Flyaway to Berlin

Michigan Law student’s summer travels

Biking to the Czech Republic

My plan was to go to Dresden on Saturday.  Everyone told me how pretty it was, and I had been looking forward to it.  But between all of the traveling I had been doing and finding out about Sadie early Friday morning, I really didn’t feel like going.  On the other hand, sitting around my apartment moping didn’t sound appealing either, and I hated the idea of wasting a day of my train pass, since last weekend was my last opportunity to use it.  So, I went to the train station and got on the train.

Once aboard, I noticed that the next station after Dresden would be Bad Schandau, a tiny spa town in the area they call “Saxon Switzerland.”  The town is on the edge of a huge national park that is partly in Germany and partly in the Czech Republic.  After reading a little about it in my guidebook, I thought that really sounded more my speed that day.  I just didn’t feel like trekking around a city, taking pictures of old buildings.  You know, I have nothing against cities.  In fact, I might even call taking pictures of old buildings a hobby.  But not that day.

So, I stayed on the train an extra 40 minutes, and the ride itself was something special.  The area between Dresden and Bad Schandau is really gorgeous, and the train follows right alongside the Elbe River.  Upon arrival in Bad Schandau, I caught a little ferry across and down the river to the town.  

 

I wandered up into the town, where I rented a bicycle for the afternoon.  I could have taken it up into the mountains, through the national park, but I was looking for something more peaceful, so I stuck to the path along the river.  First I biked the 5K or so to the Czech Republic and a bit further in.  Then I realized I was hungry, had only Euros, and didn’t feel like changing currency, so I turned around and rode back!

Once back in town, I bought brötchen, my favorite German food (OK, they’re just rolls, and I can’t explain why they’re different from American rolls), along with some cheese, cherries, and Coke, and picnicked on a bench facing the river.  Then I set off in the other direction with my bike.

Once I’d had enough, I hopped on the ferry back to the train station.

These pictures aren’t bad, considering they were taken through the window of a moving train:

It was a nice day of solitude, and I’m sure I had more fun than I would have had in the city on that particular day.  And it just means that Mr. Flyaway and I can discover Dresden for the first time together (along with Munich, which I’ve also never visited), when I finally manage to get him to visit Germany.

Sunday was a much-needed day of rest, other than attending my roommate’s choir concert in a beautiful on church on the west side of Berlin:

And now it’s the weekend again already!  Tomorrow morning one of my law school classmates arrives on the night train from Paris, where she’s working this summer.  So I’ll spend the weekend being part tourist and part tour guide to her.  Until next week! 

 

 

July 11, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Flydog

Sadie

October 22, 1994 to July 3, 2008

This picture was taken just a few days ago, by my husband out on the deck of our home in Ann Arbor.  She was sweet and gentle and eager to please.  And gluttonous. 🙂  Even people who don’t like dogs liked Sadie.  In some ways, she had a hard life.  She didn’t have the life she “should” have had, because of health issues that started with an injury in puppyhood.  But in other ways she had a wonderful life, full of people who loved her.

I’m really sorry I wasn’t there with her and with my husband last night when she took a sudden and dramatic turn for the worse and he had a terrible decision to make.  Once her condition stabilized several weeks ago, I began to think she’d make it until I come home in three weeks.  In a sad way, I can see a silver lining in her having gotten suddenly so sick right before I left home.  It gave me the opportunity to really say goodbye before I left, knowing what that might mean.

July 4, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Country Roads, Take Me Home

Friday afternoon I set out on the train for the six-hour trip to Marienheide, a small town east of Cologne, where I spent my junior year of high school as an exchange student. The first 4+ hours were on the ICE high-speed train. I absolutely love the ICE. I always reserve a seat at a table, where I can plug in my laptop and watch movies the whole trip. Of course, I could watch movies from home just as well, but somehow that makes me feel lazy and unproductive. And how often do you really spend four hours at home with no interruptions?

