Holland was a hoot. (previous Europe post) We’ll be back. We said that six times before and sure enough we went back. Seems as if we have a January/February 2020 stay lined up. We did a winter stay two years ago; not sure if it is best for bike riding.
As of 09 May 2017, The Netherlands has a reciprocal health care agreement with Australia. Guaranteeing Medicare – aligning reciprocal health care, which is good (for me) and others in similar situations. Getting old and shoving in implants makes travel insurance very high so thankfully we live in a country with good health care willing to share their good karma with eleven other countries: Belgium, Finland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Republic of Ireland, Slovenia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. So, there is our list in the future of places to age gracefully in. Of course, we go to the States in a couple of months for three-months and my insurance for that little trip costs more than the air fare. Not fair. And I am an American. Go figure.
30 August 2018
We left our Airbnb river tugboat, (see, https://neuage.me/2018/12/08/utrecht/) walking ten-minutes to the number four bus and arriving at Utrecht Centraal an hour earlier than we had planned. As we were taking five trains to Hamburg, saving money instead of one train, the ICE, which was twice as expensive, we got the first train to Amersfoort, had a snack at the train station and got ourselves to Hamburg, changing a few times along the way, by four pm. Narda’s friend Mau met us at the station and took us to our hotel a couple of blocks from the subway and a couple of blocks from her house.
We have stayed at the Centrum Hotel Commerz, Altona a few times. It is inexpensive, near Mau’s and the train station and it has a nice breakfast spread. It reminds me of the Fawlty Towers series, not in how the owners act but in how it looks; small, funky, a fussing-about man and his wife, but they are good.
Narda met Mau at a music summer school in Budapest thirty years earlier and they have been friends ever since. We had breakfast together at the hotel the next morning and spent Saturday wandering around the Altona Park of Hamburg, ending at the Elbe River and taking a bus back. Because we have been to Hamburg several times before, most recently in February 2017, we won’t post much here (see “2 February Thursday DAY 69 of trip” https://neuage.me/2017/02/13/two-ponts-and-a-castle/). Suffice to say, we happily got lost and sometimes found how to get to the next spot following a map. And when we are unable to find where we are headed we tend to explore where we are; which is what travel is really about.
We went with Mau to the train station on Sunday and took the ICE to Berlin. Earlier this year we rode many trains in India, including a seventeen-hour overnighter (https://neuage.org/India/). Long story short; the ICE is nice. Choose the quiet car – silence is golden and all that. Of course, people listen to music, videos, whatever, (on headphones) but they don’t talk on phones or to one another, OK, we did talk a bit, but there were only a few people in our carriage. It is an hour and forty-two minutes (yes, the Germans do on-time well, and so do the Indians, usually).
We also met Mau’s parents at the train when we left. It was fantastic to see them again, a family of wonderful musicians. I have enjoyed meeting them a number of times over the years, once also in Australia when Hanno (Mau’s dad, a great jazz pianist) came to watch a big band gig I was playing 2nd alto in (The Little Big Horns). This visit in Hamburg was the first of three times in this trip seeing my good friend and her 11 year old son. Precious times of reconnecting.
Our Berlin hosts, with who we traded houses, met us at the Berlin station and drove us to our new home. They had already stayed at our home in Adelaide a few months ago when we were away in India. Frank and Wally took us out to an Italian restaurant, showed us around Berlin a bit and left us to our own discoveries back at their home. They have a second home and are staying there for the month of September while we make hay with their home. It is a nice German home, very comfortable and full of art as Frank is an artist. Frank and Wally are living in Frank’s art-studio several blocks away. The next day Narda and I spent the day at home, writing, doing photographic stuff and looking at some of the things we would like to do during our month in Berlin. Narda plans our world-trips and I plan stuff to do when we get to where we are going. Of course we overlap but that is the big picture. I have found us an electronics fair to go to and lots of street art things to see. We will do the tourist stuff too. The idea of home-exchange is to live like a local.
