Ich bin ein Berliner

High speed rail in Germany is what you’d expect. 150 miles per hour hurtling through fields and backyards with a delicate pint glass of perfect beer on your private table. Neither a wave nor a ripple in the foam as the bullet train flies eastward. Glass doors open automatically as you approach while stewards and stewardesses serve fusilli bolognese and chocolate in the dining car. Really.

We were having such fun in our private glassed in room with our music playing, bucolic pastoral Germany whizzing by. I saw a dog chasing a hare in a field, his owner far behind. I saw a woman who had fallen in a ditch. Her companion standing over her presumably figuring her rescue but who can actually know the whole story? Giant windmills and solar farms spread out over manicured farms and tidy hamlets. No evidence of poverty, or decay. Just sheep and ponies, dormant winter fields and community gardens. North western Germany and eastern Netherlands looks like Pennsylvania to me. No wonder the Germans moved right in and brought their culture with them so long ago. I’m curious if the Amish and Mennonites all went to the states though as there were no signs of horse and buggies or truck stops rife with delicious pies. Ah well. Another mystery to solve another day.

A towering glass and stainless steel train station startled us into realizing we had arrived in Berlin. I never planned to go there. Never really had it on my list but, man oh man, the places life can take you! It was getting dark and we were in a huge city with no real bearing so we took the easy way and Ubered to our hotel. A 4th floor walk up in a run down building replete with crumbling moldings, cracked stained glass and intricate woodwork worn smooth by use. The room was split with a door so we piled 3 single mattresses in the front room and shut the door to our drafty palace in back. It was great. No cheesy watercolors on the walls, just stark utilitarian Berlin white. We found some food around the corner for dinner and a closing grocery for provisions. Walking under the half smashed “Remembering Church”, the steeple gone and huge holes blown throughout from the war I was struck by a sobering thought…this was the only old building as far as I could see. Everything else has been leveled in the bombings….a hair raising realization. Another day upon closer inspection we saw the countless bullet holes. It’s incredible to think you are standing in a spot that was at one time literally hell on earth. As it turned out this would be the first of several times I had that thought in Berlin. This would be a very important learning experience for the children and for kelly and I as well. We had big plans for the next few days.

The Berlin zoo is one of the largest anywhere. Kelly and I remembered the story of what happened there during the Second World War but decided we’d enjoy the animals and leave that story alone. The children were delighted and we zooed until we could zoo no more. Hungry, and ever in search for extra school educational experiences for the children we did what any thoughtful parents would do. We dragged 3 hungry and exhausted children across Berlin on foot to the gay district for schnitzel! Rainbow flags were everywhere. We re-explained the significance frankly and open mindedly as usual skipping the explanation for the storefront advertising “skin, latex and leather”. It figures this sign would be in English. The food was magnificent. We all left stuffed and had late night cold schnitzel during a movie back at the room. Hard sleep awaits after days like this. Rest up children cause we’re putting you through “das” ringer tomorrow!

Strudel is a unanimous favorite. We rented bikes and hit the streets. Like everywhere we’ve traveled outside the states there are bike lanes, bike traffic lights and drivers looking out for cyclists. We flew through the west side, past the golden angel in the center of the city. Parks stretch out in all directions. Then through woods on a long, straight boulevard due east to the Brandenburg Gate. We did our best to explain the history and significance of this amazing site. We talked about Reagan and his speech. We talked about Kennedy and his speech. There was a circle of people meditating on peace, the buildings were stone and looming. We were definitely in east Germany now. My emotions did not ask permission. This stuff is heavy and really really important. I think, I hope at least, kelly and I struck the right balance between teaching just how important, sad and terrifying the history here was and how wonderful a place it is now. One can find a Starbucks or a stone facade riddled with bullet holes. It just depends on what interests you.

Fantastic rides through the east to the Berlin Wall memorial. Quinn and Gherty shed some tears…because they crashed their too big rental bikes. I had my moment standing in “no mans land” looking at the monument with photographs of men and women, old and young, small children and elderly all shot to death trying to live. A lesson (Quinn likes to use the word “lecture”) on the history here with the children reminded us we just may not be short changing them by homeschooling. Quinn and Che both learned the lesson that you must cross trolley tracks at an angle on a bike or you will meet the pavement. No blood no foul. Time for lunch.

Lebanese food in Berlin was incredible. I just love saying “shawarma”. I told Quinn that Kelly and I debated naming him “Babaganoush” but he wasn’t buying it.

We toured the east by bike all afternoon. Biergartens are not lively in winter but some are open and the beer is big and delicious. Kelly and I are finding that exercising this much and hydrating with Pilsner seems to abate hangovers. See? Another lesson learned.

The architecture is East or West. There is a difference you don’t need a sign to notice. The people are friendly on both sides. Likely because A. They are friendly in Germany and B. They don’t see Berlin as east and west these days. See kids? There is definitely a parallel to be drawn between united people and happy people. Quinn stole Beck’s melody and jammed his own version of “Where it’s at….I got 2 flip flops and a winter coat”! They’re definitely learning something by hanging around us so much.

We happened upon the holocaust memorial by accident. Each giant stone monolith represented countless lives lost, a labyrinth between them. Truly a striking sight. Another lesson. We think it’s sinking in but who can blame kids for wanting to play hide and seek in a holocaust labyrinth? They’re kids after all.

OK kids, this concludes our lesson on mass genocide. Let’s go to Legoland!! Welcome to the madness that is the Walling family traveling circus. Billions of plastic bricks, mind bending miniature LEGO Berlin and a repeating glockenspiel soundtrack that made my brains leak out of my ears. I’d say we had done a good job with Berlin.

One last night then we jammed the laundry into the backpacks and onto the train south through Frankfurt to Bacharach to stay in a medieval castle that now is a hilltop hostel. I’m writing this lying on my back with aching legs from roughly 4,000 steps up and down and back again. We’re off to a town called Worms tomorrow and will catch you up on the Rhine River Valley next.

Stay tuned. Much love!

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