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Germany & England 2012: Calm, Cool and Collected

“Even though it was my ninth trip to Germany, it felt like every day was filled to the brim with interesting sights, sounds, tastes, encounters and learning experiences." --Roger Merritt

June 25 - July 17


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Introduction: I love contrast. “So much to do, and so little time” was my constant refrain. I always relish the opportunity to get away from my routine and learn about someplace different through vigorous observation. This year our trip to Germany and England was similar to the one in 2010, but with some new experiences. With record heat and drought going on in Tennessee, we managed to escape to a very cool-to-moderate, wet and verdant land that was a refreshing contrast to all the politico-economic doom and gloom election coverage in America. But surely things would be different in Europe compared to two years ago, wouldn’t they? Why, with all the Euro skepticism and abysmal economic forecasting, by the American media, surely things will be worse there now, according to conservative wisdom. Well, I have to say that the usual scant coverage of Europe by the American media got things a bit too pessimistically.

Our trip went amazingly well, despite the less than ideal weather. We had mostly cool temperatures, but with all the miles we had to cover, on a timeline, I never felt pressure. I always felt calm and collected. There was so much to do and see and experience that I never had a dull moment for the entire trip. Even though it was my ninth trip to Germany, it felt like every day was filled to the brim with interesting sights, sounds, tastes, encounters and learning experiences. We didn’t get to go to a third country this time, like Poland, in 2010, but here’s what we did that was new this time:

  • We went to Munich to visit our niece, Michaela, whom we’d never met before, her husband Sophiane and their baby son, Anouar. This was our first trip ever to Munich.
  • We visited five of six of Linda’s sisters in Germany (Veronica, Juliet, Debbie, Cindy and Juliana; Marjorie was in Trinidad, but we saw her three sons).
  • We visited one of our two nieces in England, Catherine, and her family in Cambridgshire.
  • We rented two cars (a VW Polo in Germany and a Vauxhall Corsa in England) and drove for 1700 miles total.
  • Roger rented a Smart car in central Berlin and drove it for one-hour-and- fifteen-minutes, mostly in Kreuzberg, for fun and to see how it drove.
  • We hiked in the Schwabian Alps, near Goppingen, to Hohenstaufen castle ruin, and drove to Kloster Lorch, a 12th century monastery.
  • Roger rode five different bicycles in Germany; two belonging to nephews, and three rented in Berlin. Roger rode all over central Berlin, seeing many sights.
  • Roger went to three new museums in Berlin he’d never been to before; the DDR museum, the Stasi museum, and the Jewish History Museum.
  • And he went to the Pergamon museum, which he’d been to before, and two art gallery museums he’d been to before; the Old National Art gallery and the Gemaldegalerie, with Linda.
  • Roger, Linda and Reanna went to Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, Topography of Terror, and Checkpoint Charlie, among other places in Berlin, and went on a riverboat ride on the Spree River.
  • Roger and Linda went to Merle’s, the first Trinidadian restaurant in Berlin (Linda’s sister Veronica is a cook there).
  • Roger went to Tiergarten Park (and once with Linda) and several other parks in Berlin, such as Volk’s Park, and Victoria Park.
  • Roger climbed the tower of the French Cathedral for a great 360 degree view, in Gendarmenmarkt, and went to the sculpture gallery in Friedrichswerdersche church.
  • In England, we went to Cambridge and ate at Wagamama restaurant, and Roger walked around the old town and climbed the tower of Greater St. Mary’s church, seeing a 360 degree panorama of Cambridge.
  • We went to Ely for the first time and walked around the cathedral ground, and the old town center with Catherine and her twins.
  • We went to Bury St. Edmunds for the first time, with Catherine, and walked around the Abbey Park and the town center.
  • We spent two nights in Waterbeach visiting Catherine, and spent three nights in Brockley, London, at sister Cherrie’s and went to church at New Cross Church of Christ one Sunday.
  • We rode the train to Waterloo Station and went aboard the London Eye (a super tall Ferris wheel), and walked around Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace and St. James Park, and Parliament Square.
  • We saw the Olympic tower and stadium from the motorway to and from London to Stansted airport.
The following is a brief day-by-day summary:

