Sunday, January 25, 2015

Breezing through Berlin and Copenhagen (June 1-10, 2014)

On June 1st, we left our spot at Recreatiecentrum Koningshof in Rijnsburg and drove to CampingPlatz Holm-Seppensen, located just south of Hamburg, where we would leave LandShark while doing a side trip to Berlin.
"Greetings from Twente": Paul was my co-pilot that day and we reluctantly ended up at a McDonalds restaurant just off the highway to get a bite to eat, or in Paul's case, a big bite.
Paul and I arrived at CampingPlatz Holm-Seppensen and were quickly checked in. It was a lovely spot next to a small lake with a miniature golf course next door. It also had a snack bar on site. The biggest drawback however was that, while it offered wifi, we had no way to access it. This was another set up whereby one registers for wifi and then has a wifi access code texted to their mobile phone. This texting capability is only enabled for people with mobile phones registered in Germany and a few other neighboring countries, and which excluded us. The Germans certainly have their concerns with the internet; any venue we visited that offered wifi had no business connection to the service itself. Any questionable or immoral queries on the internet must have dire legal consequences in Germany because many of the places we sought internet didn't want any relationship to the service provider whatsoever.

Vincent and the kids eventually arrived about 90 minutes later. The first order of business was to fill up with water and we met a number of animated German campers who were excited to see our California license plates and learn how far we had traveled. Later, a man and his child also came by and congratulated us on having the courage to undertake this journey.

That evening, we walked over to the Holm-Seppensen snackbar and we all had a pretty underwhelming dinner; it was some sort of diced sausage in curry sauce with fries on the side. It could only be described as dreadful.
CampingPlatz Holm-Seppensen is scenically situated on a small lake, surrounded by trees, and is equipped with a playground.
On June 2nd, we loaded up the Prius and left LandShark at CampingPlatz Holm-Seppensen.  We had a long 340 km drive to Berlin where we rented a well-situated flat from Town Apartments on Kochstrasse, about a block and a half from Checkpoint Charlie. Berlin is another city that has restricted umwelt zones and requires cars to be certified and have a requisite sticker showing compliance on the front window. We didn't have this but rationalized that if we saw a service station advertising the certification en route from Hamburg, we'd stop along the way and try to achieve certification. We didn't find such an opportunity however and eventually found ourselves crossing into Berlin's umwelt zones. We then had to tempt (and make a deal with) fate and pressed on hoping that if we could get to the apartment and park, we wouldn't use the car until the day came to drive out of Berlin.

We arrived at the Town Apartments without being stopped, yet feeling the stress, nonetheless. (This must be what it feels like to be transporting contraband goods with the worry of not making a traffic infraction or drawing any attention to our driving; not easy with California license plates.) I was relieved to find that Town Apartments provided underground parking and so the car wouldn't be visible on the street.

