Berlin Breaks My Heart & The Mad Autobahn

Berlin, Germany. What comes to mind? The Cold War? Russians? WWII? Tanks? Fighter jets? Bombs? Concentration camps? That’s what comes to my mind. This city has a very tragic history that presses heavily upon me as we embark on our excursion of this great city on this beautiful June day.

I can’t shake the images from my mind. How many people suffered the atrocities? Why? This city must have been a place of great fear and panic during those dark days. I can’t even imagine it. I shake my head as though to remove the images from my mind, and we head off walking about 1 km down the road. Our first order of business¬†in

Berlin this morning is a bombed out shell of a church. Only a part of the steeple remains, the rest of the church having been bombed into oblivion. A new church building of sorts has been erected on the site. 
We then climb into a double decker bus to head over to Checkpoint Charlie. A word to the wise, there is no air conditioning in the front seat of the double decker bus. Checkpoint Charlie is a border security point between East and West Berlin after WWII when a wall was erected by Russia to restrict freedom of movement of people in the Russian controlled part of Berlin. Many people longed to get to freedom on the other side, and many lost their lives attempting to escape.

It costs us 3 euros per person to get a photo with some fake agents at Checkpoint Charlie. I have a 10 spot, and when I hand it to the fake agent he tells me we can include 4 people in the photo for 10 euros. Score! I guess that costs quite a bit for a simple photo op, but hey, we have come thousands of miles for this. The kids are super excited to see this place, and Checkpoint Charlie is at the top of their to do list.

We visit a nearby Cold War museum and then venture over to another museum that is located next to a pretty decent sized section of the Berlin wall that remains standing. It seems totally nutty that as recently as the 1980s there was a wall separating East Berlin from West Berlin, where one would fear the loss of life if trying to escape tyranny. The images in this museum breaks my heart. How can we do this one to another?

On a better note (pun intended) we head over to the opera house. Nearby we find a bench to have a little picnic lunch. My little rainbow cooler bag is coming in pretty handy on this trip. I think we have used it every single day so far. I know what you are thinking….we should be trying different ethnic foods in the country that we visit, but budget travel doesn’t allow for such extravagance.

Speaking about extravagance, I find myself wondering about the people of yesteryear. The buildings are so ornate, and much time and money seems to have been spent on beautifying buildings, and on huge statues with water features. Why did they put so much effort into this? Surely there must be a reason. Is this all a lost art? Is there a day in the future when these types of extravagances will reemerge in architecture?

I find I don’t remember much from our visit to Berlin 16 years ago. I don’t remember the immeasurable amount of fantastic architecture and detail in every building. Perhaps we did not spend enough time here, and certainly we did not have a fantastic tour guide such as I have today. My friend knows exactly where to bring us to maximize our sightseeing tour of this day. I do remember that when we were here last we had been looking for a piece of the old wall, and we drove around for some time looking for it where it seemed it should be according to our map. Of course at the time we did not have smartphones in our pockets. We just drove the motorhome around on congested streets trying to find some remnants. Finally we had asked someone and they pointed in one direction. We decided to park on the side of the road and walked down the street a bit and finally located a segment of the wall that was still standing. We took some photos and then headed back to the motorhome, where we discovered that we had actually parked over top of where the old wall had been. The position of the wall is marked out on the road in bricks, and much to our amusement ran directly underneath our vehicle, so that we were parked half in West Berlin and half in East Berlin. Crazy to think that was 16 years ago.

New tower and old tower tower over the city…

One of our last stops on our tour today is a memorial for the Jewish people who suffered the atrocities of war. The monument consists of a huge square area of concrete pillars of various heights. The ground beneath them waves up and down in an uneven fashion, and the pillars lean a little this way and that, which can make you feel slightly disoriented especially if you move quickly. My first impression is that this monument is a little unusual and I don’t understand the significance of the pillars. What was the artist thinking?

Our kids are full of energy, and they can’t resist to run among the columns. After many hours of walking and looking at architecture and museums, they are ready to release some kid energy. I worry that maybe it is a little disrespectful to allow them to chase one another in this place of remembrance. I start to protest, but then I think that perhaps it is symbolic of their freedom, of the freedom that was taken away from the children of the war.

Perhaps it is symbolic of the natural delight that children have in the moment, and how the children suffered in the darkness of war…..of how a child would just like to run free, with no worries about bombings and death and destruction. I am sure the children whose lives were marred and even terminated during the war would have loved to have run freely among these pillars if they had been in this kind of place during their young lives.

Maybe the confusion of leaning pillars and uneven ground depicts how the children felt at that dismal time, as though lost in a place of uncertainty where danger could be present around any corner. There are many corners in this place, and potentially many dangers.

In my mind’s eye as I see our kids play hide and seek in the concrete pillar forest I imagine the children of war. My children squeal with surprise when they catch a glimpse of the person who is “it”, and they run this way and that around the pillars in an attempt to escape capture. This is how it may have seemed to the children of the war. They would run and hide, but soon a soldier might appear from behind a corner and catch a glimpse of them. The child would turn quickly and run this way and that attempting to distance themselves from the threat and be safe again. Sometimes the enemy would capture the child, and sometimes they would escape. How awful for a child to know such fear. How awful for a child to not have freedom… know that their loved ones have been taken away to a place from which they won’t return. And for what? Because of their faith?

My kids are running and laughing and delighting in the moment. I wish that we could somehow take their joy and transmit it back in time to the children of WWII who died or suffered at the hands of men who for some reason justified atrocities against their fellow mankind. What is this world we live in where rulers have such powerful influence over the lives of the innocent? What is this world we live in where ever increasingly we are seeing crimes against humanity…..crimes against innocent people?

