Friday, November 1, 2013


Days 4 – 5
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If we were going to Berlin, we wanted to be staying near the wall, or what was left of it. Mark wanted to see Checkpoint Charlie. He found a hotel in But I think the thing that really sold my Car Guy on the location was the fact that it was across the street from the Trabi museum. The Trabant, or Trabi for short, is a car that I knew nothing about.

 Berlin, Germany 002
With the Trabi, the former East Germany has managed to turn a symbol of the ineffectiveness of communism into a tourist attraction. Visitors can tour the city in a Trabi, the four-passenger, smoke-spewing, gas-guzzling sweetheart of East Germany that was produced beginning in1958, and continued in production without significant changes for 30 years, finally ceasing production in 1991.

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Just down the street, The Berlin Wall. Built in 1961 when I was 4-1/2 years old, the wall prevented emigration from East Germany until it was torn down in 1989, when I was 32. It was the symbol of the “Iron Curtain,” and the Cold War that divided world that I grew up in – Western Bloc vs. Eastern Bloc. I can still remember my sense of disbelief when the wall came down. Disbelief that it was going away, and also disbelief that it had ever existed, and for so long. You mean, people could just, like, tear it down??

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The longest remaining section of the Wall is there, and behind it is the Topography of Terror, an outdoor and indoor museum on the site of the former Gestapo headquarters. There is nothing left of the former Nazi compound, and the museum building itself in a nondescript box of a building. No frills; there is nothing to celebrate. Only people and their stories to remember.

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The exhibits are all photographs and text, telling stories about people. So many people. Officers of the Third Reich. War criminals. Prisoners. Terrorized Jews. This is the Germany that has nothing to do with my family; it’s a Germany that did not exist then. It’s a Germany that I barely understood while I was growing up. How could this happen? How could people have supported such a regime? The only answer is, they didn’t know until it was too late. There were voices of dissent in the wilderness, but they were silenced before anyone heard. We read stories about people. Athletes, scientists, the great champions and thinkers of their time, many of whom committed suicide rather than submit to such evil. It was sobering, to say the least.

Berlin, Germany 008

That night I awoke again to hear a crashing that turned out to be thunder bouncing around the walls outside our hotel room, along with a driving rain. But the next day dawned a bit sunnier, at least in the morning. First, we walked over to Checkpoint Charlie.

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Across the street, there is a collection of slabs of the Wall that have been turned into canvases where artists express themselves. In fact, there are pieces of Wall all around the city. It would be an interesting photo study to find them all.

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We walked to the Berliner Dom, or Berlin Cathedral …

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We encountered similar outdoor displays throughout Berlin, all related to the 2013 theme of “Diversity Destroyed” during the Nazi regime and the pogroms of 1938. Again, the brightest stars of the time were extinguished.

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Walking, walking. Hackescher Market was very cool.

"may need to take"

Mark loves to window shop. This display says, “May Need to Take!”

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Then it was time for a beer. We found the outdoor market, and it was the last day. They were closing for the season.

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I bought a homespun wool had, to protect my head from the cold winds and rain. I had a feeling that I was catching Mark’s cold. It was lunchtime, and I decided to try Berlin’s signature “currywurst.” I found out, it’s essentially sliced hot dogs simmered in ketchup and sprinkled with curry powder, served atop French or home fries. Yeah-um. A modern Berlin classic.

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We walked through the city, back to our hotel.

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The next morning, on our way out of town, we stopped at the Holocaust Memorial. The museum was closed on Monday but we didn’t mind.  It was enough to see the rows of concrete slabs, arranged in an orderly and yet confusing way. Is it a memorial or a cemetery?  You decide.

We cross borders a lot now. We are used to going through passport control. But in Germany, we had crossed a line, over and over, that in a not so distant past, during our own lifetimes, could not be crossed so easily. There was a border between East and West Germany that people died to cross, and we had crossed it on our way to Berlin. It no longer exists. The same with East and West Berlin.

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It was chilly, we sat outside and had breakfast. I wore my new hat. It felt good.

Next, back on the road, heading west again. Destination: Minden.

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