Breaking up is hard to do...

Trip Start Jun 09, 2010
Trip End Dec 31, 2015

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Well, I've been in Berlin for about 6 days now and loving it more and more as I try to hunt down obscure sights and venture into non-touristy parts of town with my friends.  It's been a few days since my last Berlin post, and I guess that's because I've just lost track of time the last few days.  I have to admit, I've been sleeping in until about 9:00 and getting a slow start to each day, but that's just fine.  I've needed the rest, and will need to be in top form for the next leg of my journey. 

So, what have I been up to?  Saturday, I spent the day outside of the city in one of the nice lake districts (on the west side, I think, but I really was just along for the ride so I don't really know), to watch Silja's husband David perform in a dragon boat race with a team for his work (see photos).  It was pretty cool, and nice to be in a festive atmosphere with a bunch of Germans doing something ordinary (i.e. not touristy, because dragon boat races don't seem ordinary to me).  The day was quite hot and I got a nice little sunburn, but by the next day it was a nice little tan,  farmers tan that is.  I like to go for the two-tone look :).  David's two kids went with us and they are so cute.  Simon is 10 and Elizabeth is 12.  It's been fun hanging out with the kids for the last few days, even if a bit complicated.  Elizabeth speaks English pretty well, so we can have complete conversations (she's really smart!), but Simon is just learning English and so we mostly communicate through hand signals and expression.  Or I just talk to him in English and he talks back in German and we just hope it all works out in the end.  If all else fails, I just buy them some ice cream or chocolate and everyone is smiling!  Anyway, they're great kids and a lot of fun. Silja and David are so great with them, it's nice to see. 

Sunday we went to the suburbs in the afternoon to look at some land that Silja and David are thinking of buying to build a house.  Once again, it was nice to get out and see a different part of the city, and to see what German suburbia might be like.  To be honest, it looks a lot like every typical housing suburb I've seen in every American town.  Silja and David have been working a lot on deciding whether to buy the land and build the house because they need to upgrade from the place they're living in now. They have a new baby coming in November and want a place for Simon and Elizabeth to have their own rooms.  I hope they buy it!  It looks like a really great piece of land and the architectural designs they have for the house they want to build look nice.  These are the ordinary, everyday things I've had a chance to experience and it's really made my stay in Berlin feel so much more authentic. 

Today, we had a really slow start to the day, but I finally got back into the city to explore somethings I'd been wanting to see.  I had the best of plans to visit a museum on the Stasi today, but after wandering around for over an hour, I just couldn't find it.  I'm usually great with directions and pride myself in finding my way around pretty well, but I think I've just about decided that the museum doesn't exist anymore!  I was really excited to see it, too, because when I was in college, my senior thesis for my history degree was on the Stasi.  For those who don't know, the Stasi was the East German secret police, their version of the KGB, and were quite renowned for being the epitome of state-sanctioned paranoia and oppression.  The had such a tight grip on the East German citizens and had detailed files on nearly everyone in the country.  Even going so far as to collect samples of peoples' scents in mason jars to make tracking more effective with dogs and such.  Pretty crazy!!  Anyway, I couldn't' find it, so maybe I'll try again tomorrow or the next day after a little more research.  Otherwise, I might head out of town instead to visit the old headquarters of the Stasi.  They have a museum there and will do a guided tour in English on Wednesday. 

After I gave up on the Stasi museum, I wandered around town for a while to see what I might stumble upon.  I found one of the three remaining surveillance towers from the Berlin Wall Era!  I was so surprised to find it, and I literally almost walked right into it.  Amazing, there was no sign-age, no plaque explaining what it was, it was just sitting there in quite a dilapidated state (see photo).  But there it was none the less.  This got me going on a Berlin Wall kick, so I started seeing what else I could find from the Wall.  In the past, I've visited the East Side Gallery, which is the longest surviving section of the wall in the city, and is covered in paintings, not the original graffiti.  Since I've been there several times in the past I wanted to find some of the less famous, more authentic pieces of the wall, but there's not much left.  Near the "Topography of Terror" exhibit, which is a pretty bland exhibit on the Gestapo from the Nazi era, there is a pretty long segment remaining (see photo), and it was incredible to imagine that there was such a wall literally dividing the city in two.  David was telling me some stories from that period last night, since he grew up behind the wall.  He didn't have access to a telephone until he was 23 years old.  Only party officials or people who could prove that they needed a phone were allowed to have one.  His grandfather was a pediatrician, so he could have a phone.  Otherwise, it was impossible.  He was only able to have fresh fruit like oranges or bananas once a year and only in limited rations.  For example, he told me that per family, children were allowed to buy one banana and adults were allowed to buy 1/2 a banana.  And the shop owners kept track of each family, so that a daughter could go to the store to buy the bananas for the whole family when they arrived, but if her brother went to buy bananas, the shop owner would refuse him because the family had gotten their allotment.  It really makes you appreciate all the things we are able to have so readily in our lives.  We take so much for granted every single day. For decades, the people of East Germany had to do without so much.  David just smiles, though, and reminds me that when you grow up not having something, you don't realize that you're missing it.  They found a way to be happy with what they had and treasured the luxuries when they came along.  For me, though, I can't help but to understand why so many people tried to escape, risking their livelihoods and their very lives to do so.  Every piece of the wall that remains here is a reminder of the tragic consequences of oppression, even if it is just so simple as building a wall.  We should be in the habit of breaking down walls, not building them.  I think there are layers of lessons in the experiences of Berlin during the period of the wall that others around the world should heed. 

