© 2013 mikeandbrynne

Berlin

A few semesters ago we studied the Cold War and the erecting and later dismantling of the Berlin Wall with our co-op. The kids were really moved by reading books like “The Wall” and “Escape to West Berlin” and loved our reenactment of building the Berlin Wall brick by brick. I knew we just had to find a way to get to Berlin on this trip. After a long circuitous route from the Czech Republic into Germany through windy roads Luke got carsick. Somewhere around Dresden he lost his breakfast all over himself, his carseat and Mike’s luggage. Normally this would be a bummer, but because we were on our way to drop off Luke and Mika at the airport this was a really big bummer. After road side stops, construction diversions and traffic jams we managed to drop them off at the airport ( I would later find that their flight home was awful as one of their legs was late and they missed their connection home) and head into the city.
We loved Berlin. Our highlight by far was our “Fat Bike Tour” of Berlin with our guide Neil. In 4.5 hrs we road all over the city and listened to highlights and stories on everything from the TV Tower to the wall to Checkpoint Charlie to Hitlers Hideout to the modern government buildings and the Jewish memorial. It was fantastic for all ages. In fact as soon as we finished the kids wanted to go again. Wanting a dinner of the same high caliber we stumbled across a delicious Thai restaurant. All the kids were thrilled and licked their plates clean. Wonderful afternoon and evening.

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This square, where the kids have their faces in the ground, is the location where Hitler had the books burned as part of his closing of the minds of the German public.  The kids are looking at a unique monument memorializing this spot–a room full of empty bookshelves.  At night the square is completely dark and the only light that can be seen is the illumination of the empty shelves from underground.  A symbol to us all to hold light and truth dearly and to cling to those freedoms that we so often take for granted.IMG_5859

The empty shelves……..IMG_5860

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Knowing that our kids would prefer German chocolate over the traditional beer garden that the tour normally stops at, our guide took us to his favorite chocolatier.  It was amazing.IMG_5879

The Brandenburg Gate in chocolate.IMG_5882

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Our tour guide did a great job of drawing out the division of Germany post World War II and the location of the Berlin Wall and the “Cold War” Wall. We had had several misconceptions of the wall (the fact that it went all the way around the city on eastern territory and the fact that there was really 2 walls) that we appreciated having cleared up.IMG_5885

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The old border between Soviet controlled East Berlin and US controlled West Berlin.IMG_5891

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IMG_5905The sight of Hitler’s underground bunker:

IMG_5915When the TV Tower was erected, the mayor of East Berlin was adamant that no cross be placed at the top since he was trying to remove religion from society.  The story goes that when they unveiled the TV Tower the light from the sun cast a beautiful reflection in the form of a gleaming cross that can still be seen today.  In Berlin they call it “The Pope’s Revenge”.

IMG_5917A moving monument to the Jews that died during World War II-

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The next day we explored Berlin by foot    There is so much to see in Berlin that we tried to narrow it down to those things that seemed to have played a key role in Berlin history and were unique to Berlin. With that goal is mind we started at the Berlin Wall Memorial where we watched an excellent film before the kids ran around and climbed on the wall. Poignant. Crossing through the Jewish area we headed downtown to the DDR Museum. This interactive and child friendly museum walked you through the process of becoming a communist/ socialist nation. So many of the things they talked about in regard to education, work and religion had an uncanny similarity to things that are occurring in our government today. It was frightening. Walking along the canal we entered Museum Island and with time to visit only one museum we chose the German history museum. It was the perfect choice. Through relics, pictures, videos, weapons and everyday objects we were taken from the earliest days of German history to the present. The kids loved trying on chain mail, studying armor, observing famous German paintings (especially the ones like Martin Luther and his wife which had been missing from the Uffizi gallery), identifying famous scientific works by Galileo, readings recruiting posters for both German and American soldiers for both wars, staring at Hitlers huge office desk and so much more. It was the ideal size and was practically empty. Excellent German overview. Mark decided to buy U-Bahn tickets for us to ride to the East Gallery of the Berlin Wall. The kids were so grateful for the ride and the excuse not to walk quite as far. The stretch of the wall in that area goes for an entire mile and we loved walking along it and admiring the imposing prescense. For the second day in a room we capped off our adventures with the same delicious Thai food restaurant.  Everyone was thrilled.

A week earlier I had met a local Berliner on the train in Murren. I explained some of my concerns about navigating Berlin and she quickly corrected me. “You are thinking about Berlin like Paris or LA. It is not like that. Berlin is a village.”  At the time I didn’t understand, but now I think I see clearly what she was trying to say. Although a large and important city, Berlin does not have the traffic of LA or the crowds of New York. Nor does it share there push for deadlines or rush. For the most part Berlin is relaxed and uncrowded with beautiful bike paths and pedestrian friendly streets. It is a “Village” I would whole heartedly recommend and hope to visit again.

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I loved seeing the Jewish star in the middle of the German flag. Healing.IMG_6088

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