The feature image is of Checkpoint Charlie, just a few blocks from our hotel.
I need to come clean concerning my feelings about Germany. Since I am a Baby Boomer, as a child and young person, I was subjected to subtle, and not so subtle, American propaganda about Germans. Even though I knew otherwise, I allowed fear mongering from others to bunch all Germans into the Nazi worldview. I am not proud of this and became aware of it as we were planning our Great Adventure. Germany was on the agenda and I knew I was going to have to addresses my prejudices. After spending time with people in Hamburg, Trier, Baden-Baden, Munich, and Berlin I can say that my biases were stupid and totally without merit. This is one of the incredible benefits of traveling internationally; you come to appreciate people. We are all figuring out how to live this short life we have, and need each other to become fuller individuals.
Our time in Munich and Berlin was very helpful in understanding this part of the world during the Nazi outbreak. We were impressed with how the Germans have owned their history and share the honest and brutal facts of their dark past. They do not wimp out with euphemisms. An example is how they say the Jews were murdered or exterminated. These are hard and condemning words to use … but they are honest words. The Germans have also set aside large segments of land for memorials and recreated concentration camps. They are saying “Never again.” We really respect Germany for this.
We left the spa city of Baden-Baden by walking a few steps from our apartment to take a bus to the center of town, another bus to Baden-Baden train station (still under repairs), another bus to the Rastatt train station, a train to Karlsruhe, and finally another train to Munich’s amazing train station. You could almost live in that train station: many levels, many stores, tons of activity. Since our hotel was only two blocks away, we had a few meals at a great restaurant at the station.
The first evening we did our usual scouting walkabout. We wound up at the famous Hofbrauhaus for dinner and a beer in the outdoor garden area with about a gazillion others. The service was very slow because of the crowds. About 5 minutes into our dinner the skies opened with thunder and lightning. We grabbed our dinners and scrambled indoors. After two Uber attempts we were back, safe and sound, but somewhat wet, in our hotel.
Interesting side note: the Hofbrauhuas was where Hitler first spoke to a large crowd about his political views. This and other beer gardens were open meeting places for people to gather people together to share ideas.
During our daily walkabouts, we wandered through a fantastic open market place; observed regular guys wearing lederhosen; saw an interesting looking synagogue in the middle of town; watched the Marienplatz glockenspiel do its thing in the evening; saw a statue of a German painter that was taken over by Michael Jackson fans after his death with a well-maintained shrine complete with pictures and flowers; and walked through the enormous Munich Residenz museum.
Our first day trip was to Dachau. Obviously, this was a very sobering trip. We spent most of the time in the museum learning how Hitler and the Nazis came to power. In Rick Steves’ book, he writes, “Many visitors come away from here with more respect for history and the dangers of mixing fear, the promise of jobs, blind patriotism, and an evil government.” Hopefully we have learned.
Our second day trip from Munich was to see two of King Ludwig II’s castles. The first one was fairly small but very French and over-the-top Baroque. He was a true Francophile, which was expressed in his interior design and outdoor fountains. The second castle was the one Walt Disney used as his inspiration for his creation. Ludwig built his fairy castle just across from the castle he grew up in.
Our third day trip was to Salzburg, Austria. We decided to do the hop-on hop-off bus again to get outside the city for some great views of German life and more castles. There are a lot of castles in Europe. There were two audio versions on the bus. We listened to the Sound of Music commentary. Marsha couldn’t help herself and started singing along right away. We did our usual Rick Steves walk throughout the city. When we were in Mozartplatz, I couldn’t resist taking the image of an older organ grinder underneath the statue of Mozart. I’m sure Wolfie would have approved.
We were surprised to learn that there is surfing in Munich. Yep, that’s right … surfing. Right below a bridge on one of the main streets, crowds show up to cheer on wetsuit-cladded individuals hanging ten … in the city.
We thought the train station at Munich was amazing, but then we arrived in Berlin. Even at 9:15 at night, we were blown away. There were trains coming and going underneath us; metro trains arriving and departing above us; and three levels of stores and activities. We were so impressed we even made a point of coming back to check it out because we were leaving Berlin from a different station.
The biggest impact on us was going to Bernauer Strasse to experience the mile-long memorial to the Berlin wall and border strip. There were wall remains, memorials, a rebuilt church that was enclosed within the wall and eventually destroyed, videos, images, recordings, and an observation deck that looked down into a segment that was untouched from 1989. Only three of the twelve tunnels that were dug from the East to the West were successful; ninety people escaped. The image below shows how these are marked out today. Once again, Marsha and I become pretty emotional when we see these world events that happened within our lifetime … and with the fall of the wall, since we have been married.
As we left this area we entered one of the Ghost Stations. These were underground metros that were covered up to keep people from leaving the East. They have kept the same signage on the walls. It felt a little ominous to be in this station.
Berlin has recognized many of the people groups that were persecuted in their city. There is a simple but powerful Sinti and Roma (Gypsy) Memorial. There were 96 members of the Reichstag that could have stopped Hitler, so he had them persecuted and murdered. Their memorial, of vertical slabs, is shown below. Each person’s name and where he was killed, is engraved on the edge. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe takes up a large chunk of land. The image below shows only a portion of this impressive dedication.
The image of the young people standing in a group shows the location of Hitler’s bunker. It is here where he and Eva committed suicide. Berlin was not interested in glorifying Hitler. After the bunker was discovered it was filled in with dirt and covered over as a parking lot.
Another image below is difficult to make out but I wanted to include it. Right in front of Humboldt University, this glass panel is in the court. With the sun at the right angle, you can look in and see empty book shelves. This is the exact location where Hitler had his massive book burning.
We have enjoyed our journey through Germany. We have seen some beautiful sights, enjoyed some great cuisine, relaxed in the Baden-Baden spas, and enjoined interacting with the people.
In a silent room within the Peace Arch of Berlin, the following prayer from the United Nations in inscribed.
“Oh Lord, our planet Earth is only a small star in space. It is our duty to transform it into a planet whose creatures are no longer tormented by war, hunger, and fear, no longer senselessly divided by race, color, and ideology. Give us courage and strength to begin this task today so that our children and our children’s children shall one day carry the name of man with pride.”
Our next post will be from Eastern Europe: Krakow, Poland; Prague, Czech Republic; and Vienna, Austria.
Invite your friends and family to join the fun by subscribing to the Stowaway Newsletter on our site.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Preston & Marsha
Don’t Retire: Reload – Groovin’ on the Flip Side