Monday, April 29, 2013

Auf Wiedersehen Berlin, Guten Tag Wittenburg

Waking up today we were a little slow moving but we managed to get ready and head down for breakfast.  There was lots to choose from but some was a bit strange for breakfast or we thought. There was some cold cuts and shrimp and some cold pasta and veggie salads that seem more like a lunch or dinner food for us. But there was some of the usual too. Adam had eggs bacon and sausage that sort. I had some of that as well and also a waffle and hard boiled egg. We both had a pastry or 2 and some juice.  Then it was off out of Berlin to Sachsenhausen Concentration camp.   I wish we could have seen more in Berlin but we really just would needed another day there.  It was rough at first getting used to driving and street signs, some things just took a bit longer then they probably would if we were back in the states. So we punched the address in the GPS and we were on our way.  Adam got his first taste of the Autobahn and we saw some beautiful wide open space much different then the streets and buildings of Berlin.  When we arrived in Orienburg we stopped at the information center because our GPS didn't recognize the address I punched in, so we got a map and a little direction and then were able to find it. 

Out on the open road of the Auto Bahn and Adam loving it.
The town of Oranienburg where the camp was.

When we arrived we both were thirsty so we walked into a cafe and asked for bottled water. He asked in return, with gas or without gas. I strange question to us. And the the light went on, I said to Adam,  carbonated or not. Just when we thought we were getting the hang of things. Although it is funny and interesting  to hear the differences in the language. After getting our bottles of water (without gas) we walked into the building to get a audio guide for the camp and started our walk. We saw everything bone chilling and more from the gates of tower A and the death strip (where if a prisoner stepped foot in this 2 feet of ground before the electric fence they would be shot and killed without warning and the shooters would be given pay raises and bonuses for doing so) to the toilet and wash room and the crematorium. The camp seems very wide open space today but they have these metal rectangles in the ground that are filled with ''tinker'' larger gravel, and each one is labeled, barrack 22, barrack 36, barrack 11, they represent all the prisoner barracks that used to stand there.  Probably the saddest place (if you can even pick one) was the mass murder trench and the crematorium. Something that I noticed were rocks placed on memorials all over the camp. Like at the end of Schindler's List how the surviving Jews came and put rocks on Schindler's grave. I was curious about the stones so I looked it up and it is a symbol of respect and I sign showing that the grave is visited and cared for.  And also there were flowers and roses placed all around.  It's hard for me to imagine having family that lost there life in that place.  But seeing those flowers reminds me that even though this is a place of history and the past. it is still like a fresh wound for others. I can't imagine knowing that in this horrible place my great great grandfather or grandmother or uncle or aunt endured the suffering of this place and lost their life there.

Tower A, where the clock remains stopped at the time of liberation, 11:07 am April 22,  1945
Gate entering the camp through tower A, first letter in the alphabet and the first stop in a prisoners journey.  The German, Arbeit Macht Frei means, Work Is Liberating.  

The prisoner barracks no longer remain standing, but the out line of each filled with rock remains as a reminder of all the buildings that held prisoners.

Monument to the people killed at the camp.

This was a stone memorial placed where there was a mass grave found with ashes, and the stones loved ones placed on it to tell their loved ones they were there.

A rose placed on the memorial stone for the victims.

Memorial in the crematorium for all who lost there life there.
The crematorium cynically names station Z, the last letter of the alphabet and the last stop in a prisoners life at the camp.
When we were finished we put the next address in the GPS and headed back through town. We were getting hungry for lunch so we said if we see something we'll stop. We wanted to go food like MC Donald's, which they do have here as well as KFC, Burger King and Subway that we have seen so far.  Well as luck would have it for us we didn't pass any such place before we were back on the Autobahn and decided so wait and have a good dinner in Wittenburg when we got there. One wrong turn, one traffic jam, a boost of speed to 175 km/ hour and threw beautiful country side we arrived in Wittenburg where once again our GPS failed us and having the name of the hotel written down came in handy.  We found our hotel but it was like a ghost town. There was no one around. The door for the reception desk had a note posted that the restaurant staff would check us in.  We were told by her that we needed to park somewhere else then where we told her we were parked, so before we got dinner which we were very hungry for, we had to figure out how to move our car.  No easy task when your talking about having to move around the old downtown shops that have cobble stone roads and several streets with no outlet.  But we finally managed to move it behind the hotel and we were in search of dinner.

