Europe 2015 – July 9th

For our only full day in Berlin, we decided against taking a group tour in favor of doing a self-guided tour following Rick Steves’ audio guide. We loaded up four iPhones with the free app, and after breakfast at a cafe near our hotel, we took the train to Berlin Hauptbahnhof to begin our tour. Here are the boys in front of the big station.

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The first stop was Reichstag, the Parliament building.

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While we were walking there, a group of four or five girls walked up to us and in good but broken English told us they were on a scavenger hunt for their school and they were supposed to trade their apple for something slightly more valuable. They were very sweet and shy, so we searched Bruce’s backpack for something and came up with an umbrella. They were delighted, and the one who had done the talking said, “You are a very nice family.” I am still kicking myself that I didn’t get a picture of them.

From the Reichstag you can see the Chancellery, which is apparently nicknamed the “washing machine.”

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To one side of the Reichstag is a memorial to politicians who opposed Hitler. It’s a row of slate slabs, each one memorializing one member of Parliament.

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Unfortunately, they’ve also erected a less than majestic building right next to it, which diminishes the look of the memorial a bit.

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As we continued, we saw a memorial to Berlin Wall victims …

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… as well as the marking of the wall itself, which is done with this double row of bricks in the street.

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Next we made our way over to the Brandenburg Gate.

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There are lots of interesting buildings in this area, including the US Embassy.

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And the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby off a balcony. (Who knew!)

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There’s also a Frank Gehry-designed DZ Bank Building here, which our audio guide insisted we visit, but it was closed for an event. We assumed it was another casualty of Fashion Week.

Our next stop was the Holocaust memorial. We didn’t go in the information center because the line was long and we figured the subject matter was a little too heavy for the boys. But we spent some time at the memorial itself, which is a collection of concrete pillars shaped like graves. They are varying heights and seem to go on forever.

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I found it very moving, with a similar feel as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in DC.

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One of the places we found very interesting was the Brandenburger Tor train station which was one of the Cold War “ghost stations.” These stations were closed for almost three decades and then reopened when the Berlin Wall came down. This one has the original tile and signs, and felt quite different than other stations we were in.

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After lunch at an Italian place we’d ducked into when it started to rain, we continued with the audio tour. The skies had cleared and it was beautiful (although still windy and chilly). Among other things, we saw Humboldt University …

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… St. Hedwig’s Church …

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… and near the library a memorial to the Nazi book burning. Here are the boys looking at the empty book shelves through the glass.

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One of the last things we got to on the audio tour was the statue Mother with Her Dead Son.

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According to our guide, it “marks the tombs of Germany’s unknown soldier and an unknown concentration camp victim.” The building it’s in has an open ceiling which allows for all kinds of weather and casts this circle of light around the room, moving with the light of the sun. It was crowded, and therefore impossible to get a picture without other tourists but here’s the best I could do.

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I also tried to get the boys in the circle of light. They sort of cooperated.

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We ended our tour at the German History Museum. We were losing the boys to exhaustion (and maybe a little boredom) but they initially liked this museum.

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This room had a great exhibit with photographs of the room at different periods of time. It was a hit with all of us.

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They also had a great exhibit on the Berlin Wall and the time period just before and after it came down. This part was very interesting to Bruce and me, but the boys were done. So, we decided to take a boat tour on the River Spree in the late afternoon, which wasn’t great but it was easier than walking around the city! Here are a couple of photos from the boat.

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On the walk back to the train station we found these little trampolines.

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And then we took the train back to our hotel neighborhood, had dinner at an Indian restaurant called Kabir (very good!) and bought some fresh fruit for dessert. We were all blown away by how good the raspberries were.

Back at the hotel, we ate our fruit and watched Storage Wars dubbed in German before collapsing in a good night’s sleep.

Here are the rest of my photos for the day.

Europe 2015 – July 8th

We’d made arrangements for a side trip to Berlin and this was the day. Train tickets had been purchased and we were finally able to book a hotel for two nights, not an easy feat considering it was (unbeknownst to us) Fashion Week in Berlin and things were pretty booked up. Our morning started with another Lagerspets breakfast — this time Ezra used Nutella to secure his chocolate to his roll. He was pretty pleased with himself.

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After breakfast, Jokke took us over to the local train station and helped us make sure we got on the right train.

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We made it safely to our first stop, Hannover, but then things got a little wonky. We still don’t know what exactly happened (because, of course, all of the announcements were in German) but we ended up being delayed about an hour and a half and there was tons of confusion about which train was actually ours. When we finally got onto a train, we were told by the ticket checker that we’d need to get off at another station and switch trains. So we started to do that but when we got off the train, another passenger (who’d been in Hannover with us) told us we didn’t need to switch and we should stay on the train. So, back on the train! The whole ordeal was stressing out poor Finn, but finally a light snack and some screen time calmed his nerves.

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Ezra wasn’t worried at all and barely looked up from his game. This was a recurring theme throughout the trip.

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We finally made it to Berlin …

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… and found our way to our hotel. Unfortunately our room wasn’t ready, so we just dropped off our luggage and headed for a late lunch. We ended up at a place called Cafe Literaturhaus, where the tasty food and the waiter’s extreme friendliness made up for the slow service. After lunch we got ice cream cones at a not-so-friendly shop and then checked into the hotel and had a little rest.

Once we felt somewhat refreshed, we took the train back to the city center to have a look around. Here are a few shots from that first mini tour.

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We had hotdogs and crepes from a street vendor for dinner.

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Then we went back to the train station to take our short hop back to the hotel, where we collapsed!

Here are all of my photos from this day.

Europe 2015 – July 7th

Tuesday the 7th started out with a quiet breakfast and some laundry at Jokke and Merja’s. The boys took a moment to show us one of their favorite Minecraft videos. They could watch these videos for hours.

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Jokke, Bruce and I took a walk into town to check out Jokke’s favorite secondhand store and visit a drugstore so I could buy a contact lens case, which I’d forgotten to pack.

After the second load of laundry was hung out to dry, we jumped in the car and headed to a lake called Heyeglassee. No surprise, Finn was the first one in the cold water.

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Ezra and Bruce were more skeptical.

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Eventually Ezra was all the way in, too.

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And so were Bruce and Jokke.

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After everyone was dried off, we headed to Kloster Luccum, a former monastery dating back centuries.

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We stopped for a coffee and snack at their very modern looking cafe.

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And then went on a walk around the grounds. It was wonderful … except for the biting horse flies!

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On our way back out to the car we noticed a not-so-little free library. Tons of books! We saw two more in other areas of Germany that looked exactly the same.

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On the way home the skies opened up and it poured. So much for leaving the laundry out to dry while we were gone — good thing they have a dryer!

Here are all of my photos from this day.