After checking in and getting settled, we walked out to get something to eat and found a great place for tapas. We walked by Checkpoint Charlie, named by the Western Allies, which was a main crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. What's standing there today is actually a copy of the guard house and a sign that once marked the border crossing.
"Actor" soldiers posing for the camera.
Researching the Checkpoint Charlie "re-enactment", I've learned that many people who were involved in overseeing the checkpoint or who lived through the Cold War are not happy about it, calling "the use of fake soldiers an unacceptable spectacle". Having been through so many museums covering different wars, I can understand the opinion. I think the masses all too quickly forget about the injustices that have been done to others. I'm sure anyone who attempted to traverse the wall or who knew someone who died trying probably look at the Checkpoint Charlie with some dismay.
Going for an evening stroll, we passed the Bunesrat on Leipziger Strasse. It was completed in 1904 and was used by the upper chamber of the Prussian parliament. Today, it is used by the Bundesrat, one of the five constitutional bodies in Germany.
On June 3rd, we set out to first visit the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. It is crammed with information and if one read everything on display, one could easily spend a full day here.
The Checkpoint Charlie Museum began as an exhibition by human rights activist Dr Rainer Hildebrandt in October 1962, and was located just outside the Berlin Wall. The original apartment consisted of only two and a half rooms. Today the museum is over 2000 sq meters and explores the history of the Berlin Wall, those affected by it as well as the challenges facing people today as we struggle for worldwide recognition of human rights and freedom. 
A Volkswagon used to smuggle people across the border: Those wanting to escape the GDR had to become increasingly creative in their desperate efforts.
Many people trying to flee East Germany did so via braving the Baltic. It is estimated that nearly 200 people died in escape attempts via the Baltic Sea.
The museum includes a tribute to Raoul Wallenburg who was a Swedish architect, businessman and diplomat and who is credited with saving tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary from certain deportation and death during the final years of WWII.   
In 2009, a permanent exhibition covering President Ronald Reagan was added to the museum. Reagan is recognized for his role in liberating Eastern Europe and for his historic remarks on June 12, 1987, where he exclaimed, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Sergei Magnitsky is one of several people featured who have died due to atrocious human rights violations in more recent years.  Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer and accountant who was arrested while investigating a large-scale theft from the Russian state, sanctioned and carried out by Russian officials.  He eventually died in prison, after serving 358 days in Moscow's notorious Butyrka prison, seven days before the expiration of the one-year term during which he could be legally held without trial.  He developed gall stones, pancreatitis, and a blocked gall bladder and received inadequate medical care. A human rights council set up by the Kremlin found that he was beaten up just before he died. His arrest and subsequent death in custody generated international media attention and triggered both official and unofficial inquiries into allegations of fraud, theft and human rights violations. His case led to the adoption of the Magnitsky Bill by the US government at the end of 2012 by which those Russian officials believed to be involved in the auditor’s death were barred from entering the United States or using its banking system. In response, Russia blocked hundreds of foreign adoptions in 2013. Posthumously, Magnitsky was convicted of tax evasion (responsible for the fraudulent activity he was actually investigating). It was a move by the Russian government likened to "Stalin-era justice" and has come to symbolize the brutality of Russia's system and the penalties incurred by those who uncover official wrongdoing.

