Diary of Our Trip to Germany
4 – 12 October 2000
Wednesday, October 4th
Mom & Dad picked up Sue at home. Sue drove their car to Airport Square 19 where they met Bruce, who had been working there that morning. A quick ride over to BWI, check bags, off to gate D33 at the extremely far end of the pier. Weather very warm. Dash 8 prop plane to Philadelphia. Flew over downtown Balt, just south of Inner Harbor, up the Bay side of the Eastern Shore. Bay just kind of gets brown and peters out at the top. Saw C&D Canal heading east. Views of 95 and Wilmington were very familiar from trips to Camden, as recently as 2 days ago.
Two hour layover in Phila. B had great Philly cheesesteak for lunch at Hymie’s Deli. Just listening to the cook chop it up was an experience in performance art. (Sign on wall of Hymie’s gives staff all the phone numbers necessary to reach the boss—Tony! Is there really a Hymie?) Sue was not as satisfied with her hamburger. It had that synthetic, manufactured appearance. White rocking chairs throughout the airport. Nice.
After a few attempts we succeed in switching seat
and get a pair on the aisle vs. the center pair originally
USAirways Airbus 330. Food was so-so, liquor was
at each seat with streaming video of half a dozen movies, that
TV programs, music. Human interface was confusing.
“Keeping the Faith” with Ed Norton (James Rouse’s grandson) and
Bruce watched a B grade or less martial arts movie called “Romeo
It featured lots of violence, scenes of San Francisco, and a
of sex to get the rating up. Major rivalry between a black
a Chinese one, with some whites in a helicopter who seemed to be
with the financial end of things. The Chinese hero got to
beautiful black woman. Bruce “watched,” but he didn’t
dialog by listening. Listened to classical music and
Thursday, October 5th
We didn’t get much sleep. Arrived in Frankfurt at 7:30 local. First impression was that there was sure a lot of English on the advertising signs. Made a quick phone call back to Sarah (actually spoke to our answering machine) and sent a short e-mail to friends and family from a free Web terminal in the same facility. The time we spent doing this coincided nicely with baggage handling time, so our bags were just coming around the carousel as we arrived. Ran over to an airport shop and bought the first Ritter Sport peppermint bar of the trip. (Observation from later: prices for these were different every time we bought one. Germany used to have very rigid price controls, but apparently no longer.)
After a brief wait for it to be driven over from another terminal, our rental car arrived: a tiny, purple Ford Ka. Saying Ka made us feel like we were back home in Boston. Ka, Ka, Ka. The Ka is so tiny that we could only get one suitcase in the trunk. It’s nicely equipped with airbags and ABS but kind of weak on acceleration. Click here for pictures of the Ka. They aren't pictures of our actual Ka but ones we found at Ka sites on the Web. The Ka has attracted quite a cult following in Europe.
We got out of the airport without confusion and onto the familiar Frankfurt-Kassel Autobahn. Impressions as we drove past the western outskirts of Frankfurt were of lots more tall buildings than used to be. We stayed mostly in the slow lane of the Autobahn, driving only about 70-75 mph as the BMWs and Mercedeses whizzed past. Weather temperate (60s?) and overcast.
We stayed on the Autobahn past Kassel to Gottingen, a university city. Lots of bicycles. Got ourselves wound into an incredibly tiny dead end. Sue described this as like driving all the way into a snail. We were happy for the maneuverability of our tiny Ka in extricating ourselves from the innards of the snail.
Then we headed cross country through Osterode and into the Harz Mountains. Stopped for lunch at a local restaurant in Waake. Food was terrific. Sue had a marvelous Jägerschnitzel with plenty of fresh mushrooms, and Bruce had wild boar goulasch with red cabbage, and a small glass of Pils. Didn’t want to take a chance on driving with any more beer than that in my system, having been awake for about 24 hours straight by then.
Harz Mountains are described as being very old, and thus are gentle and rounded. Forests are typically German, with tall, straight trees and well managed underbrush.
