Monday, 21 January 2013

Prenzlauer Berg

My next trip out in Berlin was one that I made with Walter. Winter finally put in an appearance that day so it was a bit of a cold trip, especially as I had neglected to note how far the distances were on my map. But we both survived it!

Walter wasn't so sure we should be out in the cold
Due to an elevator being out of service on our planned route, Walter and I ended up having our journey take an hour so that I could find a station I could easily exit with him! It meant that we had to go via Alexanderplatz, where we saw our first hint of a Weinachtmarket. I had heard a lot of good things about German Christmas Markets but this was my first glimpse of one and it looked very promising. There is something very endearing about mini wooden huts, especially when one knows that they will soon be selling glühwein and roast meats!

When we finally arrived in Prenzlauer Berg our first stop was the Volkspark Friedrichshain. I was keen to see the Märchenbrunnen, a beautiful fountain full of characters from traditional German fairytales. I thought it would be an easy walk across the park to get there, so Walter and I climbed to the top of one of the Bunkerbergs (artificial mountains built from the rubble carted away from postwar Berlin) with the plan of coming down the other side and continuing on to the fountain. However I managed to get us completely turned around and after we descended a rather steep staircase (quite a feat with his pram!) I discovered we were almost back where we’d started! So after that we followed a bike path along the park’s perimeter.

The climb up

The climb down!
 Alas, when we arrived at the Märchenbrunnen we discovered that all the fountains were completely enclosed in little wooden huts to protect them over winter! It was so disappointing, especially as the few sculptures that were visible only served to hint at how incredible the fountain would look. 

 After the volkspark we went to the Georgen-Parochial I Friedhof, in order to view some of the tombstones that were damaged during the hand-to-hand combat of the Battle for Berlin. It was eerie seeing the bullet holes and shrapnel damage and thinking about the lives lost in this space.

You can see the damage on the wall behind the statue
Due to the cold we found it necessary to take a break in a nearby cafe until we were warm enough to press on. The next stop on our walk was an old watertower that had been converted into a series of apartments. It looked like a really neat place to live, except that when the conversion was being undertaken 27 bodies were found in the pipes at the bottom of the tower – more gruesome remainders from the Nazi regime.

By this time we’d reached the shopping district part of Prenzlauer Berg and it was time to go find the birthday present my mother-in-law had said I should get – a piece of art or pottery made by a Berlin artist. This was such a great idea! Walter and I headed straight for the studio of Jeanne Koepp ( where I had a delightful time picking out a piece of art for my birthday. The woman on duty didn’t speak much English, and I didn’t speak much German, but that didn’t matter. She was really great about letting Walter into the shop and kept him entertained while I browsed the various pieces. The one I got in the end was really special – an old lidded porcelain coffee cup & saucer, their original design stripped an a beautiful dull-gold & gray pattern painted on. It really reminded me of Berlin, this object with old lines but a modern design. It’s similar to this.

With a buzz from my art purchase, Walter & I set off at a jaunty pace towards our last stop of the day – Konnopke’s Imbiß, the home of Berlin’s oldest currywurst maker! I was really excited to try currywurst in all of its authentic glory and I was not disappointed. It was the neatest little imbiß, located under the elevated tracks of the U-Bahn, with tables and sheltered seating and an organ grinder serenading the diners. The wurst (a sausage topped with curry powder & red sauce) and the pommes (mit mayo!) were delicious. The only downside was that a man saw me taking pictures and then followed me for two blocks demanding to see my camera and insisting that I’d taken his picture. It was really scary, as I couldn’t shake him off and I was certain that he was trying to steal my DSLR camera. I stuck close to the crowds of shoppers and made a beeline for a well-lit shop where I could call for help if I needed it. Fortunately he saw he wasn’t getting anywhere and left us, but I had a rather terrifying journey back to Wedding as I kept thinking I saw him on the train or the street. I have never been so glad to get home!

Monday, 7 January 2013

Q & A: 2012 in Review

2012 was a crazy year for us. This seems as good a way as any to sum it up.

1. What did you do in 2012 that you'd never done before?

Giving birth would probably be the biggest thing! 