My mind is on fire. I fear for tomorrow. I fear for the children of tomorrow. My thoughts go back to the conversation we had in the car with the kids on the way to Berlin. Would I rather go back in history, or forward into the future if one had to choose either option? Perhaps my friend’s daughter was right that the past is too scary. At least the history of this grand city of Berlin is frightening, despite the beautiful facades on the buildings that could potentially mislead you and lull you into a false sense of complacency and security. Perhaps if you had lived in this beautiful place before the war you too would have been lulled to sleep, lulled into a state of denial that anything in your beautiful world could ever go wrong. I can see why. This city of Berlin is mesmerizing.

I glance at my watch and it snaps me out of my deep thoughts. Come on kids, we have to get going! My plan is to hit the road by 6 pm and drive to Esbjerg tonight. That will put us at a midnight arrival so that the kids can go to school tomorrow morning as planned. Right next to this war memorial is the magnificent Brandenburg Gate. I tell the kids about how Ronald Reagan held his famous speech here where he told Russian president Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”.

While we are at the Brandenburg Gate we see these funny bikes. It isn’t cheap to ride on them, by any means, but the kids are begging to go for a ride. We make a deal with the operator and soon are all pedaling like crazy around this huge park area. It’s beautiful and serene…..and full of statues and other such wonders….

As we head to the metro station we pass by the parliament buildings. My kids are a little jumpy, if I should say so myself, so I let them burn off some energy all the while hoping they don’t misjudge and snap their legs in half. The joy that is within them on this day simply radiates.

We make a quick stop at an Indian restaurant near my friend’s place. Each meal costs less than 5 euros, so again we order two meals and split them four ways. The food is plentiful and cheap and unbelievably delicious.

My most delightful friend makes us one last final dessert and coffee before we hit the road. Kristoff gets in a last minute computer game before he is banned from games again. We make promises to see each other again as soon as possible. The kids are busy concocting plans for how and when they can meet again, too. Goodbye our dear friends! Goodbye beautiful and heartbreaking Berlin! Perhaps we will be back another day. We barely had time to scratch the surface of this incredible city.

Now is my chance to see if I can get back to Esbjerg in record time. The traffic in the city is a little slow to start, but soon enough we are on the autobahn. It’s just crazy. I am driving 100 mph and people are still passing me like I am standing still. Or when I pass a semi truck (they have restricted speeds) it feels like they are standing still. The speeds are simply outrageous. One wrong move and I swear to goodness you will not survive. Whose idea is this anyway? How is this smart? I don’t know, ask a German, I guess.

I have been waiting for the chance to reach 200 km/h on my speedometer, but I don’t dare to go over 180, which already makes it feel like we are going to start flying. The lanes are actually surprisingly narrow, and the passing lane is only inches away form the guardrail in many places. I keep a constant eye on my rearview mirrors to make sure that I don’t cut anyone off. When the road seems to be as clear as it might be, I hand my cellphone to Kristoff and inform him that he needs to snap a photo of the speedometer when it hits 200. Very nervously I press of the gas and my speed creeps up to 190. Do I dare more? I don’t know. This is really freaky! Really freaky. I am about to chicken out.

Nah…..I gotta do it….never mind the fact that I have my three precious children in my ride! I press the gas a bit further, and just a little more, and the speedometer creeps up to 200…..the tires must be spinning like a crazy amount of RPMs. I swear….this is a horribly scary speed!! As soon as I hit 200 I let up on the gas and ease back down to a more safe and comfortable 160. The difference between 125 mph and 100 mph is very considerable. Now 100 mph doesn’t feel so crazy. Better slow down, the road is wet! Man, this autobahn thing is so crazy! Even at 200km/h cars are still passing me like I am standing still! You couldn’t possibly survive an accident at those speeds!

I remember coming down this road 16 years ago with our RV, and that was pretty crazy, if you ask me. I was like 8 months pregnant. The road from Berlin towards the west that we are now driving on was in horrible condition then. I had been super nervous about delivering my baby early, or that something bad was going to happen with that pregnancy. The drive on this very road had really exaggerated my anxiety, and with every bump in the road I felt more and more like I was going to go into labor, so I went into the back and laid down on the sofa while David drove. The RV was bumping up and down over the cracks in the concrete on the road, and swaying to and fro. Perhaps it was windy, or maybe the road was wavy and uneven. I remember thinking that the drive would never end, and if if did that it would end badly. Today the road is smooth and even, and my driving machine…..the BMW…..glides along like the true driving machine that it is……I love this car! So smooth and peppy…..

Unfortunately my navigator child messed up a bit and we ended up missing a turn, which added probably 20 minutes to our drive time. We also have to stop for gas on the freeway. The gas station had these ridiculous coin operated gates for using the bathroom even though you just purchased a ton of fuel from them. It costs .70 euro cents for one person, which is almost a dollar per person. I just ducked under the gate. There’s no way I am about to pay to use the restroom when I just gave them a ton of money for fuel.

I drive long and hard. This BMW warns me to stop for coffee. Lol

At the border into Denmark they are now stopping all vehicles. I don’t know if they are just checking skin color, but they wave us on through without any questions. We arrive in Esbjerg at 12:30 am. It ends up that our trip took 5.5 hours instead of 6. Not bad! Was it worth it to risk breaking your neck and your children’s necks to save half an hour? Probably not! I guess I should have driven faster!

Ashlee has a snack on the table ready for the hungry travelers, after which we check out for the night…..the twins have an early rise in the morning to head off to Danish school. Kristoff doesn’t want to go, so we let him off the hook this time. Lucky him.