This past weekend was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. In over four decades, this is only the second time I’ve been away from home at this time of year. The first was six years ago. We’d gotten married in late August and took off for an around the world honeymoon, only to find ourselves celebrating the New Year in Berlin, Germany. This time, we’d taken off to escape winter in New York last December, and haven’t yet left San Diego. We found ourselves in this southern California city to ring in the New Year. Although short in length, these two experiences taught me endless lessons. Read the rest of this entry
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights, it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of the living.” –Miriam Beard
Stepping off the plane onto German soil, I feel an instant connection to my past. My father’s family is from here. My Great Aunt was born and spent her youth here before she fled from the Nazis. This wouldn’t be another tick in a box or quick city visit. This is a bond seventy years later.
Mathew and I were lucky enough to take the year after we got married and travel around the world. We married in August of 2009 and left New York that September. We knew each location would affect us differently but being in Germany’s largest city was surreal. My Great Aunt Ruthie grew up just outside of Berlin and loved where she lived. She loved every part of living in Germany. She told me how hard it was for her when at thirteen and knowing no English at all she had to leave her friends and move to America. In 1939 her family had to flee, since the Germany they knew wasn’t safe any longer.
Aunt Ruthie (my mom’s aunt) passed away just prior to our wedding but Uncle Al came to show his love and support. Every 25th of December that I can remember was spent at their house in the presence of the tallest Christmas tree I’d ever seen. Not the norm for a Jewish household, but it made perfect sense to Aunt Ruthie. The tree reminded her of the life she loved and cherished before it was ripped away. She, who knew she was Jewish from birth, remembered the German culture, language and people and chose to honor the good every December 25th with a huge spruce in her house. Her stories of life in Berlin and the image of her father, Grandpa Wally, an umbrella factory worker, riding the trains each night to avoid the SS soldiers were engrained in my memory. Now we were to embark on our journey to walk in the footsteps of my family and so many others we knew. Read the rest of this entry
Day 11: Copenhagen-Berlin
The ringing of an alarm clock woke us up with a start this morning at the lovely hour of 3am and then came the wake up call a few minutes later; now I thought that waking up for school at 5am was not normal but this is just ridiculous! Well, I can promise you there were no smiles on our face but we woke up, got dressed and headed for the train station in the dead of night. After a short walk, a bunch of steps, being half awake on the station platform and making sure we stayed awake on the train with can you imagine (other people at that hour) we finally got to the airport super early. After an encounter with a rude Air Berlin employee who made us remove ½ of our stuff from our luggage, change some bags and still charged us overage for 2 kilos (can you believe it!) we were on our way. Just a reminder to anyone using Air Berlin and flying out of Berlin…sticklers for the 20 kilo rule as opposed to everywhere else that has been 23 kilos, just to let you know in advance. Anyway…we arrived in Germany, took the 109 bus and walked a block to our new home for one night, the Citadines. Now this is the way to go…apartment style living! We had accidentally booked for the night before too (okay, one mix up when you’re booking things at 4 in the morning just after a wedding is not so bad, right?) so when we arrived at 9am we were actually able to get our room which was great! The service was wonderful and the room had a great bathroom, kitchen facilities, free wi-fi and a couch that turned into a double bed and was really easy to put together.
I had a quick nap (as seems to become usual after we fly) and as Rosh Hashanah was approaching Mathew went for a wander and came back with challah, apples, honey and the location of the Chabad House (orthodox services for anyone who doesn’t know) which was just a few blocks away. I got up from my 2 hour nap and we went for some gefilte fish at the Judaica shop that Naomi had suggested and to the Chabad House where we met the rabbi who invited us for free services and the Kiddush afterwards. He, of course, was from Brooklyn and had lived in Melbourne, Australia for two years and said that 13 years ago he and his wife had come to Berlin on a one-way ticket to try to improve Judaism in Berlin. Well, after talking with him and some of the other patrons for the holidays it seems he’s doing really well as the Jewish community is growing and the beautiful shul is a 5 million dollar establishment that he raised most of the money with the help of others to open. He was so welcoming and I was so happy to have found them. We found a deli around the corner and had a lovely lunch of schnitzel, lox and salads and then headed back to the hotel, did some laundry at the facility downstairs and I got ready for services.
