Saturday, August 31, 2013

Arts & Culture (or, "What's Opera, Doc?")


Have you ever found yourself driving down a street in Berlin, your tour guide’s rental car radio tuned to a classical station, when all of a sudden Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” comes blasting out of the speakers?

Nah, me neither.  At least until this afternoon, when the most iconic work of one of Germany’s most iconic composers kicked off a very surreal few minutes that ended when we sighted this—

Okay; enough Wagner jokes for one day (or one lifetime).  We started our Saturday the way we start most Saturdays, by getting a little cardio work in, namely by climbing Berlin’s Victory Column!

Before you start to think we hauled out the bungee cords and climbing gear, rest assured that we climbed to the top of the 220 foot tower on the inside (285 steps, to be exact), where we were afforded amazing views of a large chunk of the city, including one of the car Tony rented (you know, the one that played Wagner)—

No, we’re not the Smart car.  I don’t think three people and three pieces of luggage could fit in a Smart car.  Heck, I’m not even sure if three people and three pieces of luggage could fit into THREE Smart cars.  Ours is the car in front of it, a Skoda made in the Czech Republic.  The car got us around to all kinds of places throughout the day, even a few that had nothing to do with Richard Wagner or his music.

Oops.  I forgot I wasn’t going to make any more Wagner jokes.

We went to a bunch of places today that dealt with both World War II (a “terror” museum build on the grounds of the old Gestapo building) and the Cold War (Checkpoint Charlie).  Another Cold War relic we visited was one of the last remaining pieces of the Berlin War, which has now been turned into an art museum called The East Side Gallery—

When the Wall was crumbling down people painted all over parts of it, which is why they saved it from destruction.  Unfortunately, the act of painting on buildings and structures seems to have continued unabated since then—

There seems to be graffiti everywhere in Berlin, a problem Tony says the city government has tried to deal with in the past, but as soon as they clean it up something new appears.  Think of our recent “Gerko” problem in Marquette, multiply it by a thousand, and you kind of get an idea of what authorities here are trying to do.

On another subject altogether, you know what we bought today?  Kudos if you said chocolate!

That’s part of one mere wall of the Berlin Ritter Sport store, an entire store devoted one of Germany’s most popular chocolate bars (a few types of which are available in the U.S.)  The thought of an entire store devoted to Ritter Sport even tempted Tony, an avowed non-chocoholic, to explore it, and then walk out with five bars, which he promptly left in the car so he wouldn’t be tempted to eat them in his room tonight.

As you can tell, we haven’t totally corrupted him.  At least not yet.

 A few more random pictures to wrap up the day, the first an example of how they deliver mail here in Berlin—

and no more than five steps from the Deutsche Post bike was this—

That’s right—it’s a Euro Store, the equivalent to our Dollar stores, and yes, we did shop there, if only because they have German Dr. Pepper here, Dr. Pepper that tastes like Dr. Pepper used to in the U.S. before they both changed the formula and started adding high fructose corn syrup to it.


Tomorrow we head from Berlin to Leipzig the long way—with two stops in Poland.  Have a great night!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Ich Bin Ein Berliner

FRIDAY, 8/31:

Which translates loosely (and with apologies to John F. Kennedy), to “look—we made it to Berlin.  And it only took 21 hours!”

Actually, the three flights over here were no problem at all.  For the first time ever, we left at our scheduled time and arrived early for each of the three flights, we means we got to cram a lot of stuff into our first day in Germany, which today meant visiting oodles of historic places.

First stop?  The Olympic Stadium--

Which is where the great Jesse Owens put a megalomaniacal dictator to shame, at least for a few days in 1936.  You can tell the Germans still have a fondness for the four-time gold medal winner, as evidenced by the first names you see on the list of winners from the ’36 games—

And the fact that one of the streets outside the stadium is named “Jesse Owens Allee” in his honor.  They still use the stadium for many different things, including the home matches of Berlin’s professional soccer team.  They also let tourists climb a big bell tower, an act that enables you to see most of the city, including some very impressive examples of Soviet-era architecture—

That’s one of the interesting things about Berlin, I think.  Since the wall fell in 1989, it’s a city that’s reinvented itself.  In fact, it’s still in the process of reinvention, as evidenced by the construction cranes that populate the city.  However, they still remember their past—

See that cobblestone line in the street?  That follows the line where the Berlin Wall ran during those dark days of a divided city.  In fact, one of the things we’re doing tomorrow is going to see one of the two remaining sections of the Berlin Wall, one that’s been turned into an art museum.

