We took it easy on our last day in Bremerhaven pretty easy, since we were scheduled to leave around 2 pm. Uschi and Mark and I had breakfast together, and then went for a walk around a nearby lake and got some groceries on the way back. We had a lovely soup for lunch and then just hung out and talked until it was time to leave. We had several changes (in Bremen and then in Hamburg), and a major train delay between those two stations, so that it looked for a bit as if we were not going to catch the IC to Berlin. But our Mark-induced luck was with us again, and the whole system was backed up so that the IC to Berlin was also delayed, and we ended up running half an hour late into Berlin Spandau, where we bought take-out and some Broetchen for the next morning. Then we found our lovely privaely owned vacation rental 300 m from the S-Bahn station Messe Sued, which Uschi had recommended a couple of months ago, and which was truly a stark contrast with the last, commercial rental in Boltenhagen, which had been so barebones. This is an adorable two-story guest house which officially sleeps five but is much roomier, with nice furniture and a kitchen that could feed (and HAVE DISHES) for at least thirty. Plus, we were shown the homemade jam plus bubbly water and Berlin beer in the fridge for us, and we even have a plethora of towels and everything else we need for four days. The kids spent a minimum of time squabbling about who got which bed, and we were done for the night.
Berlin Day 1: a full success. It was sunny and quite warm (in the 70s for the first time since our first week in Germany), and after a short walk without the kids in the morning, we took off around 10:30 am for a day in Berlin. We started by getting our public transportation plus “Museumsinsel” tickets at the central station and then walked to the Reichstag and on to the Brandenburg gate. The Capitalist wall had temporarily replaced the old East German wall: the Gate itself was blocked off for walking through by the giant LED screens set up on the Fanmeile for the duration of the Eurocup, so I couldn’t demonstrate / replicate the amazing sensation of walking through the Gate itself that I experienced 2 1/2 years ago when I was here with Imke and Judith. We walked down the rather construction-heavy Unter den Linden to the Berliner Dom, and cut across to the museums. I expected long lines but our pre-paid tickets plus the free ones for the kids worked really well, and we neither had to wait in the Neues Museum nor in the Pergamon-Museum. The Neues Museum with the Egyptian collection, including the Nefertiti and some really stunning other Egyptian artefacts, and the small Schliemann collection with what’s left from the “Priamusschatz” was really interesting, including the combination of old structures that were still viable, and new pieces that are part of the most recent renovation (it opened back up in 2009, I think). Kai was certainly ecstatic about seeing the Egyptian exhibit, and Kati was also duly interested. We then had a bite to eat near the Pergamon-Museum and went in there; I have to say that the sheer scale of the exhibit pieces still makes it the “better” museum in my book, and I was able to wow the kids (and Mark) by showing them what I still remembered very clearly from the last visit: the mosaics I loved so much, the market gate from Miletus, the Ishtar gate, and also some of the exhibits from the Islamic art museum portion of the P. So everyone had a really good time with the museum visits, and I didn’t get any whining from either of them at all. Then we walked to the Hackesche Hoefe, and had ice cream and did a bit of window shopping before heading back to the Central station with its many shopping opportunities. Kai and I looked for the Manga drawing instruction book that he wanted to buy, and luckily one from the series was available in the Virgin book store, while Kati found some shirts and some gifties for Krynn. We came home with Doener take-out and ate, and then Mark and I took off for a little exploratory walk in the neighborhood. The Grunewald is only minutes from here, as is the next S-Bahn station, which actually has shopping and a couple of bars and take-out places. So we had a good time, and really enjoyed being by ourselves for an hour that way as well. We came home before the soccer game between Greece and Germany started, and thus forewent the opportunity to be part of the 500.000 people on the Fanmeile watching and celebrating Germany win. But we sure heard the victory party fireworks in the neighborhood… and this was just the quarterfinals!
