Berlin, Germany: September 12 – September 22
Wednesday, September 12: arrived in Berlin about 8:15 this morning. The over night train was great fun. Elsa and I shared a room which was right next to Charlie and Henry’s room. We each had our own bathroom with sink and shower. When we boarded, we found our cabins and settled in. I enjoyed one or two (?) of the (little) bottles of red wine left for us as a welcome. Sleep came pretty easy for us – way easier than I thought it would. It was a great memory.
Here are some shots from our neighborhood in Prenzlauer Berg – formerly East Berlin. 10 days here — we stay here through September 22!
When the cab pulled up on the first day, I was certain that Charlie was not going to get out. The door was so heavily graffitied and there is an Asian restaurant in the bottom of the building. We piled out. I am certain that we looked like a bunch of clowns with all of their belongings piling out of a little yellow Mercedes taxi wagon. The stairs leading into the apartment building were even a little sketchier. The kids and I did a little “recon” and none of the apartments had numbers on them so we were not sure which apartment was ours. This was no fun. I called the owner and he showed up about 10 minutes later on his bike and showed us into the apartment. Thank goodness the inside of the apartment was a lot nicer than the initial impressions of the outside of the building. The kids have their own room and the apartment living area and kitchen is pretty spacious so all is fine now. And, one more bonus…the Asian restaurant downstairs is great. We had dinner there the other night and the food was very good.
We found a large park at the end of our street where there is a big arena and looks like some sort of school. The park itself was big but not too well kept up. There were also lots of colorful people sitting around and now I know why the owner of the apartment told us not to go there after dark. Regardless, the kids were oblivious (thank goodness) and we found a small playground where they played for a while before we were driven inside by some dark clouds.
Thursday, September 12: Went to visit some family in Spandau – not too far from city center. Took three different surface and underground trains to get there but it didn’t take more than an hour or so. We visited with Karin and her husband Gerd. Karin is Helga’s first cousin. Kimmy and Jamie also visited once they were finished with school. We met the girls about 5 years ago when they visited Atlanta with their grandmother and aunt. Boy, have they changed. Karin made coffee and a homemade apple cake which Henry ate three pieces of and of course, Karin promised to give me the recipe. (Update: got the recipe tonight. Expect it for Thanksgiving.)
Here’s a photo of Karin, Kimmy, Gerd, Charlie and the kids.
A few other things I have noticed about Berlin and specifically, Prenzlauer-Berg, the area where we are staying:
1) Almost every other restaurant is Vietnamese, Asian, Lebanese or Italian.
2) People love their bicycles and if you’re not careful to stay out of the bike lane which is ON the side walk, you will get cursed at or run over.
3) Graffiti is an art form and it’s everywhere — just like in Paris. Seems hard to find a surface that isn’t covered.
4) Caricatures of food are popular — at least from what we’ve seen. Kind of kitchsy and cute.
Friday, September 14: Today we decided to take an open top bus tour of Berlin so we could get acclimated and figure out what we want to see for the rest of our time here. Started out near the TV Tower and headed over toward the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstad and the Holocaust Memorial.
Saturday, September 15: Today, we are again hiding out in a small cafe down the street in hopes of better wifi. We are going to head out to Andre’s house (Kimmy and Jamie’s dad and Karin’s son-in-law) for a BBQ this afternoon. Charlie has just returned from his journey to get sim cards for the iPads in hopes we can get better signal. Apparently, he has found something better. I will let you know.
Found a different park – even closer to the apartment. Kids loved it.
UPDATE: as you might imagine from the new posts and new photos, Charlie was able to get a prepaid “surf stick” that allows us to get on the Internet at super fast speeds. No more internet frustration. Yea!
As you saw from the post, we had a great time at the cookout with family — Karin and Marita (Helga’s cousins) joined us along with the girls, Jamie and Kimmy, Ulla’s son and our hosts, Andre and Ulla.
Sunday, September 16: “Living like a local.” Well, I can sincerely say that I have accomplished this task today. Laundry day. Okay, so the apartment here in Berlin is in a great area we really enjoy — super restaurants line the streets, cool little boutiques and a great park about a minutes walk from the apartment but there is no washer and dryer. This stinks for me. so, I bagged up most, but not all of the laundry and walked to the laundry mat. Thank goodness the directions were also written in English because I felt like I needed a PhD to work these machines and follow their ever-so-complex instructions. Yes, I persevered and we all have some clean clothes. 😉
Got home with loads of clean laundry and then we all headed out for the subway. Took the subway to the Tempelhof station where we hoped to “land” at an abandoned airport (Tempelhof) where we could ride bikes and hang out. It was super. The weather was unbelievable — felt like an early Spring day, sunny warm and breezy. Templehof is an interesting place. According to Helga, the Berliners used to call it the “Hungryport” because in WWII, the Allied forces would drop parcels of food at the airport for the residents of West Berlin.
Our first adventure at Templehof was a little challenging. Henry wanted a little trike, Elsa and I got a two seater and Charlie got a bike. Elsa made it about 10 minutes with me at the helm when she insisted in driving. Okay, this was scary – we almost took a digger as she took a sharp left and we both almost fell out of the car. She then insisted she ride by herself because she thought I would take too many photos. That didn’t last too long – about 15 minutes in she started screaming that she could not keep up with us. ;(
After the first challenging part one of our time at Tempelhof, it got remarkably better after we turned in all the old bikes and rented a four seater. It was fun but a lot of hard work pushing around 130 pounds of “kids”. Actually, not bad exercise considering all the cheese, bread and croissants we’ve been eating.
