Category Archives: History and culture

Both sides now

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The red line is the border between Berlin and Brandenberg; it also marks the location of the former Berlin Wall and borders in the water as well. Due to West Berlin being in the middle of East Germany, former West Berlin is the east side of this map; to the west of it is former East Germany.

Having talked with Anne about making a visit to Glienicke Brücke since before the Unity Day race last October, we finally managed to do so last Thursday. We made a tour of it together, sprinkling in a few other sites from that portion of the Wannsee along the way. I discovered, not surprisingly, that I’ve already been enjoying the best view of the duo-toned bridge for months from the optimal vantage point: the water. Continue reading

Tempelhof – From abandoned airport to urban park

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Lately my bike rides around town have included a loop around the runways at Tempelhof in Berlin. I can’t get enough of this former airport turned urban park. Like so many places in Berlin, it is the site of incredible history that in recent years has found new uses in today’s world. Continue reading

The boys in the other boat

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The main Olympic stadium in the west of Berlin. The partial roof was added in recent years as part of renovations. In this image you can see the cauldron; Berlin held the first Olympic torch relay. (Click on any photo to enlarge).

A few months ago my family and I toured the 1936 Olympic Stadium, restored in recent years to its original condition. Jesse Owens earned his glory here, perhaps the most famous athlete to emerge from those Olympics.

The stadium is quintessential Nazi architecture, they say; it’s an imposing structure of concrete and marble, built to impress the world. The stadium lies in far western Berlin, just north of the Grunewald Forest. Many of the sports events of 1936 took place in this location, but not all. Continue reading

Sea monsters

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Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz

It has happened to me on the Mississippi in a single, when a movement in the water catches my eye—a black swirl spinning away from me—and in that moment my heart seems to leap to my throat, as if some water creature might climb out of the depths to the surface. But soon I see it has a mate on the other side spinning away from my boat, and I recognize the pair as the puddles from my own stroke.

I had that feeling again yesterday, though it wasn’t my swirls that jarred me. I was in a men’s quad for this late afternoon row, and the pace was unrelenting and solid. There was a good chop on the water, most likely from the new ferryboat unveiled by the BVG this spring, and it runs on the half hour and ruins your good water for quite a spell. Irregular waves splashed up the side of the boat, ricocheting off the riggers, and the water that struck my back, arms and legs was cold, though nothing like the cold of a Minnesota snowmelt.

Continue reading

Orient me

Grosser Tiergarten

Großer Tiergarten. Image courtesy of stadtentwicklung.berlin.de

We left the girls alone in the apartment since their groans told us they had no interest in joining us for a walk through the Tiergarten. M and I headed out midday under sunny Sunday skies, with the temps in the 40s. We took Eisenacherstraße north through our neighborhood, farther than I’d ever followed it, to the point where it changes names. I made an effort to lodge the name Courbièrestraße somewhere in my brain so I could find it again later. From there we turned right and emerged on a main thoroughfare, and I took a moment to turn around and observe the small opening, filing it away for future reference. Continue reading

A trip to the sea

Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road along the southern coast of Australia. Photo courtesy of Melbourne.visitorsbureau.com.au

We set out for the coast later than planned. Deb and I arrived at the car rental place in downtown Melbourne at 10 a.m., as requested, but the line for the second-floor office went all the way down the stairs to the street. Ned showed up with his backpack and rolled a cigarette and stood outside with me in the strong sun until Deb emerged over a half hour later with the keys to our blue Holden Cruze with New South Wales plates. Continue reading

Silvester in Berlin

“It is always somewhat dramatic in my neighborhood. Three years ago an apartment in my building caught fire and was completely destroyed. Oh, well. Silvester in Berlin.” –Excerpt from a “Happy New Year” email from a German friend in Friedenau

fireworks in berlinNew Year’s Eve has its own name and personality here in Berlin. The holiday isn’t known as New Year’s Eve here; it’s called Silvester. Named for a pope from the 4th century AD, the odd name persists, though the celebration is as pagan as anything you might dream up.

Daytime activities include fortune-telling games and a viewing of a 1963 British comedy sketch called Dinner for One, and thanks to a package from a German intern we’d hosted, we were introduced to both at once. Continue reading