On the local train from Cologne to Marienheide, I strained my eyes as the sun went down, trying to recognize where I was. I took that train countless times during my year there, for day trips to Cologne or to catch a long-distance train any time I was headed anywhere else. I even skipped school a few times and headed to Cologne for the day (once you turn 30, you can freely admit these things even though your parents are probably reading your blog).

Upon arrival, I was greeted by my host father, who drove me up those familiar streets to the house. Not much has changed in the last 15 years, which was really nice to see. It was amazing to see my host brother, who has changed so much! He was 11 when I lived there, and I saw him again once at age 16. He’s now 26 and is indisputably a full-grown man. He and his girlfriend, my host father and mother, and I sat around the kitchen table (a very familiar and comfortable conversation spot) catching up for a couple of hours before bed.

Here are some pictures of the bedroom where I lived as an exchange student, and where I slept again this weekend (though the furniture and carpet are different now). Also the view out the window:

The next morning, I got to see my youngest host sister, now 24, when she came over to have breakfast with all of us. Just like with my host brother, it was hard to stop looking at her! It’s so amazing to see someone you’ve only known as a child, suddenly all grown up. I also met my brand new host sister, just three years old, for the first time. I met her when she came into my room in the morning, silently, staring at me. I tried to break the ice by giving her a present, of course. It was well-received!

We became practically inseparable after that.

It was a drizzly morning, but after breakfast, my host father, the dog, and I went for a long walk so that I could see some of the surrounding area again.

At around lunchtime, we discovered that there had been miscommunication between my host parents and my oldest host sister. She hadn’t realized I was there on that particular day until her parents called to ask her why she was late! So, unfortunately I missed out on seeing her this trip. But my host grandmother arrived (with cake!), and we had a nice afternoon and evening grilling outside.

The next morning, after more socializing and sharing pictures from back home, my host mother, host father, little host sister, the dog, and I took some pictures outside and then piled into the car to spend a little time at the lake.

After swinging by the local “Eis Cafe” for ice cream cones (of course), I was back on the train. I had intended to spend a couple hours in Cologne, but I was so tired that I only managed to run outside and take a couple pictures of the cathedral. Then I dashed back in and got an earlier train than the one I had reserved a seat on.

These are pretty bad pictures, but I’m sharing them anyway because this particular building is so precious to me. For half my life now, it’s my favorite building in the world. It always made me feel so tiny to stand next to it. I just couldn’t believe that something of that scale (see how tiny the people look on the steps?) had been built (or at least begun) in the 1300s, before modern machinery.

And now a decent picture so you can see what the fuss is about:

Cologne Cathedral

I’m back in Berlin for the week, of course. Work is going well. I got to accompany one of the lawyers to court last week, and I’m periodically out and about in the city doing reconnaissance missions for the firm, playing spy to see if things are really how our clients’ opponents claim them to be. This weekend I’m going to do a day trip to Dresden on Saturday and stay in Berlin on Sunday. Sunday evening I’ll be going to my roommate’s choir concert. During the day I may or may not play tourist. There are still one major (Charlottenburg Palace) and two minor things I want to do in Berlin while I’m here, but I’m awfully ready to spend a day doing nothing! And one of my law school friends is coming to visit me the following the following weekend, so I’m pretty sure I can work in a visit to the Palace then.

Until next time!

July 2, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

London Calling

Friday night after work I caught a cheap Ryan Air flight to London.  I was a little wary of the airline, since one of my coworkers really talked it down, but it was fine!  It was like Southwest but with extra money-making schemes.  Like they played these weird radio commercials for other businesses while we were boarding, sold scratch-off lottery tickets on board, and they had a deal with a ground transport company so that they could sell us transfers on the plane for cheaper than you could buy them once you land.

The friend I was staying with met me at the airport and took me home, where I met Stitch for the first time:

We spent Saturday sight-seeing in London.  I’d been there once before, though it was a long time ago.  I wanted to see the most important sights, but I wasn’t hell-bent on seeing absolutely everything as quickly as possible.  We spent a good long time in the Tower of London, going on the guided tour and exploring the nooks and crannies of the various buildings within its walls.  And, of course, seeing the Crown Jewels (no photos allowed)!