We flew Continental Airlines from Nashville to Dulles, to Frankfurt, Germany to Berlin's Tegel airport. We left Dulles late, and were the last people on the plane in Frankfurt. This delay caused Roger and Linda's bags to not make it to Berlin on time. Linda's bag was delivered to us late the first night, and Roger's bag was delivered the next day. We got to Veronica's by memory in the rented VW Polo and received great hospitality.

The first week, we and sister-in-law Juliet, drove down to Munich to visit Michaela, our niece, and her family. When we left Berlin it was very dreary, but Juliet said that when we cross the Elbe River, the weather will be better, and sure enough, it was. It turned out to be a lovely day as we drove to Munich. We’d never met Michaela before. Not on purpose, but because circumstances had never worked out. But this time we were determined, and thanks to better communication and planning, we were able to have a wonderful visit. We found their flat on the SE side of Munich, and Michaela had prepared a delicious pizza for us. We also followed them on a little outing to a neat shopping center in a redeveloped airport east of Munich. We departed Munich for Linda’s sister Debbie in Goppingen as the big Germany v. Italy football match, a UEFA Euro Cup semi-final, was getting underway. As a result, the traffic to Goppingen was very light (Germany lost 2-0). It was a very sad result for Germany, but everyone seemed to get over it quickly.

We spent two nights at Debbie and nephew Marcus’s. All of us went for a hike in the Schwabian Alps the next day, and visited a castle ruin, called Hohenstaufen, then drove to Kloster Lorch, a well preserved monastery that had a lot of activity going on. We climbed the tower of the church and got an impressive view of the hills on one side and the town below. The weather on this day was fantastic—the best of the entire trip. That night we watched Marcus’s video of his trip to Trinidad in 2011, and Roger showed his videos about Trinidad 2011. This was really neat.

The next day Roger walked around the little town of Holzheim, where Debbie lives, and late in the afternoon, we departed and drove to Linkenheim-Hochstetten, north of Karlsruhe, and spent two nights at Linda’s sister Marjorie’s house, which incidentally, was built in 1593. Marjorie and husband Claus have been in Trinidad for several months, but their three sons were at home, and we spent time with them. The next day, we followed them in the car on a very scenic drive to Elsenz, a village to the northeast, where the oldest son has bought a house. We looked in the house, then they accompanied us to Rotensol, in the Black Forest, where Linda’s sister Cindy, husband Peter and son live, and had a delicious lunch. That evening, back in Linkenheim-Hochstetten, Roger rode a bicycle to the Rhein River, and through the town, which was very rewarding, and observed the orderly layout of the town. That night, we watched the Euro Cup final on TV with our nephews between Spain and Italy (Spain won 4-0). The final was being played in Kiev, Ukraine.

The next day, we drove south, back into the Black Forest, to Schomberg, to visit Linda’s sister Juliana, in her apartment; had a good lunch, and visited. Then, we drove back to Berlin, exceeding 100 mph a couple of times, reaching late that night, and got a bit lost going from Juliet’s apartment to Veronica’s, but stopping to look at bus route maps eventually helped us get our bearings.

Flight to England

On July 5th, we flew from Berlin to England’s Stansted airport, NE of London, on Ryan Air, and drove to Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, to visit Cathi and her two children; Gabriel and Jasmin, who were three-and-a-half. Graham was away on a trip, but we saw him on our last day in England on the 10th. We spent two nights at the Silverwood Lodge in Waterbeach. On the first afternoon, we followed Cathi and the kids to Ely, about 14 miles to the north. This old cathedral town was very charming, and the weather turned out to be beautiful at the right time. We walked around the town, and then went back to have dinner in Waterbeach at a restaurant called “The Bridge” which was beside the Cam River.

