Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Berlin and Pottsdam

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Berlin and Pottsdam

Barbara and I just got back from Eastern Europe last night. Our two bags decided to hang around in Chicago an extra day, and we were a little disappointed to arrive at home without them. Fortunately, the airline brought them to us at Arkadelphia a day late, so all's well that ends well.
Barbara started a two week English as a Second Language Academy at Henderson State University the day after we got back, twelve hours a day for two weeks. She was a little draggy about getting around the next morning after that long trip from Berlin. I gave her a little pep talk at 5:00 AM, reminding her she would be making her first impression on sixty people she didn't know, never seen before, and she would be older than all the others, the only one not a current teacher, and she would need to “fake it until you can make it.” She finally pulled herself together, put on her perky face, and bounced out the door to begin a whole new career, at a salary of -0- dollars per year, at a time in her life when she fully deserves a rocking chair on the front porch. You go, girl!

We arrived in Berlin at high noon, and were promptly picked up and driven to our hotel by a very expensive ride, a Globus tour bus. This trip is unlike all our other world travel trips. This is a guided tour. We were accompanied by Barbara's older sister, Frances, and her son Doug, an auditor employed by the state. Nice to have his sharp young mind along, to handle most of the hard thinking, so we can sit back and enjoy this trip.

Our tour director is a six foot tall, slim, blonde, and energetic lady from Slovakia, I think. She never did actually tell me that. She's also a Political Science teacher, been a tour director for many years, pretty well hovered over us like a mother hen, and on the road she filled our heads with an astounding amount of knowledge and interesting stories, always talking without any notes whatsoever, as far as I could tell. Her name is Janya Gobec. Although she speaks eight languages fluently, she never got my name right. I was “Geee-lumm” the day we arrived, and when we parted, I was still the same.

I make no claims as to the absolute accuracy of historic fact here. I feel certain it was accurate when it came from her mouth; past that point, what I'm telling you is what I remember, as I remember. Please try to not be overly judgmental. After all, I DID turn 69 on this trip. Just how much can one expect from a man that old?

Barbara and I pretty much expected the bus would drop us off right at the front door of whatever we were there to see, pick us up at that door when we had seen it, kinda like we've seen the tour busses do the old folks in Branson. Boy were we wrong. The really good things to see in Eastern Europe require almost as much walking time as riding time, and that six foot tall walking encyclopedia set a pretty good pace. Barbara quickly found herself buying Polish tennis shoes.
The hotels were top notch, many notches above what Barbara and I were used to on our travels, and I was shocked to see that foreign hotels DO have elevators. We moved from the Hostel to the Hilton. Breakfasts were all included in the price, and Barbara and I, in our other travels, always tried to eat enough to last all day, as if we had no idea when our next meal was coming. Frances always seemed to have an endless stash of candy bars, breakfast bars, apples, you name it. Our other meals turned out to be very filling too, and I dreaded my first encounter with a set of scales when we got back. Frances, unlike me, had the self discipline to “eat to live,” while I “live to eat.”
We began our tour with a local tour guide in Berlin, as we did in all the major cities. Berlin, while it is again beautiful, is still rebuilding from the destruction of WWII, which took out the vast majority of their large buildings. But the replacements are more modern, and while the buildings are beautiful, the intricately beautiful artistic detail of the older buildings are missing. Our guide, a native Berliner, spoke often of the Battle of Berlin in 1945. Many of the older buildings were destroyed then, in a battle she saw as completely unnecessary, as only old men and radical boys were left to fight for Berlin, against two million Russians. Many of the few older, partially surviving buildings still show thousands of bullet holes, and cranes are still working everywhere on new construction. 

Checkpoint Charlie was just down the street from our hotel, which was actually in East Berlin. It was accompanied by a section of the wall that still ex ists. One of the young men in our group bought a piece of the wall for every member of our tour group. Now, who does that? For a group of strangers? I just had to find out more about this young man. Must be a story behind this. Sure enough, Rob turned out to be in his thirties, owned several companies, and wanted to see all the world he could. He is married, but he and his wife do not like the same kind of travel. He tends to go to the wildest and most dangerous places he can get into, usually, though this was not one of them. Frances was quick to inquire about the wife, and what she thought about all this.
Rob explained that the men in his family tend to die early. He had to go while he could, and money did not seem to be a factor. His generosity in buying a gift for every member of our group, forty or so, quickly made him a popular figure in our bunch.

We went to Pottsdam that afternoon, and saw a lot of beautiful castles, and learned a lot about the Hessians and the Pottsdam Accords, which split up Eastern Europe after the war. The meetings were started by Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill. Stalin was the only one of the three still around when when the issues were settled, Roosevelt dying and Churchill being replaced. Stalin had a large, manly desk in the meeting area, while Churchill's was smaller, and his wide body could not fit into his narrow chair. He quickly moved to a couch nearby, with a picture of a dog hanging above. But he soon became upset by the fact that the dog in the picture was a bulldog, looking far too much like him. Walking many of those palace hallways was a bit unsettling, knowing we were walking where Hitler walked.
Berlin is beautiful, once again, though different. The reconstruction still goes on, as it has through out my lifetime. I was born seven days before D-day, in 1944.