After leaving the Checkpoint Charlie Museum and having a bite to eat, we headed over to the exhibition, “Topography of Terror”, which documents the history of the institutions of "terror" preceding and during WWII, and is located in the immediate vicinity of the Nazi government district. Between 1933 and 1945, the centres of national-socialist terror, namely the Gestapo with its own prison, the SS headquarters, the SS Security Service (SD) and the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (main office for State Security) were located here.
The exhibition displays several propaganda posters used to illustrate that the elderly, the infirm, Jews etc were a burden to society.
Many examples of socialism introduced by the Nazi party were provided. This placard covers "Stew Sunday", implemented in 1933 to help those struggling to feed themselves during the period of severe economic depression. Unfortunately, those who did not conform to Nazi ideology were not allowed to participate.
There are numerous photographs that document key participants and events. This one was titled, "Taking a Break from Mass Murder" which was taken at the SS Retreat Sola-hütte near Auschwitz (late summer 1944).
This is also the site, at Niederkirchnerstraße, of the remaining 200 meters of the Wall  – which marked the border between the districts of Mitte (East Berlin) and Kreuzberg (West Berlin); it has been preserved with all the traces of the destruction that occurred during the transitional period.
Reforms in the Soviet Union, the rapidly growing protest movement in the GDR population, as well as the flight of thousands of GDR citizens via Eastern European countries led to the surprisingly peaceful fall of the Wall on November 9, 1989. Soon afterwards the first sections of the barrier were torn down. Even before the reunification of Germany on October 3, 1990, the Wall had largely disappeared from the Berlin landscape.
On June 4th, we set out on foot to visit the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum).
All over Berlin, one sees these colorful above-ground pipes. A bit of an eye-sore, in my opinion, but I gather necessary to carry out construction. Apparently, the groundwater level in Berlin is quite high, at an average of 2 meters below the surface. Therefore almost every building sits in a subterranean puddle. When a new building project starts, the impeding groundwater needs to be drained off the foundation pit. Therefore, the pipes are used to carry away the water towards the next river or canal.
A statue of Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Karl Ferdinand von Humboldt (22 June 1767 – 8 April 1835) (aka Wilhelm von Humbolt) sits, not surprisingly, in front of the Humboldt University. Von Humbolt was a Prussian philosopher, government official, diplomat and founder of the University of Berlin. He was an adept linguist and is credited with being the first European linguist to identify human language as a rule-governed system, rather than just a collection of words and phrases paired with meanings.
The Deutsches Historisches Museum was founded by the then Federal Republic of Germany and the Land, Berlin, in 1987 on the occasion of the 750th anniversary celebration of Berlin. With the unification of Germany in 1990, the collections of the central historical museum of the GDR were added making the German Historical Museum the museum for the history of all parts of Germany. 
Entry hall to the German Historical Museum.
The German Historical Museum's permanent exhibition covers around 1500 years of Germany’s past. Some 7000 artifacts and exponents tell of people, ideas, events and historical developments from the 5th century to the end of the 20th century. The museum also hosts a number of outstanding temporary exhibitions throughout the year. A visit here really requires a full day and even at that, one would not be able to take in everything.
Photo of a temporary exhibition, "1914-1918. The First World War": The exhibition told the story of 15 locations including Berlin, Brussels, Petrograd and Verdun, which together illustrated the course of the war, along with its range of social ramifications. The escalation of violence was illustrated over the course of the war, including the industrialized mass destruction of human life and the invention of new methods to commit mass murder, such as aircraft bombs and poison gas.  Many of the exhibits were used to analyze and question the structures of the War.
The museum features an inviting restaurant. Here we are having lunch and hoping to gain energy to tackle and take in more of the exhibitions.
As part of the walk through 1500 years of German history, there's comprehensive coverage of the events leading up to and during WWII. The hand-held audio tour is very helpful when trying to take in as much information as possible. In the background to this photo is a model of the Great Hall of the People, planned in 1938.
File photos of inmates at the Auschwitz concentration camp, 1942.
Powerful visual illustrating the fracturing of Nazi Germany by 4 key Allies.
After leaving the museum, we visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also referred to as the Holocaust Memorial, located just south of the Brandenburg Gate.
Brandenburg Gate: It was commissioned by King Frederick William II of Prussia as a sign of peace and built by Carl Gotthard Langhans from 1788 to 1791. It is built on the site of a former city gate that marked the start of the road from Berlin to the town of Brandenburg an der Havel.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was inaugurated on May 10, 2005, 60 years after the end of WWII. It consists of 2,711 gray concrete slabs, or stelae. They are identical in their horizontal dimensions (reminiscent of coffins), differing vertically (from eight inches to more than fifteen feet tall), arranged in a precise rectilinear array over 4.7 acres, allowing for long, straight, and narrow alleys between them. The dropping and undulating ground, combined with the increased height of the stelae are meant to communicate how Jews felt trapped by a Nazi regime that permeated a continent. The architect was Peter Eisenman. There is no significance to the number of slabs he chose. Like most modern public art, this Holocaust Memorial has received it's share of criticism. 
At the "short end" of the memorial, one is inclined to sit and rest....and reflect. Many probably take this moment to check email if one had a smart phone.
The further one walks into the memorial, there is a growing feeling of claustrophobia. One feels dwarfed and consumed by these stelae. Many children visiting here however have a strong urge to play hide and seek, my own included.
On June 5th, we had a full day planned with two museums to cover and later that evening, dinner with friends. Our first stop was at the Jewish Museum.
The Berlin Jewish Museum is one of the largest Jewish museums in Europe and covers 2 millennia of German-Jewish history.
"Unusual success story: Hoping to escape poverty and hunger, the widow Rebecca Strauss, emigrated from Bavaria to America in 1847 taking along her 3 youngest children. In America, her youngest son sold cloth to California's gold diggers. Together with a tailor, he developed a rugged kind of work pants: Jeans with copper rivets. His name soon went around the world: Levi Strauss."
Portrait of Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786): He was was a German Jewish philosopher to whose ideas the Haskalah, the 'Jewish enlightenment' of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, is indebted; he was the first Jew to bring secular culture to those living an Orthodox Jewish life. He valued reason and felt anyone could arrive logically at religious truths.
Walking in the installation Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves): At first I was horrified to see Sarah walking on this display but later learned that visitors are invited to walk on the faces and listen to the sounds created by the metal sheets, as they clang and rattle against one another. Over 10,000 open-mouthed faces coarsely cut from heavy, circular iron plates cover the floor. They represent, not only the innocent Jews murdered in Europe during WWII, but all victims of violence and war.
Inside the Holocaust Tower: This is a narrow, irregularly-shaped cell with very high walls. The roof is black, though a small amount of light falls from a single diagonal opening which allows sounds from the outside world to drift in. Otherwise one hears only the echoing scrape of one's own shoes and the rustling of other visitors. The room is meant to give visitors a brief sense of what it was like to be incarcerated by the Nazis. It's a relief to exit the room.
Ongoing tapes of Nazi trials are shown as well as interviews with German citizens asking their opinion of whether or not alleged Nazi supporters should still be convicted for their crimes.
The Garden of Exile: Designed by Daniel Libeskind, the garden is intended to represent the experience of European Jewish exiles, driven from their homes during World War II.  Standing in between the rows of forty-nine concrete container columns gives a claustrophobic, disorienting experience, where you are aware that logically, escape is very close but physically, you feel as if you are trapped forever.
Upon leaving the Jewish Museum, our next stop was someplace completely different, the Computerspielmuseum (Computer Games Museum). Anyone born in 1970 or afterwards will love this place, particularly if you're looking for a break from days of heavy German history lessons. The permanent exhibition is focused on the history of games and how they have evolved over the years. There are over 300 exhibits with the opportunity to play some classics.
A lot of old, familiar equipment is on display on the "Wall of Hardware".
The Apple II (1977) is widely accepted as the product that kick-started the personal computer industry.
Visitors can try out a number of devices and games. Here, Sarah is playing on the Nintendo 3DS (2011).
We all tried out wipEout HD (2010) on the Sony 3-D monitor (2010).
And the old arcade games were kind of fun too.
That evening we had dinner with a friend of mine, who also went to Miss Porter's School, and her husband and son. It was wonderful to talk with people outside of our "immediate family"; we had great conversations catching up and comparing life in Germany vs life in the US. It was a most enjoyable evening.

