Memorial Day Weekend in Berlin

Brandenburger Tor

Brandenburger Tor

Brandon and I spent the four-day Memorial Day weekend in Berlin.  It took about five hours to drive up there on Friday afternoon with a stop for lunch.  Brandon really enjoys the unlimited speeds on the Autobahn!  We stayed at the Hotel Askanischerhof, which is right on the main drag of West Berlin, Kurfürstendamm (Ku’damm).  The hotel offers free parking on the street and we were lucky to find a spot right away.  The car stayed there safely all weekend with the other BMWs and Bentleys while we used public transportation.

Our room at the Askanischerhof Hotel on Ku'damm.

Our room at the Askanischerhof Hotel on Ku'damm.

Our first evening there, we walked down to the TI to purchase a good city map and our WelcomeCards, which gave us unlimited public transportation access and other discounts for 72-hours.  Then Brandon successfully navigated the U-Bahn system (subway) to get us to Checkpoint Charlie since the museum there is open late.  The museum was a little dry and basically just an account of all the ways people were able to escape.  Still, it was interesting to learn more about this part of history.

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie

After the museum, it was definitely time to find some dinner.  We decided to try one of Rick Steves’ recommendations back near our hotel in Savignyplatz.  Unfortunately, we still weren’t completely familiar with the bus system yet, so getting there was not the most efficient.  However, dinner at Dicke Wirtin, a traditional old-Berlin Kneipe, was delicious once we got there!

Kulturforum with Gemäldegalerie

Kulturforum with Gemäldegalerie

Saturday began with breakfast at the hotel.  They had the normal German options of rolls, meats, cheeses, jams, yogurt, fruit, and cereals.  There was Nutella, so I was very happy.  Then we were off to the Gemäldegalerie, which features a collection of over 1400 European paintings from the 13th through 18th centuries.  There was a free audio guide that was very helpful, but we were still only able to listen to a small sample of the works.  This period in art history is not Brandon’s favorite (he prefers 19th century, specifically Van Gogh), but I enjoy seeing how the styles evolved.  My favorite painting was The Netherlandish Proverbs (1559) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, depicting around 100 proverbs.  For convenience, we ate lunch at the cafeteria at the Kulturforum before heading to the Bahnhof Zoo for the Discover Berlin walking tour by Original Berlin Walks.

Holly, our walking tour guide, talks about the Berlin Wall behind her.

Holly, our walking tour guide, talks about the Berlin Wall behind her.

The Discover Berlin walking tour was four hours long and covered a LOT of sights!!  We saw the following (not in this order):

  • Berlin Wall
  • Hitler’s Bunker (stood above)
  • Site of Goebbels’ Bunker
  • Checkpoint Charlie
  • Nazi Air Ministry
  • Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
  • Brandenburg Gate
  • Museum Island and Lustgarten
  • Pergamon Museum
  • Bebelplatz, scene of the Nazi Bookburning
  • Potsdamer Platz
  • Site of SS and Gestapo HQs
  • “Ghost Station”
  • Unter den Linden
  • Royal Armoury (Zeughaus)
  • Russian Embassy
  • War Memorial (Neue Wache)
  • TV Tower
  • Berlin Cathedral
  • Catholic Cathedral (St. Hedwigs)
  • Friedrichstrasse (1920s cabaret)
  • Humboldt University
  • State Opera
  • Gendarmenmarkt
  • Hackescher Markt
  • Royal Hunting Grounds (Tiergarten)

The tour was super informative and our guide, Holly, was very knowledgeable.  The only disappointment was not being able to walk through the Brandenburg Gate or going to the Reichstag.  Saturday, May 23rd, was the 60th Anniversary of the Federal Republic of Germany, and there was a huge celebration in that area that prevented us from getting too close.  I guess this gives us a good reason to go back to Berlin in the future!

Street vendors at Hackescher Markt.

Street vendors at Hackescher Markt.

Needless to say, we were pretty worn out after the walking tour.  We went back to Hackescher Markt for dinner at Weihenstephaner Bavarian Restaurant.  I was thrilled to see they had Spargelcremesuppe (Asparagus Crème Soup) and it was delicious!!  Unfortunately, my meal was not as delicious.  I ordered the Tafelspitz, which was described as marinated prime boiled beef with pumpkin oil.  It was disgusting!  It was a pile of cold beef marinated in something green.  Thankfully, I had ordered the soup and the potatoes it came with were good.  This was the first time I’d ordered something here in Germany that didn’t turn out to be really good, so I can’t complain too much.  But in the future, DON’T ORDER THE TAFELSPITZ!