Today, Mark and I took off on our own this morning to sort out his ipad’s vodafone internet session, which we couldn’t renew on our own for some reason. We did some window-shopping on the way and also walked across a large outdoor “Wochenmarkt” (market), so that Mark finally experienced the market-day thing that is still so typical of German life (my parents still go every Saturday) Although it took a later re-do in the evening with more Vodafone help, we did finally get it going again, although now without tethering. (Mark is always clearly happier when his electronic connectivity is high. He is also clearly enjoying having a larger variety of people to watch here than in tiny little Boltenhagen, and I am making a mental note that we need to put more “city” / hustle and bustle into some of our vacations than we had here in Germany.)
Then we walked from Charlottenburg S-Bahn station down to Ku-Damm and then down the Ku-Damm from Olivaer Platz all the way to the Gedaechtniskirche, looking at the 5th Avenue-type stores on the way, but at the end, I couldn’t find the Gedaechtniskirche in its usual spot! Then we realized that it is undergoing a huge renovation and the scaffolding is all covered up with white boards so it is wrapped up like a Christo monument! Very strange. We rode back starting at Zoologischer Garten and picked the kids up at home to walk through the Grunewald to the Teufelssee, a little lake with an old waterworks that has been turned into an “Oekowerk” with nature paths and playgrounds and a little cafe, to meet up with Laurie Smith (my old friend from Bowling Green) and her two kids, Stella (6) and Mauro (10). Kai and Mauro both like Manga and speak both English and German, so they really got along well and talked and talked while we explored the area. The lake, with lots of spontaneous and completely nonchalant nude swimmers (finally, naked people! Mark’s brother Jerry has been teasing him about no evidence of nude beaches in the photos that he has been seeing). It would have been fun to swim since this was another mostly sunny, warm-weather day but we were not going to stay that long and we did not have swimsuits (maybe not so important at this lake) or towels (still important). We walked to a nearby sand pit and then went on, partly by car and partly by S-Bahn, to a wonderful Indian restaurant to have dinner while we talked and looked at the day’s photos (Kai and Mauro distracting each other and Kati doing little Stella’s hair helped a lot!). We then went back down to the Vodafone shop and the kids monkeyed around while we tried to troubleshoot the internet problem. Kati did a bit more shopping, which required my last drop of patience, and then we headed home for the evening. We spent a bit of time chatting to the owner, who is obviously very proud of his house, his neighborhood, and Berlin at large, and had a quiet evening.
This was, for the most part, our “explore the former Berlin Wall sites / East Berlin” day. But first of all, we went to the Zoologischer Garten S-Bahn station and took the city bus that runs the most touristy public transportation line from there to Unter den Linden, through the park and past the Brandenburg Gate etc. Then we walked to the Gendarmeriemarkt and to the Ritter Sport store that the kids absolutely wanted to see and shop in. We did our requisite chocolate shopping, and then went on to Checkpoint Charlie (nyah) and on to Potsdamer Platz and sat under the SONY “roof” structure for a bit; Kai was very upset that we couldn’t take the time (or money) to go to the Legoland that’s underneath the building, and I felt bad for him, but the fight about it was very unpleasant and marred my morning a bit. We took the U-Bahn to the Alexanderplatz instead, and once we’d had some pasta in a fairly nice restaurant with view of the tower and the Alex, things were better. We decided not to go up the TV tower, since there was a wait apart from an exorbitant fee; instead, we went on to the “East Side Gallery,” the last long stretch of the Berlin Wall that is still remaining, with paintings by various artists on the former Eastern side (including the famous ones of the Trabi breaking through the Wall and the Breshnew/Honecker kiss) and major, constantly renewed graffiti on the Western side. Part of this stretch runs along the Spree, and we sat down for a bit and both Kati and Mark skyped from that location to show Krynn and Mark’s parents the Wall. That was fun. Then we went by tram (first tram ride, not very useful in Berlin, actually–it was a big detour) to the Nordbahnhof, where there is a Berlin Wall memorial site right where the former French sector and the Russian sector met in such a way that the sidewalk belonged to the West, but the houses to the East, and a church was situated so it was attended from the West but sat in the East. The photos from the time when the Wall was built there, a recreated part of the “death strip” and the overall architecture of the Memorial were really interesting, so it was too bad that the kids were getting a bit too tired to give it their full attention. They did, however, walk with us to the next & last stop, the museum for contemporary art in the former Hamburger Bahnhof; we didn’t really have enough time, since we got there at 5 and it closed at 6, but we did get tickets for a special exhibit by Anthony McCall with “light sculptures” that was really intriguing to walk around in for 30 minutes. Hard to describe, though–light projected in pitch dark rooms that had fog machines in them, so that the light made these ghostly pyramid and cylinder shapes and looked like you could touch it or scoop it up. But by the end of that visit, we were beat–we picked up some more Asian noodle takeout (at 2.50 Euro without meat and 4.50 with, that’s both cheap and convenient) at the Hauptbahnhof and called it a day. We’d had good weather all day (warm and partly cloudy–very pleasant), and just as we got home, it started raining–so weather-wise, we really had the best weather possible for Berlin, and it was nice to spend the evening in. We chatted a bit with the landlord after dinner and then called it a night. I was so tired, so I didn’t even try to take a shower, and slept really well starting around 9 pm.
