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Monday, July 30, 2018

BERLIN--AN EMOTIONAL ENCOUNTER WITH HISTORY

Our first view of the Berlin Wall

Berlin has so much history, some of which happened in my lifetime, and some that recalls incredible horror.  Traveling there was very emotional.  I remember President Kennedy’s ich bin ein Berliner speech, given  in 1963 just a few months before his assassination, and I remember President Reagan telling Gorbachev to tear down this wall.  That speech was at the beautiful Brandenburg Gate, and that is one of the destinations on this trip. 

When the Berlin wall came down, a friend  from England sent me a piece of it, and I've seen blocks of it displayed in Washington DC’s Newseum where there is a Berlin Gallery in which one sees eight 12 foot high sections of the original wall and a German guard tower near Checkpoint Charlie.  Both the remainder of the Berlin Wall and the site of Checkpoint Charlie are important sites included in our tour of Berlin.  All I can say is that nothing compares to the real thing—up close and personal.  It's horrible.

The events occurring in Berlin, whether in my lifetime or not, are part of my psyche—education gained in and out of school.  And it is impossible for me to divorce Berlin as Hitler’s headquarters and all the unspeakable damage he inflicted to millions of people from the Berlin of today--at least not in the few hours afforded us on this tour.  That may be an impossible shortcoming.

Nevertheless, I wanted to see Berlin as a modern city far removed from its sad history.  But that was only partly possible.  Berlin purposefully keeps some of this history alive so we should learn from it.  But as we drove through and had some stops at the end of our tour, we caught brief glimpses of a different Berlin.

The Berlin Concert Hall.
What a grand building befitting grand music of the German masters.
It is located on the Gendarmenmarket square

This is the French Cathedral, built by French religious refugees,
the Hugenots, between 1701 and 1705. Bombed in 1944,
it was reconstructed and dedicated in 1987.
It sits on a beautiful square, Gendarmenmarket.
We took a train from the port to Berlin, so our time in the city was limited.  However, the tour aimed at showing us the history and some of the drama of the city.

I think everyone on our tour bus was most anxious to see the remains of the Berlin Wall.  Even being there, it was difficult to imagine the insatiable urge to escape government oppression and to live in freedom that motivated hundreds to risk their lives and many to lose theirs.  Even the graffiti on the walls tells a story.  On one side, there is order and art.  On the other side is bedlam and ugliness.  They want to keep it that way. Our guide tells us of all the building still occurring in what was East Berlin because in East Germany, workmanship was shoddy and ugly. Building replacements is going on everywhere. 

Parts of the wall are painted neatly and cleanly


The eastern side of the wall is left ugly and unrecovered.
It is a constant reminder of what was.

He said that apartment buildings, for instance, were basically concrete blocks manufactured elsewhere and stacked.  Those that remain are ugly and being replaced, but that seems like an almost never-ending process.  Berliners want a beautiful city, and they’re working on it.

Our stop at the Brandenburg Gate was another eye opener.  It is the only gate remaining of the 14 original gates in the wall around the entire city.  The wall was not for defense, and the gates simply made it easier to levy taxes on people entering the city.  The Brandenburg Gate is one of the most attractive because it was erected in an area where wealthier people lived.  It is merely a beautiful reminder of an earlier time. It became an important, decision-making setting when President Reagan delivered his address there telling Gorbachev to tear down the wall.

The spectacular setting of the Brandenburg Gate.
It's truly magnificent and stately.
The entire Pariser Platz is impressive but cold.
The Pariser Platz on which it stands is a big open space, filled, during our visit, with many people, probably tourists like us, standing on the site of history.  Along one side of the square is the U.S. Embassy with benches in front of grass and flower beds.  A little further away and around a corner is the British Embassy.  There are stanchions cordoning off that street from vehicular traffic, erected, according to our guide, because of threats.  Disturbing.  

The American Embassy in early spring.


The British Embassy, just off Pariser Platz
But all in all, it’s a beautiful area, very neat. But the atmosphere, with the grey buildings and blocks, is very cold.  That’s not the feeling we’ve gotten at all in different areas of Germany we've visited on other trips, so for us, this severity is almost uncomfortable.

Checkpoint Charlie. This iconic site draws crowds, but anyone with historical knowledge knows that this is the best known crossing point of three between East and West Berlin.  A sturdy building was never constructed on this site because our president felt it was a symbol that the Berlin Wall, constructed in 1961, was temporary.  

