We departed Istanbul very early in the morning on Oct. 29th. We knew that the day was going to be very long, but interesting because we were to have breakfast in Turkey, lunch in England (on a layover that lasted most of the day), and dinner in Germany.
We arrived at Düsseldorf airport at around 11 pm local time and were picked up by Marcus and Stefanie Bier- the parents of the exchange student living with Adam’s mom’s family in Portland. It was a great opportunity for our two families to come together in a new way and for us to be able to experience German family life in a small town- a welcome reprieve from touristy site seeing. The Bier’s were fabulous hosts who were nice enough to speak English with us the whole time we were in Germany. Even Johanna, their twelve year old daughter spoke English very well (as it is a requirement for all students).
Our first day in Rhine was spent touring the city by bicycle, which is quite the norm in this part of Germany (Rhine is only about 30 minutes from the Netherlands). We noticed that everyone is out on their bikes- no matter the age or your form of dress. It is a regular form of transportation in this city that was built around pedestrians and bicycles.
The next day we were given the opportunity to visit Johanna’s Gymnasium school and visit a few of their English classes. This was a special treat for us. We wanted to know what the students were genuinely curious about with regards to the US, so we told them to ask us anything and not to worry about offending us. Surprisingly, we were also asked to speak about the American Dream as it is a concept that students in English classes must study and be able to write about when they take their graduation exams. It also became a concept that we have been pondering as well and it has been something we have thought about while having conversations with adults here as well. It was great to see the rush of bicycles once classes ended at 1:30 and students were dismissed to go home for dinner (the main meal of the day) and not return until the next day.
Since it was a holiday weekend in the state the Bier’s live in, they were free to take us to Berlin for the long weekend. We all piled into Markus’ Mercedes and set off on the autobahn to Berlin.
On the way, we passed by a major checkpoint at the border of the former East Germany. It was hard to believe that it wasn’t so long ago.
Berlin is a city with a great deal of recent history, but we found it difficult to comprehend what has happened in such a short time. There is little evidence of the Berlin wall left (except in gift shops that sell pieces that are labeled as “the real wall”). There is, though, a temporary plastic representation of the wall located where the former wall was near the Brandenburg gate. This representation seemed to be the new photo op for tourists.
While near the Brandenburg gate the first evening in Berlin, we came across a very small dog who was homeless. Being the dog lovers that we are we decided to adopt him on the spot and take him on our journey with us. Johanna thought of the German story book character, Schnuffel, so that became his name (we also really loved the way that Johanna said Schnuffel, with her so adorable twelve year old German accent).
We also visited the Pergamon museum while in Berlin. This was particularly interesting to us as we were in Pergamon, Turkey the week before and saw the site where many of the artifacts came. Actually, a German engineer took the best of the ruins to his homeland in the 1880’s. The Pergamon museum is also home to a Babylonian gate that is quite impressive. Also, of great interest is the damage from the war on the outside of the museum. The Berlin museum island is now currently under a huge restoration project to fix their buildings.
We arrived back in Rhine just in time for a laid back and relaxing Sunday. After sleeping in and taking plenty of time for morning coffee we met Stefanie’s family for an early dinner at a typical German restaurant. After the meal we drove to a nearby village to take a post meal walk in Tecklenburg. When we got there it became very apparent that this was a popular thing to do on a Sunday afternoon, there were many people young and old out strolling the streets of this village. We ended the walk with a cup of mulled wine from a street vendor.
Adam decided that we could not leave Germany without tasting a famed (by the urban legend about JFK) Berliner. Ich bin ein Berliner!!