Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Since Carter's school is closed for three weeks for their summer holiday and we didn't have a babysitter available for a couple of days, we decided to visit Berlin. Yes, we have lived in Germany for two years and only now just traveled to Berlin. What a cool city. So much history, so much of it quite recent (hmmm...recent history, if that's not an oxymoron...). The current Berlin mayor has described the city as "poor but sexy." And it's true. Berlin is a hip and happening city, but it's hugely in debt (somewhere along the lines of €60 billion in debt).

It should be no surprise to you that our first stop in Berlin was the Legoland Discovery Center. OK, granted it was raining and cold and so a good indoor activity was needed. This was no where near the size of the Legoland park that we have visited in southern Germany in the past. This was much smaller...maybe a Chuckie Cheese sized place. Actually, you can reserve rooms for birthday parties. Too bad Berlin is so far from us, both Carter and Ben would love to have their birthday celebrated there. I'm not sure who would like it more. Of special interest to Carter at the Discovery Center was the new Bob the Builder 3D movie. He absolutely loved it and the second it was over he asked if he could watch it again. Of course, we dropped many, many Euros at the Lego store on the way out. In fact, our purchase was so significant that the cashier said to us, "So you really liked it here, huh?"

Speaking of shopping, I fell in love with everything in the Ampelmännchen store. You may be asking what the heck is an Ampelmännchen...well it literally means "little traffic light man" and he is quite famous in the former East Germany. He's possibly the only hold over from the former GDR and communist Germany. After the German re-unification, there were attempts to standardize the traffic signals throughout the country; however, the (former) East Germans protested and rallied to keep their beloved Ampelmännchen. There is now an almost cult-like following, four stores (at least) selling Ampelmännchen paraphernalia, and even an Ampelmännchen restaurant in Berlin. We made a few purchases...mugs, key ring, t-shirts, etc...and did our part to help support the Berlin economy. Come on, don't you think he's cute?

On day 2 in Berlin, we were penniless from all of our shopping of the day before. Fortunately we had scheduled a city bike tour with Fat Tire Bike Tours. We did a bike tour last summer in Paris and it worked out great with Carter so we decided to repeat that in Berlin. Berlin is roughly 8 times the size of Paris (physical size, not population) and so there was no way were were going to be able to cover the whole city on foot, especially with a small child.

This "all-in-one city bike tour" lasted 5 hours, covered over 6 miles, and it included a stop at a beer garden for some lunch and refreshments. It would be nearly impossible for me to summarize what we saw and learned here on this blog so I'll just list the big sites we covered: Berlin Wall, Brandenburg Gate, Marienkirche, Rathaus, Mark & Engels Platz, Hitler's Bunker, Potsdamer Platz, Gendarmenmarkt, Checkpoint Charlie, Humboldt University, Babelplatz, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and the Reichstag. I've tried to capture most of these in the slide show below.

On our third day in Berlin, we took another bike tour but this one was focused on the The Wall and the Cold War. This was really a fabulous tour. Our tour guide explained how post WWII Berlin was divided up between Russia, France, England, and the US. He explained how and why the wall went up. A temporary wall literally went up over night. Families were separated. A story was told of one guy who went home with an East German girl after a night of partying for a one-night stand and was then trapped in East Germany for the next 28 years...simply because the wall went up while he was shagging some Fraulein. There were numerous anecdotes of escape attempts and techniques. There were shoot-to-kill orders for anyone caught in the "deathstrip," the dirt area between the two walls. We visited the East Side Gallery which is a kilometer long stretch of still-standing wall that is famous for it's graffiti.

And finally, on day four, with no energy left for a bike tour, nor enough time...we went to the DDR museum. This is a hands on museum that is dedicated to every day life in the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (East Germany or GDR to us). There was a Trabant, aka Trabi, on display. What is a Trabant? It's an East German car that was made between 1957-1991 and remained mostly unchanged during the 34 years of production. It was a terrible automobile but was one of the few vehicles available for purchase in East Germany. If you wanted to buy one, you were required to apply for permission and the waiting list was up to 14 years. Another especially interesting exhibit was about early childhood education and school. A picture from a day care center shows children lined up on a “potty bench,” where “everyone remained seated until the last one was done.” This was more than toilet training: “It also was the first step to social education.”

I would like to leave you with a quote from a NY Times article (the full text can be found here) that I think sums it all up pretty well:

It was as if some immense laboratory experiment had gone on for half a century according to rigorous principles: Take a single defeated society, weary with guilt, wounds and hatred, and divide it in two. Split apart families and friends; workplaces and factories; resources and opportunities. And see what kinds of worlds develop under very different visions of social and political order. The Wall was an attempt to enforce the experiment’s continuation; instead, its confession of the need for force anticipated the experiment’s conclusion.

OK, so maybe it's a little deep but it's something to think about as we come up on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall this November.

1 comment:

DeeDee said...

oh thanks so much for the little tour..I was stationed in berlin...left 6 months before the wall come down...I truely loved it there..

ish bein ein