Checkpoint Charlie is that little shed-like building in the middle of the street.
The picture is of a United States soldier, Jeff Harper.
On the other side is a photo of a Russian soldier, but to be honest, I never looked
up at it.  I went straight to the Checkpoint Charlie.
Checkpoint Charlie, maintained by the U.S. military, was the only way military personnel, diplomats, and foreign tourists were allowed to enter East Berlin.  The original guardhouse is now in the Allied Museum.  Would you believe that this spot is one of Berlin’s most popular tourist attractions with over 900,000 visitors a year.  (https://www.history.com/news/8-things-you-should-know-about-checkpoint-charlie)

Our last major stop was another eye opener—the Allied Museum.  In this rush visit to Berlin, we really didn’t have much time at this museum, and that’s a shame because it chronicled the Allied involvement in Berlin between 1945 and 1994.  There is information on how America created a “little America” so servicepeople and their families would have a taste of home.  


It also houses the original East Germany guard tower that loomed over Check Point Charlie. 


A plane on exhibit is one used for the German Airlift—from June 26, 1948 until May 12, 1949—when the Soviets blocked all land and rail traffic into West Berlin, an island sitting in the Soviet Bloc of Germany and inhabited by two million people who needed food, water, medical supplies, clothing and other necessities of life.  This was President Harry Truman’s brilliant and peaceful answer to the Soviet demand to have more say in the future of Germany.


There is so much to see at the museum and so much to learn.  But time was short.

I’m probably not being fair to Berlin in this post.  So let me leave you with a few pictures of another side of the city that we did not really have enough time to see and enjoy.
Restaurants and sidewalk cafes abound

Plenty of people out enjoying early spring weather






Tuesday, July 24, 2018

OSLO--WISH WE HAD MORE TIME PT. II





Just loved this!
Our next stop is the Viking Ship Museum.  No, there’s nothing like Kirk Douglas here, but it is an incredibly interesting and intriguing place that triggers your imagination and makes you picture how these people lived.  These brave sea-faring warriors roamed the world in wooden boats that look small and fragile in today’s mind, but many diverse places felt their influence.  I remember when visiting Ireland that the Vikings were there too.

Just follow those lines.  They certainly got around!
This grand museum houses more than just tales and maps.  The Vikings, brave beyond my comprehension, also were religious, and because the afterlife was a voyage to Valhalla, they wanted to be prepared.  Buried with them was the ship to carry them to Valhalla, filled with the afterlife’s necessities, decoratively intricate wood carvings, and practical items like wagons.  Archeologists discovered this as they researched sites in Norway.

Just beautiful.  So intricate.  


Beautiful designs. 
Wouldn't it be wonderful to learn if some of those patterns had
special meaning?
Two of those original Viking ships are on display at the museum.  They are long and graceful, but the thought of crossing oceans in them seems almost beyond belief.  Once again, it is one thing to read about these voyages throughout the ages, but quite another actually to see a ship. 




Overall an incredible experience.

As if the Viking Museum weren’t enough, we moved on to the FRAM museum.  The Norwegians were very active in polar exploration, and Roald Amendsen was chief among them.  He was the first explorer to reach the South Pole, a feat he achieved in 1911.  His ship, the Fram, is on display in the museum.  It is the strongest wooden ship ever built and still holds the record from sailing farthest north and farthest south. (https://www.visitoslo.com/en/product/?TLp=181473)

The ORIGINAL ship!  Imagine!
Once again, the fact that it was THIS SHIP that made THAT TRIP puts your mind in a different place and time.  I walk the deck with a fevered imagination trying to conjure up what it must have been like to sail.  Not that I can imagine myself ever really going.  Haha



Amendsen was determined to reach the North Pole as well, and in 1918 while sailing parts of the Arctic Ocean, his ship spent two years frozen in the ice.  Eventually, in 1926, he did fly over the North Pole.

In 1928, while flying a rescue mission over the Arctic, his plane disappeared.  He and the crew were lost. Nothing was ever found.

Our next stop was another WOW moment in a day of Oslo WOWS.  We drove to the ski jump built for the 1952 Olympics and which is still used today.  If you’ve ever been to the top of Lake Placid’s or Germany’s Garmisch-Partenkirchen, built in 1923 and used in the 1936 Olympics, you know breathtaking amazement at the real-time sight of what ski jumpers actually face.  You gasp, and if you are like me, you make sure you’re on terra firma.  My imagination is ablaze, but I would no sooner get into that sport than….


Our guide was very proud of Norway’s Olympians, particularly of  a famous figure skater, Sonja Henie, a three-time Olympic Gold Medal winner in women’s singles, a ten-time World Champion, and a six-time European Champion.  She became a movie star, and as an old-movie-fan, I have seen her in the movies.  She lived in the United States, but when she was dying, our guide told us, she longed to return to Norway.  Sadly, she passed away on the plane home.