In the afternoon Wally and Frank took us to their daughter’s home. A very large apartment in a building from the 1930s. My impression of Berlin was that it was leveled during WW 2 but there are many buildings from the early 1900s as well as some from the 1800s.
We had some really interesting coversations with our new German friends. They are actively involved with helping a young Syrian refugee find a job, learn the language and get settled. It is great to see this side of the ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe. The daughter and her freind also told us some of their experiencees with Osho as their guru. This resounded with us, as we had spent time in Pune, India quite recently in a town where the movement is alive and well, and you often saw the participants walk around our neighbourhod in their maroon gowns.
Our hosts said the best option for seeing Berlin was to pruchase either a weekly or a monthly transportation pass. We have use of their car but we did not use it preferring to ride bikes, walk, and public transportation; also, parking is difficult in Berlin. We bought a monthly bus/train/boat two zone pass for 59 Euros ($68 USD). The only limitation is we can only use it after 10 am which gives a great reason to sleep in.
Monday – we did our first day out, taking combinations of five buses and subways/elevated trains, getting ourselves to the Brandenburg Gate and to the Jewish Memorial.Brochures tell us that The Brandenburg Gate is an 18th-century neoclassical monument, built on the orders of Prussian king Frederick William II after the successful restoration of order during the early Batavian Revolution.
The separation of Berlin began in 1945 after the collapse of Germany. The country was divided into four zones, where each superpower controlled a zone. In 1946, reparation agreements broke down between the Soviet and Western zones. Response of the West was to merge French, British, and American zones in 1947 (sidebar – I was born in 1947, also Israel became a nation and India [Indian independence act 1947] became separate from Pakistan, four days after I was born, and of course the start of the modern era of UFO sightings, in Michigan, where I was born, began.) My friend in India interviewed me for her university magazine saying I was the man who was as old as India. We may have become side-tracked here. Moving on.
From 1961 to 1989 the Brandenburg Gate came to symbolize divided Germany, as the Berlin Wall shut off access to the gate for both East and West Germans. It served as the backdrop for U.S. Pres. Ronald Reagan’s famous 1987 speech in which he entreated the Soviet leader, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” (So easy to share our observations of what we saw/learned in Berlin with the wall issues and the wall ‘proposed’ in the States – but we won’t).
The Holocaust Memorial, a block from The Brandenburg Gate, is a moving tribute to the Murdered Jews of Europe. As most museums are closed on Monday, including this, we were amongst a only a few people here. The memorial is made up of two thousand, seven hundred and eleven grey concrete slabs, or stelae. They are identical in their horizontal dimensions (reminiscent of coffins), differing vertically (from eight inches to more than fifteen feet tall), arranged in a precise rectilinear array over 4.7 acres, allowing for long, straight, and narrow alleys between them, along which the ground undulates. There is a heap of information including upsetness about the whole memorial on the internet so there is no point in repeating.
On my birth-day, 10 August, 1947, General Lucius D. Clay reported the release of the last 8 million German prisoners of war and the complete destruction or conversion of all armaments plants in the US-occupied zone. The United States became the first of the four occupying powers to release all its German POWs.
For the whole month in Berlin we rode bikes every day. We have access to a car but never used it. The bus and train system are so good. Most busses are double decker, we would watch for one that had empty seats in the front on top and like any children we would scamper up and settle for our day’s journey which most days was to wherever the bus was going or until something looked interesting.
As the parent of a person who actively (interactively) loved piecing/graffiti/street art I have cast my eye in the direction of urban art over the years (decades). My only real participation was my saying to Sacha that if he got permission to spray paint a fence in our town of Victor Harbor, I would even assist him with his ‘work’. Sure enough, he got the permission from a neighbour and one Sunday the two of us were out doing a fence. 1993. I only was ‘allowed’ to fill in some large areas due to my lack of experience; and well, for being old. After many challenging years of parenting a street artist he did come good and has done wall art for councils in Melbourne. So as the pa of a professional street-artist I looked forward to sharing with Narda this world. ‘Urban Nation: Understand the power of art as a social architect’ https://urban-nation.com/. Where does one start with such an amazing place? It is street art, it is younger people (everyone is younger these days), it is protest, it is amazing, and it is good.
