Thursday, June 10, 2010

Boating on the Spree

Everyone felt so refreshed after our showers that we decided to head back to Gugelhof. This was one of the pioneering restaurants in Prenzlauer Berg after the fall of the wall, and specializes in Alsatian cuisine. It was crowded and there were no seats outside, but we managed to get a very nice table in a back room, with an open door overlooking the garden.

I ordered the prix fixe menu of cream of asparagus soup with pumpkin seed oil (very tasty), along with the pasta roll stuffed with goat cheese and aubergine, accompanied by white asparagus in a savory cream sauce and couscous. Cherie ordered the same main course, while Annie had the trout sauteed in riesling with butter and herbs. She loved her fish and we all agreed the white asparagus (at first the pieces looked like pasta) was spectacular. My meal came with a dessert: creme brulee, which I split with Cherie. They had tap water, while I ordered a large (.4 liter) Berliner Pilsner to relax me.

I took some melatonin that Annie gave me last night, and slept much better; all the way from 11 or so pm to 7:30 am. The weather today will continue to be hot 30 C, with a low of 18, but we´re expected a cold front to come through tonight bringing rain and much lower temps (23?) tomorrow.

Cherie joined us for breakfast just after 9 am. We stashed some rolls, cheese, fruit and eggs in my bag and that became our lunch. Afterwards, we headed out to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. We got there just after 11 am, and I was curious to see how long Cherie would spend there, since I plan to take students there next summer. We spent a lot of time in the first room, the Introduction that summarizes the history of Nazi Germany´s persecution of Jews. We met an elderly woman from Israel in a wheel chair. She told us she was 18 in 1939 when the Nazis entered Warsaw. After two months, she said, she managed to flee, but we didn´t hear the whole story of how she got out. She was somewhat hard of hearing and her Hebrew was sometimes difficult to understand. Annie spoke more with her and I spoke some with her son who was assisting her.

Cherie really took in the information and was terribly moved by it. The Holocaust can be overwhelming, particularly if you´re not used to hearing about it such detail. It took a lot of energy and time for her to come to terms with what she was reading. The second room contains text written by fifteen different victims under various circumstances. The room after that chronicles the lives and sufferings of different Jewish families from all over Europe. The museum is very well done. One of the hardest things in teaching the Holocaust is moving from the overview to the specific. Stalin once said that the death of one is a tragedy, the death of a million is a statistic. How do you discuss the deaths of millions and not lose the tragedy of the individual? In one room, the deaths of individual after individual (with a short bio) is described in both German and English. I read somewhere that it will take them years to go through the small list they have.

Afterwards, we walked to the Tiergarten across the street. Cherie and Annie walked through the plinths of the memorial, while I stayed on the ddge (I find the experience makes me slightly nauseous). Annie told me that walking through it gave her a difference perspective on it, and that while it didn´t "read" well from the outside, the gridlike layout with its rows leading to death no matter which way you turn, and it its interplay of light and dark did work.

We decided to make for the boats, but I passed a sign for the Holocaust memorial for gays persecuted by the Nazis and insisted we see it. In a controversial decision, the memorial we went to was specific to the Jews of Europe, and not the other victims (there are references to the Roma, but none to the murder of the disabled or gay men). Each victim group is establishing its own memorial.

The gay memorial is just across the street from the plinths, but a little further into the park. It echoes the plinths as it is also a large concrete oblong pillar, but this one has a window. As the plaque points out, under the Nazis, gay men could be sent to concentration camps for as little as a kiss. When you look through the window, you see a short, contemporary black and white film of two young men kissing.

We headed from there to Unter den Linden. After listening to a busker oompa band do ABBA´s Supertrooper, we made a brief bathroom stop at the Hotel Adlon Kempinski, just inside the Brandenburg Tor. I made the mistake of having us walk to the Spree River, as this somewhat tired Annie. We got there around 1:40 and bought tickets for a onw hour loop tour of the Spree River.

We hoped to eat our sandwiches in the cool, inside deck, but we were told that the only food there had to be what was bought there, so we headed to the upper deck. Luckily we were all slathered in sunscreen, and Annie and I wore baseball caps. The tour was nice. First south to Nikolaiviertel, and then upstream passed Museum Insel, the Reichstag, the Hauptbahnhof, all the way to the House of Culture, and then back. The Tiergarten and the trees along the river are so green. There´s some sort of light, white cotten fluff falling from the trees throughout the city. On the way back, we went downstairs to enjoy the AC, now that our lunch was over.

By the time we got back to the dock, Annie needed iced coffee and Cherie wanted ice cream. I found a bakery cafe nearby but they didn´t have ice cream. We ended up in a faux "alt berlin" beer garden just past Rosenstraße (I pointed the monument out to Annie). They had iced coffee and a few ice cream sundaes. Cherie was not happy with the waitress as she refused to modify the sundae to substitute chocolate syrup for strawberry syrup, and she was forced to have the sundae without any syrup. "It´s such an insignificant difference," she said, "I don´t understand why they won´t make this little change." The ice cream wasn´t particularly good either.

After that we headed back to the Spree so we could go to the DDR Museum. Cherie wasn´t thrilled with this as we had already visited one museum that morning, which is usually her daily limit. Annie convinced her that this was a small museum and that it would be interesting. Annie really liked learning about how the wall worked and made all sorts of connections between the objects on display and the content of films like "The Lives of Others." I spent some time with Cherie explaining the how the Iron Curtain and the Cold War worked. "Why don´t they teach this in schools!?" she angrily asked/demanded.

The images of communist-era housing gave Annie the shivers, and we both laughed as we recognized several kitchen items we had seen in Israel were common in East Germany (e.g., the plastic pitcher to hold the milk pouch). Annie found this great book on the wall, before and after, but it was in German only. I tried to find one in English, but the staff suggested that I simply translate it for her. "But I´m just her friend, not her husband," I told them. "Then he should do it," they replied. "I don´t think that´s going to work," I answered.

After that everyone was tired so we made our way back to the hotel. Several of the cafes on Gleimstraße have big screen tvs set up for people to watch the world cup. We´re not going to the English Language Theatre in Berlin as Cherie and Annie are tired; instead we´re going to try to find a cool, outdoor cafe we passed on our bike trip yesterday, somewhere near the Oranienburgerstraße synagogue.

Tommorow, I promised Annie we could finally get to West Berlin.

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