Monday, March 19, 2012

Ich bin ein Berliner!

I fell behind in my writing again. I have been stopping to smell the roses. Between chance encounters with new friends and catching up with old friends, I have spent some much needed time reflecting on this trip and my life back home in the States. Getting behind in my blog must mean I am having the time of my life!! My most heartfelt hobo apologies (aka hobologies).

So the title of this entry, "Ich bin ein Berliner," loosely translated means "I am a doughnut"...JFK used this line in a speech in Berlin trying to impart "I am a Berliner." Eddie Izzard introduced this joke in one of his stand-up shows. The joke is that there is a type of doughnut called a Berliner. He is a brilliant and intelligent comedian and a future politician in the UK! He has singlehandedly- supplied me with jokes in every country in Europe.
Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome to my blog!
The first thing that I did in Berlin, besides try and brush up on some easy German phrases, was to find my hostel. It was located near the East Side Gallery which showcases 'street art' on a piece of the old Berlin  wall. The artists are from all over the world. It's pretty powerful to see this beautiful color on a piece of concrete that imprisoned so many.

So I have stayed with friends in Europe, friends of friends, couchsurfing hosts, and hostels...but in Berlin I stayed on a HOSTEL BOAT! Or in my German accent, "ZEE HAWSTEL BOOT"! It was like my very own Pirate Radio boat.  I had porthole windows in my room (below), and it was the coolest thing since frozen lemon icees!

Teeny...but awesome.
Ariel and Prince Eric in a boat were just a few of the quirky decorations. The staff was so nice, it felt like hostel camp.
This was my first sunny day in weeks! And look at that morning view from the port side. My hostel-boat-mate was an English girl who is doing work/study in Nuremberg. She was visiting Berlin for the weekend, and we decided to tour the city together!
Zee hostel boat!
Brandenburg Gate. This place has seen some history. That is what I loved about visiting Berlin. So much of the history I learned in school either began, occurred, or involved this place. I totally geeked out! Especially because I am most fascinated by WWII history.
Ze German flag, yah!
One of the first sites we visited was the Holocaust Memorial. Beginning with my visit to Amsterdam, I began to feel more and more connected to this time period and those that suffered and perished. As an American that grew up many many years after the war, it is hard to imagine this time and place as reality. But as I learn more and more, it was virtually impossible to understand for those that actually lived it. The following pictures are of the upper part of the memorial. It's a maze of gray blocks or stelae of all different shapes and sizes.

Amy and I had a great conversation about interpreting the design. First of all, there are no names, no words, no identities...just like they felt leading up to and during the war. Also, it's easy to get lost. We saw a little girl running through the pathways laughing and then later she passed by us crying for her Mom because she was separated from her and couldn't find her...that interpretation was bloody obvious. The stelae also look like tombs in a way, and eerily as deportation train cars at the same time. I am sure there are many more sophisticated observations, but that was our take on it.
We then headed to the lower floor underneath the all of the stelae. Here was the opening remark from the designer. Read more about the design here:
The entire underground exhibition took you through the years leading up to the war until the final days. There were so many rare pictures, and so much information. Although none of the information was easy to comprehend, your fascination in the horrific event that occurred kept you moving. You felt as if you owed it to all the persecuted in Europe to take the time to register each and every syllable of every word of each story, it was the absolute least we could do. Each room told different stories about the victims, the camps, and those behind this epic massacre. The stelae from the upper level projected down through the ceiling of the underground exhibition, and the stories and facts were shown here and on the floor. It felt like each stelae was an epitaph, and we were in a massive sacred tomb. All of my senses were awake. The darkness of the rooms were only lit by the markers in the floor showing postcards sent to family from the labour camps that somehow survived the people that wrote them. It was cold in these rooms, and the only warmth was from watching a video that was submitted of the wedding of a family of victims. The last room is a blank room where names are projected on the four walls and an stark short biography was read about each person that died in the Holocaust....well, those that left some thread of an identity behind. The last line of this text reads "Reading the names and life stories of all six million victims in this form would take about six years, seven months and 27 days." I wasn't expecting to be so emotional and physically affected in this place. Typically, I am able detach enough to take in the information, process the information, and reflect on it later. But this time I was a mess. As I watched the names on the wall, I couldn't stop the single tears running down my face. I think the most haunting sentence that kept ringing in my brain was in a book I was reading at the time, The Good German by Joseph Kanon, "There are a lot of explanations, but no answers."
Whew. After we wandered around dazed for a bit, we were returned to our sunny German day. How strange to come out of that underground memorial and see the busy markets and tourists napping pictures. Here are a line of Mercedes taxi cabs.
The architecture in Berlin is breathtaking. The next few pictures are all nearby to each other with the Opera house in the center.

