Our next stop on our Europe trip was Germany, after leaving Israel and all that intrigue. Germany was a very welcome change. We landed in Frankfurt and saw a large cow sculpture in the airport terminal. Talula felt right at home, as she came from a dairy region of South Carolina. We changed planes and flew to Berlin.
When we got to the airport, I felt an overwhelming feeling that I was back home, even though I had never been there before. My ancestors were German, and we came from the southern part of the country near the Rhine. We had to get into an elevator to get to our bus. I was singing the German national anthem in the elevator, and a lot of Germans looked at me funny. I didn't care.
West Berlin was very clean. Our hotel was near the city center. Talula wanted to get a German hymnal for her pastor back home, so she, Sandra and I set out that afternoon to find a church. We found one not far from our hotel. It was really big. The outside of the church featured ruins from the war, and the inside was very modern. Our first stop was the gift shop in the church, but they didn't have any hymnals. We then found a priest and asked him if we could buy a hymnal. He got very upset and told us that this was a church, not a store. So, the three of us sat in a pew and just took in the church aura. When we left and were outside, Sandra pulled a hymnal from her purse, and gave it to Talula. We thought we were all going to Hell for stealing a hymnal from that church. I hope the statute of limitations has run out, since the theft was over 40 years ago. If not, don't tell them. We also went to a department store to buy a washcloth for one of the girls. I didn't know much German, but we got by in asking the clerk for help. I was also appointed to figure out what the exchange rates were between American and German money. Our hotel had taken our passports and kept them at the front desk. No one had done that so far on our trip, and we didn't know why, but you deal with it.
The next day, we toured East Berlin. Our bus went through Checkpoint Charlie, and they ran mirrors under our bus looking for people, I guess. Men with machine guns boarded our bus. We were told not to take pictures of the Berlin Wall from the East. Of course, you tell me not to do something, and I will do it anyway, so I got some nice shots of the wall. I was also told in Israel not to take pictures of Army installations around the country. I got some nice shots of those, too. We were also told by our tour guide not to talk to any East Germans. Mr. Vivian wanted some authentic German cheesecake, so we found a small restaurant. The girl behind the counter came over to our table to ask us about blue jeans and American life. Out of nowhere, a man in a trench coat showed up and said something to the girl. She quickly went back to work. Our tour guide told us he was the police. It just so happened that the restaurant was right across the street from the Soviet embassy, so he could have been Stasi or KGB. As our bus rolled around East Berlin, there were two very obvious sites. One was that many of the buildings had not been rebuilt since World War II, and they were just bombed out shells. The second was that Lenin's picture was everywhere. There were paintings, statues, frescos, and much more. The hammer and sickle were prominent. We got to the Soviet War Memorial, where many of the dead were buried. Everything was massive. They did point out where some of the Nazi buildings had been. Since I am a student of World War II, that interested me.
As we were leaving East Berlin, the soldiers with machine guns and big mirrors did their thing once again. On the West side of the wall, there was an observation deck, where we could look across to the East. There was also a billboard next to the wall. It read: "Durst macht Spass mit Fanta". I didn't know that my last name was German for thirst. I had to take a picture of that.
Our afternoon was free. The girls wanted to sleep, so I had the opportunity to go out on my own. The Berlin Zoo was close to our hotel, so I went there. The animals were interesting, but the best thing (and the spookiest) was a group of teenaged boys walking through the zoo. They were all over six feet with blonde hair. I immediately knew who their parents were. A year later, I described that sight to my Sociology professor in college. He didn't believe me, but it was true.
I really liked Berlin. Our next couple of days would be filled with touring the German countryside around the Rhine. The trip would take another turn. More later.