The German History Museum (Deutsches Historisches Museum)

The German History Museum (Deutsches Historisches Museum)

Brandon and I spent Sunday morning at the German History Museum (Deutsches Historisches Museum).  This is an amazing museum that covers the history of Germany from 1 B.C.  through today.  We easily could have spent the entire weekend exploring this museum, but we hit the highlights in about 2 hours.  We grabbed some brauts for lunch at a sidewalk vendor and ate in the Lustgarden.  It was a beautiful sunny day with lots of locals and other tourists enjoying the garden.  Then we went in the Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom) to climb to the top.  Brandon loves to make me walk up hundreds of steps in every city we visit.   This one was only 270 steps to the top, and the view was worth it.  After the Berliner Dom, we tried to visit KaDeWe, a famous 100-year old department store, but it is closed on Sundays.  I guess they still haven’t completely embraced all of the ways of brazen capitalism.  Another reason to go back to Berlin!

Brandon relaxing in the Lustgarten in front of the Berliner Dom.

Brandon relaxing in the Lustgarten in front of the Berliner Dom.

Sunday evening we went to see Blue Man Group in Potsdamer Platz.  Neither one of us had seen Blue Man before.  All of the advertising said it was suitable for foreign tourists, and for the most part it was.  There were just a few parts that we wished we spoke German.  The audience would laugh, and we sat there clueless.  Of course, that isn’t exactly an unusual experience for me since we moved to Germany!  We both really enjoyed the performance; however, we were both rather tired and hungry when it was finished.  We found a restaurant close by, and then headed back to the hotel.

Erika at the Blue Man Group.

Erika at the Blue Man Group.

The next day we checked out of the hotel and found an Esso station to get gas before leaving Berlin.  Instead of driving straight home, we made a one-hour detour towards Magdeburg to see a water bridge.  This bridge connects two important shipping canals over the Elbe River.  It was quite strange to see water on and below the bridge!  There was a nice little beer garden right near the bridge that we were able to eat at before getting back on the road towards home.

Magdeburg Water Bridge bridges the River Elbe and connects two shipping canals.

Magdeburg Water Bridge bridges the River Elbe and connects two shipping canals.

If you’d like to see all of our pictures, please see my Picasa album here. [Link updated on June 1st.]

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Fire in Großbissendorf!

There was some unwanted excitement in town last night.  Every Tuesday I have a basic German class in Seubersdorf (about 20 minutes from Großbissendorf).  As I drove to class around 7pm, it was obvious that a storm was blowing in.  During class, the winds were howling and at one point we heard the fire sirens.  By the time I drove home (around 9pm), the storm had passed and it was just raining.  I was shocked to see flashing lights as I rounded the curve above Großbissendorf.  A house right along the road had smoke billowing from the roof!  I had to maneuver past several emergency responders and a firetruck to get to our house, which was pitch dark except for Brandon’s headlamp.  Brandon had been home the whole evening.  He had heard a loud crack and then the power had gone out.  We thought it was strange that all of the houses around us seemed to have power, including our neighbors, but Brandon had checked all the fuses several times.  Finally, I rang the neighbor’s doorbell, and he came over to show us the “secret” fuse switch that we had missed.  We learn something new here everyday!  We were able to keep an eye on the house with the smoking roof from the guest bedroom.  They were able to get it under control by 11pm.  Today I walked past the house and there was a fairly large section with a tarp over it.  I just hope that no one was hurt in the incident!

Side Note: I hope to get something up about our trip to Berlin this past weekend up very soon…I’m just being slow about getting the pictures off the camera.

Fields of Rapeseed

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We have a lot of fields that look like this around our house.  Currently I have a love/hate relationship with these rapeseed plants.  (OK, mostly hate.)  The fields of yellow are beautiful!  It is lovely to go for a walk along all of the dirt paths & gravels roads amongst these yellow fields.  However, about a month ago, the pollen from these fields was everywhere.  Since we don’t have air-conditioning, we have our windows open all the time.  There was a yellow layer on every flat surface, including the TV and computers.  Brandon’s blue car that sits outside at night was practically solid yellow at one point.  I thought the pollen was bad when I was living in North Carolina, but this is even worse!  Many people complain about allergies, but I haven’t had too many problems yet.  I have noticed that my breathing has been tighter after my walks, but I haven’t needed to use my inhaler.

So, my ever-present question was, what is this plant???  I found out that rapeseed is grown for two primary purposes here: oil from the seeds and animal feed.  Rapeseed oil is used in Canola oil and biodiesel fuel.  The by-product of the oil production process is used as an animal feed.  You can read all about rapeseed on Wikipedia if you are interested in knowing more.  According to that article, it is also grown in the United States, but it’s obviously not as popular in Iowa as the traditional corn and soybeans.  I’m still looking for those crops here in Germany.

I’ve been told that there are two harvests of rapeseed.  One is happening now (the fields closest to our house were even being harvested around 11pm last night!) and another will happen in the Fall.  The Spring harvest is supposed to be the largest, so hopefully, we won’t have to put up with as much pollen later in the year!