After my wall experiences, I headed to the former West Berlin to visit one of the largest department stores in the world.  From a portion of the city that had to make due with so little, I went to a portion of the very same city that had all the excesses of the west.  The name of the department store is KaDeWe, and it is 7 floors of everything you could imagine.  Think Harrod's in London.  Of course, my favorite part to visit is the 6th floor.... the food hall.  Literally hundreds of variety of sausage, hundreds of cheeses, exotic fruits and vegetables from around the world, every type of chocolate imaginable, and imported foods from every corner of the world.  I went straight for the Dr. Pepper.  Mmmmmm.  And I decided to treat Silja and David to a home cooked dinner of Mexican food, something that is nearly impossible to find outside of the US, and Mexico of course.  Oh, there are Tex-Mex and "authentic" Mexican restaurants to be found, but believe me, they don't come close to the real thing.  So, I hunted around KaDeWe to see what I could find.  I managed to find cans of refried beans, a jar of guacamole, some flour tortillas, taco sauce and fajita seasoning.  The cheese was actually a bit harder.  With hundreds of varieties, there was nothing like shredded cheese we'd find at home. So, I settled with some white cheddar and had the deli shred it for me. They looked at me quite funny but obliged.  The simpler ingredients, I'll buy at the local market, some peppers, an onion, and some chicken breast.  I'll whip it all together to make quesadillas, I think.  From East to West, it's amazing the differences that existed in one city.  Now of course, the wall has been down for just over 20 years, and to the casual observer, you can't even tell whether you are in East or West.  Most of the tourist attractions are actually in the East.  But, if you look closely enough, you can still tell the differences from those areas that existed under communism to those under capitalism. 

Breaking up is hard, but reconciliation is bliss.  Silja and David are a perfect example, she from the West, he from the East.  Their baby is like a symbol of the reunification, one of a generation that will never know what existed here for so long except for what they see in the history books, museums, or stories from their father. 

I'll try to post more this week.  Hopefully I'll find that Stasi museum or at least make it out to the HQ.  Also, on Thursday, I'm heading north of town to visit the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and the Belower Forest Death March Museum.  I'll definitely post after that visit.  I know Debbie is anxious to hear about that for her summer school class.  By the way, for Samantha, I've been eating pretty normal food, but of course the German food I've eaten is mostly sausages and potatoes of varying varieties.  They like their meat and potatoes here!  And the mustard is so much better!  And Jade, I'll post an entry later in the week about my upcoming trip to Iran.  This is running quite long, but since I'm leaving Friday morning for that leg of my journey, I'll definitely post by Thursday night.  And thanks to everyone else for commenting on the bog, it really helps.  I haven't had a chance to respond individually to the comments, but it is encouraging to know that people are actually reading this and enjoying it.  I'll do my best to keep 'em coming!

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Debbie on

Thanks for the reply to the kids!!! They loved it!!! Right now sausages and potatoes sound good!! Keep on writing...stories are great!


Sally B on

Danny, keep the blogs coming. I'm enjoying them so much. The ones about our trip, I've printed out to keep. They have much more detail than my journaling and that's a good thing.

Aunt Sandy on

Dan: The picture of the tower really moved me. All of the time watching those poor people with guns trained on the least of them.It was sad but illuminating to hear how your friend David grew up since when we were actually living with the wall there was almost no information about how the people behind it were actually living.We only saw the tragic pictures of people trying to escape who made it but got shot.I see walls as only bad things thatr divide us all.Keep up the goof work and be safe.

Aunt Sandy on

I really didn't mean "goof" work!!!

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