Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category
Ok. We did this adventure in July. I know. I’m slacking on this blog thing.
You’d think that a country bordered by eight other countries didn’t have much space left on its border line for a coast, but this is Europe and there’s room for everything here, even if it is just a little squeezed in. So one July weekend — possibly the best July weekend to choose to do such a thing — we packed ourselves into our friend’s car and headed for the coast.
It was an island really. Rugen joined to Germany by a 3.2 kilometre bridge (that we inadvertently drove over three times on our way to the coast) and it’s where you find the seaside town of Binz. To say its charming is an understatement. Even though I’ve never been to the southern U.S., Binz made me want to want to fan my face with my hat and say “I do deh-claaare.”
It was originally built up as a seaside resort in the 1890’s. When the First World War hit Germany, it started to fall into neglect. Then the Second World War came and with its resolution, Binz with its charming white hotels found itself well behind the East German border. It fell into a deeper state of neglect until a few years after reunification. The sandy beaches became littered with Strandkorben or beach baskets once again and their hotels restored to their former glory, complete with stained glass balcony dividers.
A trip to Binz on the Island of Rügen is like a little trip back in town. You expect people to be there in 1920s-style bathing outfits to be sunning themselves in the beach baskets, but all you get is the usual European speedo. Nonetheless, it’s charm isn’t lost on the families that populate the public beach area in front of the baskets. The pier let’s you wander far out into the water while keeping your shoes dry, but the temperature is fine for swimming if you need to cool off. That weekend, we definitely did. Even though we escaped Berlin’s blazing 34-degree temperatures, we were still sunning ourselves in 27-degree heat, which is my perfect seaside temperature.
The restaurants on the promenade all offer local sea fare and you can tell which is the good bakery by the line-up of visitors it has in front of it at 8:30 a.m.
And if you’re in the mood for a little GDR mode, you can walk down to the end of the beach and check out the remaining life guard tower. Built in 19638, it was one of two, but the second is no longer with us. Now, you can book your civil wedding ceremony to take place on its sand-covered floors.
We didn’t get a chance to see the white cliffs of Rügen up close, but our little weekend in Binz left us wanting to go back again. With our group — two couples, one pregnant and one engaged — we decided we would definitely have to come back again next summer with and put our little families under a beach tent.
I’ve inadvertently taken a sabbatical from the blog over January. I’m back. We didn’t blog about Canada — we saw so many of you there! But it was a lovely trip and I’m really touched by how many of our friends back home stay tuned to our adventures via our blog. Thank you!
I promise I’ll be better about it — besides, we have upcoming adventures to share.
But first, a few words on winter.
Germany is in crisis. The country is suffering its longest snowy period in more than 30 years. Even as I look out the window right now, snowflakes are flurrying around Arkonaplatz, being pushed around by the wind into a dizzying fall down to the ground. Some cars haven’t moved since December. My bike — oh! My bike! — I barely remember what it looks like (that’s an exaggeration … I could never forget that lovable scamp). You get the point.
It’s the kind of winter that makes you want to start every weather story with “In Soviet times…”
Much like Vancouver, snow scares people here too. They stay inside, work from home and — as I said — leave their cars stationed wherever they happened to have been before the roads became a scene out of Canadian b-list film (or Fargo). But, after getting over their initial shock, Berliners realised this used to be winter every year from them, and they’ve embraced it.
Among those Berliners, two Canadians made their way out to the Wannsee in the western-most limits to the city and skidded around the ice.
Like most Canadian kids, Josh spent a good deal of his childhood at the hockey rink. On the farm, we had a dug out as our water source, and when it froze over in the winter, it made the perfect skating rink. My dad would get the smallest tractor on the farm and would push it all off, making way for our little blades to hit the ice when it warmed up to -20 (Celsius). I remember my brother learning to skate on the dugout, pushing a chair around until he was brave enough to go at it for himself. I remember the year that — despite it being the smallest tractor we owned — the ice just wasn’t thick enough in this one spot to support its weight, and the back wheel went crashing through.
It got towed out, no one went swimming and we kids were disappointed to learn we had to wait another two weeks for our own private skating rink to open up.