PWOC Annual Training Conference

PWOC Logo

This past weekend I attened the Protestant Women of the Chapel (PWOC) Annual Training Conference.  I will be the Praise & Worship Chair on the Hohenfels Chapter board next year.  Normally, only the executive board members go to the training conference, but the Financial Liaison was unable to attend so I went in her place.  The conference was held in Willingen, Germany, which is about a 5 hour drive from Hohenfels.

The theme of the conference was W.I.L.D. (Women Intent on Leadership Development).  The four large main sessions focused on character, community, communication and commitment.  There were two position classes on Saturday to discuss only Praise & Worship issues, and I took an optional class on Sound Training.  I may regret that optional class if I end up being the only one at Hohenfels that has any clue how to run a sound board!

The conference was held at the Sauerland Stern Hotel, a four star hotel.  The rooms were very nice and the food was excellent.  I was able to have croissants with Nutella for breakfast, and dessert at every meal!

Hohenfels PWOC

The conference was enjoyable, even with the very full schedule from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon.  I have a clearer picture of the responsibilities of the Praise & Worship chair, and am confident I’ll be able to lead the ladies on Tuesday mornings in my own style.  I am a bit concerned that I did not know many of the songs we sang over the weekend, so I may need to find some new music resources to keep things fresh.  It is also always interesting to be in a gathering of all Protestant denominations.  We Lutherans are pretty reserved compared to the Baptists and Pentecostals!

Of course, while I was at the conference, Brandon had the house to himself.  Somehow he managed to eat almost everything in the house while he sat on the couch and played video games.  I guess it was a fun weekend for both of us! 🙂

Weekend update

I thought I would get a post about the weekend up on Monday, but yesterday turned out to be busier than the weekend!  The weekend here was pretty low-key.  Brandon finished his first OMLT (Operational Mentor Liason Training) on Friday.  He was training Canadians how to train Afghans.  He thoroughly enjoyed a relaxing weekend after working about 15 days straight.  Basically, that means he sat on the couch and played video games. 🙂

Sunday was a little more exciting.  I played the piano for Catholic Mass in the morning.  Since it was Mother’s Day, I talked with Mom, Grandma Lamb & Grandma Johnson.  I am so thankful that our phone plan includes free calls to the United States!!  The hardest part is waiting to call until it’s a decent time back home since there is a 7 hour time difference!

We also went to Regensburg on Sunday evening for dinner and the Orchester am Singrün/Regensburger Kammerchor concert at the Herz-Jesu Kirche in the old city.  The orchestra is a community group that I’m hoping I can find a way to join.  The concert was very good and not all that long.  They played fragments from Debussy’s Le Martyre de Saint-Sèbastien and Poulenc’s Gloria for Soprano, Mixed Choir & Orchestra.  The choir also sang some a cappella pieces.  There are so many opportunities to see live music here, and they seem to be very well attended.  Germans apparantly appreciate their music!

Spring has sprung thanks to Self Help

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Spring has finally come to our house.  On Wednesday, Self Help had free flowers available.  Self Help is a wonderful resource here on post!  They have all sorts of home improvement items that are free to borrow or use.  We’ve been able to get lightbulbs, a hose, concrete nails, a rake, a shovel, and lots more.  I guess they have Self Help in the US for families that live on post, but I was not aware of them since we lived off post.  Here at Hohenfels, they help everyone, regardless of what kind of housing you have.

Self Help opens at 9am, but I had heard the demand on flower day would be so high that the line would wrap around the building.  I was there by 8:15am to find only about ten others already in line.  Each person could take two flats of flowers and three bags of soil.  I chose red petunias, white petunias, two shades of pink geraniums, and two vine geraniums.  Unfortunately, it was cold and rainy most of the day on Wednesday, but Thursday was a beautiful day to get some of my flowers planted around the patio.  Of course, before any planting could begin, I had to get rid of all the weeds that were happily growing there.  The flowers are a definite improvement, and I hope that they will like their new home enough to grow and bloom all summer long.

Why start a blog?

I have decided to join the world of blogging to help me keep a promise I made to my Grandma Johnson.  Before my husband and I moved to Germany with the Army, she told me I should keep a journal of our experiences here.  I agreed wholeheartedly as I hugged her good-bye.  Sadly, we have been here three months, and I have still not started.  That is going to change now with this blog.  My hope is that this will motivate me to write about our time here in Germany on a regular basis.  I doubt I will post an entry every day, but I hope that anyone reading this will nudge me along if the posts become too infrequent.  I plan to write about how life differs here in Germany, and how it is similar to being back in the United States.  I’ll also be sure to post pictures & describe our travels around Europe.  Please feel free to leave comments and I hope you’ll enjoy reading about our latest experiences.