The next day, the twins were at day care, and Cathi went with us to Cambridge. It was rainy and miserable till about 2:30 pm, but Roger had a good time walking around the historic college town, as the ladies shopped. Roger wandered into an old church, called Greater St. Mary's and climbed the tower. The views from Greater St. Mary's tower were spectacular, with densely crowded buildings and arteries full of pedestrians. This was exactly what Roger was looking for. The rooftops, the market, the colleges, and the mist were well worth the price of admission. The Westminster Chime, the familiar clock chime that is played in Big Ben in London, originated here at Greater St. Mary's. Roger read a few history markers inside the church and learned about the history of the church. This was the longest amount of time Roger has gotten to explore Cambridge and it was very absorbing.

We met up and ate lunch at Wagamama Restaurant, with modern Asian fusion food. The weather brightened up considerably, and we decided to go to Bury St. Edmunds, about 20 miles to the east. It turned out to be a very attractive old abbey town, which is also where Graham's mother, Sally, lives. Bury St. Edmunds was a place we had heard of before, but had never been to. The Abbey of Bury St Edmunds was once among the richest Benedictine monasteries in England. Its ruins lie in Bury St Edmunds, a town in the county of Suffolk. When, in the early 10th century, the relics of the martyred king, St Edmund, were brought here, the Abbey grew over the next couple hundred years to become one of the biggest Abbey's in the country. The Abbey went through periods of turmoil and an accidental fire caused it to decline and was ultimately dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1539. BSE has the smallest pub in England, as a novelty, and has some unique old houses built into the old Abbey wall, which we found to be engrossing.

On the 3rd day, we drove to London to spend three nights at Cherrie Ivers house in Brockley. Along the way, we passed the Olympic village for the 2012 Summer Olympics on London's east side.

On Saturday morning, Roger went to visit his old neighborhood, called Telegraph Hill, in New Cross, and took in views of central London from the park at the top. Also, Roger and Reanna went to Hilly Fields Park in Brockley, so that Reanna could play on the familiar playground that she likes. We went to church at New Cross on Sunday—saw a lot of brethren we know there, and watched the Wimbledon men's and women's finals on TV at Cherrie's.

On Monday, July 9th, we rode the train to Waterloo station, and walked to the London Eye, for the first time, and purchased tickets to ride. There were lots of people there to ride the London Eye, but luckily, the queue moved along reasonably fast, and before long we were enjoying the amazing views of London's Parliament, the Thames River, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the new Shard skyscraper which were some of the main attractions.

Next, we walked along the south embankment, crossed the river over Hungerford Bridge and onto Trafalgar Square and West End for a day of sightseeing. We found a really neat place to eat lunch, on Villiers Street, called “Herman the German”; a bratwurst place, very similar to what you would find in Berlin that served Currywurst. We got a kick out of eating there. Our continued walk to Buckingham Palace was circuitous and bordered along venues for the forthcoming Olympic Games to be hosted soon in London. The cloudy, overcast sky mercifully held off the rain until late in the afternoon when it was time to go home.

Flight Back to Berlin

Back to Berlin on July 10th. We departed Cherrie’s and drove to Waterbeach, one more time to see Cathi, the twins, and Graham, then we drove to Stansted, turned in the car, and flew to south Berlin. It was late, when we landed, so we took a taxi to our home base, at Veronica's, where we spent almost another week. Roger continued to visit museums in Berlin and renting bicycles, going for long rides through central, east and south central Berlin. After cycling one day, from Alexander Platz, to the east wall gallery, to Kreuzberg, to Tiergarten's Victory Column, Roger saw an unusual police escorted stream of customized low rider bicycles being ridden by a colorful club of cyclists which lasted for several minutes. In 2004, Roger climbed the Victory Column, but this time it looked a bit crowded, so he didn't, instead opting to ride more in Tiergarten, almost as far west as the Berlin Zoo.

