Sunday, July 22, 2012

Along the Wall

Asleep on a blanket in the Tiergarten, I wake to the feel of rain drops on my face. It's raining and we need to gather up the bags, blanket, and bikes and head under a tree to wait out the rain. When it stops, we're cold and decide to head for coffee — and biking along the Alte Potsdamer Straße there was Starbucks — to Christopher’s delight.   Frank met us there and after catching up about his work event, we head for an early canal-side dinner of German dishes from the "weißer Spargel" menu (fresh-in-season white asparagus).  Though it was still raining, we were under a large umbrella-ed table and our first night in Berlin was capped by these two second cousins once-removed, drinking beer and enjoying a delicious meal.

Day two in Berlin brings our next encounter with Berliners Oskar and his 22-yr-old son Vincent.  Oskar is an old and dear friend of our friends at home and he and his son are meeting us for another day of cycling and more extensively exploring Berlin.  Let me say that Oskar and Vincent had just returned from a week-long cycling trip to Stuttgart — a distance of over 350 miles! Though I tried (over email) to warn Oskar that I was not a regular bicycler, that I was worried about keeping up, that rain was expected and that maybe the biking plan was not such a good idea, he just kept insisting that all would be well.  I was not so sure.

Once again we head out on our rental bikes and soon find ourselves traveling along the Berlin Wall now beautiful with large sections covered in art — murals of peace and political statements, abstract design and painted scenes of hope and joy.  I want to stop and take pictures but we sailed on through the chill into what was East Berlin. Over bridges and across train tracks we biked past huge complexes of now-empty government buildings.  This was another surprising thing about Berlin — it was not New York.  In fact in many ways it was the opposite.  It was wide open and expansive — and (luckily for me) flat.  We were headed for the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park, a massive monument to the massive numbers of Russians who died defeating the Nazis 1941-1945. 

It would be hard to convey the impact of this enormous monument to the Red Army’s loss of men.  Photos will not do it justice.  Biking through a canopy of trees you emerge into a majestic park flanked by huge blocks with bas relief images on both sides.  These 16 "sarcophagi" impressively line the plaza like stalwart soldiers.  Ringing the area is an iron fence, emblazoned on every rail with the Soviet star, encircling this burial site of 5000+ soldiers who sacrificed their lives for Mother Russia and died on faraway lands.  As Christopher said,  "This place says to me, 'You Germans started this war; we came and finished it."

Oskar shows me a map pointing to another place he hopes to show us, but it looks twice as far away as we've already come.  I tell him it seems beyond my physical capability so we agree to head for Templehof, the now abandoned airport that has been turned into a huge park.

Despite the weather, o
ur ride continues but as this is our second day of cycling amidst the on-and-off rain I'm thinking, "Ich bin ein Berliner!"  It seems so easy to travel this way.  We keep passing sections of the wall and monuments.  Clambering up a bit of a steep and craggy hill, we climb to what I'd describe as a rails-to-trails path.  This takes us through a greenway that is (like ours in the States) littered with a sprinkling of drug dealers hovering on the trail, others hiding in the brush and perhaps some available for sex. 

The rain forces us to tak
e cover under a park shelter with coffee and lovely hot chocolate.  Then it lets up and we continue toward Kreuzberg where we stop for lunch, first sitting outside in wicker seats with blankets around the backs of our chairs, but soon switching inside when the rain resumes. 

Seated around a circular table in this cozy place, we enjoy currywurst (a Berlin favorite) and Swabian spaetzle (an egg noodle dish from the south of Germany cooked with mushrooms and cheese) while Vincent tells me he has earned his lic
ense to teach kindergarten (a word we borrowed from the Germans) and excitedly is looking forward to his first job in August as an elementary school teacher's aide.  Oskar tells us of his teenage plans to be a policeman, how that ambition changed, and about transiting the East and West — for us a unique perspective of life in Berlin over the past forty years.

After lunch, we wipe down the bike seats and ride on to Templehof.  As we come upon its huge and open landscape, the sky is clouding again so not many people are there skateboarding and flying kites as usual.  I am feeling the raw chill in the air and in my bones.  I'm ready to head back but sorry to cut short the day.  As we bike toward Mitte — the center of the city and our hotel — the rain comes down hard and we four duck for cover in two adjacent apartment doorways.  It's pouring.  Oskar decides he should bike back to his apartment which is nearby and once the rain lessens, Vincent will accompany us back to Motel One and then continue on to his home.

It has been a very full day
— we have been on the go for five hours!  We're so grateful for the  generosity and kindness Oskar and Vincent have shown us in showing us their Berlin.  Tomorrow we head for the Deutsches Historisches Museum — 2000 years of German history under one roof.  I'm going to need all my stamina for that excursion.


  1. Hi Denise - Thanks for sharing your trip. Love hearing about the Berlin wall. Hope I can re-trace your steps some day.

    1. I hope you get to visit there as well ... !

  2. Hey, Denise! Love hearing about your adventures--especially on bikes! Frank introduced me to sight-seeing via bicycle in Denmark about 10 years ago and I love it now. It's amazing low less daunting and dangerous it seems when everyone is USED to it. And it's an exhilarating rather than exhausting way to get around.

    Hope to hear more about your travels!


    1. It WAS exhilarating Chris! And it did make a difference that everyone was into it and accepted it as a mode of transportation. Now let's let our readers know that YOUR Frank and our Frank are NOT the same!