To be honest, I don’t remember the last time I hit that ice, or even the last pair of skates I owned, but that’s all changed.
After that day, we both wanted nothing more than to glide across that lake, instead of shuffling over it.
So we did it — we bought skates. And the following Sunday, we went back to the Wannsee to find it completely covered in snow. Bummer.
As Josh pouted, I pushed him onto the ice. Some German kids were playing hockey —YES! Hockey! — and had brought some shovels. Josh and I borrowed them, and expanded on a little loop already dug out. We pushed snow to make a ring, and families started to gather and push their own kids on mini blades out on to our little ring. We took turns shovelling, dusting and clearing. We stopped for little scuffers to go by. An hour later, we dropped the shovels, straightened our backs and admired our work as we skated through the “little loop” and onto “the rainbow” as the kids skating around us named it.And yes, the parents thanked us.
To be honest, all the shoveling tuckered us out a little. By the time 4:00 rolled around, we decided we had enough for the day and we plunked ourselves in the snow and made our feet get used to the sensation of being back in a shoe.
Now we just have to hope this weather sticks around long enough for us to be able to do it again.
Twenty years ago, Berlin’s streets were flooded with people celebrating. They were pushing, they were climbing, they were hugging and kissing, just because they were able to go see the other side of a city I now travel around quite freely.
Our little Berlin apartment is a mere 400 metres away from where the wall once stood. Our address would have been in East Berlin, near the divided city’s centre of Alexanderplatz. To get many places, we cross the border, now largely marked by a line of cobblestones in sidewalks and streets — a far cry from the dominating, 3.5-metre high concrete blocks that once divided neighbours.
Twenty years ago, our vibrant neighbourhood would have been largely deserted. The people who lived in our space then might have just left it, making their way to West Berlin as fast as they could before the East German government decided to reverse their accidental decision to open the borders on November 9, 1989. The building would probably have been brown, dirty and might even have had scars left over from the Second World War.
Parking spots would have been sieged with Trabants, the East German car, as the air recovered from their fumes resulting on their fuel of gas and oil mixed together. Grocery store shelved would have been cleaned out of Moka FIx Gold coffee brand to make way for Coca Cola and issued bookshelves would be replaced by Billy.
Eventually, the abandoned apartments became filled with people looking for a free place to live, attracting a young and vibrant community, free to do what it liked with its low living cost. The lifestyle attracted others and the neighbourhood quickly gentrified.
Fast-forward to today, and who knows where the people are that once lived here, but I doubt any of my neighbours are once people who lived in East Berlin as adults. My apartment building has a sunny coat of paint, big balconies and Ikea-stylized kitchens. The only evidence of East Berlin is an appliance repair shop around the corner still specialising in the repair of East German brands.
Meanwhile, on a street just 400-metres from the Berlin Wall, 2.5 kilometres from where the first East Germans freely crossed into West Berlin, two Canadians in love live life with an appreciation for freedom that they never would have had if they stayed where they were.
It’s amazing what 20 years can do.
It was our first weekend in five weeks free of visitors. We don’t mind having everyone here — it’s been lovely to make new friends, better friendships and catch up with old ones, but it gets hard. We’re excellent hosts and part of that is being game for doing anything your guests want to.
I can do the tour with my eyes closed, timed out by number of paces or pedals on my bike. I can tell you who built the Holocaust Memorial (Peter Eisenman), when the Brandenburg Gates were built (1788) and the significance of the parking lot near the state representative offices (site of Hitler’s bunker). I will go out to the break of dawn or while away an afternoon shopping*.
But five weeks in a row of this is quite enough — so Josh and I took leave of our little inn and went north to the Mecklenburger Seenplatte on the border of the states of Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Lower Pomerania or the Land of Ladybugs.
We stayed in a little hotel next to the Plauer See that not only included breakfast, but also a bowling alley and a petting zoo — complete with baby goats! Yes, you know why I picked this place. We drove up Friday evening, enjoyed some fresh fish at a local restaurant and walked around the town with our ice cream dessert from the local hotspot — Janny’s Eis.
Saturday’s rain led to a not-so-well thought-out drive to the city of Schwerin, where a difficult parking situation led to a drive-by of the castle and a game of mini-golf, which I lost.