Next we headed towards Checkpoint Charlie. Although the museum is under construction, they have posted the chronological history via pictures and text of post-War Europe, the Berlin wall, and the politics that it accompanied.

This is me standing where the Berlin Wall used to be near Checkpoint Charlie.

I thought there was something in the German beer because I saw humans in the windows! But it's REAL. Berlin has human mannequins :) It was realllllly difficult not to try and distract them or make them laugh. I am such a little imp.
Car pictures for my Dad :)

Humboldt University
This statue is a constant in Berlin...get it?? Planck's constant?? Reeeaaally bad science humor.
Neue Wache. New Guard House. Amazing. A memorial to the victims of war and tyranny. It serves as a place of reverence for all affected by war and hardship. Of course we think of the victims of the could we not. But those that had to endure the oppression of Nazis, Soviet-ruled Germany, even environmental conditions during post one was safe from tragedy and strife. The sculpture is of a mother with a dead son. This symbolism is universally applicable. Mothers and fathers have lost their children and family members for centuries for seemingly pointless causes. I support all troops that serve their country and fight for what they believe in, but the gaping hole that a death leaves in a loved ones heart is irreparable.

The beautiful thing about this market pictured above was the local art. Jewelry, photography, metal work, screen printing, etc. Inspiring! Out of the gallery and on the streets with the public.

Insert museum name here. I don't care. What a sight!?!
The party up there was mediocre, but the reception was fantastic :) Wokka, wokka!
Dry fountain in winter makes for opportune photo ops. If anything, it gets Amy and me off our feet for a moment or two. Also, take into account the scale of the fountain. HUGE!

Scheeee lion (Sea lion with lateral lisp)

Berlin, like many other large European cities have street parties. This is a party starting underneath the metro stop at Warschauer Strasse! Awesome DJ.
One of the many markets in Berlin. This one had more vintage clothing and food accompanied by fresh authentic Indian food. I love veggie samosas!
The other market that we went to a bit north of the city centre was gigantic! We got lost in this monstrosity. Anything, literally ANYthing you can imagine was sold here. I couldn't believe how many items being sold that Americans would lay down some serious green for. Some would go for hundreds of dollars in the US! I included this original Rick Astely album as an example of such gems :) Yes hobo readers, you have been officially Rick-rolled from GERMANY!

For a mid-market snack, Amy and I dined on fresh-grilled wurst. There were, count them, 15 different kinds of handmade mustard!!! At a kiosk. In a field market. In Berlin. If you haven't already booked your ticket there, check for deals on Groupon or Living Social. Germany is highly underrated from an American point of view.

Here we are representing Rosemary, Horseradish, Basil, Chile, and I-forget mustards. Lecker! Ich liebe deutsches Essen!! Each jar is a different type of stone ground mustard!