Our “Beefeater” guide:

The Norman chapel in the White Tower: 

My friend and hostess:

After grabbing lunch (fish and chips, of course!), we headed over to ride the London Eye.

Afterwards, we headed over to take a few pictures of Westminster Abbey nearby:

Then on to Harrod’s!  Harrod’s is more than a department store.  I couldn’t believe the incredible food hall and the Egyptian room (basically a really well-themed escalator well with a live singer to entertain you while you make your way up through the levels). 

Through the use of guerilla tactics, my friend and I managed to score seats at the ice cream counter.  I really can’t believe we each managed to eat a whole one of these:

Then, to finish of our day right, I just had to try to sneak onto the Hogwarts Express.  I was almost successful!  My luggage cart got stuck halfway through, unfortunately, as you can see.  So we turned around and went home.

The next day, I wanted to see some of the English countryside, so we went for a lovely drive through Kent.  Our first stop was Leeds Castle:

 

Next, we drove through some amazing tree-lined (more like tree-canopied) country lanes to a pub for an authentic English roast lunch, topped off with Gypsy Tart:

Finally, we explored a bit of the city of Rochester.  The castle:

And the cathedral, which, as my English friend taught me, is what qualifies Rochester to be a city, rather than a town:

And that was it for my weekend in England!  I headed back to Berlin on a Sunday evening flight.  Now (Friday afternoon) I’m off to the train station to visit my old host family from my high school exchange year.  So, there will, of course, be a new installment next week!

Flydog update:  A lot of people have been asking me about Flydog.  She’s OK… I can’t say doing well, but OK.  She’s on a medication to present seizures, so she is stable in that respect, but she simply isn’t back to how she was before the seizures started.  And she’s an old girl, so we don’t necessarily expect her to improve from here on out.  But she’s hanging in there, and Mr. Flyaway is taking care of her the best he can!  I think there’s a good chance I’ll be able to see her again, when I get home in a month.

 

June 27, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Prussian Palaces

Back from my mid-week trip to Frankfurt, I was happy to stay put (well, relatively) in Berlin for the weekend.  On Saturday I mostly hung around the apartment, but I did visit the DDR (GDR- East Germany) Museum for a couple hours.  I was wearing my Michigan cap, and on my way there someone shouted “Go Blue!” at me!

It’s a fun little museum, very well put-together and interactive.  This is the East German-style Walk/Don’t Walk sign.  It’s famous in berlin for the little hats the guys are wearing.  When you walk around the city, you’ll notice a mix of the West- and East-style Walk signs.

A Trabi, the prototypical East German car:

On the way home, I snapped this picture of the TV Tower, probably the second most widely recognized landmark in Berlin, after the Brandenburger Gate.  Notice the church next to it.  On sunny days, there is a huge reflection of the cross in the TV Tower.  This is nicknamed “the Pope’s Revenge,” because the last thing East German leaders wanted was to cast a huge religious symbol across the city, in their officially atheist state.  They tried all sorts of things to correct this, but nothing worked.

Finally, I thought it was pretty awesome that city hall, along with the national flag, the E.U. flag, and the city flag, was flying the Pride flag.

On Sunday, I rented a bike and went with one of my work friends to Potsdam, a small city just outside of Berlin where the Prussian kings built their palaces.  We took the train to Wannsee, hopped on our bikes, and took the scenic route to Potsdam.

Along the way, we rode through Babelsberg, home of the German movie-making industry before the World Wars.  This is a film set facade.

In Park Babelsberg (but actual castles, not movie sets):

 

In Park Sanssouci, the largest UNESCO World Heritage Site in Germany: 

When we took the train back to Berlin, I needed to find my way back home from the main train station because I thought that sounded easier than having to deal with carrying the bike up the steps of the nearest subway station.  My friend, a native (and very enthusiastic) Berliner, showed me the scenic route back to my neighborhood.  I love this picture with Berlin’s most famous site, the Brandenburg Gate, over my shoulder.