On June 6th, it was time to press our luck and take the Prius out of hiding in the garage and leave Berlin. We gratefully managed to get out of the city without getting pulled over and we arrived back at CampingPlatz Holm-Seppensen after about a 4 hour drive.
At first pass, this could be misperceived as a speed limit sign. Notice the tank! It is however a military bridge weight limit sign; the numbers are referring to the MLC (Military Load Class) which is roughly equivalent to the weight in tons. So, tanks up to MLC 50 are allowed to cross the coming bridge.
The rest of the day, the kids worked on school projects and I worked on the blog. Vince was absorbed researching how to get LandShark back to the US, having decided that we couldn't confidently sell it before we flew back ourselves. He was in communication with a family who also did an interview on the Family Adventure podcast, finding out how they shipped their 5th wheel back, and giving us some options as to what carrier to use.

On June 7th, we drove to our next destination, DCU Absalon Copenhagen Campground, on the outskirts of Copenhagen. James was my co-pilot. We took the Scandlines ferry from Puttgarden to Roedby. The crossing took only about 45 minutes, just long enough to have an open-faced shrimp and egg sandwich.
A final farewell and glance back at Germany.
After about 5 hours, James and I finally arrived at the DCU Absalon Copenhagen Campground. We were about 90 minutes ahead of Vince and the others, having traveled on an earlier ferry. Even at that, the check-in was so slow that I was just finishing up when LandShark pulled in! Nevertheless, the campground was great and everything else worked out.