Road signs on our way to Wittenburg.
Almost there...
As we walked threw this old downtown there was only a few people and a few shops and restaurants open. We found one that looked friendly and went in to find a very nice waiter that "of course" spoke English.  He helped us read the menu and we both ordered schnitzel, Adams was with ham, cheese and pineapple and mine was with an over easy egg. It was delicious.  I had decided going in that I wanted dessert. I was trying to get Adam to ask the waiter but he was being stubborn so we bantered back and fourth a while about it and then I finally asked.  We got crepes with wild berries. It was also very good.  We talked with our waiter more when he came to get the dessert plate and he asked why we would vacation here? That we were so close to Paris and Proge and Brazil that he would go to those places.  We asked if he has ever been to America and he had not been. He said it is a lot of money to spend but maybe someday. He said we was from Portugal, so he speaks Portuguese, German, and English. I just can't wrap my mind around that.  We also asked him why it was so quite in town and he said it was because it was Sunday and that tomorrow would be a whole different thing.  After dinner we came back to our hotel where there was no wifi and not one English channel. So we went to bed early, and were looking forward to Wartburg castle and moving on to seeing the Martins the next day.

Our hotel in Wittenburg.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Adventures in Berlin

When we arrived in Berlin it was technically already our second day on vacation, after a short nap we took quick showers and went down to the concierge to ask about getting euros and getting to the Friedrichstadt Palast for the show we had tickets for that night.  After talking with him we decided to try out the public transportation system to get to the theater. It was very close to the hotel so it really wasn't worth the headache of driving threw the city and parking 'n such. We got off the tram at a market and got ourselves some sweet bread and a Wurst to eat.  Every time we would ask, Sprechen Sie Englisch (Do you speak English) we would get what seemed like the German tag line, "a little bit", which we concluded to really mean I may or may not but I'll try.  We got varying degrees, some who did not at all know what we were saying and likewise for us. Also some that could help us when purchasing food from their shop and others who said, "a little bit" but did just fine.  We had time to kill so we walked around the market and saw some interesting shops and food.  There were these men who would be comparable to a hot dog street vendor in Milwaukee that had their mini grill attached around the waist like a fanny pack or something.  

Street food guy with his fanny pack mini grill, man that looks hard on your back.
Market where we stopped to grab a bite to eat and people watch.
After staying and people watching for a while we moved on to the next train we needed for the theater. When we got to the station we asked the service desk, Sprechen Sie Englisch?  And he flat out told us no.  So we kept walking around observing what everyone else was doing.  On our second lap there was a new young guy at the service desk who pointed us in the right direction. Of course we went to buy a ticket it was another communication barrier.  We told a gal that she could go before us because we were confused and she walked away after pushing some buttons and set up a ticket for us. So we added one more and were off.   Of course once we had tickets in hand there was no one collecting tickets for the train on platform 4 so we hopped on the train anyhow, after 2 stops we got off and started walking to find the theater.

There was lots of graffiti all over Berlin, some was quite good and interesting.

Walking around the city before the show we saw this fun little beer cart.
This time before we left we wrote down the name and address of the theater so if we needed to ask the locals we didn't have to try to pronounce the name we could show them and it worked out quite well. After one block we decided to ask someone because we didn't want to walk to far in the wrong direction.  I asked a gal in a local shop and showed her, and in fact we were going in the wrong direction. We thanked her and started heading towards the theater. On the way we crossed over a bridge with all these locks on it. I had read about it in my travel book it was to signify your relationship and all the locks had names and dates and hearts on them. It was pretty neat.  Over the bridge we found the theater. We went in to pick up our tickets at the box office but had a couple hours before the show started yet. We decided to walk around the city streets and see some of the local way of life.  After walking around for a while we still had time to kill so we went back to the train station to a gelato shop. We each tried two flavors, Adam tried hazelnut and cookie and I tried tiramisu and mango. It was very good!  After the treat we walked back to the theater.

