Sunday, July 6, 2014

Independence Day in Berlin!

Happy (belated) 4th of July!

On Friday we celebrated our country's birthday in Germany's capital city of Berlin, bringing our series of day trips to a close.

It was the best day yet with regard to trains- a direct ICE train to Berlin with seat reservations, and no delays!

Our first stop was to the Reichstag, Germany's parliament building, where we took an elevator to the cupola and got some great bird's eye views of the city.


We then tried to make our way to some nearby sites, only to find that the main street (Strasse des 17. Junis) in front of the Brandenburg Gate had been blocked for the upcoming Germany vs. France World Cup game that evening! Determined not to let anything stop us, our fearless leader Herr Beste led the way through the barricades and we still got a visit to the Monument to the Soviet Soldiers and also an unplanned sneak peak at what was in store for the public viewing later that day!

We got pictures in front of the Brandenburg Gate:

found a little piece of home-away-from-home at our own American Embassy:


and visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in the middle of Berlin:

We then took the subway to the Kurfuerstendamm, a large shopping street in Berlin, where we had a little over an hour to eat and shop. Most of the group ended up at the KaDeWe (Kaufhaus Des Westens), the largest shopping mall in Europe. We also made stops at the Berlin store and the Ampelmann Cafe ('Ampelmann' is the name for the little man in the streetlights telling pedestrians when to and when not to walk across the street- found only in the former East Germany).

After the lunch break we took another subway ride and walked to the river Spree, where we boarded a boat and enjoyed an hour-long boat ride down the river through the city- absolutely perfect for the sunny, warm weather we had! We got to see many of Berlin's attractions along the way.

The boat ride ended at the East Side Gallery, where we de-boarded and walked along the longest, continuous remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall. There is some beautiful and thoughtful artwork painted on the sections of the wall, but unfortunately much of it has been ruined by graffiti, a real shame. It was still impressive to walk along such an important marker of Germany's and particularly Berlin's past.

That concluded our day in Berlin and we boarded our train just as the game began between Germany and France. We were lucky to be seated next to someone on the train with an Ipad and we got to watch the last 20 minutes of the game, enough to see Germany's win! It was a sweet ending to our already incredible 4th of July!

Emigration History in Hamburg

On to the second day trip from this past week. On Wednesday we made our way even further north, to a second German city-state- Hamburg!

Hamburg is a large port city on the North Sea and is special to many of us Americans, as over 85% of the 5 million people leaving this port made their way to America. With our trip to Hamburg, we were able to travel back in time and stand where many of our ancestors had begun their journey to their new lives in the U.S!

For this reason, we started our day at Ballinstadt, a museum documenting the history of emigration from Hamburg.

Originally, Ballinstadt was actually a city in itself, built to house emigrants who came to Hamburg and had to wait there for a ship to take them to the New World. The ‘Hamburger,’ Hamburg’s native residents, feared the emigrants were carrying disease with them and infecting the town; thus, they were forced to this area outside of town to live until they could find passage on a ship. Albert Ballin, a savvy businessman, decided to build up a town there to house and care for the emigrants, and Ballinstadt was born.

 The museum consists of three of the original housing buildings, and takes you through the entire emigrant/immigrant experience- explaining reasons for emigration from Germany/Europe, procedures for gaining passage on a ship, the differences between 1st, 2nd, between-deck and 3rd class passenger experiences, and what it was like to arrive, earn entrance into and start a new life in the United States. The museum ends with a research center where we all took turns typing in our last names to see how many results came up and if we could recognize any family members. It is an excellent museum, and we highly recommend it if you ever find yourself in Hamburg!

After the museum we took the S-Bahn to the historical port, which now houses ferries, tour boats and cruise ships, and ate a bit of lunch from the stands there. Some of us were missing some American grub and enjoyed hamburgers and cheeseburgers, while others opted for some local seafood – the ‘Fusskrebsbroetchen’ (shrimp roll) was particularly delicious. Eating seafood and being at the harbor made us feel like we were almost home in Baltimore!

We then took a brief walk to the ‘Alter Elbetunnel,’ which is a former tunnel for cars passing under the Elbe River to the islands in the port. It’s now used primarily for foot and bike traffic, so we walked down and through the tunnel- a bit like an old Harbor Tunnel.

Afterwards it was time to enjoy the water and we boarded one of the ferries for a round trip through the port. It was beautiful weather and we saw just how massive and industrial the port really is.

Finally we made our way to the downtown, to see the historic Rathaus, the high-end stores and the waterways which flow throughout the city. Another half-hour of sightseeing and snacking and then we were on our way back to the train station and home. A very enjoyable day in northern Germany!