We found a little biergarten at the Tempelhof Airfield along with a bathroom and had a quick refreshment and then did an Olympic Sprint toward the rental place so we could turn our ride in before our 60 minutes was up. On to new adventures tomorrow…Thanks for reading. Miss you all.
BTW, congratulations and best wishes to Nate and Shannon who were married yesterday in Baltimore. We are sorry to missed the festivities but are looking forward to seeing the newlyweds in Rome!
Monday, September 17: Homeschooled (does this sound like Groundhog Day?), I got a little break and walked around the neighborhood for 45 minutes. Got back, ate lunch and then we took the subway to the Sony Center or the Lego Discovery Center.
After our visit to LegoLand, we headed to the TV Tower to get some aerial views of the city. The Historyof the Berlin TV tower is part of German history. In the 60’s the GDR government had the TV tower built to demonstrate the strength and efficiency of the socialist party system. Today the tower shapes the skyline of the German capital city – a landmark of the reunited Germany, like the Brandenburg Gate.
Had a tasty dinner right across the street from the apartment at a little Indian restaurant called Naan. One of the great things about this apartment is the location — Prenzlauer Berg is a fun, young part of town and our apartment is ideally located on a little side street called Oderbergh Strasse which is lined with about 10 great restaurants and several boutiques.
Tuesday, September 18: In a few minutes we are leaving for lunch at the Reichstag which is the current home of the German Parliament.
Evening: what a great meal we had at Dachgarten Restaurant. I had Pike on creamy sauerkraut and Charlie had Schnitzel. Food was great and the views ware terrific.
Re the Reichstag: After the founding of the German Empire in 1872, there was a need for a large parliamentary building in Berlin. It would take another ten years before there was an agreement on the design. A competition was held and out of 183 submissions, a design by Paul Wallot was chosen. The German architect created an imposing neo-Renaissance building.
The building was constructed between 1884 and 1894, mainly funded with wartime booty from France, a result of Prussia’s defeat of France in 1871.
After the war, the Reichstag ended up in West Berlin, right near the Berlin Wall. It was reconstructed between 1958 and 1972 but the central dome was removed. During Berlin’s division the West German parliament assembled here once a year as a way to indicate that Bonn was only a temporary capital. After the unification the decision was soon made to move the Bundestag (Germany’s Parliament) from Bonn to Berlin. This decision resulted in a renovation which started in 1995 and was completed in 1999.
I found a brief article on the NPR web site about dining at the Reichstag, here’s at excerpt: “But there is another reason for going up to the Reichstag roof: the Dachgarten Restaurant. Its existence is one of the little advertised joys of the Reichstag. Perched on the ramparts where the historic photos of Russian troops planting their conquering flags were taken, it serves politicians and tourist alike.The German food and wine are excellent, but it is the views looking east over the heart of old Berlin that take the breath away. Through the soaring panes of glass that encase the restaurant, one looks out over the modernist architecture of the Bundestag staff offices along the banks of the Spree river; the bronze, horse-drawn chariot atop the nearby Brandenberg Gate; the domes of the city’s multiple ancient cathedrals; and the shining gold of the restored Neue Synagogue. It is hard to imagine a more stunning site for a restaurant.The cafe itself, like the dome outside, was designed by Britain’s Foster. The room is clean, spare, stylishly post-modern, with an open kitchen where toqued chefs prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner before the giant windows that look out over what once, before the dismantlement of the Berlin Wall, was communist East Berlin.”
After a stellar lunch, I attempted to make a lasagna in a fry pan for dinner because there are no baking dishes in this apartment and I could not find a disposable foil pan to save my life. Plus, I forgot the ricotta cheese and on second thought, I am not sure I would have even know what to buy. Trips to the grocery store are an exercise in frustration because I can only make out a few words.
I was seriously handicapped in the kitchen and for those who know, this is not a comfortable place for me because i enjoy cooking but this was a little over the top. All in all, it did not turn out too bad.
Wednesday, September 19: What a great day! Today was about 63 degrees and sunny. It was a perfect Fall day. We homeschooled and then went out to find Helga’s apartment from when she lived in Berlin with her parents.
Charlie had the address and the u-Bahn subway ipad app so we got there no problem.
After finding the apartment we walked through the Schoneberg area and Henry found a rock shop and just had to buy a rock (citrine to be exact). It was a neat little area with cafes, shops and flower shops. We boarded another subway and then found the bus. Took it to our stop and met up with Gerd, Marita and Karin to enjoy coffee at Marita’s place before we met some other family for dinner.
We then went to a little Italian place not too far from Marita’s house and met up with Andre, Kimmie, Jamie, Markus (Marita’s son) and his wife Yvonne and their 13 year old son, Yannis. The meal was great but the company was even better. Thank you Marita for a wonderful dinner.
Here’s a photo of the whole crew:
Thanks for reading. Miss you all.
Thursday, September 20: Tomorrow we are off to the Zoo.