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.
Sunday, November 22 –
My Uncle Barry and I woke up around 9 a.m. and we both grabbed a quick shower.
After our French host Martine returned from a quick jog, we had breakfast together. She prepared me some tea in an interesting German tea pot with a little candle contraption that kept it warm. We then dressed warmly for the cold temperatures outside (-5 Celsius) and ferocious winds.
We went to the home of Barry’s friends, Werner and Bärbel, where we met their daughter, Nadine. I think Nadine is 17 and is about to finish high school. After we took some photos, Werner and Bärbel drove Barry, Martine and me in their Volvo for a tour of Berlin. The roads were a bit slushy with the snow, but it added a beautiful color to the city. We saw some of the city’s most famous places including the Fernsehturm (TV tower) at Alexanderplatz in Mitte, the TierGarten and Siegessäule (Victory Monument).
During the morning, we drove down the historic Unter den Linden, the tree-lined east–west avenue, toward the famous Brandenburg Gate. There we got out to see the East Side Gallery, an open-air exhibition of art painted on the last existing portions of the Berlin Wall. We passed near where the touristy Checkpoint Charlie has been recreated, which is a reminder that most of the Berlin Wall is gone.
Then we headed down to the Kurfürstendamm area, which is Berlin’s main shopping district and home to KaDeWe, Europe’s largest department store. We saw the Rathaus Schöneberg, President Kennedy made his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner!” speech. I was struck by how modern Berlin was, but the preserved ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church at the nearby Breitscheidplatz reminded me of the city’s tragic history spanning WWII destruction and Cold War division.
When we traveled to the Potsdamer Platz in east Berlin, I was amazed that this city is not dwelling on the past but pushing full speed ahead to the future. Werner said it is the largest construction site in Europe and we saw cranes looming on every corner of the area where people tried to escape the Stassi over the Wall not many years earlier!
We traveled over the Museum Island on the River Spree, but we did not have time to see the five museums including the famous Pergamonmuseum. Barry and I had our photo made together with statues of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels at the Marx-Engels-Forum located at the Gendarmenmarkt. The Gendarmenmarkt also had one of Berlin’s biggest outdoor Christmas markets. We walked in the snow by the Französischer Dom (the Huguenot Museum) and it’s twin, the Deutscher Dom (home of the German History Museum), that bordered the market, with the Konzerthaus (home of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra standing between the two domes. Nearby we saw the Berliner Dom, which was designed to be a Protestant version of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Other highlights that we saw included the new Reichstag building and the Porsche and Audi showrooms. We had supper later at an Italian restaurant where I had some fabulous spaghetti and pilsner. Driving down the Kurfürstendamm Straße at night afterwards was very pretty with all of the lights and haunting Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church lit up.
Back at Werner’s house, we watched a video of Nadine’s horse gymnastics before returning to Martine’s flat. We had wine, cheese and bread before getting ready for bed. We also packed for our trip to the Czech Republic tomorrow before hitting the sack at around midnight.
What a fantastic day in Berlin. I understand now Marlene Dietrich’s song — “Ich hab noch einen Koffer” — of why she still keeps a suitcase in Berlin.