And I was totally hooked. This amazing art, so full of colour, drama, beauty and societal comment was so much fun.
There is a new show of international work every few months. We were fortunate to see two shows and to attend a movie night.
Even the toilets are tagged/pieced more than what would be at the local Ikea,
Wall outside Urban Nation Museum
We took too many photos inside and of street art around Berlin to post here but we did make a slideshow that is worth the visit, https://bit.ly/2AxPl8Q. We went one evening to see the incredible documentary, Happyland, by Australian street and contemporary artist Kaff-eine (http://www.kaff-eine.com/);
“art as shelter. film as connection’. Filmed in Manila’s slum: “We created and installed thirty five large art tarpaulins or ‘art tarps’ which featured Kaff-eine’s portraits of local residents. The art tarps were either used to create or improve shelter, or sold and traded for food and other necessities. The installation process was professionally photographed and captured on film.” “Manila’s slum communities are home to millions of poverty-stricken people. The slum residents who experience the most brutal circumstances are the garbage-picking and charcoal-making communities, whose homes and livelihoods are Manila’s dumpsites. In Kaff-eine’s Phoenix 2015 project, the communities of Baseco and Happyland (from a local word ‘hapilan’ for dumpsite) identified a need for improved housing and shelter. In these wastelands, most residents live in makeshift homes built from scavenged, piecemeal materials and located in areas vulnerable to flooding, typhoons, storm surges and fires.” https://www.cheeseagle.com/happyland/
There is a sample on youtube of the film, well worth seeing if it is in your area https://bit.ly/2HjsUdB. The showings were free. There were only six or seven of us there to watch. Perhaps because it was in English. We got to Urban Nation Museum an hour early because we believed it would be packed. We were surrounded by many empty chairs. Look up Kaff-eine on that internet thingy, she is doing some amazing stuff.
A day of sightseeing got us to the F10 ferry from Wannsee to Kladow.
We did this trip a couple of times. The 20-minute trip is free with the standard A-B ticket (it’s part of Berlin’s official transport network); as we purchased a month pass we are taking several of the ‘free’ ferries. The teen idol, Kleine Cornelia, had her first hit record in 1951, aged eight, with a song written by her father. “Pack die Badehose ein” (Pack your swimsuit”) a cheery tune about a group of children going swimming on a hot summer’s day at Wannsee. The Wannsee Conference; where the implementation of the so-called Final solution to the Jewish question, was held along here, we could see the buildings from our ferry. Don’t think teen idol, Kleine Cornelia was singing about this particular beach. The Wannsee House, site of the conference, is now a Holocaust memorial. Berlin is full of unpleasant history everywhere. There is not much to see in Kladow, another suburb of Berlin, but we did go for walks through the local forest and have lunch in it one day. Another day we took the #218 to the ferry for Peacock Island. The bus ride is rather spectacular as it goes for about half an hour through a dense forest on a one-lane gravel road.
“Peacock Island is a world apart, with the fairy-tale castle and the free-roaming animals. From the ferry dock at the southern end of the island, a narrow path leads past lush roses and dense trees to the castle built in 1794.”
Wow! Great hype. We were pumped. Got to the dock and saw a sign saying the ferry was closed for the day due to a strike or some dumb-ass reason. We were disappointed but not for long. In the distance we saw a large ferry coming our way. We got on without knowing more than that it was headed down the river. It was a ferry to Potsdam.