As I toured Berlin, I couldn't help but notice the People's Movement to Party. Starting in the early morning on the way to the metro, residents and tourists alike buy bottles of beer and enjoy them on the street as they walk to their respectful (or not) establishments. They like to party. I decide to live like a "Berliner" and drink a Berliner beer as we traipsed back to our humble aquatic abode!
Amy had to depart, but I made friends with the bartender in the hostel boat bar while I waited for my night train to Praha (Prague)! She's leeavin' (leavin') on a midnight train to Prahaaaa (leavin' on a midnight train to Praha)...
Auf wiedersehen, Berlin! It's off to the Czech Republic I go!
I arrived at the Prague train station around midnight, planning on taking a taxi to a nearby hostel I had heard about. Thankfully, I befriended two friendly German girls at the station who were on their spring holiday. After escaping the tourist trap of 600 Czech crowns for a taxi, I went with them to their affordable yet fashionable Hotel Theatrino where a room was 33 euros a night...A DEAL! If you haven't already bought your tickets to Prague, book now! This city is ridiculously more romantic than Paris and you can tour like a king with such an exchange rate! I had my own room, wifi, a bottle of wine, and TV for a steal...heaven, for a super tramp like me! (Pictured above) The Germans and I pooled our resources and traversed the Prague public transportation to visit the beautiful Prague Castle!
This is the view from the top of the hill. Beautiful. Gorgeous. Wish you were here!
No idea what the inscription on the door says. Something holy and Czech, I imagine. All I could think was, "I wish America had more ancient cathedrals!" How lucky am I to be in such an amazing place with such wonderful people!
As God as my witness, I shall climb those ever-livin stairs and see the glory of the panorama.
Remember Notre Dame, my hobo readers? Unfortunately and fortunately, nothing in this world is original. I could find out which was built first, but with this view...who cares? Voila!
Early cage dancing? Fancy camp-fire? Gigantic street lantern? be the judge.
You can't help but get religious while marveling at such a structure. I was thinking about this extravagant meeting place, and the importance of community and our basic need for human connection. Though I consider myself a follower/appreciator of all world religions, any sacred place - be it mountain top or Belgian chapel - we seek a connection to ourselves, the Earth, and our fellow planetary inhabitants.
Weakness: Stained glass. I'm so transparent...pardon the pun.
The wonderful thing about exploring Europe is recognizing the different avenues of portraying holy scenes. In Prague, there was an abundance of painting on interior and exterior walls, along with the expected architectural embellishments and sculptures.
(See the top of the tower just below the turquoise steeple? I will climb those stone steps to medieval victory!)
See what I mean? It even incorporates mosaic techniques on the exterior display. What an awesome task to restore!

Here I go! I said I would conquer these stairs, and by golly I did. May God activate my right quadricep and my left gastrocnemius for this beast of a right-handed spiral staircase.
Well worth it! Artsy fartsy Clairesy!

Big. Big bell. Big bell chase me. Out of breath. What floor am I on??
Aaaaahhh! My gelatinous leg muscles held enough strength for me to shuffle along this wrap-around bird's nest viewing the city.

At the base, I was able to admire even more spectacular details.
A city after my own heart. The Toy Museum was exhibiting a Barbie display in celebration of the icon's 50th birthday! My genetics gifted me with buckets of creativity and imagination, and my childhood was filled with the epic sagas I created with the help of Barbie, et al.
The Toy Museum chronicled the evolution of particular popular toys in many geographical regions.
I remember accompanying my mother to a salon in Cactus Alley in Lubbock for her pedicures where I would wander next door and stare open-jawed at the window of the Miniature Store. An entire micro-realm of possibilities!
Sobering moment: How long have we depicted war figures via children's toys? Here you see everything from medics carrying wounded soldiers to inter-racial enlisted servants. We are indebted to those that serve, and those that soothe the veterans both earthly and beyond.
It was like I opened that magical closet in Gigi and Pa Pa's house where Pat, Mom, and Jim's old toys lived! I loved that connection with my mother's childhood. I would use the mortar and pestle from the mini bar to feed my Gigi, Pa Pa, parents, and antique baby dolls the imaginary soup I had slaved over.
My first dose of fashion innovation, Barbie's collection of Dior!
Boomer :)
Texas, FIGHT! They could've at least posed her like a lady.
Bob Mackie, quel genial!

