Monday, September 04, 2006

 

"Ich hab' noch einen Koffer in Berlin" - PART II

So there we were in Berlin. I brought two guide books and Ros had taken lots of information off the internet. And, of course, we had brought too many clothes and the weather wasn't right for most of them, so we recycled. And we asked ourselves why we hadn't just brought the few outfits we were wearing anyway instead of all the stuff we lugged along. We will never learn. With all the travelling I do you'd think I'd smarten up - instead I always look like a refugee travelling with all her worldly goods. Do you remember an old film - I think it was called "The VIPs" with Elizabeth Taylor. She gets off a plane after a long flight carrying just a little handbag - not a little carry-on piece of hand luggage - just a little handbag - what we used to call a pocketbook - and looks absolutely fresh and chic. That is what I aspire to - maybe in my next life.

But I digress. On to Berlin. Although I know that there is still of latent - and not so latent - anti-semitism in Germany - I was still happy to be there. Yes - when I stood in the middle of the Potsdamer Platz and saw how beautifully rebuilt it was after it had been razed during WWII - and I thought of all I had read and heard about the Jews during the Holocaust - and I tried to imagine what it must have been like to live there during that horrendous time - I can't begin to tell you how ambivalent I felt. On the one hand it is a vibrant and vital and exciting city. On the other hand - there are still a lot of ghosts walking around.

Today, one goes freely between what was East Berlin and West Berlin. You simply get on a train or a bus and you go. When I stood at Checkpoint Charlie and at The Wall I could only imagine what life was like before The Wall came down. Today, at various points in the city, there are different colored cobble stones in the street marking what used to be the boundaries between East and West. And The Wall - I had always imagined it to be a massive structure overwhelming everything around it. Rather - it is just a rather small concrete wall - a symbol really as most of it has been removed - and not at all intimidating. Oh - but what it represented. I was reminded of the first time I saw the Jordan River in Israel. I had imagined a large, wide, deep river - you know - "Swing low sweet chariot....." Instead it was just a little, narrow, muddy stream.

And what did we see and do in Berlin? Everything we could possibly fit in in the time we had. I won't describe it all - you can read a guidebook for that. We went to the KaDeWE - a department store (founded by Jews) - which is akin to the more famous Harrod's - with food halls on the sixth floor (there I am, back to food) that one can only dream about. Acres and acres and acres of foodstuffs from all over the world - I wanted to buy one of each. Prepared foods, and food to cook, and all kinds of frozen stuff and fresh produce and meats and fish and condiments and wines - everything you can imagine. And I found a shop that only sells kitchen wares and I bought a "spaetzle macher" - a little machine that makes spaetzle - a kind of noodle that is served in Southern Germany and which I am crazy about. You eat them with sauerbraten and red cabbage. (I'll make them in the winter when the weather is cooler and tell you about my meal then.) And we went to the Zoo and Aquarium - and spent more than seven hours there! And we went to the Jewish Quarter and to the Daniel Liebeskind-designed Jewish Museum and to a street fair and just wandered around the streets soaking up flavors and feelings. And sat at cafes in different parts of the city. And got lost - of course I got lost - I have the sense of direction of a toaster oven. And one day we went to Potsdam to soak up some history and on another day we went to Dresden - which today is a gem of a city. I had a late friend whom I met in Stuttgart - who was a Jew who was born in Dresden - and I had a difficult time reconciling this rebuilt gem with her tales of living underground in order to hide from the Nazis.

And one evening we went to the theatre - the "Friedrichstadtpalast" - where Marlene Dietrich sang. It didn't matter that Ros speaks no German - we saw a musical extravaganza - "Casanova" - and while all the songs were sung in German the lack of language didn't matter.

We took our trusty maps - bought bus/train tickets - asked a million questions - and found our way around the city. Can I "shvitz" (brag) for a minute? I studied German many years ago in Stuttgart at the Institut fur Auslansbeziehungen and actually got a diploma. Then I didn't speak German for years and years. When I got off the plane something strange happened - everything came back to me. There I was - speaking and reading and understanding and translating for Ros - and feeling perfectly at ease in German. How cosmopolitan can you get - I spoke in German to the Germans - we took our tours with an Israeli company and so we spoke in Hebrew - and Ros and I speak a mish-mash of Hebrew and English to each other. There are times when I can't believe how far this nice Jewish girl from the Bronx has come.

Auf Wiedersehen.

Stay Safe.

Rena





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