. Today I feel somewhat better.
Writing these posts is helping me sort out the trip. Reading about the places that we saw and learning the history of each place is allowing me to appreciate my trip more. It was a whirlwind of a tour and sometimes I would wake up and think, "Where I'm I?"  Having my sister with me was wonderful. She and I were great support for each other.
Next time I will tell you about our walk to the Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin, at night and  kind of going in the wrong direction. I, with my perfect sense of direction, got lost. Being on a bus is different than walking. I thought West was North. Yes. I was so sure. I will blame it on the rain clouds that didn't allow me to see where the sun was setting and , so, not getting my bearings.  But we survived.
... then I will move on to Leipzig and Dresden. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Ich bin zu Hause aus Deutschland. (I'm home from Germany.)

I'm so glad to be home. I feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when she found herself in Kansas again.
Going to Germany was an adventure that I will never forget. Being a world away from my home and my family was a hurdle I didn't expect to find so hard to overcome.
My sister and I arrived at the San Francisco airport with a friend, "K" who organized the trip for us.
and after unending lines and security checkpoints we squeezed onto a Boeing 747 with hundreds of other travelers that were putting themselves through this ordeal, like us, for the sake of  international travel to foreign countries.
Eleven hours later we landed in Frankfurt, transferred to another airplane and flew for another hour to Berlin.
We arrived, picked up our luggage and walked out to the "arrivals hall' to find the driver carrying an Insight Tours sign with our names on it. No one was there. We were tired, didn't know where we were and couldn't find anyone who spoke English. We finally found an information both. A nice man who spoke very little English said that we could take a bus to the hotel. We would only have to transfer once at "bla, bla, bla.". We thought about this and didn't want to end up in Poland or France, so we found a Taxi. At that point it didn't matter what the cost. We only wanted to get to our hotel.
We found a taxi with a friendly young German man who, again, didn't speak much English. We showed him the address for the hotel on our itinerary. He put our luggage into the trunk and off we drove trusting a taxi driver, in a strange city. He took us to the Berlin Marriott...
"K" was waiting in the lobby with another California girl.
"K" had no idea why the tour people were not there to pick us up. She got a ride with them from the airport. They said they would go back and pick us up but they didn't. It's all a mystery.
Even though we both had phones and paid for international  connections, we couldn't call each other there in Germany. These are the little "snafu's" that can make or break your sense of vacation security.
I began to feel the distance between where I was... and home. I was also very tired. We had come a long way in a very short time. I was told I was suffering from "Jet lag". It felt like being lost and disoriented.
We took a nap and later we walked to a shopping center that was a few blocks away. There was a small Christmas market in this area.
Lots of Christmas ornaments, cookies, woolens and "gluhwein", a hot, red wine and spices drink.
We ate dinner at this small restaurant that enticed us with a hot gluhwein outside its door. We ate soup and enjoyed the festivities.
The Germans do celebrate Christmas in grand and beautiful ways.
The walk down through the open mall was filled with trees, lights and people... and many children with their parents.
The city was a lovely mix of new buildings and old, with blue lit trees and white decorations that fluttered in the breezes.
The big mall at the end of the street was like a huge holiday ornament shinning in the darkness.
This was a pleasant beginning to our stay in Berlin... which is pronounced "Bear" lin and the reason that all the major hotels have a BEAR out in front welcoming everyone who comes to stay.
After dinner we walked back to the hotel thorough the Sony Center.
A courtyard surrounded by tall buildings with decorations everywhere and covered with an immense metal and cloth umbrella that was lit up at night astounded the eye. The turquoise trees are made from strings of lights and the real trees are covered with small gold Christmas lights. Everything was reflected in the windows of the buildings that surround the plaza. The center was very striking.
The air was bitter cold and we learned that gloves, scarves and hats were standard accessories along with winter underwear, a heavy coat, warm socks and good walking shoes or boots. You never went outside without all of this.The Berliners have taken winter wear to a high style. They are some of the best looking and best dressed people I have ever seen.
The wind moves through the city's high buildings with determination.
It cut though you and being prepared for this weather, sometimes wet, sometimes snowy and always cold ... was a challenge.
We were ready for the heat of the lobby in our hotel
 and the wonderful warmth of our rooms.
Tomorrow we would met our tour guide Carl, (with a "C") and begin our journey.