I wish we had more time in Norway.  It would be wonderful to return. No time for sorrow. As we are on a cruise, the WOW moments of Oslo get me well prepared for an evening in Bellinis bar on the Regal Princess and some comforting cocktails.  Next stop—Berlin.

Friday, July 06, 2018

FRIDAY'S FOTO--Kitty Hawk NC

Spent a lovely week on North Carolina's Outer Banks.
Here's the view from where we sat in Kitty Hawk.
So much to do and so much to see and
so much delicious, fresh seafood.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Oslo--Wish We Had More Time Part I

The Regal Princess passing huddled homes along the coast
as we sail into Oslo, Norway

Our next stop is Oslo, and it is a wonderful drive through the city as our guide explains that much of Norway’s history involves learning how to deal with the extremely harsh climate. 

When Norway began to modernize, it looked to German design for insight, and we can see that influence along our route.  

However, as time passed and the Norwegians developed their own style, we can see the changes as Norway came into its own.
 
Colorful and attractive.  It was a pretty ride through the city.
The trouble with cruising as opposed to a land journey is there is limited time in each port, and we would have loved to spend more time in Norway.  Nevertheless, Princess’ “The Best of Oslo” tour was jam packed with goodies.

On this lovely Spring day, the highlight for me was the Vigeland Sculpture Park, an amazing collection of 212 bronze and granite sculptures created by Gustav Vigeland over a period of 30 years, depicting the life of man and set in the gorgeous natural setting of a park. 

The theme of the sculptures is the circle of life, and all stages are represented by single groups of sculptures, a wheel of life, fountains, and a monolith.  It is Norway’s most visited tourist attraction, and it does not disappoint.  Most of the sculptures are set along a long axis, and you just have to look at the WOW expressions on visitors’ faces to see how impressive the park is. I really enjoyed the family sculptures the most.  The joy in them was almost palpable.









We could have spent the day at Vigland, but our next stop was also amazing--the Cultural Museum of Norway.  I love this type of museum, particularly when they have some of the original buildings.  I recently posted on the cultural museum we visited and then joined here in North Carolina, Old Salem, and Rob and I have visited others that are memorable, particularly one in Ireland.  At any rate, this was quite an eye-opening experience. https://thirdagetraveler.blogspot.com/search?q=old+salem

Once again, Norway’s harsh climate made the number one challenge that of survival. Buildings were clustered, and animals were carefully sheltered in the severe winter months, often right with the family, Our guide explained that some misinterpret the living arrangements as primitive, but it was necessary. Animals must be kept alive. The sauna was important too, and in this museum, there is one built as it was in those early times. 

Houses were sturdy, close together, and the barns and animals were kept close by.

 The Norwegians also used grass on their rooves as an insulator as well as a sustainable fixture.  Once the roof was completed, the grass grew but was of a type that did not need cutting.  It also offered food for birds and climbing animals.  Our guide explains that a roof as we see demonstrated might last 50 years.  In fact, as we drive through Norway’s countryside, we see that these rooves are still in existence.  They’re quite beautiful.

This is actually a schoolhouse for the village.
Notice the grass roof.
There was a schoolhouse in the village as well. 

The most stunning building was the church.  No seats inside.  No windows.  Quite dark.  The building is beautiful.

A beautiful and impressive building.
It sits on the top of a hill and can be seen almost anywhere in the village.

Once again, I am going to post an Oslo Part II because the rest of the day was excitingly compelling and fascinating.  So much to share with you.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

A RIDE THROUGH TIVOLI GARDENS


Nighttime in Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world,entertaining folks of all ages since 1843, was an absolute delight.  Located smack dab in the middle of the city, there are always bicycles lining the busy boulevard, locked haphazardly or not at all.  The city's tourist center is diagonally across the street, and there are restaurants everywhere.  

Inside Tivoli Gardens, which you can go as a season or day or partial day passholder including or excluding the rides themselves, are rides, restaurants, serpentine pathways that make the most of this relatively small area, and all kinds of seating to just enjoy the lake, the happy people or the atmosphere that somehow makes the entire setting a little magic.

To us, Tivoli Gardens was more like a comfortable, old-time amusement park with bumper cars and games alongside a loopy roller-coaster and some pretty awesome and fast whips.

We were a few days too early in the season to catch the regular fireworks show, but we were treated to a super, colorful, music accompanied laser light show that was delightful and original.  

We left after the light show, but the place was still filled with people.  It must be the place to spend weekend evenings if you want a good time.

Make sure you click on the video to get full-screen.  Don't miss the charm of this iconic park.