Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category


As we had a few days off from formal duties, we decided to head south into the state of Saxony. Lots of history, lots of castles, knights, and broken walls, and the home of a good friend, Frankie.

A train ride was the prime desire of the children but we decided a vehicle would give us more flexibility. An Opel, it turned out, was easily rented and reasonably priced.


Took the driver a while to figure out how to un-secure the emergency brake (German instruction manuals were of little assistance) but we were quickly on our way.


Out on the open roads, Gord easily and comfortably cruising the autobahn at 140 km/h and just as comfortably being passed by vehicles that must have been hitting 180 km/h, we noticed wheat, hay and corn fields hitting maturity a couple of weeks ahead of those in Canada.


Round bales, square bales — pretty much the same systems as home.


We met up with Frankie outside Dresden, a beautiful city graced by the Elbe River (“Able I was ere I saw Elba” has been coursing thru my brain for two days) and he promptly detoured us through the historic 12th century town of Tharandt.


In the middle of town stands this distance marker. It tells, in hours, the distance from Tharandt to many other German towns, when travelling by horse and carriage.


A trip to Berlin would have taken 43 hours. We managed it in two.


The last time I saw Frankie was in the vicinity of January 1st, 2000, in Vancouver, as this hardy German dashed into the Pacific Ocean for a traditional polar bear swim. Photographic evidence exists.


We hiked up the side of a hill, nothing terribly strenuous, and were able to look down into this amazing valley scene, a mere couple of hundred years old. Makes Canada seem a blushing adolescent by comparison.


Ruins are always fascinating. Just a bit of imagining, with some mental images borrowed from Hollywood, and one can feel the lives lived in this very spot centuries ago.


And no doubt the dwellers in these beautiful castle ruins dined on these little nuggets as well. Frankie pointed out their markings and their name — wine snails — they’re exactly the ones that arrive on one’s plate with a pool of garlic butter.


Nicholas informed us they were somewhat aromatic on their own. Perhaps that’s the purpose of the garlic.


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Out and about

Siegessaule — The Victory Column. Two-hundred and eight-five steps to the top and one is rewarded with a magnificent panoramic view of the city.


The tower was built to commemorate the German victories over Denmark (1864), Austria (1866), and France (1870).


It’s pretty impressive. So is walking behind one’s septuagenarian father (80 years this December 24th) as he takes all 285 steps without a break, or even breathing hard.


Of course, all that climbing makes one thirsty.


So we wandered back to the Brandenburg gate where an, ah, assorted crowd was gathered.


Yup, we’re reliving history with every step.


Modern history as well.


And then, because we all needed some more stimulation, we took in 3-D Imax. Some under-ocean series. Impressive and big and multi-sensory.


The Imax theatre is in the same building as Europe’s national headquarters for Sony. Now *there’s* a toy store!


And the Sony building is built near the former “Checkpoint Charlie,” American sector border crossing between East and West Berlin.


And outside the building, it all comes full circle.

So many great opportunities for discussion with N&L

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Taking stock

Bullet holes are not something we usually see on public buildings. In fact, I think there’s *one* bullet hole in the ceiling of a church in St. Andrew’s, Manitoba and it’s a historic site.

Here, however, past violence is a little more apparent.


The bullets holes are concentrated around the doorway.


But life goes on. The building is still in use.


We’re spoiled, we Canadians.

Still, the human spirit celebrates life no matter the adversity.


Same building, new chapter.


That’s lavender planted alongside. A month ago the boulevard would have been purple and fragrant.


Always good to stop and smell the flowers!

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One of my father’s guilty pleasures is cigars.

He doesn’t inhale!

He needs you to know that.

However, there’s something about the atypical self-indulgence that’s terribly endearing. I remember walking along a street in Hiroshima, smelling a cigar and thinking, “Oh! I miss him so much!” When my father finally came to visit in Japan, he and I walked along the streets of another bomb-stricken city, Nagasaki, and I encouraged him to light up a stogie.

Now, for the record, in Berlin:


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Market day. Everything very pretty and oh-so-European-looking. Reminds me of glossy pics from the food magazines. Except, Now I’m Here!!

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Really pretty food, subtly arranged, all quite luscious in appearance. Bio, as in French, indicates organic.

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Lovely chantrelle mushrooms (I think — myco-biology, anyone?).
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And raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, plums, ground cherries…

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Plus the usual flea market “junk,” of infinite appeal to my father and Liliana (SHINY! SPARKLY! CHEAP!).

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And the “fleishe.” Nicholas kept admonishing Liliana not to look!


Prettier stuff around the corner.

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As for these, umm, well, not entirely certain of their origin or intended purpose. They were, however, in the flower section.

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And in the midst of the idyllic wandering, this behemoth blasts along and reminds us of why we’re in Berlin.

Ah yes.

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The games commence officially this Friday. We continue to wander until then.