People can criticize the illusive and highly controversial physique of Barbie, the supposed superficial portrayal...but the fact of the matter is Barbie (and friends) allowed little girls (and boys) around the world to act out their most heartfelt dream of grown-up life and shape their little burgeoning personalities with their imaginations!
My mother used to make her own doll clothes. I incorporated these couture pieces with the ready-made tube tops from my 80's and 90's dolls included trousseau.

New Kids on the Block. I wish I knew how to quit you!
COSTUMES! These transported this little red head to another land and time period; an epoch dream realized and housed in her dollhouses in dusty Lubbock, TX!
What a treat for adult Claire! I can't wait to share this with little Claire Tucker, McCartney Hartzell, and future baby Riches!
Czech guards. Uniforms always get me :)
Hello World, there's a song that I'm singin'! C'mon get Czechyyyy!!
A beautiful national memorial.

Recognize this bridge? Well, if you don't then you must not have received my brother's Christmas card while he was living in Prague. Tom set out to the Charles Bridge (pictured here) and stood behind a homemade "Merry Christmas" sign written on cardboard standing in nothing but cowboy boots...or it would appear so. Thankfully, for the tourists of the Charles Bridge that morning, he was wearing mini shorts to pull off the illusion. I am sure they thought to themselves "Clever American."

Traditional Czech meal. I almost didn't want to chew the food for fear that I would eat too quickly and the meal would be over. I can only imagine what it was like for the other patrons at the restaurant watching this American girl sit by herself, taking bites but not chewing, while one tear slides down her face. I am why people question Americans in Europe.
 The Jewish quarter. Morbid but somewhat triumphant history. In the early 11th century Jews were concentrated in this area as a ghetto during the first crusade. The Czech Jews remained oppressed and virtually imprisoned throughout the years in pogrom massacres, Nazi occupation, and Soviet rule. Repeatedly torn down either by force or neglect, all that remains is six synagogues, the cemetery, and the Old Town Hall...the rest of Old Town Prague is built over and around it in a now very expensive shopping area. Hitler's plan after the war was to use this quarter, Josefov, not demolish it. He planned to collect Jewish artifacts from all over Europe and display them here as a future "museum of an extinct race." ("What a mass-murdering ___head!" said Eddie Izzard)

The cemetery is very crowded because they did not have room to bury their dead, so gravestones were placed on top of one another.
It is a beautiful area with a dark past.
 Many of you know that I am a member of, and amazing group of people located all over the globe! Each city has their own activities and meet ups. The Prague couchsurfers have events almost everyday of the week. I was very excited to join their Monday night karaoke party! I brought my new German friends to the party. It was located in a dark bar in a relatively dead area...we walked down to the dark basement into a stone room that resembled an old dungeon. As we looked left we saw a projection screen showing music videos accompanied by the main organizers Boris, John, and Theresa...our new friends. Here is Boris, from the Netherlands, who likes to sing 80's pop music. I enjoy him!
 Me and my German girls (Katja and Daniella)! I love them! They were so much fun to get to know. But I blame them for my hazy train nap the following day to Switzerland. Germans like their drink and like to supply their company with drinks :) Woof.
 Brilliant! After some liquid courage, they signed up to sing 99 Red Balloons IN GERMAN of course. Stellar! I tried to join, but I can barely ask where the train station is in German. I played historian photographer instead.

The next day I boarded a long train to Switzerland. I wish I could've had more time in Praha...but us hobos will turn into a pumpkin if we inhabit one place for too long. What a fantastic high note to close the chapter on Prague! 

OK! I will catch up soon and get the updates up-to-date. I am currently in Italy having a truly amazing time with my P.I.C., brother-from-another-mother, good friend Brian Burton. Fantastic host to the stars (aka euro hobos).

I hope everyone is enjoying their spring time and planning their own adventures either near or far!

Auf Wiedersehen, meine liebe!!!

Zee Hobo