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I don’t set resolutions, so there was nothing to keep. I guess if anything I just keep trying to work on self improvement over time :)

3. What countries did you visit?

2012 was certainly a year for travel. I went to: USA (Washington, DC & New York), Scotland (Aberdeen), Germany (Berlin), and now I’m in British Columbia, Canada.

4. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?

Stability. As enjoyable as all the travel has been it would be nice to have a home of our own again and at least the illusion of job (and financial) security for another chunk of time.

5. What date from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

August 3rd, the day that Walter was born. Giving birth under normal circumstances is memorable enough, but the unplanned home birth with the help of the emergency response team certainly ensured we would never forget it :)

6. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Organising an international move, packing, and getting all the paperwork in order in the 8 weeks after giving birth. Juggling that with a newborn was epic. I never want to do it again! But I did it fairly successfully and it felt pretty good to see what I could accomplish (I think thanks to a heavy dose of divine grace). A close runner up would be the feeling of success and pride I had when I could successfully set up things (like internet & phone) in Germany. It felt so good to get on in a country where I couldn’t just rely on English.

7. What was your biggest failure?

So far it’s been keeping up with correspondence/thank you notes in the time since we left Cambridge. Being on the move has made it very difficult to keep up with emails, letters, cards etc. I’m pretty exhausted most of the time and keen to use Walter’s mummy-free moments to veg and try to recoup some strength.

8. What was the best thing you bought?

Walter’s travel system. It’s been invaluable and allows us to be out & about, undertaking all sorts of adventures, with minimal fuss.

9. Where did most of your money go?

Travel. Flying is expensive, getting screwed by East Coast Rail was expensive, and being in a new country every few months is expensive.

10. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Moving to Germany for two months. I should probably say “having a baby” but that was also terrifying. Germany was less scary and it was awesome to finally make it to the continent!

11. What song will always remind you of 2012?

“Call Me Maybe” simply because it was the top song on August 3rd and I listened to it when I entered it into Walter’s baby book. It’s the first time in years that I’ve actually listened to music that was current! “How Can I Keep from Singing” may also stay in mind for 2012, as it is Walter’s favourite song and one that I have taken on as my anthem for the past year.

12. Compared to this time last year, are you richer or poorer?

Much, much poorer financially. We’ve lost 2/3rds of our income in the past few months and it’s been really hard, especially as we’ve had to keep moving around for various reasons. But I feel that my faith is richer (hard times will do that to you!), I’m learning the grace of Hope, and although my family is going through a tough time it’s something that the three of us are trying to face together. We’re certainly richer for having each other, especially the blessing of our little son.

13. What do you wish you'd done more of?

 Book reading, at least in the latter half of the year. Once Walter arrived it was hard to get a chance to read. In 2012 I only read 83 books, the lowest number I have on record (I’ve been tracking books-read since 2006). It means I’ve been spending more time on the computer, which generally is not as good for my mental health although it is easier when juggling a baby.

14. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Planning! Almost nothing went the way we thought and if it were possible to live life with no plans it certainly would have saved me many hours of anxiety!

15. How did you spend Christmas?

We spent our time with David’s family in Victoria, and then celebrated all over again in Port Alberni for a slightly early Ukrainian Christmas. It was lovely to be home again for Christmas after three years abroad.

16. What was the best book you read?

Vanity Fair. It made it into my favourites for rereading list, right up there with Gone With the Wind.

17. What did you want and get?

To go back to Canada for Christmas.

18. What did you want and not get?

A place to call home for a significant length of time.

19. What did you do on your birthday?

Bubble Tea, Turkish kebabs & pommes frites mit mayo, a special German supper cooked by David, and just a fun family day with my husband and son in Berlin.

20. How would you describe your personal fashion concept?

practical bohemian!

21. What kept you sane?

Prayers, both ones I said and the ones said for me. Without God to get me through this past year I don’t know if I could have made it.

22. What political issue stirred you the most?

The attack on religious liberties, at least in the press and the halls of the politicians! I was engrossed in the German circumcision issue, as I found it fascinating that the Europeans polled, or the ones I spoke to, would react so vehemently against it.  

23. Where did you ring in 2012?

On Glen Lake, watching the fireworks over the lake while taking a brief break from Pathfinder.

