I haven’t sent in my “23 & Me” genetic testing kit (yeah yeah, the government is collecting our spit) [Edit: Hello from 2021. I did receive my 23andMe back. I am: 49% Ashkenazi Jewish, 25% NW European (German, Scotland, Britain, and Ireland), 22% Spanish, and 2% Native American] so I don’t yet know exactly where I came from. However, my aunt sent in hers, and since she and my mother are full sisters, it’s safe to say I know at least half of what I am. That is Ashkenazi Jew, which is apparently an ethnicity and not just a religion; age-old argument, I know. Our people date back to the Middle Ages in Western Germany. Both of my maternal grandparents fled Germany with their families during WWII as children, because they were Jewish. None of my family who made it to America ever returned permanently, but many visit Germany periodically. I have only once visited the Fatherland (in Germany, what we call ‘Motherland’ they call ‘Fatherland’), going to Berlin, and it was… an interesting time.
Berlin sits 3 hours inland from the coast, so we had to take a bus to and from the port where our cruise ship docked. The countryside of Germany reminds me a lot of the countryside in Oklahoma- rolling hills, lots of green, and patches of trees everywhere. The city of Berlin, on the other hand, is a beast. Humongous, with so many people and endless traffic, yet so much history and things to do. Sadly, my friend and I had our best possible Berlin experience stolen from us by protesters — more on that later.
One of my best friends (whom you’ll remember from my Texas and Tennessee blogs) was living in Germany at the time, since her Army husband was stationed there. Living about 4 hours from Berlin, she drove 8 hours roundtrip just to see me for a few hours (love you, Linz). We hadn’t seen each other in almost 3 years and it was long overdue. Since Berlin is 3 hours inland, one of the best ways to see the city – and guarantee you’ll make it back to the ship in time – is to book one of many tours offered. My family was going on a tour – I wasn’t – but the company let us pay for me to hitch a ride with them to and from Berlin, with the caveat that if I wasn’t at our arranged meeting spot on time, they could- and would- leave without me. It was a risk, but what’s life without some risks? And I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to finally see my long-lost bff.
Our meeting spot was Charlottenburg Palace, a 17th century palace that faced major damage during WWII but has since been restored. They offer tours of the palace, but we unfortunately didn’t get to tour the inside, since our time in Berlin was very limited (due to the 3-hour drive there and back), and the Berlin Wall was our number one MUST SEE, so off we went.
There are numerous locations to view the wall, and the one we ended up going to (by chance, really) is the Topography of Terror location. The ToT is the memorial and documentation building that sits next to the wall, dedicated to the horrors of the Nazis. The section of wall itself doesn’t have a name, but if you just head to the ToT, you cannot miss it. It’s completely free to view and touch, and they have information throughout. It wasn’t crowded when we were there- and we were there in June, mid-morning- however, I can’t say with certainty if that was a fluke or the norm.
Afterward, we decided to do what all good tourists do, and that was hop on the HoHo. We had zero issues with the HoHo… at first… and seeing some of the iconic spots was a breeze. We stopped to see the Gendarmenmarkt, which was pretty awesome considering it was built in 1688. It is essentially a giant square that includes the Konzerthaus (concert hall), French church, and German church. Unfortunately, after this stop our day began going to scheisse.
The funny thing about Europe, they LOVE their protests. We saw numerous protests during our time there, in more than one country, and Germany was unluckily one of them. People in “V for Vendetta” masks were protesting and making a fuss, and I honestly can’t remember what they were bitching about. It was unfortunate because the polizei (German word for police) shut down almost all the main streets in inner-city Berlin (where most of the iconic sights are located), forcing traffic to filter to the outside residential areas of the city. We were essentially captives on the HoHo because we were so far outside the main part of the city that getting off and trying to find our own way back without speaking German was basically not doable (we knew certain words and phrases but that was it). Also, my friend had her then 2-year-old son with her, so staying on the HoHo was our safest option.
I was on an extreme time crunch, so here is where we started to get very, very nervous. I attempted to speak to the bus driver, to ask where we were and if we would be at the train station soon (near Charlottenburg Palace; where Lindsey’s car was parked). He screamed at me in German while gesturing at the traffic. I just sat down and hoped for the best.
We were stuck on the HoHo for a good few hours before we were finally able to make our way to the train station, where a different HoHo driver came onboard (I don’t know if it was shift change or dude just had enough for the day), and I tried my luck again and asked him if HE knew when we’d be at the palace. Thank you baby Jesus, he spoke to me calmly in English, and told me we’d be at Charlottenburg Palace in a few minutes. We were, and
quickly hopped in Lind’s car and began driving towards the park where I needed to meet my family. It was a comical, albeit stressful car ride, given that Lindsey was driving a humongous American SUV down tiny European streets meant for compact cars and bikes. Plus, ALL the streets the GPS kept screaming at us to turn onto, were blocked off by police. We eventually found a tiny street that wasn’t blocked off, wedged her gigantic car into a tiny spot, and powerwalked our way to the park.
We ended up beating my family and the tour group to the park by a good 30 minutes. We grabbed pizza (in Germany, I know, but it was the only close-by restaurant) and waited. Once they arrived, it was quick goodbyes, some pictures, and off to the 3-hour return drive to the ship.
As is the story of my life when it comes to many places I’ve traveled, I felt short-changed in Berlin. Even though we drove past famous sights like Checkpoint Charlie and Brandenburg Gate, we were not able to get out and visit them. We couldn’t go to the Holocaust Museum, somewhere I really wanted to visit. This was all because a good 3 hours of our day was stolen from us by the protest. I am eternally grateful that we DID get to see the main thing- the Berlin Wall. I probably couldn’t stomach it if we hadn’t. My family’s roots are in Germany, so I’m more than certain that I will be making a return trip in the future. Hopefully it will be protest-free this time!
Ich werde dich wiedersehen Deutschland!