Woke up early, finished packing and tidying up (this was a really wonderful vacation rental, so I really didn’t want to leave a mess behind), and left a little early to get to the Spandau station. Kati and I walked around the big shopping mall near the station, while Mark and Kai waited at the platform with their electronics. We had NO train changes, so this was a very pleasant straight shot back to Osnabrueck. We got home around 2 pm, had lunch with Imke and Hermann, and then ran away together to spend some time without the kids later in the afternoon, when it had stopped threatening to rain. We walked through the Heger Friedhof cemetery and around half of the lake, and then back home through the woods, and even had some sunshine. It was very pleasant to do something rather uneventful and unstructured by ourselves after a good many days of packed schedules and events with constant kid participation. We also enjoyed being completely in our own space for sleeping, since we were back over in Frau Kuhlmann’s guest room for our last two nights.
We got up early to run away again, this time by walking downtown for breakfast, and a little souvenir shopping. We also picked out people pictures (36 out of the ca. 1600 Mark took) to print out and give to Imke and Hermann in a little album as a good-bye present, and we did visit the Uhu family in the cathedral garden one more time. We came back (by bus) for lunch with Imke, Hermann and the kids, and then went downtown again later in the afternoon, with Imke. Kati had already left to meet a friend downtown, and later met us at our favorite gelateria, Fontanella’s, for a last ice cream. We bought breakfast boards as souvenirs for Mark (and his folks) and walked around a bit more. Imke and Kati took the bus home, but Mark and I took our last walk home through the Katharinenviertel; by the time the day had ended, we had tracked about 10 miles. We finished most of our packing after dinner and also hung out with Imke and Hermann a bit, but I was tired pretty early.
Breakfast and packing in the morning, an early lunch with Imke and Hermann including the kids’ most favorite dessert, and then we were off to Amsterdam. We took the bus to the station, but I & H were nice enough to bring our luggage and say goodbye at the station. The train trip went without a hitch, but it took us a while to get to the very seedy hotel by bus from the station. After finding out how expensive it was to store our luggage at the station, we gave up any plans of looking around the city center of Amsterdam, and sorted out how to find the bus. It was only a half an hour bus ride, but the bus took a long time to come (over 30 minutes) and was initially very crowded. The hotel was pretty nasty (with bunk beds and windows that only opened a tiny bit) and the area wasn’t great for eating out, either. But we had some Dutch fast food and Mark and I went for a little walk afterwards, before turning in. None of us had a really restful night, because it was hot and initially noisy, and both Kati and Kai were rather twitchy and unpleasant. But eventually, we all settled down for some sleep
Last day of our trip! We had a surprisingly nice hotel breakfast (79 euro for all of us including the breakfast wasn’t too terrible, but the hotel was also nothing to brag about–not to mention full of a whole bus full of Australians that all went clubbing together the night before and then took off just as we were getting our taxi). Then we got ourselves sorted at the airport and finally took off for Chicago with a bit of a delay around noon.