24. Where will you ring in 2013?

Considering I can’t even tell where I’ll be in a month or so, there’s no way I’m going to guess where I’ll be in 2013. But I hope that it will be with my little family :)

25. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

And I don't know what the future is holdin' in store

I don't know where I'm goin',

I'm not sure where I've been

There's a spirit that guides me, a light that shines for me

My life is worth the livin', I don't need to see the end
                -- John Denver, Sweet Surrender

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Remembrance Day in Germany / Kreuzberg-Friedrichstain

Spending Remembrance Day in Germany was a really strange experience. As British Columbians we’re used to having the day off and going to Remembrance Day ceremonies while sporting our poppies. In the UK it was a little different, because I always had to work on the day, but there was still a minute of silence and of course everyone would be wearing their poppies. Spending the day in the country that lost, with the side that our family members were fighting against, was really strange. No poppies. No minute of silence. No mention of anything at all, that I could see.

It was on November 12th, however, that Remembrance Day in Germany really hit us. David was able to spare some time to go sightseeing with us so we took a trip to Kreuzburg-Friedrichstain and began a day-long tour of Berlin: The 20th Century.

We began by walking the East Side Gallery, a 1.3km section of the Berlin Wall along the banks of a river. In 1990, artists were invited to paint murals relating to peace, and this section of wall was left as a beautiful memorial. Due to weather damage a lot of the murals were fading, so the artists were invited back in 2009 to update their work. It is a really lovely walk and one of the best places to see the Berlin Wall.

My favourite mural
After our long walk we were ready for brunch, so we went to an excellent cafe in Friedrichstain called Milagro. They have a huge selections of breakfasts and we both decided on the New Yorker Frühstück. The one thing I really miss from North America are the breakfasts and I was curious to try out a German take on a North American breakfast. It was delicious! We were served huge plates full of fresh fruit, vegetables, piping hot hashbrown patties, scrambled eggs with green onion & cheese, toast with butter & frisch käse (sort of like cream cheese), and sliced deli meats (ham & chicken). I knew that frühstück normally involved deli meat, albeit wurst, so it was fun seeing how it was incorporated into a North American take.

After lunch we browsed in a couple of used book stores and then pressed on to Checkpoint Charlie. Although it’s all done for tourists now it is crazy to think that as early as when David & I were born there was a huge wall dividing the city and armed border crossings.

Standing by one of the old crossing posts

Checkpoint Charlie (within 100m of the American side is a McDonalds...)

From Checkpoint Charlie we proceeded to “The Topography of Terror”, an exhibit which covers the rule of the Nazis in painstaking detail. It’s located on the site of the former SS Headquarters, and begins with an open air exhibition of the rubble, which provides a caved-in view of the former torture chambers and the broken front gates. Running along the top of this is a fragment of the Berlin wall, carrying poignant graffiti of those separated from their loved ones. It really brought home the horrors enacted throughout the city during the 20th Century. 

"To Astrid / Maybe Someday / We Will Be / Together"

The toppled gates of the SS Headquarters, now laying by the basement foundations (where the torture chambers were)
 After viewing the ruins we went inside the exhibit and spent an hour or two perusing the pictorial display. In painstaking detail it illustrates the systematic intent to commit mass murder and genocide during the Nazi regime. It leaves little room for anyone to plead ignorance as an excuse. Many of the photographs came from Nazi albums and were chilling both in their portrayal of Nazis having fun and of their graphic images of murder. Although I have visited many Holocaust-related sites this past year I found that I still learned things from this one. Until this exhibit I did not know that when the Allies came to Germany they actually forced the German citizens to view the murders that had been committed and to help give the bodies from mass graves a dignified and proper burial. David was particularly struck by a display of notecards which show in painstaking detail various office workers recording the daily numbers of Jews, Gypsies, Work Shy, and Homosexuals that had been sent to various camps. Needless to say it was a chilling exhibit and one that really brought Remembrance Day into a new light. This is why we must never, ever forget. 

One of the propaganda pictures from the exhibit, in support of euthanasia. I thought it was apt given the recent coverage on both euthanasia and "do not resuscitate" orders being left in the medical files of mentally challenged individuals.