This was our third trip to Potsdam. On the second one we had taken our bikes and bought the AB pass for them. Potsdam is in zone C. One time, in a month of daily riding, we saw an inspector on the train and of course we didn’t have the zone C bike pass. After close to getting arrested (I may have been a bit rude) we paid the on-the-spot fine and continued our ride. Arguing with a German train inspector is … (use your own adjectives, we did).
Actually I will finish that sentence “arguing with a German train inspector is”… pointless. I left Terrell arguing and went with the other inspector (in case I should try to flee) in search of an ATM. We drew the money out, it took a while, but when we returned, Terrell and the female inspector were in happy conversation talking about their mutual travel experiences. See how travel unites the warring nations. 🙂
The best way to see Potsdam in a day, or afternoon, is on bike. There are bike paths around the Schlachtensee, the southernmost of the chain of lakes surrounding the Grunewald (Green Forest). We were even surprised… coming around a forested area, along the lake, to see many naked people. On the footpath, laying on the lawns, basking in the sun alongside the Schlachtensee. I wanted to take photos of the beautiful lake but Narda thought maybe I shouldn’t.
We weren’t looking for anyplace in specific, just riding through parks when we came across Cecilienhof.
Site of the Potsdam Conference, at Cecilienhof, the home of Crown Prince Wilhelm in Potsdam from 17 July to 2 August 1945. Joseph Stalin, British Prime Ministers Winston Churchill, and Clement Attlee, and President Harry Truman hung out together and shared thoughts; how to administer Germany.
Being with Dutch born Narda, we had to find the Dutch area in Potsdam. There are exactly 134 red, two-storey brick houses, arranged on four squares. Known as the Holländerhäuser (“Dutch houses”), they were built for Dutch immigrants between 1734 and 1742. They make up the largest exclusively Dutch housing development outside the Netherlands.
There are lots of cafes, and shops and cool streets to act Dutch in (not quite sure what that means but I enjoyed myself).
Berlin has 5 other public ferry lines. There are links on the Berlin homepage https://www.berlin.de/ and there is a dropdown menu to choose whatever language floats your boat.
The Berlin Wall and The Wall Museum East Side Gallery are main attractions. We spent a few days in this area.
The path goes to Potsdam which is some 20+ kilometres but we only went about five K, stopping little towns along the way and further up where it is wider we saw this big-ass barge with a couple, in our age bracket if not older running it. Narda immediately figures she wants to have a barge and navigate it. Being Dutch, with family members who had tugboats, and other vessels, it is in her blood. Of course, I agree but believe we may be a bit old and foreign to start a career as barge drivers.
When we were not hooning about on our bikes and trains, we took random buses. We do this in most every place we go. Our main criteria is, if a bus stops with empty seats we get on. In Berlin it was if there were empty seats on the second story in the front, so we could feel like flying through the streets of Berlin.
We went to so many places that were so old, we felt young. For example, St. Nicholas Church in Perlin-Spandau started in 1240 and complete 1398. In 1806, Napoleonic troops used the church as an ammunition magazine. In 1944 a bombing raid burnt the tower, but they fixed it back up in the 1980s. They have several things from 1398, the alter is new though, built in 1582. I have the information sheet in front of me here in Adelaide (January 2019) so it makes remembering things from four months ago a bit easier.
There are many memorials around the city such as this one,
We took trams to random places in the former East Germany starting from Alexanderplatz, a huge meeting place in the centre of Berlin. As most places in Berlin the ‘Alex’ was pretty much wiped out, though now there are no signs of anything but modern building throwups. With the many museums we managed to get to two. The American Museum and one and Berlin’s East Germany museum. As we were here toward the end of September we went one evening for the Oktoberfest celebrations but by nine pm we were bored and went home.
In the East Germany museum there were displays of how everyday life in the German Democratic Republic looked during the wall division. I thought they looked pretty much like anywhere in the Western world except every apartment looked the same… wait isn’t that how they were everywhere? There was the chance to drive a Trabant, the most common vehicle in the former East Germany and so Narda did. Unfortunately, I missed that exhibit and have no photos as I was looking at the exhibit about nude bathing… and other interesting parts of German life.
