Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Leaving the countryside for Berlin, Germany

We enjoyed a lovely stay with Aila & Wolfgang Stammler at the Adventist college in Friedensau. They showed us around the campus, told us some of the history of the place, shared stories of their current lives, and opened their home to us. So pleasant was our stay, it seems, (or perhaps so enthralling) that we failed to record any of it in pictures. (Sorry, Aila and Wolfgang. Note: Aila was Case's high school classmate in Singapore.)

And then it was time to travel on...

We loved the beauty of the German country roads...
but we had to leave them behind as we...
once again took to the autobahn.

In the years before Germany's reunification, this road was one of three connecting West Berlin, geographically deep in East Germany, to the rest of West Germany. These access routes were the ones blockaded by the Soviets in an attempt to force a stiffening in the West's policy toward post-war Germany. (The Russians were all for division of the country and stiff reparations, a la WWI.) The response was the Berlin Airlift, which supplied the city by air, successfully supporting the citizens and the economy for over a year until the blockade was lifted.
Hey! It is the first Smart car I've seen on a freeway -- sticking to the slowest lane on the autobahn, it's true -- but nevertheless on the autobahn! A Smart car starts looking really SMART when we pull up to the pump...
... and see the European gas prices. They make US gas prices look like a steal! Yep, that is 1.39 euro per liter, or US $7.13 per gallon for the cheapest gas. Luckily for us, the car we rented, a Toyota wagon, happened to be diesel, giving our wallet a slight break at the pump.

After gassing up, we drove on into Berlin, a city full of fascinating history.
At Check Point Charlie, we spent 4 hours in the museum learning the story of the Berlin Wall. wall. This private museum also contains relics of numerous escape attempts, both successful and fatal. We saw homemade ladders, tunnels, balloons, airplanes, even a mini-submarine! And we learned many stories, harrowing and tragic.
Just a couple blocks away, we came across the Topography of Terror. On this site stood the offices of the Gestapo and several other arms of the security service and secret police during Hitler's time. In the lower half of the picture are the excavated remains of the SS torture chambers, while above stands one of the few remaining sections of the Berlin Wall, fenced off from tourists. Both are poignant reminders of the difference between freedom and oppression.
Throughout the city these plaques and a brick line....
.... mark where the Berlin Wall once stood.
In the heart of Berlin, a memorial to the Holocaust covers one square block of the city. It is filled with over 2,700 grey concrete columns resembling coffins or sepulchers.
These columns are of varying heights, but form a regular maze through which visitors wander. The number of columns, their somber greyness, stony coldness, and looming height, echo the sad stories of the museum below. They stand in honor of lives lost and other stories not told.
Beyond this stands the Brandenburg Gate, once located on the East German side of the Berlin Wall.
Amid the thriving energy and inspiring monuments of this city, it is hard to imagine the destruction and desolation left by the WWII bomber raids. And so, as a war memorial, a reminder of the 70% of the city destroyed by war, the bombed out spires of Berlin's central church were left unrepaired.
They say those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Berlin, far from mired in the past, seems to be remembering.

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