Nature! Germany can be very un-PC. Also: Canoe translates to German phonetically: Kanu!
Finally giving up on the city, Josh and I drove back to our little town to rent a canoe and zigzag across a river as we tried to figure out how to steer the paddle boat. We made it work and managed to fit our little adventure into the exact two hours that held no rain for the area. Success. Finished the day with a trip to the hotel’s bowling centre for three rounds… which I also lost.
Sunday’s morning showed promise and we resolved to go to the biggest lake in the area, the Müritz See, for some Kayaking. For the last three years, Josh and I have made a point to go kayaking in deep cove in the summer. This was nothing like that — there were no seals or jelly fish but there were also no motor boats and between camp grounds, no signs of human life on the shores.
We paddled over the Caarpsee, Woterfitzsee and Lepensee, each lake (see) connected by the most peaceful water you can imagine. We saw fish, loon, swan families and a hunting hawk. But what made this the German wilderness was that there were no places to pull up and enjoy a quiet picnic — the shores are guarded with reeds that keep paddlers out of the surrounding forests. However, where you can pull up your boat are German camp grounds (re: Car camping and small cottages) complete with an Imbiss where you can order a bratwurst in a bun.
German wilderness is just that: non-existent. Germans love coming to Canada to see the wilderness, to drive for hours without seeing a town while worrying if they have enough gas in the camper van to get to the next one. Yes, they actually find this thrilling and thousands flock to Vancouver or Calgary every year to do just that and explore the Rockies.
Germany has 237 people per square kilometre, while Canada has a mere 3.62 people per square kilometre. If you were to put Germany over Canada, our little European nation would cover a little more than half of Saskatchewan, yet has 80 times more the population than that province. You’re starting to get the picture of why “wilderness” is a term used generously here.
The weather held out as Josh and I paddled back up through what we called the bayous, deciding that we were definitely better kayakers than canoers. We ended our trip with an hour on the shore of the Müritzsee, reading books and eating apple turnovers.
You’re welcome for not posting those.
We came back to the city relaxed after a weekend of doing just what we wanted, recharged for the next round of visitors (they come Thursday!).
*Seriously though, if this is what you want to do, you’re welcome anytime.
Berlin doesn’t have this wet season called Spring. We moved from gray winter weather, to one week of schizophrenic weather that included sunshine, hail, wind, blizzards, flurries, rain, blue skies, etc., straight into Summer. Ha ha!
While this week marks a “cooling off”, the sun is still shining, the trees in the park across the street are full of bright new leaves and the expected high is a respectable 18C.
With this turn of weather, Josh and I are eager to explore other areas of Berlin. We braved Spandau in the cold, but it’s much nicer being able to explore without wondering when the next cocoa break will be. This weekend, we went to Potsdam.
Potsdam is just 20 minutes outside of Berlin by train. We took our bikes, ready to explore the palaces that fill Sanssouci park. It’s there that Prussian King Frederick the Great had his summer palace, gilded Chinese tea house and final resting place. There is also the New Palace, Roman baths, and history galore. It was where French philosopher Voltaire acted as guest, but really was a spy and where Truman, Churchill and Stalin met after the Second World War to discuss the realignment of Europe and Germany’s future.
We went for none of these great reasons. We loaded the basket on my bike with a blanket and snacks, ready to site see.
The park was amazing, with grand palaces around every corner. While those are under constant restoration, there are smaller buildings that dot the park, the summer homes of nobility that still exist. Many of the buildings, including some that look like they were stables once, have been converted into apartments and people still live in Sanssouci park today.
We enjoyed our picnic in the sunshine, complete with a mini bottle of Prosecco from the gift shop of the New Palace.
Potsdam also has a massive Dutch community, and we happened to visit the city during its Tulip Festival. Among the row housing typical to Holland, people walked in clogs (yes! real people wearing wooden shoes!), eating cubes of Gouda cheese, poffertjes and fresh stroop waffles. Josh enjoyed his first and here’s a photo to make Mom/Vera jealous:
True to its name, the streets were full of tulips and we picked some up to plant on our balcony. By the time we got back to Berlin, the sun had already set and we were exhausted from spending a long day in it.