Germany Part 8: A Fitting Fourth, and The End

4 08 2012

Day 14, Monday, July 2
We caught the morning train to Hannover (which, according to Wikipedia, can be spelled with one n or two), arriving by 10:30 so there was plenty of time for sightseeing.  Unfortunately there weren’t many sights to see.  We did go through one church that had been rebuilt after WWII.  We also found several church ruins that had been left after the war.

church ruins

Hannover was almost flattened ; even the Altstadt is new, rebuilt by moving whatever old houses remained in the city into the city center.  We sought out and found the Niki de Saint Phalle sculptures.  Last summer I had been introduced to this artist in Washington, D.C., where several of her sculptures grace the street in front of the National Geographic building.  Niki had a special connection to Hannover.  There is even an art museum with a section devoted to her.  Her sculptures were a welcome change to the usual fare of staid military statures that dot many of the altstadts in Germany.

The Nanas

Fortunately, we only had one afternoon in Hannover.  We ended the day with a somewhat stereotypical German meal, down to the apple strudel dessert.  Not the most exciting day, but not bad either.
Day 15, Tuesday, July 3
Maybe I wasn’t so impressed with Hannover, but the breakfast buffet at the City Hotel:  mmmmmm!  Rolls, meats and cheeses, bacon, scrambled eggs, cereals, fruits, yogurts, pastries, juices, and coffee; I tried my best to eat some of everything.

We landed back in Berlin today, checked into our hotel conveniently located near Tegel airport, and spent the afternoon riding the U-Bahn to the Stasi Prison in East Berlin, home of the notorious secret police of the Cold War era and then to Kunsthaus Tageles, a former department store turned into an artists’ collective of graffiti-style art.
Day 16 Wednesday July 4
I’ve held back on the history part of this trip so far.  I’ve let Annalise drag me out of museums before I’ve had a chance to read every exhibit.  I’ve bitten my tongue when she suggested going in a store when a perfectly good historical sight was just around the corner.  So I didn’t feel too bad booking a walking tour through Sachsenhausen Concentration camp.  That’s what happens when you go back to the room, leaving me in charge of scouting out attractions for the next day.  Which is how we ended up going to a concentration camp on the Fourth of July.

Not the original gate. Much of the camp was torn down during the “de-Nazi-fication” that took place in Germany after the war.

Our guide, a European Studies student from England who had lived in Berlin for five years, navigated us through the maze of U- Bahn and bus routes, landing us in about 45 minutes at the gates of the camp.  She took us through the history of the camp from a “wild camp” where political prisoners were kept in the early 1930s to its use as a concentration camp from 1936 to 1945 , to its use as a Soviet prison camp, to its final use as a memorial.  While the eyes of the world were on Berlin for the 1936 Olympics, slave labor was being used just outside the city to build this camp.  She helped us understand the psyche of the prisoners as well as their SS guards.  All in all, it was a very meaningful way to spend the Fourth of July.

The crematoria

Prisoners would be marched down this ramp, lined up against the logs, and shot.

On the train ride back, we learned the meaning of “ugly American.” One of our fellow tourists was a young man from Minneapolis, Minnesota .  Very talkative, we soon learned that he was an attorney who traveled often to Florida to spend time at his parent’s second home there.  As we were traveling back to Berlin, another passenger made his way to sit on the seat in front of him.  “Minneapolis” had his leg up on the empty seat, which apparently is a huge no- no.  The newcomer told him roughly to get his foot down, which Minneapolis didn’t take kindly to, loudly accusing him of being drunk and threatening to call the police, and forcing an apology from the German.

When we were planning for this trip, Annalise presented me with a paper outlining how to not be an ugly American.  I was told I had to wear dark colors.  New white athletic shoes were off- limits and I was coached in how to tip so that I wouldn’t appear to be a filthy rich American throwing around my money.  And until I had to open my mouth, I think I fit in fairly well.  There was even one elevator companion who thought we looked “a little bit German.” We found Germans to be very kind and helpful to us, coming to our rescue on more than one occasion.  So you can see why I cringed when this jerk from Minneapolis mouthed off to the German.  This guy is the type who gives Americans a bad name.  It has nothing to do with clothes or how you look.  It has everything to do with how you treat those around you and how you assert your power over others.  Maybe I should send that paper to our state department.

Back  in Berlin, we spent our last few hours wandering around downtown.  We strutted past the building housing the “fashion week” events, but unbelievably no one spotted Annalise and pulled her in to be the next top model.  They must have been looking the other way.  We loaded up on chocolate at the Ritter Sport chocolate outlet, and walked through the controversial Jewish Memorial site.

Finally back at the hotel, exhausted physically and mentally, we replaced our bags and consolidated, somehow managing to get all our purchases into our backpacks and purses so that we wouldn’t have any checked luggage.
Day 17, Thursday, July 5
After a hot, virtually sleepless night (windows closed/hot and stuffy, windows open/street noise), we left the hotel at 6:30 AM so we would be at the airport three hours ahead of time, the time recommended for international fights, only to find that Lufthansa wouldn’t process us through for another hour and a half.  Hurry up and wait.  Finally we got on board and made the connection in Frankfort with no problem.  A seven-hour flight with no reading material gave me plenty of thinking time, so here are a few lists:

What I’m glad I brought
Gum…useful for take-offs, stale breath, and thirst issues
Extra ziploc bags…comes in handy for storing food for lunch
Extra nylon bags…for carrying groceries or other purchases
Euros…one less thing to have to take care of when you arrive in Europe
Clothes for cold rainy weather
iPad loaded with books and a travel app for Germany
Open mind, sense of humor, patience
Annalise…a great travel partner who doesn’t complain, is undemanding, makes great hotel  and train reservations, and most of all, likes MONKEYS.

What I’m glad I didn’t bring
Checked luggage…not fun to catch up with in the airports or lug around on trains
Too many clothes…it’s amazing how long you can go on just a few shirts and pants

What I learned
Load twice as many books on the iPad or e-reader as you think you will read.
Do research ahead of time.

People are people.