And a few random sunset pics from the last week.  The first is from when my mysterious roommate (mysterious because you don’t know what she looks like, since she doesn’t want her picture in the blog) let me know that there was a beautiful sunset down our street and insisted that I take pictures of it for you guys. 

Next, these are from last night, when my roommate and I spent an hour or two in the Mauerpark (Wall Park, formerly site of part of the Berlin Wall, of course).  Click on the first one for a bigger image to see how the hill is covered in purple flowers.

And that’s it, I’m all caught up!  Tomorrow after work I head to London.  If I’m lucky, I’ll get to snap a picture or two of Platform 9 3/4.

June 19, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

73,719 Running Through the Streets of Frankfurt

Last Wednesday I made the trip to Frankfurt to run with my firm’s team in the JP Morgan Chase Run (5.6 K).  It’s billed as the largest race in the world, with 73,719 participants this year!    Other than flying in and out of the airport, I had never been to Frankfurt, so running through the streets in a race was a really fun and unique way to see it.  My time was 33:30, though really that should have been more like 32, because there was such congestion at the finish line that we had to stop way back and walk slowly across.  OK, no championship time, but, hey, there were still lots of people behind me!!

After the race, there was a firm cookout, where I got to know a lot of people from the other German offices.  I spent the night in the firm’s apartment, where an associate I know from the Berlin firm is staying while she spends some time at the Frankfurt office.  Then Thursday morning I took some time to explore the city before catching a train back to Berlin.  It’s more a business-oriented city and less a tourist destination, but there are definitely some things worth seeing.

Me in front of the Römer, city hall:

My last stop was the Goethe Haus (below), birthplace of the famous German author.  Before I went in, I met a nice South African who told me we must have the same walking tour map, since he had noticed me at several previous stops.  He was only in Frankfurt for 12 hours on a layover and had decided to make the best of it and get out of the airport.  We toured the house and museum together and then had lunch before I headed back to Berlin.

So, later today or tomorrow I’ll post a recap of the past weekend in Berlin and Potsdam (the neighboring town where the royal palaces were built).  Then tomorrow night I’m off to London for the weekend!

June 19, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Karl-Marx-City, Leipzig, and back to Berlin

OK, OK, it’s not called “Karl-Marx-Stadt” anymore, but that’s more fun to say than “Chemnitz.” Chemnitz is certainly not a prime tourist destination, but last Saturday I headed down there for the German Gymnastics Championships/second Olympic Trials. Most Germans whom I told I was going there sort of grimaced and warned me that it isn’t very pretty (and some warned me it wasn’t very safe either). Nonetheless, the fact that it’s a more typically East German city made it interesting in its own way.

You can find the occasional pretty building, but they’re mixed in with Stalinist architecture of the worst kind and some buildings that were clearly once beautiful but that have seen better days.

I didn’t take many photos of the meet, because I was busy taking videos for the gymnastics fans out there (yes, they exist). If any of you are interested, here’s my youtube channel.

Thanks to some incredibly bad luck with train delays and cancellations, I barely made it to the meet for its 3 P.M. start time. Consequently, I didn’t have the 2.5 hours I expected to have to explore Leipzig that morning. However, I managed to squeeze in an hour in Leipzig in the afternoon. Luckily, a lot of the most beautiful sites in the city are within walking distance from the train station.

Leipzig is best known for its “Peaceful Revolution” in 1989, leading to the German reunification, and for Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach spent the last 27 years of his life in Leipzig.


Then on Sunday I wanted to take advantage of a rare weekend day in Berlin to be a tourist in the city for a change. So, I went on a bike tour of the major sights.