On June 8th, we went to the Nationalmuseet (National Museum) in Copenhagen which is Denmark's largest museum of cultural history, where one can follow the history of the Danes right up until present day. Like many Scandinavian museums, the National Museum has a fantastic area dedicated for children. In fact it's set up as a separate entity, the Children's Museum. And to make this stop a complete no-brainer, the museum is free.
At the Children's Museum, kids can dress up and pilot a ship.
They can wear authentic viking armor (realistic also weight-wise) and ride into battle to defend the fortress.
They can help each other build a wall.
They can shop.
The can prepare food. What's on the menu? Herring, of course.
They can go to school in a 1920's classroom. The kids spent an unusually long time here; perhaps they were missing the real thing.
This small boat named "Fafner" is a replica of a type called a faering. Fafner, together with 3 other boats, was buried with a Viking chief in Gokstad in Norway around the year 900. Paul and Sarah don't care; it's all about the battle for them. Don't think Sarah's fish is going to stack up well against Paul's sword.
The glass-ceiling foyer is an excellent architectural feature, providing as much light as possible during those short, dark winter days.
It wasn't easy, but I finally got the kids out of the Children's Museum and we spent some time walking through the permanent collection. Here we learned that Evangelical Lutheranism has been the official state faith of Denmark since the Reformation in 1536.
It wouldn't be a complete historical visit to the Danish National Museum without commentary on the country's sexual liberation. In the 1960s, sexuality and sexual morality were heavily debated. In 1966, the contraceptive pill reached Denmark and the country was the first to legalize pornography in 1969.
Christiansborg Palace is part of the National Museum. It was the residence of Crown Prince Frederik (V) and Crown Princess Louise, as well as other members of the royal family. Here, Paul is standing in the Great Hall; decorated in 1745, it is the most prestigious room in the palace and is where the royal family sat on festive occasions.
After leaving the National Museum, we walked a while around the center of Copenhagen.
Christiansborg Palace with a statue of Christian IX in the distant courtyard.
How many silly tourists can you stuff into a guard's house?
Statue of Bishop Absalon (1128-1201). He has an interesting story, too detailed to add here but in general was known for supporting a time of peace in Denmark following periods of civil war.
A view of the Copenhagen Rådhus (city hall) tower from Vester Voldgade.
On June 9th, we arranged to meet friends of Vincent's at a medieval market at Valby Parken. We thought the venue would be a fun experience for the kids and would hopefully give the adults a chance to catch up.
Copenhagen's medieval market showcased knights, vikings and medieval camps. There were demonstrations of craftsmanship such as jewelry- and clothes-making, blacksmithing, war arts and musical entertainment representative of the era. There were games for kids and lots of things for sale.
Mock battle ensues.
The red team lost. Or maybe they collapsed from heat stroke; it was uncharacteristically hot.
Paul purchased a crossbow and spent some time aiming at unsuspecting targets.
Are this mother and son actors or did they too collapse from heat stroke?
After a couple hours, we had our fill of the medieval market and walked over to the children's playground in Valby Park. Like many playgrounds in Denmark, the natural terrain was an integral part of the playground itself. The kids however spent most of their time climbing trees and seeking shade and relief from the extremely bright and hot sunlight.
On June 10th, we had all planned to visit Tivoli which is Copenhagen's reknown amusement park and pleasure garden. This was a special "main event" family outing. I had been to Tivoli once or twice years before during the winter time so was looking forward to seeing it in the prime season. Unfortunately, James woke up that morning feeling very ill and so sadly had to stay behind with Molly.
Tivoli opened in August 1843 and is the second oldest amusement park in the world after Dyrehavsbakken (opening in 1583) just north of Copenhagen.
Tivoli was founded by Georg Carstensen who obtained a five-year charter to create the park by telling King Christian VIII that "when the people are amusing themselves, they do not think about politics".  Apparently when Walt Disney visited Tivoli with his wife in 1951, he was inspired by the park's lush flowery landscape, cleanliness and family fun atmosphere and wanted to emulate that at his own Disneyland, which opened 4 years later.