While Terrell was busy with the nudes, I found a display of an old ccommunist era Trabant, which was all set up to have a ‘driving experience’ with an interactive screen and real steering wheel, gears and foot pedals. I managed to get it ‘going’ and drove very fast around the neighbourhood, narrowly missing other cars and pedestrians. It was a hoot. Unitl I finally crashed it into a pole. Oh well. Next.
My favourite Berlin iconic food was ‘curry wurst’. Basically yummy German wurst covered in tomato sauce and sprinkled with curry powder. Simple but good. I clocked up 6 meals.
Berlin has been a traditional hot spot for squatters, initially driven by the multitudes of empty properties left by families leaving the former East Germany. We found an area in the Turkish Quarter (Kreuzberg) with a block of apartment buildings with poetic lyrics on banners hanging about the place. As there is a squatter’s museum we passed we tried to find it again but never did. Our host took us to a large area filled with huge Russian statues, The Soviet War Memorial (Tiergarten) erected by the Soviet Union to commemorate its war dead, particularly the 80,000 soldiers of the Soviet Armed Forces who died during the Battle of Berlin in April and May 1945. So impressive I took maybe a hundred photos but two here is enough.
We went to other free concerts, such as the ones offered at The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. There is no entrance fee to see inside the ruined church or to bop around the new one. The church built at the end of the 19th century, bombed to smithereens in 1943, rebuilt in the 1960s, still has part of the bombed-out section, including the bell tower. It is quite impressive to see the ruined steeple surrounded by the ultra-modern skyscrapers around it. We attended an organ concert but didn’t make it to any of their other free concerts or paid ones. Well worth the bother to get to this part of town. See their webpage for stuff (in English and other languages too) https://gedaechtniskirche-berlin.de/. inside the new church – zillions of small blue windows – It is located on the Kurfürstendamm in the centre of the Breitscheidplatz. The Christmas market is near the church, this is an active area day and night with buskers, outdoor concerts, souvenir places and shopping centres. (On 19 December 2016, a truck was deliberately driven into the Christmas market next to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church leaving 12 people dead and 56 others injured). I have this in my Thoughts in Patterns Book 6. (page 27 – print edition) (eBook) (Examine the first fifteen pages for free). Book 6 is from our 2018 travels.
I was taking photos of the area when this little girl walked by, looking at the flowers and memorial to those who had died. (On Google+ here).
Another area we explored was Potsdamer Platz about 1 km south of the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag. After developing from an intersection of rural thoroughfares into the most bustling traffic intersection in Europe, it was totally wiped out during World War II and then left desolate during the Cold War era when the Berlin Wall bisected its former location. In the last couple of decades, it has once again become a centre. We took Europe’s fastest lift (elevator for the Yanks), to the top (100 metres or about 30 stories) in 20 seconds. It is the coolest lift. At the top there is a 360-degree view of Berlin. We were there on a clear day and though we could not quite see Australia in the distance we did see heaps. Hitler’s Reich Chancellery was just one block away and many other Nazi government things were nearby as well, and so Potsdamer Platz was right in a major target area throughout the war until it was levelled. When the Berlin Wall, 1961, went through the Platz it stayed in its rubble state. Only one building in the whole area remained. To get a feeling for how it was see the German film Wings of Desire https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wings_of_Desire The film scored 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning it is quite good. There is a YouTube trailer of it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Og4Y9gbhqBE Or rent the two-hour movie from YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehLj4RzUhrs. For more groovy stuff; on 21 July 1990, ex-Pink Floyd member Roger Waters staged a gigantic charity concert of his former band’s rock extravaganza The Wall to commemorate the end of the division between East and West Germany. The concert took place at Potsdamer Platz. The full concert is on several YouTube sites – as is the nature of YouTube, some are better filmed than others. Not sure if there is an official version.