The New Synagogue:

The Berlin Cathedral:

The French Cathedral at the Gendarmenmarkt:

My bike tour group:

The concert hall at Gendarmenmarkt:

One of the few remaining stretches of the wall, left as a monument. This is near Checkpoint Charlie:

The monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe:

And, of course, you can’t go to Berlin without seeing the Brandenburger Tor:

The Reichstag, where both houses of Parliament meet:

On my bike tour I happened to meet some American law students who were doing a study abroad in Europe and were visiting Berlin for the weekend. I had been invited out for Sunday night with one of my colleagues to watch the Germany-Poland soccer match (the European Championships are going on, and people are VERY excited about this). So, I brought them along for the “cultural experience”:

So, that’s it for last weekend! There will be a new entry very soon, as it’s been a busy week. I had mid-week trip to Frankfurt to run with my firm’s team in the world’s largest road race.

June 15, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Weekend in Wroclaw, Poland

Saturday morning I took the train to Wroclaw for an overnight trip. It was a rather slow, uneventful ride, made a bit more interesting by the company in my compartment. Among them was an American couple. The wife was born in Poland, lived there until adulthood, and then lived in East Germany for a number of years before emigrating to the U.S. They were returning to her hometown for a class reunion.

Upon arrival in Wroclaw, I felt slightly out of my element, a little intimidated by the unfamiliar sights and sounds. Although Poland receives several billion dollars a year from the EU, its economic transition is very much a work in progress. In terms of standards of upkeep, cleanliness, and technology, it reminds me much more of its eastern neighbor, Belarus (which I visited for a week in 2002) than of its western neighbor, Germany. That said, the more touristy areas are extremely well cared-for and beautiful. Those areas have been the first to benefit from the improvements to Poland’s economy.

Not wanting to withdraw Polish zloty from an ATM in the sketchy train station so that I could buy a bus ticket, I decided to walk the mile or so to the youth hostel. It was a pretty hot walk, thanks to my jeans and backpack, but other than that not bad. Well, at least not once I figured out where in the world I was going. Once you know that, Wroclaw is a very walkable city for a tourist.

The hostel (Boogie Hostel) was great. No old world charm or anything, but recently renovated and extremely clean. I had a single room rather than a bed in a dorm room. It wasn’t much bigger than a walk-in closet, but it was exactly what I needed:

After quickly changing, I headed out to the main market square and the few streets around it, to explore and take pictures.

I eventually settled down in the outdoor seating at the Pizza Hut (I’m not ashamed) to enjoy the weather and the music and ambiance of the square. I ended up spending the entire evening there, since I was joined at my table by a couple of German gentlemen who I had great conversations with. They were an uncle and his nephew, and the uncle was born in Wroclaw in 1933, when it was still part of Germany. He had to move into what is today Germany in 1945, at the end of World War II, when the territory was given to Poland. He and his nephew were visiting his old hometown to spend some time tracing their roots.

On Sunday morning, I was out of the hostel bright and early to get some pictures of the market in the morning sunlight and to explore more of the city.

I took so many pictures of city hall, but I don’t feel that I got a single one that did it justice. My first thought upon seeing it was that it was the most beautiful building I had seen in my entire life. It’s so unique, and the details are so intricate.

The university:

I made my way over to Ostrov Tumski, an island (well, formerly an island) that has historically been used only for religious purposes, including cathedrals and the archbishop’s palace (now a museum). It was still fairly early, so it was unbelievably peaceful. It felt like a real getaway to walk around the beautiful streets.

So, that’s Wroclaw! I’m back in Berlin for the week, where I just had a brief visit from friends from back home, one of Mr. Flyaway’s college friends and her husband. I took them to a couple places I had never tried that were highly recommended by my work friends, an Italian restaurant (Due Forni) and a bar with a panoramic view of the city (Solar). The combination made for a great evening. And my friends brought me treats from back home: Oreos, Cheetos, and Doritos. The Doritos are already gone!

On the agenda this weekend is the second of the two German Olympic Trials for gymnastics, this time down in Chemnitz. I plan to take the train there and back on Sunday, with a 2.5 hour stopover in Leipzig, a very historically important eastern German city, to do a little exploring.



June 4, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

An Eventful Week

Well, last Thursday was interesting at the office.  It seems that Potsdamer Platz is the prime meeting points for demonstrators, and there was a strike of high school students.  Yes, high school students on strike.  These pictures are taken from windows in our office.  The first picture is especially funny because of the double-decker tour bus with tourists watching the demonstration.

