Phil and I decided that, since we enjoy reading everyone else's family blogs so much, it was rude not to have one of our own. And what better time to start than when we have neat things to share about our trip to Europe? So we're bloggers now. We blog. Here we go; a nice long post to kick this thing off...
We took a red-eye out of Philly on August 20 and landed in Bremen, Germany the next day. Phil didn't sleep at all on the plane, which is typically bad news, but he didn't even throw up in a single potted plant, so I guess it was a success? We were greeted at the airport by my friend Eske, who stayed with my family for several months on an exchange program with my orchestra when I was 12 or so. My family saw her every few years after that and always kept in touch, because she's so adorable. See?
Eske showed us all around Bremen. We put some bratwurst into our hungry bellies and rubbed the good-luck feet on the statue of the Bremen Town Musicians (from the children's story), and then Eske drove us the 90 minutes or so to her parents' house in the tiny town of Wiefelstede. Eske's parents, Ana and Jan, are similarly adorable and live on a gorgeous little farm. We put our things down in the upstairs apartment that Ana and Jan had kindly set aside for us and sat down to eat the two cakes Ana had made to celebrate our arrival.
We asked if we could have milk with our cake, and Jan looked apologetic and explained that we couldn't have milk right then because the neighbor wasn't done milking the cows. We put Phil next to Eske's Opa--he was a German soldier who spent time as a POW in Texas, where he picked up a fair amount of English, including a few choice words taught to him by the American soldiers. Opa had a great time talking to Phil, and I settled in, slowly, to speaking German with Eske and her parents.
After cake, we took a turn about Ana's magnificent garden, which people come from all over to see.
Ana and Jan took us out to an excellent dinner at a typical North German restaurant--I had a huge pile of shrimp fresh from the North Sea with eggs and potatoes, and Phil--still awake, incredibly--had roasted pork. Mmmm, North Germany. Here's Phil, mostly dead at dinner:
When we got home, we agreed on 9:30 for breakfast and collapsed into bed.
Without setting an alarm, unfortunately. We woke up at 10:00 or so to Eske knocking softly on our door (so as not to wake us up, maybe?). We hurried to get ready and headed downstairs to tea made from the herbs in Ana's garden, honey from their bees, eggs from their chickens, milk from the neighbor's cows, etc...
We drove out to the North Sea and wandered around a bit. Too cold for swimming. Back at the house, we had lunch:
The potatoes out of the garden were DELISH. And Ana insisted that we try all of the billion different kinds of bratwurst she had picked out. We were not hard to convince. We did a bit of horseback riding, made chocolate chip cookies (Ana was giddy over the cup and spoon measures we brought her from the US, but didn't seem quite as interested in the cookies themselves; German cookies are crunchy biscuit-type things, so I think she was suspicious of the chewy softness), and got ready to take Eske to Groningen, the Netherlands, where she is a medical student. Eske showed us around Groningen, which is a nice college town. We peeked into a couple of "coffeeshops," wandered through a music festival, saw a bicycle parking garage with thousands (!) of bikes in, and said a sad goodbye. We miss Eske and hope to see her again soon.
Phil and I were then meant to drive the car back to Ana and Jan's house. Eske warned us that the German police typically pull people over coming from the Netherlands, especially young people (like us) driving late (like us) in an older-model car (like Eske's 80s VW Golf). The German police didn't disappoint: around 1:00 am on the Autobahn, a police car pulled up close behind me and turned on its lights. There was no shoulder, so I wasn't sure what to do. I slowed down and was going to look for the next exit when the cops turned on a light in their windshield that flashed "STOP, POLIZEI" in angry red letters. Mildly panicked, we decided we couldn't go wrong doing exactly that. I slowed almost to a stop right there on the Autobahn, but the officer pulled out a flashlight and shone it at us, honking. Not exactly clear, but we thought it best to get moving, despite the confusing "STOP" blinking in my mirror. I pulled off on the next exit and stopped, but out came the flashlight again. I kept going a bit and found a place to pull off the road. One of the officers, who was dressed in a red Adidas shirt and jeans (a little spooky), asked me if I had ever driven on the Autobahn before. Uh, duh. I explained our American-ness and our confusion over the blinking light and flashlight. "Oh," he said (in German), "Yeah, we usually have a loudspeaker, but it's broken right now." Well, thanks. He took our passports to check them and asked if we were bringing anything (like, say, drugs) back from the Netherlands. He was actually quite polite and let us go after running our passports, but we were both a little anxious for a while afterward.
The next day we had an accordion concert from Opa and said another sad goodbye to Ana and Jan. They were so nice to us; we miss them and hope to visit again soon.
We took the train from Oldenburg to Hamburg. We got in sort of late and decided to turn in and get an early start the next day. The next morning, we walked into the center of Hamburg along the Reeperbahn, a huge Las Vegas-type red-light district. We looked everywhere for a hamburger, but everyone we asked referred us to McDonald's. Hamburg was the location of our first of four tower climbs. We climbed to the top of St. Michaelis Church and got a good look at the place.
We had some mediocre Italian food (by the end of our trip, we sure missed American foreign food) and trekked all over the city. This would have been a lot easier:
The next morning we caught a train to Berlin (first class!) and did some very important things on the way.
The main train station in Berlin was ENORMOUS. It's impossible to show in a picture, but there are hundreds of stores, like a mall, with trains running above and below. Our hostel was a short walk from the station, and after we put our things down, we headed into the city.
Berlin is full of really beautiful street art and has a hipster feel to it, but not in a super annoying way.
We moseyed around, caught some street performances and headed home for the night. Our hostel in Berlin was really nice, but the pillows were the same as everywhere else we stayed in Europe: unwieldy square things about two inches thick. We took this opportunity to document the problem.
Ahhh... time to go to sleep!
It was raining when we woke up, so we bundled up and headed out for a day on the town. We decided to walk a pretty long way so we could see the Victory Column, but when we got there we found it covered with scaffolding. We saw these neat mushrooms on the way, though, so it wasn't a total loss.
We walked all the way to the Brandenburg Gate. We could tell when we had crossed from East Berlin into West, because of these little Ampelmännchen:
West Berlin has boring, androgynous crossing symbols like the US. Apparently the GDR didn't have it all wrong--look at that dapper little hat!
The Brandenburg Gate was lovely, and right next door was a pretty incredible Holocaust memorial.
Underneath the columns was a sad and moving gallery of photos, family histories and records from the holocaust. One girl mentioned her Aunt Bronia in a letter:
We drowned our sorrows in a Döner, a Turkish sandwich thing that Berlin claims to have the best of.
It was just okay.
We wandered over to Checkpoint Charlie, where young German men dress up in old American military uniforms and pose with American flags and large American tourists in front of McDonald's.
It was a little disappointing, but an interesting piece of history nonetheless.
Our favorite thing we saw in Berlin was the Berlin Wall memorial.
We watched a video about the security measures (beyond just the wall itself) that were used to keep people from fleeing the East. Behind the wall was a stretch of land called the Death Strip, loaded with barbed wire, silent alarms, dogs, land mines, finely combed sand to catch footprints, and unmanned, alarm-activated machine guns. Preserved on the memorial site is a section of the Strip:
We checked out Berliner Dom but didn't go inside because it cost one billion euros.
Then we ate the worst American food either of us has ever had.
This hamburger tasted like a hot dog and had no bottom bun. Gross. We were pretty sure the waitress had it in for us because we asked for tap water.
Germany was a blast, and now each of us can rightfully say, "Ich bin ein Berliner."
Next stop, Prague!