Weidendammer Bridge, couples put locks on to symbolize their relationship however from time to time authorities have to cut off locks when it gets to be too many.
MMMmmmm, Gelato!
The amazing dancers of "Show Me"
Our tickets were upstairs after we found where we were to go in we grabbed a couple of drinks and when ordering our drinks the bar tender had been to the states and had actually been to Minneapolis and Milwaukee! It was nice to find a local who knew what we were saying and that we could chat with for a little while. When it was time to go into the theater we found our seats easily and sat down. The show started and it was beautiful.  It was a cirque du soleil type show. The first half was a little slower, slower music more pretty dancing and such. Adam and were sort of barley holding on staying awake, how terrible right? But they were practically singing us a lullaby. Just before the intermission there was an act with lighted up almost motorcycle suits and helmets on the dancers that was fun and got us back on track.  When the intermission was over the rest of the acts were more up beat and just amazing to watch. That was more like it for us.  The center of the stage dropped out and was replaced with a circle of water. After that there were a series of acts that used the water. One was sort of synchronized swimming another was a male group dancing in shallow water sort of stomping and slapping the water as they danced. The act we liked best was a couple who did a trapeze type act from the very top middle of the stage. It was crazy good. It's hard to describe the way he swung her and caught her again but a lot of that type of thing that makes you pray he catches her.  The show was a fun thing to do at night in Berlin we were happy we got to do it. After the show we headed back to the train station and caught the connecting tram and were on our way back to the hotel.  We were glad to kick off our shoes and eat a snack and go to bed.  We also heard another phrase by the locals that night when asking,  Sprechen Sie Englisch.  Their reply was "of course" which was funny and quite opposite of the other reply, "a little bit". It was weird that these people that say, of course, say it like well yes everyone can.

The Friedrichstadt Palast at night.

Monday, April 15, 2013

8 hour flight, 1 hour flight, and a rental car later.

The morning started with cinnamon rolls, a tradition in our house for eventful mornings, Christmas is the big one. Today seemed like it called for cinnamon rolls. It was the last family breakfast for quite a few days, and it was perfect. The four of us huddled around our living room coffee table eating cinnamon rolls, and us laughing at the kids and how they devoured their breakfast treat.  Then it was time to start frantically loading the car to drop the kids off for the longest time we have ever left them. Even with all the excitement behind traveling to Germany, we left our hearts in WI with our little crazy head, Levi and sweet Avery pie.  With big squeezes and lots of kisses it was time for us to start our journey.  The first of many steps was a drive to somewhere familiar, Milwaukee, but that's were anything familiar ends.

Hoping on the bus to Chicago we took in part of a Luther movie, very appropriate considering many towns in the movie we will be visiting on our own little trip to Luther Land.  The ride went very quickly, we didn't even finish the movie and we were at O'hare.  After a couple scans of our passports, our shoes, our bags, our bodies, and a retina scan (okay,kidding about the last one) we were through security and ready to wait. We grabbed some hot dogs for lunch, what else would you get in Chicago right, and boarded the plane. First we finished up our Luther movie and then we each watched our own choice of movie on the screens on the chair backs in front of us. An in-flight meal was served and we tried to get some rest.  Unfortunately for us, more myself then Adam, we were seated next to a man that had very horrible breath. He also had the isle seat so we were trapped. Somehow we survived the 8 hour flight and arrived in Frankfurt.  As we were walking around we were not used to seeing English as the language second, listed below the main language. Adam used a kiosk to scan our boarding pass for our connection to Berlin and had to push the English flag button it just felt weird.

After a short 1 hour flight we landed in Berlin where again it was weird to hear German being spoken first over the PA and then English.  The strangest thing was that we didn't have to go threw customs at our final destination. Although we did go through a little "customs" of our own when we arrived at the Hertz counter.  Really everything at the counter went okay it was when we got to our vehicle that it started to sink in for Adam that he was driving that thing through the country and had no idea what he was doing.  So we quickly downloaded a road signs cheat sheet and off we went for a crash course, hopefully not literally, driving through Germany 101.  We really did almost have our own Chevy Chase round about scene.  After a few missed turns, turning down a closed road and having to ask directions from a local we made it to our hotel in one piece.  Now getting down the parking garage was a whole other tight space experience but we made it threw that also, and now I sit writing this from our room, where if we were back in the states right now it would be 4am. Whew, crazy day but so far so good.

Adam in our renal looking up the rules of the road in Germany.

A huge round about with about 6 different exits around this monument, that we almost had to go around again and  again.

Our room at the Andel's hotel in Berlin.