Just a couple of more places/insights. As we often say, “we like to live where we visit”. We try to make minimum stays of four-weeks. Berlin, we need to stay for several months. Everyday we were out and about, though if we had longer we would have had some ‘downtime’, a day at home; perhaps even writing a blog, instead of waiting for three-months later, as is now, to write from memory, Narda’s handwritten notes, my daily textualities, picture-poems, and sorting through, easily, a thousand photos and a lot of video. I am not doing a video for Berlin currently. Just too much else to do in life, and we still have all of Spain to write about.
One of my favourite museums, The Urban Nation Museum for Urban Contemporary Art by far is the best, but up there with the next tier of museums is the American Museum (Allied Museum). http://www.alliiertenmuseum.de Not because I am one of them, but due to its quality of information. It is free, except for a euro to go inside an airplane used during the Berlin Blockade.
A video (in English) tells the daringness of the Yanks during the Soviet blockade to starve out western Germany. We also got to see Checkpoint Charlie buildings. We saw tunnels,how the Yanks did the 1960s in tough times and so much more. Well worth the visits, to see how the locals endured. The last place we will mention is the Spandau castle. We took the train out to the Rathaus Spandau stop (on our bikes). and yes it does look like a girl’s bike, but we don’t call them that. We call them ‘step-through bikes’ as that is their current names and less gender humiliating (for males). I need this type, as at 71, running and throwing a leg over and racing away is difficult!
“Spandau Castle was indirectly mentioned for the first time in 1197. The Margraves of Brandenburg had built it on the site of an old Slavic settlement at the place where the rivers Havel and Spree meet.” http://www.zitadelle-berlin.de/
“The Citadel is home to 10,000 bats every year. They come to sleep through the cold winter. The vaults of the old fortress offer a multitude of hiding places. The brick walls offer one of the most important winter quarters for bats in Europe.” (http://www.zitadelle-berlin.de/en/ )
We went to the bat cellar. Very interesting. I used my phone light to look through the glass. Maybe it isn’t supposed to be done. The bats went nuts flying all over inside their once sleepy enclosure. But we did get to see them in all their glory. Spandau Castle is a good whole day visit. There were maybe five other tourists the whole day we were there. We brought our lunch and thermos of coffee and between the bats and the towers the day was wonderful. Some of the highlights here are the Julius Tower which is the oldest building in Berlin (1500s), which we lumbered to the top of for a spectacular view. The Fortress ‘A masterpiece of Renaissance architecture’ since the 16th century‘ is groovy too.
And that is all we are saying. We loved Berlin, a month is just not enough time there. A short blog like this only scratches the surface of our life in Berlin. We lived life like we do at home or anywhere we nest: we watch Netflix series in the evening, watch Colbert, John Oliver, Bill Maher and other USA real-news in the morning, eat our usual meals which for me is low-carb, organic vegetarian. And with Narda, meat and stuff. Next blog is Northern Spain. Between Germany and Spain, we popped into Great Britain for ten-days. Staying in Horsham, Brighton, and taking a Brittany Ferry from Portsmouth to Santander, Spain, with visits to museums and castles all of which we will share in the Spain blog, coming soon to you, exclusively.
I agree with Terrell; we coud easily have stayed here for 3 months. I think we will probably return. The city has a very special presence. Full of tragedy and courage, and the memories are everywhere. And full of art and creativity. We also enjoyed the Turkish quarter, another different vibe. One of the highlights for me was the conversations with Frank and Wally. Frank has such a lot of knowledge about Berin’s history, but also about the state of the world and I found his insights so fascinating. They are a very generous couple, both in their dealings with us, their hospitality, and also in their work with the refugees. Berlin made a big impression on me.
Thanks for sharing this moment with us.
Terrell Neuage Thoughts 2019 updated 05 February 2019 Adelaide, South Australia
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