Arrived Goslar mid-afternoon. Missed turn into our hotel parking lot and got into a one-way system in a very old city with narrow streets. Parked in municipal lot, walked back to hotel, checked in, got instructions on how to drive back to their lot.
Bruce crashed for a couple of hours, and Sue started to explore the city. After Bruce revived, we took off for a few more hours of walking around.
Goslar is a really beautiful place, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage City. It’s apparently popular with German tourists, though out of season now, but we didn’t see much that appeared to be aimed at tourists of other nationalities. (That’s OK with us.) The city has a history of being very well off as a consequence of the mining activities in the mountains to the south. There once was a mint here, where they banged out coins with dies and big sledgehammers. Many buildings have signs dating them to the early 1500s, and the nearby mines were operated for over 1000 years. There’s a very pleasant little river running through town, contained in a stone channel and nicely integrated into the surrounding architecture. The most stunning architectural feature here is slate. There are countless buildings fully sheathed with absolutely stunning, highly artistic, overlapping arrangements of slate. Treatment of the slate that surrounds the doors and windows is especially wonderful. Some buildings also have wooden clapboards on their lower stories, which is very rare in Germany.
Dinner was in the Ratskeller, literally the cellar of city hall. We have always found good food at reasonable prices in Ratskellers. The city authorities seem to believe that their civic pride is wrapped up in the quality of their Ratskeller. Bruce had a delicious Benediktinertoast: pork, mushrooms, and sauce on toast. Sue surprised the waitress and our tablemates by ordering a great ice cream sundae, nicely constructed with pockets of fruit liqueur. (The word “toast” found its way into the German language as far back as our 1966 dictionary and probably much earlier, despite the existence of an equivalent German word, “Röstbrot.” Food words seem to be universally understood in their native language.)
Treff Hotel Das Brusttuch
Hoher Weg 1
(Check out this link. There’s an
behind this hotel, especially its name.)
Friday. October 6th
Marvelous breakfast buffet in our hotel. Walk around town in the daylight. It was market day, and the square was filled with stalls. Bought pastries to have for lunch. Went to a souvenir store and got a small witch (Hex) decoration for our Christmas tree. Hexen are popular souvenirs from the Harz, as it is the area where the Brothers Grimm fairy tales took place.
Drove to Lübeck on the Autobahn with just one quick stop for gas ($30) and lunch. Found hotel on the Altstadt (old city) island without much difficulty. Walked along the harborside, stopped at an Internet café for e-mail and a drink, looked at the Holstentor on the mainland, a beautiful city gate tower which Sue remembered from her visit here in 1972. Walk through center of town, shop at puppet museum, lots of time in a marvelous toy store, listen to band at beerfest, dinner at Ratskeller. Bruce had salmon, and Sue had a very elegantly prepared Hackfleisch (hamburger). Lübeck also a UNESCO World Heritage City. We shall have to find the other ones.
CCL Klassik Altstadt Hotel
Saturday, October 7th
Awakened early by the sound of trash being picked up in the little street outside our room. Managed to get back to sleep, and finally got up at 9. Lukewarm shower. Shared breakfast table with a couple from Mannheim. Breakfast was good but not quite what we had in Goslar.
Checked out of hotel and walked around town. Brick architecture quite stunning. Heiligen Geist Hospital (more a hospice than a hospital, in English) absolutely amazing entry hall with religious artwork throughout. Very wide, high ceilinged room, behind which was the cavernous original ward. It started as rows of beds, and then in the last century they installed tiny, one bed cabins. There was a sign that said these were no longer in use, but there was medical staff walking through that area on their way to the modern accommodations out behind the historic area.
More walking around town. Since the old town is located on an island, it was easy to tell when we got to the end. Lübeck house architecture similar to Amsterdam, but Lübeck came first. Our breakfast companion told us that Lübeck had started out as Germany’s premier port, until the discovery of the New World moved the maritime routes from the Baltic to Hamburg on the North Sea.
Quick lunch at fest stalls in the Market. Sue a Wurst, and Bruce a ham and cheese crepe. Then into the Ka and off toward Berlin.
The former East-West border isn’t far from Lübeck—just a short drive through a very typical German forest area: straight trees, places to pull off and park, foot paths, beer stands. Crossing the former border for the very first time was an emotional moment, made all the more so because it had become such an ordinary place now. There was nothing there to commemorate what used to be—only a simple sign welcoming the traveler to the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and a long green field—which used to be the death strip.
The area between the border and Berlin looked like typical German countryside. Some of the buildings were new, particularly the commercial ones, and some looked a bit shabby, but nothing really had that overbearing, Soviet look about it.
We missed the final turn on the Autobahn that would have put us directly onto Friedrichstraße in the former East Berlin, where our Pension is located. But after a bit of traffic delay we got onto the grand promenade of Berlin, the Straße der 17 Juni (named after the 1953 people’s uprising in the East, which was put down by Russia as later in Hungary and Czechoslovakia). This was really the right way to enter the city anyway, through the front door. We took it all the way to the Brandenburg Gate but had to detour around the gate because it’s one way going west. (Was this an intentional statement by the authorities?) The detour took us through a major construction area around the Reichstag but then quickly led us to Friedrichstraße. We turned right when we should have turned left but recovered quickly, and with a couple of skillful U-turns we were right at our Pension and in the only open parking place on the street. We rang the bell at the Pension mit Art, and Frau Waszkowiak was waiting for us at the top of the stairs. Interesting old (1890) building, courtyard inside, Pension and art gallery on 2nd floor very recently refinished; rest of building still shabby. Frau W, retired? civil servant, moved here from West Berlin and established gallery and Pension. Speaks great English.
Back to our old 1972 neighborhood off the Ku’damm for dinner, via S-Bahn. (We govt and military people didn’t used to be allowed to ride S-Bahn when it was run by the East. West took it over before the Wall came down when East couldn’t keep it going. Still, it felt delightfully wicked the first time I rode it after it became OK.) Rainy. Had pizza in Sperlingsgasse, then walked Ku’damm to Wittenburgplatz. Café Krantzler being demolished, but they seem to be keeping the original Art Deco façade. Café Mohring gone too (but we later found a branch in Charlottenburg). U-Bahn to Potsdamerplatz. Much construction there: Sony, Daimler-Chrysler, big new Bahnhof (RR station). S-Bahn back to Friedrichstraße, buy snack at late night store. Wonder what legal technicality lets them stay open so late (very uncommon in Germany due to labor laws). Probably because they are in RR station.
Pension mit Art
Sunday. October 8th
Very noisy night. Lots of sound from Oscar Wilde Irish bar across the street and from streetcars. Streetcars had disappeared from West Berlin in the late 60s, but they apparently remained in the East, and the system has since been upgraded with all new rolling stock.
Nice breakfast at Pension. Fantastic selection of bread. Then off along Orianenburgstr. Much upheaval along with some spectacular buildings. Large, ornate synagogue ominously guarded by two police officers, with crowd control barriers ready to be moved into place. We assumed this to be a reaction to the (unsuccessful) firebombing in Dusseldorf and window breaking in Kreuzberg earlier in the week.
On to the Dom (cathedral), Lustgarten (pleasure garden—basically a nice, open park next to a river), and Unter den Linden—the grand avenue of old Berlin, which leads up to the Brandenburg Gate and then continues as the Straße der 17 Juni. All spectacular. The sort of monumental architecture that creates a world class capital city. Sue’s comment later: “Having seen the real Berlin, I can see that having the German capital in Bonn (a pleasant town along the Rhine) would have been like having the capital of America in Running Brook (our neighborhood in Columbia).” Police were again in evidence at the Dom, in preparation for a memorial service for motorcyclists killed during the past year!
We had always regarded the former West Berlin as a really wonderful city. But there is just no comparison with what Berlin has now become, with the union of the vibrancy of the former West and the monumental treasures of the former East. Sue’s observation about what used to be, having seen what is now: “It’s as if everything south of Dupont Circle (northwest Washington, DC, well north of the federal buildings) had become the capital of a different country and they built a new city to the north.” Reunited Berlin is now truly a world class capital city!
Lunch (omelettes) at a Viennese cafe on Unter den Linden. Then walk through the Brandenburg Gate and over to the Reichstag. Big line waiting to get in, so we just looked at the outside. The new crystal dome is very popular and offers a good view of the city.
Then walked to Checkpoint Charlie, by way of the terminus of a tethered sightseeing balloon: 15 minutes for 30 Marks.
Museum at Checkpoint was much larger than ever before. Perhaps some of the details of successful escapes only came out after the wall was torn down and secrecy was no longer required. Very moving stories, artifacts, and artwork by adults and children. Sue heard one British boy asking his mother, “Who was Charlie, and what did he do?”
U-bahn back to Pension. Rest. Had to move Ka because our parking space would become illegal on Monday morning. Took it to the parking strip down the middle of Straße der 17 Juni, then walked back through Brandenburg Gate, along Unter den Linden, up Friedrichstraße, and back to our neighborhood. Checked out a few local restaurants before settling on Gambrinus (patron saint of eating, or was it drinking?), and after partaking we easily concluded that we had made the right choice. Sue had Berliner Leber (liver with apples) and Bruce had Schnitzel mit Waldpilzen (mushrooms from the forest)—both massive, piping hot, and delicious.
Walked a bit further north and found that
turned into Chausseestr. Does that mean Street
checked our German dictionary and it certainly does seem to mean
“Chaussee, f, Main road or highway.”) Found Internet
with messages waiting from some of the family.
Monday, October 9th
Happy birthday, Dad. 87.
Slept till after 9 this morning. Good breakfast, then off via streetcar down Orianenburgstr to U-bhf Rosa Luxembourgplatz. Wonder who Rosa was? Friend of Charlie’s? (We wrote this in jest while still in Berlin. Couldn't have been more wrong. Subsequent research shows that she was one of the founders of the German Communist party. “German socialist leader and revolutionary, born in 1871 and died in 1919.” Movie about her (1985) “that traces the life, works and death of the indefatigable woman who helped found the Socialist Democratic Party in early 20th-century Germany,” directed by Margarethe von Trotta, featuring Winfried Glatzeder, Barbara Lass, Daniel Olbrychski, Otto Sander, Barbara Sukowa )
U-bahn to Wittenburgplatz. Wander through KaDeWe (largest department store in Berlin—maybe in all Europe), as elegant as ever. Lunch snack at Europa Center. Got kicked out of food court tables because we had gotten our meal at a different place. Tour in double decker bus for hour and a half. It repeated a number of places we already knew or had seen yesterday, but the commentary was helpful and we did see many places that were totally new to us, on both sides. And it was nice to sit down for a while. Lots of new embassy construction in the Tiergarten area, much of which had been left untouched since the war since it was so close to the Wall. This area was the original diplomatic quarter, and some countries were actually restoring their prewar embassies or building anew on the same land.
Back to Ku’damm, walk through Wertheim (another department store). Tried unsuccessfully to find Tin Figure shop we knew on Knesebeckstr, but might not have walked far enough. Next time.