Mathew walked me to services and I went upstairs as it was separate seating and the women’s section was upstairs. While it wasn’t the same as sitting in Plainview Jewish Center with family and friends as I’ve done for just about the last 30 something years, it was still a synagogue with fellow observers around and it felt warm. Regardless of the language they spoke, all were there for the same reason. There were all types of people there, many speaking Hebrew and German and some Americans as well. There was one woman who seemed to be known in the community who brought bags of candy and chocolates and snacks and handed them out to any kid who came upstairs regardless of their age. There was a German girl with two young children who were playing and standing on the backs of the seats, a woman who was there with her husband who was from California and had just flown in from two weeks in Israel and a young girl whose mom is from Chicago and dad was German. Services finished and the Kiddush started. A huge spread set up all around the lobby of fish, salads, breads, wine, soft drink all arranged beautifully and people milling around everywhere and eating and enjoying. Apparently there was also a dinner in the restaurant but you had to have prearranged seating for that. Anyway, the rabbi came up to me during the Kiddush and said ‘Stacey, you MADE the Kiddush’ which made me smile! The service was awesome, the Kiddush great and I talked to the lady and her husband for a bit outside before Mathew came to pick me up and walk me home.
I thanked the rabbi and we went home back to the Citadines for dinner of challah, apples, cream cheese, tomato, honey and gefilte fish…it was great! Rosh Hashanah the travel version! We attempted to watch an episode of the Iron Chef and fell asleep. Tomorrow is another day of services in the morning and then we switch to the Contiki Hotel for the start of our tour. L’shana tova! Thank you Chabad!
Well, we finally made it upstairs last night and watched two episodes of Dinner Imnpossible with Michael Simon that Mathew had on his external hard drive and one of Iron Chef America with Bobby Flay who won by one point. Sometimes amidst these well-traveled days it’s nice to have a bit of normalcy and just come home, watch some telly and head to bed, you know. So, we awoke bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to take on Berlin. We showered, got some hot water and spoons from the girl in the restaurant for our oatmeal and peanut butter, packed our stuff to go into their luggage room, got dressed (managed to both be wearing tan on the bottom and black north faces on the top-weird right?) and we were off. We walked about 8 minutes to the nearest train station (U-bahn) and bought a single ticket for the day for each of us. Of course, it’s a good thing that we’re honest and did that as there were no turnstiles or borders to enter to get onto the platform…Berlin is on the honor system (kind of like when I buy beach passes every summer and we never have to use them) for their subway systems… can you believe it? Like that would ever work in New York!
We rode the U-bahn into the city as we were staying out by the airport since we were only there for one short night. Surprisingly, this airport is in what used to once be East Berlin so it’s existence has only been for a short time and my husband assures me it’s not as nice as one of the other airports that has and always is in West Berlin. Anyway…first stop, the Reichstag, Berlin’s Parliament Building. As we got out of the train station and walked with the river on our right, there was a small piece of artwork just before the building by the river. It’s a memorial to those who tried to cross into West Berlin via the river and never made it. Already a difficult city with a difficult history to be in, right? We got to the Reichstag and decided just to take some photos in front as the line was crazy long and we were (of course) on a schedule. A few photos later and we were off to the Brandenburg Gate, one of the most prominent symbols of Berlin and the only gate of the Berlin wall still standing. It was quite eerie as you are truly standing on hallowed ground but the mood here is nowhere near as somber as say when you are at the memorial over Pearl Harbor and no one is talking at all. I got a postcard stamped with many stamps and an entrance card for the gate for 2 Euro as it meant something to me as many members of my family were actually stationed at the Brandenburg Gate. The passport was cool and creepy at the same time; we stood for a few minutes, read the information, chatted about how it felt to be there and moved on. Next stop-Berlin’s Holocaust memorial and museum.