Saturday was a busy day! In the morning I walked around the neighborhood a little, taking pictures, including a stop by the street market to stock up on fresh vegetables.

Then my roommate and I went to the first of two competitions that comprise the German Olympic Trials for gymnastics. It was her first time attending a gymnastics meet and my first time attending a German one! Notable differences: (1) the announcer could be pretty casual in his chatter; sometimes it was more like TV commentary; (2) the audience was very sizeable and attentive, but nowhere near as boisterous as Amercan audiences; I really had to tone my cheering down.

Here is my favorite German gymnast, Oksana Chusovitina.  I like to refer to her as the last Soviet gymnast.  She  competed for the Soviet Union in the late  ’80s and early ’90s, including the 1991 World Championships team and the 1992 Unified Team in the Barcelona Olympics.  Then she competed for Uzbekistan until her preschool-age son  was diagnosed with leukemia.  She moved to Germany to get treatment for him and has become a citizen and now represents Germany internationally.  She’ll be 33 in June, and she’s still a medal contender for the 2008 Olympics, especially on vault!

After the meet, I rode on my rented bicycle down to Kreuzberg, a very colorful neighborhood that was once a poor and very isolated part of West Berlin due to the way the Berlin Wall ran, to meet up with some of the associates from my firm for the evening. We had a great time, first visiting this bar on the River Spree:

Then eating ice cream. This was my first “spaghetti eis” since 1994.  Apparently, it’s very odd to order it in 2008:

Then visiting this really cool pool that’s right in the river. I’ll have to go back when it’s warm enough to swim:

Then riding our bikes from bridge to bridge and taking sunset pictures:

And finally we settled down for drinks and fries in the neighborhood of Friedrichshain:

On Sunday, I got together with some German gymnastics fans for dinner and drinks. This is a nice bar on the river right by the Museum Island, where they’ve created something of a beach atmosphere:

I’m going to Wroclaw, Poland (formerly known as Breslau in English and still known as Breslau in German) this weekend, and I expect to get tons of great pictures.  It’s supposed to be “the new Krakow.”  Basically, it’s a beautiful Polish city that hasn’t been inundated with tourists yet.  Stay tuned for my next installment, early next week!

May 29, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chocolate Bunnies

I’m settling into a daily routine, which is fun and interesting in its own right, since actually living in a city is so entirely different from being a tourist there. That said, I definitely intend to take some days to be a tourist, since the last time I was here was 1994, and things have changed so dramatically. Potsdamer Platz, this hotspot where I work, was divided in two by the Berlin Wall. In fact, the Wall ran right under my building. Throughout the city, they have a stone line on the ground where the wall once stood, whether across the street or sidewalk or through the grass. Here are a couple pictures of the line outside my building:

A fun discovery I made at work this week was that Lindt, a Swiss chocolate company, is a client of my firm’s. They sent us a huge amount of chocolate, including an assortment of chocolate bunnies. (Oh, and by the way, this newfound fondness Germans have for combining chocolate with chili peppers scares me. Seriously, chili-chocolate ice cream? Uh, no thanks. ) Apparently, Lindt won a copyright case, so that no one else can call their chocolate bunnies “Goldhase” (gold rabbit). This was actually a couple years ago, according to the press release I found, so I’m not exactly sure why we were sent chocolate this week, but I’m not complaining! Here is a picture of some of the bunnies:

My weekend was a good mix of resting and exploring my neighborhood. I went with my roommate to her gym on Saturday and found that just as in America, you can’t try out a gym without them trying to presssure you into joining. On Sunday we went to the Martin Gropius Bau for a couple art exhibitions, one of an architect and one of young German photographers:

I’m really looking forward to this Saturday! In the afternoon I’m going to the first of two competitions that will determine the German Olympic gymnastics team, and in the evening I’m going out with some of the attorneys from my office.

May 22, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments