Day 10 – Sea Day
This will be a short paragraph on Day 10. We woke up late, ate, rested, ate again and read our books. The previous four days had been an energy sucking (but fun) experience, and we were ready to relax.
We had thought we had two days at sea and then would be in Berlin. Wrong! We had one day to Berlin. This took the wind out of my sails a bit; I was really looking forward to two days of rest. This cruise has had a lot of stops. I know there is a possibility that I won’t be returning, so I feel compelled to get in as much as possible. Doesn’t always make for a relaxing vacation – but I can be a inactive at home. This is my chance to see a bit of our world. That’s why a Sea Day is lovely – it is a chance to recoup from the previous days adventures – and the couch is there for me to curl up on with my book.
Day 11 – Berlin
George has decided to pass on Berlin and explore the local sites of Warnemunde and Rostock, which is a 15 minute train ride. Rostock has the oldest continuing university in Europe, founded in 1419. Both cities were heavily bombed in WWI and WWII, because of naval and aerial factories. When Rostock went to rebuild their city center, they chose a happy Swedish village model for their architecture, in order to take the focus away from the grim past.
I offered Ellie the choice of a 12 hour excursion to Berlin or staying local. She opted for Berlin, so off we went. They offered a bunch of different types of tours, but we had had enough of being shuffled in a group and eating “authentic” cuisine. There was a bus that would take us to the heart of Berlin and return to pick us up.
Berlin is 2.5 to 3 hours from the ship. I figured we could rest/nap/watch the countryside. What I wasn’t expecting was Jakob, our summer college student guide. It’s nice young men like this that make me wish I was a few decades younger and my body parts hadn’t taken a decidedly southern route in the last few years.
Jakob took his job seriously, and regaled us for most of the trip with German history, both local and national. He is a student at Rostock University, and was keen to share the cheap student way to see Germany. He also did a great job of describing how post WWII Germany ended up divided as West and East Germany, particularly in regard to Berlin. The area we are docked in had been in East Germany. The good old Russian architecture style of building gray block apartment buildings is still very evident.
Surprisingly, food was a part of our bus trip. I had eaten a good zero point breakfast, because I wanted to have a great pretzel and an apple strudel. Jakob served us a snack box that took me by surprise.
I had already decided to have a honest to goodness, absolutely delicious, saliva-generating authentic pretzel. In the snack box was a pretzel bread mini-loaf. Hmmmmm. Ellie took a bite of her bread and said “Oh, Grandma……”
And it was. The Devil obviously works in this bakery. They had also injected it with salted butter. The points started racking up like a twirling casino slot machine. And I ate the whole thing. I decided to call it 10 points.
I usually have one day on each trip that I just don’t worry about the nutritious content of food – and I plan for it. The Berlin trip wasn’t part of my plan. But when Ellie said, “Let’s try pretzels all over the city today and find the best one!” Taking another bite of salted buttery pretzel goodness, I mumbled “That sounds like a great idea!”
When Jakob came by with coffee, to go with the cookie (which was great, by the way), I asked him about vegetarian food options in Berlin. He sat down, looked serious, and said “That is a problem in Germany, we do love our meat.” He said in the more modern, trendier sections of Berlin, there was places. In the older, more touristy areas – not so much.” It appears that the Pretzel Gods just want me to eat pretzels (and apple strudel) today.
And our pretzel trek began. First off, we learned they are called brezels, at least in Berlin. All in all (besides the pretzel bread), we tried six pretzel/brezels. We did share, and some of them I only ate a few bites, because they weren’t worthy of our quest. We went into shops, off the street, even in a gas station. The best of the day? Even though it technically wasn’t a brezel, we both declared the tour bus mini-loaf was the best pretzel flavor of the day. It probably says something about our palates, but this was pre-packaged food in a silly snack box. All I have to say is it is a good thing that American Ding-Dongs aren’t done as well. And that we don’t have the German pretzel loaves stacked up like those disgusting little packaged fruit pies from our childhood (that I loved).
Our bus cutie, Jakob, made sure that each of us had a good grasp of where we wanted to go. He outlined a suggest route and gave ideas on the fastest way to get there by foot. I loved his starving student outlook. He knew all the free toilets and cheap food spots. He suggested everyone try the popular street food currywurst. A sausage cut into chunks and served with fries. I have to admit, I used to love a good sausage in my pre-vegetarian days. And the best sausages I have ever eaten were in Germany. There aren’t many times I regret my healthy veggie diet (supplemented with fish, so I’m really pescatarian) – but smelling those sausages………oh good grief, I’ve started drooling while typing this!
Jakob was correct, finding veggie dishes as an entree was tough. But I took it as a sign to enjoy another pretzel. Jean Nidetch, founder of Weight Watchers, just turned in her grave. Surprisingly, however, as we passed a street vendor the words VEGGIE SCHNITZEL popped out at me! Whoa Baby!
As any reasonable, slightly food educated person knows, just because it is veggies doesn’t mean it is healthy. After a brief, and slightly confusing, conversation with the lady in the food cart, I ordered it up. Schnitzel is by tradition, a thin cut of veal which is breaded and fried. My schnitzel was veggies in a patty, breaded and fried. Not exactly low caloric! But it was tasty – and so were the huge pile of french fries that accompanied it.
I don’t know if Jean Nidetch was buried, but if she was, the ground was probably shaking in the cemetery.
Ellie tried the recommended currywurst. It was a sausage chunked and covered with a sweet curry sauce. Maybe it was our stand, but it seemed pretty lackluster. She ate it but wasn’t enamored.
I’m an amateur student of history, and my children can testify to how many eye-ball rolling lectures their mother has inflicted upon them. Ellie was a captive audience in one of the 20th century hotspots of the world. As gently as possible, but trying to make her understand what mankind is capable of, we walked through streets filled with history.
We walked miles. We stood next to remnants of the Berlin Wall. The largest piece left is at an optimistic site called Topography of Terror. It sits next to a beautiful building that housed the Air Ministry of the Third Reich and I believe was also the office of Joseph Goebbels, of unfortunate Nazi fame. Hitler didn’t like the name Berlin, which was derived from a slavic word. He wanted to create a city called Germania with it’s own style of architecture. The Air Ministry building was one of his creations. There are two large statues on the front of the building which appear to have been bludgeoned and destroyed. I’m sure there is a story.
The Topography of Terror has a long display that outlines the story of Hitler and the War. It ends next to this building. Just above and behind the display, stretches the remnants of the Berlin Wall. Powerful without saying a word.
The war left devastation on a very personal level throughout Germany. If you were in East Germany, under the Russian regime, what can be said? When Ellie saw the wall, the first thing she said was “This is it? It isn’t very tall or thick. I thought people could walk on top of it.” She’s right – it is only 12 feet tall and about a foot thick. It doesn’t look that formidable. How could it divide a people, a culture into two separate states? It struck me that the very fact that it isn’t huge, that it could be climbed and crossed easily was part of it’s very intimidating power. The frustration and reality of the people who died trying to cross. Stories of people hiding in a cow carcass, sewn into an automobile seat, digging tunnels, attempting to climb over a 12 foot wall in the dark of night.
Jakob, our youthful bus leader, grew up in West Germany and said he only knew the stories and what he has read. Our bus driver was older and had grown up in East Germany, post-war. He agreed it was hard, but he had never known different, and didn’t understand it until the country was reunified. He had been arrested three times and his home searched several times. Not because he had done anything, but because the police could.
I don’t want this to be a depressing blog, but it is sometimes important for us to recognize the dark side of man. The only way we can avoid repeating history is to recognize the past and not allow it to happen again. Pretty profound for the woman who avoids watching the news and would rather see an episode of Father Knows Best than watch a R-rated movie.
If you do get to Berlin, there is one exhibit that doesn’t have a single word of explanation, no lectures, no apologies or stories to horrify. The artist meant for each person to feel it in their own way. It is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews. In downtown Berlin, just a very short way from Hitler’s bunker where he committed suicide, is a 4.7 acre site covered with 2,711 rectangular concrete blocks in varying sizes laid out in a grid pattern. Some are quite low, the tallest are 12 feet.
There are a variety of low blocks on the outer edge, which felt to me, as if we were entering a large cemetery. There is no right or wrong way to go through the blocks – or decide what it represents. Deep into the grid, we felt uneasy and vulnerable. What if someone unexpectedly jumped out at us? Like a Jewish person hurrying down the street, trying to reach home? To a home that wasn’t safe.
It was easy to get lost, even though it was laid out in a grid. No benches, no place to stop and even think, only stark bare concrete on every side. Cold, hard, and you couldn’t ask for help. At at any minute, a young child might come skipping by while laughing, not understanding the meaning of it all, as did much of the world during those tragic times. The metaphors are almost endless.
For me, it was gut wrenching. Ellie didn’t understand it. I quietly asked her how she felt about the huge blocks of concrete. “Confused, uneasy, I wouldn’t want to be here at night. I don’t like this.” “It’s so big, I can see the end way in the distance, but we don’t ever seem to get there.”
The genius of architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold, who designed the memorial is the very lack of explanation. It forces each viewer to consider and feel. I have seldom seen anything so profound.
Sadly, the grim past is evident throughout Germany. The first time we went to Germany and I saw the destruction of WWII decades later, and it brought me up short. As an American whose father was on the ill-fated ship the Arizona in the Pacific, and as a girl who grew up watching American/British WWII movies, I came with my preconceived notions. As I looked at the still remaining destruction it hit me that this destruction was wrought by America and England. A relative of mine may have been in the bomber that caused this destruction. My view from the ground of Germany suddenly had emotions of a mother looking about the destruction of her home and world. How would I get food, fuel, water? Is my family safe or dead? I will never forget the feeling. Until then I guess I had looked at the war as a movie episode. Not when I came to Germany for the first time, nor now – as I stood with my granddaughter in Berlin.
This has nothing to do with who was right or wrong, or that the war was necessary. God forbid if Hitler had won. War is complicated. Heroes and the horrific number of victims, good and evil, and the ultimate consequences for those left behind. The ramifications live on and on.
Not all of our day was about war – Berlin is a lovely city and the people were generous and courteous. Bathrooms are free in the multitude of Starbucks! I went into a pharmacy to get Ellie some cough syrup. I had a hilarious exchange with a pharmacist, whose English was limited. Of course, my German was non-existent. I asked for (pantomimed) cough syrup. She wanted to know if it was a dry cough or a loose chest cough. Is a head cold a dry cough? I said “head cold” and she looked perplexed. Then she smiled, pointed to the chest and said “Slime?” and pantomimed hacking up globs of slime. Ooooooh. We decided it was dry, and she smilingly gave me cough syrup and free kleenex packets to go with it. We were both laughing by the end and she patted me as I went out the door. And the cough syrup really helped Ellie!
Ellie decided she wanted to see Berlin’s largest shopping mall, so we went to the multi-story Mall of Berlin. Everything we have at home, and more. Nothing gets a teen girl more excited than buying mascara in a German makeup store!
Thanks to Jakob, we navigated our way around the city without trouble. We saw the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the Reischtag, Tiergarten Park. We walked, ate way too many pretzels, laughed and a few times when Ellie wasn’t looking, I got pretty teary eyed.
From the mall, we hustled our tired tootsies back to our meeting point. When we arrived in the morning, there had been a large child’s plastic swimming pool filled with soap for bubbles. The kids were still at it, and giant bubbles blew their away across the plaza. It looked like so much fun and soon Ellie and I were dancing and popping bubbles. The great thing about aging is you don’t care about looking like an idiot. It was a lovely way to end the day.
A three hour bus ride later, we were back to the ship around 10 pm. We still had immigration to go through, and the Germans were the friendliest of all countries we encountered. Apparently, we were the last group to arrive. Our ship took off five minutes after we were aboard.
The ship was offering a German Oktoberfest type feast, complete with an oompah band, but we went straight to our rooms, showered and jumped in bed. It was a great day, and a thought provoking one. I’m sure Ellie will remember it her entire life, I know that I will.