The weather was cooler than normal and wet for a good part of some days, but Roger made the best of it, seeing as much as he could, including Pergamon Museum, one of the best archaeological museums in the world with terrific Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman architecture, as well as Islamic art. Roger re-visited this for the first time since 1993, and it was crowded. Roger also went to the highly acclaimed Jewish History Museum, in Kreuzberg, learning a lot about Jewish ancestry, customs, and persecution in Europe.

Plus, we spent a good amount of time with Linda's sister Juliet, and Veronica's children; our nephew Gerald and his girlfriend Jenny, plus our niece, Susanne and her family, Marko, and son Noah, who was born since our last visit in 2010. Susanne, Marko and Noah live in Potsdam, southwest of Berlin. Susanne is an architect and Marko works in road construction engineering.

Roger and Linda visited the Gemaldegalerie alone one day, a very fine medieval and renaissance art museum with all the major schools of painting. This museum is especially strong in portraits, including some of, one of Roger's favorites, Hans Holbein. Next, Roger and Linda went to eat at Merle's, near Yorckstrasse, where Veronica cooks authentic Trinidadian food.

The following day (the last full day of the trip), Roger rented a Smart car, from a nice man named Paul, near Checkpoint Charlie, and drove to eastern-most Kreuzberg and back. Roger drove through thick traffic, cobbled back streets, over bridges, and through commercial areas, as well as residential. The Smart car was semi-automatic, which took some getting used to, but it handled like a charm, and he also put some gas in it, before returning it just in time not to be charged for another hour. The Smart car was fun, like driving a Trabant, which Roger did in 2010, but the Smart car was much more responsive, and he could go anywhere he wanted.

Next, Roger went to a smaller, newer version of the Stasi Museum at Checkpoint Charlie and then rented his third bike in Berlin and rode to Gendarmenmarkt and climbed, for the first time, the clock tower of the French Cathedral. The view from the tower was fantastic in every direction. Then, Roger rode due south to Victoria Park in lower Kreuzberg, where the views were outstanding to the north and west. People shots—with Roger’s camera—of Berliner’s enjoying the park were very easy to find here. Lastly, Roger rode over to Chamissoplatz, with fine 19th century facades, and one very old looking pissuar (a men’s public toilet), before returning the bike to Checkpoint Charlie, just in time to eat a Currywurst, before a downpour that signaled it was time to head for home.

Departure day, it was bye, bye to Veronica and Gerald, who were terrific hosts. A fairly early taxi ride to Tegel got us there in plenty of time. Oddly, the 9:35 United Airlines flight was to Newark, not New York, as the check-in sign said. This should be the last time we see Tegel airport. The new Brandenburg airport, south of Berlin, is scheduled to open in 2013.

We got an unusually sunny view of Greenland while passing over the Atlantic. This was a rare view of a country that is often cloudy and snow covered, however, the snow was mostly melted. What a bonus to an otherwise wonderful trip.

Conclusion: There are always incredible lessons to learn from visiting Germany. I am learning to be more open to them. Riding the S-Bahn and U-Bahn in Berlin gives one a sense of how amazingly cooperative and polite Berliners are. Even driving, you get the same vibe. I spent more time in Kreuzberg, Berlin's most ethnically diverse section, than ever before, and felt no fear, or apprehention. Berlin is an exceptionally well ordered place, and Germany, as a whole, seems to be run so efficiently! England was pretty much the same. London keeps getting more crowded, but nothing much seems to change its character from being “the biggest aggregation of human life—the most complete compendium of the world,” to quote Henry James. We are getting more acquainted with Cambridgeshire, and the east midlands, and so far, everything is very chummy. No complaints coming out of me! Though Britain seemed to be more self deprecating than usual, because of the up coming Olympics and excessive rain this summer, it still had a "Stay calm and carry on" sort of attitude that I love. That's why I felt Calm, Cool and Collected this whole trip.

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Winston Churchill

Map of Brockley
Map of Germany
DDR Museum
Stasi Museum
Our trip to Berlin in 2010
Our trip to Berlin in 2004
My first trip to Berlin in 1993-94