For four months, I studied abroad in London, England. These notes are select entries from my experiences in the United Kingdom and Western Europe from that time.
Saturday, November 21 –
I have discovered Barry is quite a snorer, but that is nothing that a pillow over my head wouldn’t fix. After waking up around 8 a.m., we went to the breakfast room for fruhstuck where I had tea, ham, baguettes and juice.
We then drove over to the house of our friends, Rolf and Ulrike. They had planned a tour of Bonn. Rolf explained a little about Bonn’s current status. The city was the capital of West Germany after World War II until reunification in 1990, and Bonn was scheduled to be the seat of the government until next year. Next year, the government and parliament are scheduled to move to Berlin, but some of the ministries including Agriculture and Defense would remain. Apparently it was going to be one of the largest governmental relocations in peacetime in history with almost 10,000 federal employees moving to the new offices in Berlin, Therefore, Bonn would be know as a “Federal City” (Bundesstadt). Because of the necessary construction work, the move would take until 1999 to complete.
Bonn is slightly bigger than Birmingham at about 300,000 people, and is located in the south of the Rhine-Ruhr region, the largest metropolitan area in German. The state is called North Rhine Westphalia and consists of four of Germany’s ten biggest cities including Köln (the largest city), Düsseldorf (the capital), Dortmund and Essen.
Upon returning to the house, we said goodbye to Rolf, Ulrike and Enna before leaving in the Opel for Berlin. Barry and I grabbed some bratwurst in a stand near the house to eat on the way to Berlin. We became stuck in some bad traffic from Bonn to Köln, but things started to clear up once we hit the A1 south of Köln for our 7-hour journey to Berlin. On the A1 we passed south of Düsseldorf and Dortmund before we entered the A2, one of Germany’s great autobahns.
Barry had travelled to Germany many times before the Cold War and I asked him some stories about visiting Berlin when it was deep in the heart of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). He said the A2 was basically the only part of East Germany that was truly open to the west, once we passed Hannover in the state of Lower Saxony and entered into what was previously the GDR around Magdeburg in the state of Saxony-Anhalt. Barry likened it to a lifeline connecting then West Berlin to West Germany, which almost caused war when the Soviets cut off the rail and road links before the Berlin Airlift.
Around 19:00 p.m. we arrived in the beautiful city of Berlin where we drove to the home of Dr. Martine Forêt, another one of Barry’s friends. Martine invited us to stay in her nice flat which is located in what was once East Berlin. Martine is from Grenoble in the French Alps and is a professor/researcher at Berlin’s Freie Universität.
Being French, Martine served us some cheese, wine and some German Christmas cake. Shortly afterwards, more of Barry’s friends, Werner and Bärbel, showed up.
Later, we all went out to have supper at German restaurant nearby. I had a strange combination of wurst, cheeses and pancakes and a pilsner, believe it or not! It was fun and afterwards we returned to Martine’s flat where we chatted until about 2 a.m. listening to her French music and drinking wine. Barry and I went to bed in her spare room on a couple of Aerobeds she had. I had never seen one before, but apparently they are popular in Europe. Martine’s flat is nice and contemporary, but it was strange not having a sink in the bathroom. I thought it was unusual that Martine did not have a box mattress or frame for her bed — only the mattress on the floor! However, she was very hospital to have us stay with her. What a great first evening in Berlin!