I discovered that visiting Tivoli during the spring/summer is a very different experience than doing so off-season. And we could not have been there on a more perfect day. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the colors of the gardens, buildings and rides were so rich and brilliant. I believe this was my favorite theme park experience I'd ever had. Many of the rides were unique and most had some kind of story to tell in the design details. We had such a wonderful time here and highly recommend it for families visiting the Copenhagen area.
The Nimb Hotel, opened in 1909, is a 5-star hotel built in a Moorish-inspired style located right on the Tivoli grounds.
Tivoli is a 21-acre park and is beautifully landscaped with fountains and numerous flower beds. The park boasts more than 111,000 custom-designed lights that illuminate it at night and more than 400,000 colorful flowers, including 65,000 tulips in the spring. It really is a visual pleasure to walk through.
Galley Ships: It's a carousel-type ride with extra thought and detail added. Sitting in your own ship, you go up and down, along with the waves, as you go around. In the center, a battle takes place involving canons being fired with smoke effects. It's fun.
The Star Flyer: It's a classic swing ride but rises up 80 meters making it one of the highest carousel rides in Northern Europe. How Paul got me on this ride, I'll never know. Absolutely terrifying for those of us afraid of heights.
Coming from the land where 16 oz (475 ml) is a small and where it's not hard to find "Big Gulp" sizes of 40 and 64 oz (1.18 liters and 1.89 liters, respectively), we got a kick out of the tiny Tivoli refill cup. Kidding aside, it is a great concept; for 65 DKK, Paul got an armband that would let him refill the cup with Pepsi or other soda (including plain soda water) every 15 minutes. Let's just say there was some family sharing going on. With 4 of us, we each were set to have a drink every hour.
The Vintage Cars and Sarah's 15 minutes with the communal soda cup.
We rode the giant octopus on Nautilus: Riders themselves control moving up and down as they go around, and then touch down on water.
Ever wonder what it would be like to fly a WWII dive bomber? Then Veritigo is the ride for you. Riders experience 5 Gs going 100 km/hr. Nope, didn't ride this one.
One of the story scenes (The Little Mermaid) while riding the Flying Trunk: Here one sits in a trunk and goes on a journey through 32 of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales while listening to snippets of the tales (told in English or Danish). At the end, visitors meet Mr Andersen as he continues to write at his desk. It was cute.
Paul, Sarah and I on the Temple Tower: You have to work on this one which requires that riders pull themselves up in order to get the "drop experience". Requires upper body strength folks! Sarah wasn't pleased about the manual labor part.
Waiting to board the wooden Roller Coaster which turned 100 years old this year: Built in 1914, it is one of world's oldest wooden roller coasters that is still operating today. The man in the red shirt stepping on is an operator who manually controls the brakes when going down hill so the coaster won't gain too much speed. It's such a great ride.
Other great and unique rides of which I just don't have good photos include the Mine and Odin Express. And there were a few familiar ones as seen in the US, like the Demon and the classic Bumper Cars. The park really had something for everyone, including some very fine dining. Being a family on a tight budget, many of the restaurants were certainly beyond our means but I did notice a number of couples and groups enjoying bottles of fine wine and very appetizing gourmet meals.
Fantastic ice cream to help cool off on an unusually warm day.
What kind of prize can you win playing games at Tivoli? Massively-sized Marabou chocolate bars, of course.
Brilliant strategy to reduce waste: All beverages are sold in reusable and recyclable cups. A 5 DKK deposit is included in the price of the (first) drink served with the cup; at the end of the day, deposit the cup here at a Reusable Cup Refund Point and get your 5 DKK refunded. So simple. Why don't we see these in North America?
At the end of the day, we sat on the grass and watched the Harlekin and Columbine pantomime performed at the Pantomime Theatre, which is stunning in it's Chinese-influenced detail and is also known for its mechanical front curtain that takes five men to operate, resembling a peacock's tail when it's closed. The stage is primarily used for pantomime theatre in the classical Italian commedia dell'arte tradition, which is performed daily during peak season with a live pit orchestra.
As we exited Tivoli's main gates, I took one last snapshot to capture a memory of Copenhagen: The Rådhus or city hall. Our time in Copenhagen was far too brief, like so many of our visits elsewhere. These couple days were particularly wonderful, after so many cold, damp months, with the unexpected gorgeous sunny, warm weather. We were all however very much looking forward to our next destination, Sweden, which was at one time home to both Vincent and myself. There, we had several friends waiting to see us in Stockholm and all of us would welcome some refreshing social interaction beyond our own nuclear family.
The current building of the City Hall was inaugurated in 1905. It is the headquarters of the municipal council and Lord Mayor of the Copenhagen municipality in Denmark.

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