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Well, the day started off well enough. We munched meusli and milk in the hotel room, walked along Sigmundstrasse in the gorgeous morning light, eased ourselves into the comfy chairs at Starbuck’s when — thunk — Liliana dropped The Camera on the floor.


The UV lens cover was only slightly cracked so there was plenty of opportunity to document the moment. No harm done but she was a tad shaken.

Onward to Legoland!


Nicholas knew fully what to expect, unlike the adults in the crowd. We walked in through a sales kiosk then descended down, way down, into the underground where a whole world of Lego creations exist.  All the important architectural structures of Berlin exist as a model city constructed of Lego. Lights dim and brighten to show night and day, birds chirp, little cars and trains show motion and activity.

Around the corner are activities for children to participate — here they race pirate boats — one Lego set has a pirate theme.


A big race track allows junior engineers to time their wheeled creations as they speed along a racetrack.


The distant track tests the jump-ability of the creation. Other tests include mad vibrations to see if your structure is ‘quake-worthy.




At the exit you have a chance to personalize a Lego person — Liliana was not too thrilled with the beauty spot on her self-portrait.


Dinner later was wonderful Vietnamese spring rolls, coconut curry, tofu with noodles, papaya salad and Tiger beer.


It was Nicholas’s day. A successful one.

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The Wall

Much of where The Wall sat is now Berlin’s newest development — business, residential and restaurant. It’s busy, bright and fast.


But on the street at night, between the jugglers, the cyclists, the musicians and the Dianetics crew, a thoughtful crowd collects around several sizeable chunks of the wall.


Each panel has images and posts of different areas of occupation during the war.


The Berlin Wall was officially referred to by the GDR authorities as the “Anti-Fascist Protection Wall.”


According to the books 180 people were shot attempting to cross the wall.


A few steps away from the wall sits St-Matthaus-Kirche — quaint and exotic in the sea of ultramodern buildings around Potsdam Platz.


After an enormously traditional al fresco dinner of pasta aglio e olio one simply must raise an arm in a toast to the tremendously pleasant weather we’ve enjoyed!

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Significant Structures

Our hotel sits very near Potsdamer Platz. During the 1920s it was bustling and vibrant but during WW2 was reduced to rubble and then left as a derelict wide open space, a no-man’s-land beside the Berlin Wall. With reunification, the square was redeveloped and is now packed with shiny new and modern architecture.


Looking up at the roof of the Sony Centre. Rises like a volcano on the Berlin skyline. Covers a piazza clustered with artists selling their paintings under canopies, outdoor dining with red-checkered tablecloths, fountains with alternating patterns of jet sprayed water.


Light reflects off the glass buildings which line the interior of the open-air piazza.


Holocaust Denkmal — holocaust memorial. A undulating field of 2700+ concrete slabs. They vary in height, no true right angles.


Brandenburger Tor — Brandenburg Gate:  The quintessential symbol of Berlin and located in what was East Berlin. Built in 1795 and modelled on the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens (so cool!).


Historic note: In 1806 it was dismantled and hustled off to Paris on Napolean’s orders. On its return in 1814, it was declared a symbol of victory and the goddess received the staff bearing the Prussian eagle and the iron cross adorned with  a laurel leaf. VICTORY!


My favourite auto maker.


Meat. At last. And beer. Ahhh. Life is good!


Yup. Life is good.

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All here and all’s well


This very cool structure in the Toronto Airport’s international departures lounge lures every age of humanity to clap, skip, shout and run about — checking where the echoes will bounce and reverberate. If you stand and whisper at one end, your brother will hear you at the other, much like the stone amphitheatres we’ve visited in Jordan and Israel.


Taking time for a few final calls before telling Todd, “Auf Wiedersehen. This will be my final transmission.”

And if you’ve got those mean old middle-aged parents who just *won’t* buy you a Nintendo DS — imagine your utterly ecstatic delight when you discover GAMES! MOVIES! MUSIC! TV SHOWS! neatly packed above the tray table in the seat ahead of you. And with a too-cool hand-held unit that lets you play and eat at the same time!


Knocking out aliens challenges even the hardiest time traveller!


A two hour stop-over in Brussels, 07h00 local time, 02h00 on the old (!) body clock, gave us time to purchase cappuccinos and chocolate — the airport sells tonnes of chocolate every year — and to browse Tin-tin in his home country.

We were startled by the small delegation that met us at the airport in Berlin — apparently it’s quite helpful to travel with a chairman — and which subsequently packed us into a taxi for a ride to the hotel. We’re in the centre of the western part of Berlin, trying to get our sleep-deprived bearings, and thinking this is all quite grand indeed.

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Chickens fed, garden weeded, newspaper stopped, mail pick-up arranged. My girl said good-bye to the rubbish bin after today’s soccer match and my boy bid an enthusiastic farewell to his coach.

“See ya later!”

Now to sleep. Right.

Tomorrow the journey begins. Hope you’ll join us!

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