Day 12: Berlin, Germany
I woke up bright and eary this morning to head to temple at the Chabad House again. It felt so normal to get up, get dressed for services, have some challah and cream cheese and honey and walk to services. I saw the rabbi again when I got there and he said hello and I went upstairs to the womens section. There were nowhere near as many people today as there was last night; but Monica, the strange lady with the chocolates was back (not to worry). I got to synagogue around 9am and stayed till about 11am and came back to the hotel. We had the typical brunch of left over challah, apples, honey and gefilte fish and then repacked ourselves and walked (schlepped) to our new home for two nights at the Belmondo Hotel on the Kudam (as Cara calls it) which is the major shopping street in Berlin.
After we walked past Prada, Burberry and others like them and schlepping more than 20kilos each about eight or so blocks (and I mean really really really long blocks) we arrived at the hotel. Checked in and dropped off our stuff and headed out to Berlin’s East Side Gallery. This longest standing piece of the wall that still exists is now the largest/longest outdoor open-air art gallery in the world. It has been fully refurbished by the German government with endowments of the arts and the beautiful works of artists from all over the world. The wall used to be covered with graffitti and notes of visitors from 1989 through 2009 but since January of this year the government has made it a special site and has commissioned artists to recreate their designs of peace and human kindness and issues that were regarded as significant at the time of Communism and persecution. We took many photos of al the amazing artwork that was there. Some had messages of peace while others were specifically politically designed to combat hatred or political unrest at the time. There are beautiful drawings and paintings that took so much time and effort that you no longer realize at some points that you are looking at The Berlin Wall but rather an art gallery of thoughts and opinions and hours and hours of hard work. We had some lunch down by the river by the wall; of course this was a river pretty to look at but yet you realize that had you lived at an earlier time you would die trying to cross it. There we sat eating our lunch of a turkey wrap for the hubs and French fries for me (French fries in Germany….check!) and enjoying the sunshine while the area of No Man’s Land and a death strip of yesteryear sat just 100 feet away; such a strange juxtaposition of life and one that should not go unnoticed.
We had our lunch and took the train back to the hotel (once again, the same trains that Grandpa Wally used to ride-now maybe not the exact same trains but they sure are those same tracks and the same journeys) to meet the Contiki bunch. We had a meeting downstairs in the lobby where we met the tour manager (Todd from Australia) and 40+ other people who are on the Eastern Road tour with us. There are a few young ones of 19 or so that surprisingly enough are here and we’re all sure will take the opportunity to party as much as possible; but the majority of the tour seems to be 30 and above and very interested in the cultural opportunities that this tour provides. Many Aussies as that is a staple on Contikis, some Americans, South Africans, Canadians and a few Brits, Mexicans and others thrown in. We gathered our belongings and went for an included dinner at a local German restaurant for typical German fare. There was schnitzel and some starch for most people and spatzule for me (and the one other vegetarian) for dinner. Well, although I do recall watching Guy Fiyeri making the same meal on The Food Network and it did look completely delicious when he made it I have to say it was not my favorite meal of all time, but edible. Now, I’m no chef by any means, but I would tell you that it’s the German version of Italian gnocchi or something like that; some semblance of a pasta dough that had a strange consistency and was mixed with cheese and mushrooms. Interesting and something to put on the list of what you’ve done in the world…but not something I would choose to make at home that’s for sure. Dinner was nice, the conversation better (we met Adam, a policeman from Sydney who was traveling through Europe for 7 weeks or so and Chantal who works for an environment specialty company from Minneapolis who was on her second Contiki and Sarah (from Washington State living in Utah who works for a venture capitalist firm) and then wandered down the road to a bombed out church from World War II that was left in its stages and had a new church rebuilt right next to it so it could still be in working order and yet be a monument to the time. Took some photos, stopped at the local supermarket for some ice cream (how do you pass up individual servings of Haagen-Daaz) and headed back to the hotel ready for our next adventure! Eastern Road here we come!