The memorial is above ground and is an impressive artistic structure spread over a full block that is quite breathtaking. It has hundreds of stone blocks at differing heights just standing equidistant apart from one another that makes it look as if you’re walking through a maze when you wander through the ones taller than your own height. It’s strange, you want to take pictures by it but you don’t want to smile in them. The museum itself if underground, with of course, a security check as you enter. It’s smaller than some others I’ve been to but very well done. It tells a full account of Germany before, during and after the atrocities of the Holocaust. We spent some time reading all of the time line plaques, seeing the first hand documents, reading what happened to some families from many parts of Europe and looking at Shoah testimony as well. It was difficult for me to be at a Holocaust museum in Germany when I know that it was such a difficult time for so many. My great-aunt Ruthie is from just outside of Berlin and loved it here as a child so I was so glad that I could be here. Mathew had told her that he was here and her eyes lit up so I’m glad that my feet could touch the same soil. I know she loved living here and didn’t want to leave as a young child; but her father (grandpa wally) had to literally ride the trains at night so the SS officers wouldn’t come to his house and take him or his family to camps. I remember her saying how hard it was for her to leave her friends and come to America at such a young age knowing no English at all and having to exist in a whole nother world, but the world that she knew in Germany wasn’t a safe one anymore. The tour ends, of course in the gift shop where we looked around for a little while and spoke to some very helpful people about finding out some information for Rosh Hashanah services in Berlin. We left feeling quite somber for awhile and just walking hand in hand without many words.
We continued to wander the streets, finding ones that said EBERT on them and of course taking some photos as my dad’s family hails a bit from Germany. As we kept walking we were seeing a few different things. One, the different street lights of the men for walk and don’t walk that are different whether you’re in an area of the former East or West Berlin and it seems to be a big thing in Germany as it’s on t-shirts and post cards and such. There is also a cobblestone pathway that is continuing to be constructed across the whole city that runs the path that the wall used to be so you can always see and remember what was there and it’s significance. We did also see some pieces of the wall which are basic monuments to the time period now and are laden with artwork. Of course all over the city you can also purchase pieces of the wall for memorabilia if you like. We headed to Potsdam Platz (funny sounding name I thought) for lunch at Cara’s Foods which made us smile and think of our Minnesotan friend. I had a grilled veggie and cous cous salad and the boy had a tuna nicoise salad and there was diet green Arizona iced tea…awesome! We of course had to have some dessert and it seems the Germans know how to do that really well-I had a waffle and Mathew had something that resembled a squished donut with fondant icing on it…really nice!
We made our way back to the U-bahn and headed for the New Synagogue that is really just a building that at this time is a museum to the jewish people and the community center is attached but we thought there might be some information about services so we headed there. It was a nice area with some interesting cuisine that we thought about going back to on our return to Berlin, and the temple was beautiful. Unfortunately (there was also a security check to go inside) no one spoke English and new lots about services so we were back on our way as we had to make it to the airport and we were using public transport. We went back to the hotel, picked up our luggage, hopped two buses and got to the airport for our 5:20 pm flight to Copenhagen on Air Berlin. We walked onto the tarmac and up to the plane; were served a drink and a complimentary snack on the 35 minute flight to Copenhagen-Air Berlin rocked! Landing shortly after the flight began, we took a train from the airport to the central train station in Copenhagen (that looked like platform 9 and ¾ would turn up around the corner and the Hogwarts Express would be on it’s way there) and walked a few short blocks to our hotel at the Norlandia Star. We checked in, changed and by 7:30 were out to wander the streets of Copenhagen to find the lights of Tivoli Gardens, the bright sparkly and twinkly lights also across the street on the Wheel of Copenhagen (similar to the London eye) and people everywhere. We had a quick bite at a kebab shop (can’t go wrong with falafel and schwarma) as everything in Copenhagen seemed quite expensive. Strange to me how they’re on a different currency and we still didn’t get a stamp in our passports or go through immigration at all when we arrived. Sure makes it faster to get out of the airport but what about my stamps!!!!! We managed a bit of a walk back to the hotel by way of a seven-eleven for some hot chocolate (strange how we were just in spain and hot all the time and now it’s a bit chilly and some hot drinks are necessary) and headed back to the hotel for the night. Tomorrow…Copenhagen by daylight!