I’m thinking that should be interesting, right?

By the way, before I forget, one more thing about Olympic Stadium.  I have to show you one of the other uses for its massive parking lot—

They offer truck driving lessons there.  I guess it really IS an all-purpose stadium, isn’t it?

Another stop today was Germany’s Reichstag building--

The Reichstag is German equivalent to the U.S. Capitol building, with one very important exception.  I don’t think the U.S. Capitol has topless sunbathers on its front lawn, like the Reichstag does.  Now, I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.  At least not on this occasion.

Finally, to help us say “good night” for tonight, here’s our special guest star, Berlin Bear—

This is an individual who wears a bear costume (much like the Farmer Q’s apple) by the Brandenburg gate all day every day.  And I feel sorry for the woman or man inside of it—it was pushing 80 today, and I’m thinking that suit doesn’t have an awful lot of air conditioning in it.

That’s it for today; we need to get some sleep for the first time since Wednesday night.  More from Berlin tomorrow, including a visit to the world’s largest department store and the world’s only store devoted to Ritter Sport chocolates.    Yup; it should be a very yummy day.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Here We Go Again!

To paraphrase a great English philosopher...”Here we go again”!

We’re heading back to Europe, this time to Germany (with one notable exception) and this time once again in the good company of Tony the Tour Guide (  Since neither Loraine nor I speak much German aside from “Please”, “Thank you”, “Do you speak English”, and my weird ability to count from one to ten, he’s a good person to have along, seeing as how he’s an American who grew up in the country and is quite fluent in the language. 

Not only that, but he does the driving, which means I can just sit in the back seat and watch the (German) world go by!

The trip this time will be split into three kind of distinctive parts.  The first consists of us flying over to Berlin, and spending a few days playing tourist.  Planned stops including climbing some kind of tower that’s 26 stories above the city, going to the world’s biggest department store, and visiting a store dedicated to the Ritter Sport chocolate bar.

You know—our kind of store.

The next four days consists of some really intensive research work for Loraine.  Sunday we’re making a day trip in Poland to visit a prisoner of war camp where Edward Aho of Marquette mysteriously disappeared in early 1945.  We’re also looking forward to seeing if we can find the kind of road described several times in Loraine’s Michelin Guide of the country—“Drive four miles down the pothole-filled road”.

That should be fun, shouldn’t it?

Monday, we visit Weissenfels, the town where Elwood Norr of Marquette, the subject of Loraine’s book “Elwood’s War”, was shot down in November of 1944. Here's what it looks like from the air--

Those of you who read my daily blogs know this should be quite the affair, as we’re getting a guided tour around the battle sites and the city itself, and will be meeting with the mayor of the city, as well.  In return, we’re bringing a letter from our mayor and lots of swag from the Marquette Country Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, so we’re expecting it to be quite the day.  And it’ll probably even more surreal if they have as many reporters as they say they’ll have covering our trip.

Yup...I travel with a woman who inspires press coverage.  What can I say?

(And as an aside, here's a picture of the young man who inspired all this, and a big shout-out to the "Elwood's War" Facebook fan page!)

Tuesday, we visit Nordhausen, a place where a great-uncle of mine was part of a unit that helped liberate a slave labor camp, a slave labor camp where they built V-2 rockets. My great uncle took a bunch of pictures of his time there; I'll be sharing more when we're over there, but here's a sneak peak--


Wednesday, we’re then in Regensburg, where Marquette’s George Kamecki was killed a few days before the war ending in Germany.  We're also staying at a rather cool hotel the day we're there.  Wanna see?

The last few days then find us once again back in Bavaria; Bertechsgaden, to be specific, the beautiful place that’s part of a German national park.  


It’ll be the third time there for us; I don’t know that we have any specific plans for that area yet, although I’m sure the days will be packed!

That’s an overview of what we’re doing.  There won’t be an update on Thursday, as we’ll just be hanging around downtown Chicago killing time before our flight to London (and then to Berlin), and I’m hoping there won’t be much to write about.  I am interested to see how it’ll turn out, though.  For the first time we’re flying British Airways overseas.  We’re been on two flights with them before, and I was quite happy with both, if only because they have an extra two inches of legroom in their coach section, at least as compared to American Airlines.  And take it from someone who has freakishly long legs—those two inches make all the difference in the world!

We’ll be back Friday evening (Friday afternoon Marquette time) with the first day’s update.  Keep your fingers crossed my laptop makes it over there in one piece!