Then went through The Story of Berlin, located in the Ku’damm side of our Lietzenburgerstr block (where we lived in 1972). Quite impressive, multi-media, installation sort of thing, occupying spaces on many floors inside the entire city block, all connected internally within the block. Chronological order. Sue’s headphones ended up being in German, but she could hear English from Bruce’s if we huddled close. The first many hundreds of years seemed to be one war and change of government after the other. Berlin didn’t develop as the classic European radial city; rather, it came from the eventual merger of a number of smaller towns and cities, most of which still retain an identity and a downtown area to this day, along with some local governmental autonomy. Things got going bigtime with industrialization and commerce in the mid 1800s. The inevitable descent into World War II was made all the more gripping by the descent of many flights of stairs as time moved from the 20s into the late 30s. Redemption came only in 1989, when the exhibit soared to the 14th floor—Himmel (heaven). At that point the exhibit strangely fizzled out after some video clips of the historic events of 9 Nov. No real climax or summation. But there were great views of the city in all four directions. Perhaps that was the summation. No more Wall.
Bus and U-bahn to Richard Wagnerplatz. (We had all-day ticket, which cost just a bit more than two singles.) A short walk to Charlottenburg Palace, a quick stop to ask directions, and we were at the Samowar Russian restaurant, which B remembered from previous trips. B had Beef Stroganoff, piled high with matchstick fried onions, and S had Shashlik. Both excellent. Dessert and coffee. At 90 Marks ($40) it was our biggest meal yet, but still very reasonable.
Bus to Zoo Bahnhof, S-Bahn to Friedrichstr, walk
café. Got news from home that our water heater had
leaked all over cellar floor. K&D&S had it under
with the help of Tim Lorden. Did what we could to provide
advice. Will check back tomorrow.
Tuesday, October 10th
Started the day earlier than usual (about 8 AM) with another fine breakfast. B went up to Internet café for a quick exchange with Karin ref the flood. They did everything right; now it’s just a matter of hoping that the water damage isn’t too bad, and concentrating on our vacation. Tried to check bank account at First Union but was foiled by requirement for the unexportable 128 bit encryption.
Back to Pension, pay, say auf Wiedersehen to Frau Waszkowiak, trundle suitcases off to where we parked the Ka. Heading from the East toward the Brandenburg Gate with suitcases! Must have at least raised an eyebrow of any former Stasi out on the street at the time.
Drove to the Allied Museum, located in the former Outpost Theater in the old American military area. German high school or middle school students having a tour. More interested in impressing the girls. Entire Truman Plaza area (PX, commissary) flattened, Consulate General area fenced off. Housing areas in varying stages of refurb/reuse. Some being used for university housing.
Quick lunch stop for Donner Kabob and ATM, drove out through Wansee area, crossed Glienicke Bridge (scene of spy swaps during Cold War), through Potsdam (but didn’t stop to take in the palatial sites there—next time!), and cross country to Meißen, a city of porcelain and wine. Went by quite few abandoned Kasernes (military installations), which we assumed to be Russian or East German. All very decrepit—trees growing through windows—though it did seem that there was an effort underway to redevelop an old airfield area for commercial purposes, as at the former SAC base at Plattsburgh AFB in New York, which we encountered on a recent trip to Canada.
An easy drive into Meißen on the road where our hotel was located, till we hit the Umleitung (detour). It took a couple of illegal turns to sort it out, and a marvelously executed 270 degree turn to get to the hotel parking lot. Hotel looked old outside but very modern inside. Building right next door was a shambles. We found this sort of contrast not uncommon in the former East. B took a quick rest while S went across the street to the Bahnhof (RR Station) to buy a few things and get the lay of the land. Bahnhof very utilitarian. Looked like something out of USSR.
Off to explore the Altstadt (old city), on the other side of the Elbe. Narrow streets, buildings built into hillsides, cobblestones. Take Ellicott City, MD with its hillsides and steep, winding roads, add picturesque rooftops, chop it up into pieces, multiply it by 40 or 50, send it back in time, and put it back together with cobblestones.
Resisted the urge to go to Ratskeller and ended up at an extremely elegant restaurant at the highest point in town. Elegant, but prices on same scale as everywhere (Main course DM 18-25) and patrons in casual dress. S had Schweinmedallions in Rahm/Riesling sauce (pork in cream/wine sauce), and B had Hirschbraten mit Rotkohl (venison with red cabbage). Walk back to Hotel via a new and different route.
Großhainer Straße 9
Wednesday, October 11th
Earlier start than usual. Good breakfast at hotel; then walk across bridge to Altstadt. Weather sunny. Wander. Tiny Christmas ornament at Pfennig Oase (Penny Oasis, German equivalent of Dollar Store). Pfennig Oase had a very large offering of a Millennium Special Ritter Sport candy bar. (We like Ritter Sport!) Taste was OK but consistency very strange. We concluded that it had bombed on the market, and that Ritter had sold its remaining stock to Pfennig Oase to get rid of it. Most other stores not open yet. Walk to top of hill and visit 12th century Dom (cathedral). Large restoration job underway. Traditional stained glass behind altar, and patterned stained glass in other areas. Porcelain crucifix on one altar. Interesting family trees on display, beautifully inscribed with coats of arms of all the families for many generations back. Buy postcard that explains the ABC carving we saw last night on the wall next to a footpath.
Stores are open by the time we leave Dom. Town filling up with tourists, mostly German but one group of Asians. Coffee and pastry, then back to the streets. Bought a couple of pieces at a nice stained glass store.
Back to hotel to get Ka, then a quick drive back
part of Altstadt and onto the riverside road toward
at Dresden, and a long ride back to the West at Bad Hersfeld,
for Wurst enroute.
When planning this trip we debated between staying in Meißen or Dresden. The brag on Dresden’s Web site was that they expected to be restored to their former glory in a few years. We chose Meißen, though we must visit Dresden in a few years.
Road very slow due to reconstruction and one Stau (traffic jam). Many beautiful valley vistas. Passed Chemnitz (formerly Karl Marx Stadt) and Erfurt. South via Fulda and Hanau and a brief diversion and a rainstorm to Neu Isenburg. (So many familiar names of heavily militarized V Corps border towns from the time of the Cold War. That’s where it would have happened. It didn’t.) Hotel hard to find but very elegant, once we get there. Very late arrival, but dining room still open. Fish filet dinner with ice cream treats for dessert.
011-49-6102 80 80
Thursday, October 12th
Going home. Gas up the Ka, drive to
in, spend some excess DMs. Another Airbus 330. Food
than it was on the way over; drinks still free, same
over Canada. Lots of lakes and inlets, and not much
Change planes in Pittsburgh. Sarah and Nick the dog met us
Impressions during our trip
Not much use of plastic compared to US, UK, France.
Vulture signs on the roads, encouraging safe driving.
Electricity generating windmills everywhere.
Not much English spoken out in the provinces.
Ossi Ampelmannchen. East Germany had a very cute, whimsical, little man on their Walk / Don’t Walk signs. There was protest when the more mundane West German version began to replace it, and the Ossi man won out in the former East.
Reconstruction in the former East. Construction cranes are everywhere in eastern Berlin. The Berliners call the crane the German National Bird. They have a clever name for everything.
Run down buildings in the former East adjacent to nicely restored ones.
Lots of English words in Frankfurt and Berlin, particularly in advertising headlines.
Name merchandise (coffee cups, pencils, keychains, etc.) with the name Sarah, which didn’t used to be common in Germany. This appears to trace back to issues associated with the Nazi registration of Jews pre-WW II. Some displays had no Karin. Some had both Karin and Karen.
Very little evidence of US Army. One sign near Hanau, and another one somewhere along Autobahn the first day. A few Bundeswehr vehicles on the road, but generally it was a pretty demilitarized place.
Lots of road signs with obvious additions of previously unreachable destinations in the former East.
Recognition in German museums of World War II and the persecution of Jews and others. This period of time didn’t used to be discussed.
Lots of artificially aided red hair.
Shop keepers don’t mind browsers. They used
on helping everybody who came in the door and were confused when
came in without definite shopping objectives.