Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Rachel Comes to Berlin!

Mike and I got invited to a wedding in South Africa for one week after my "no travel date."  South Africa has always been high on my list of places I wanted to visit.  I knew people who studied there in college and loved it.  The pictures I've seen only bumped it up higher on my bucket list, so I was pretty devastated when I realized that Mike would be going without me.

Around the same time Mike was booking his trip to South Africa, my friend Rachel reached out to me and said she was thinking of doing a European trip sometime in the spring.  I knew I would want a distraction for the week that Mike was gone, so when she asked for dates, I recommended the week that Mike was away.  It was also a little reassuring to have someone with me this late in the pregnancy, just in case something were to happen.  Luckily, it worked out well for Rachel and we planned for her to come and "babysit" me.   Plus, I got to spend a week with Rachel. :)

Rachel arrived late Sunday night, so we came back to our apartment and hung out before going to bed.  Monday morning, we took it easy and slept late, which I think Rachel appreciated. She came from the UK and it sounds like her itinerary was pretty full, so a day of sleeping in and recovering was much needed (at least I hope!). I had a doctor's appointment late that afternoon, but we had plenty of time to do our standard visitor's walking tour. It's such a great start to any visit to Berlin because it knocks off a lot of the sights that don't require going inside and can be done in about two hours. I had to leave after I gave the tour, but Rachel spent the rest of the afternoon at the Topography of Terror Museum reading about the Stassi and their effect on WWII.  I'm really bummed because the Topography of Terror used to have this great timeline of Hitler's actions and how they affected Germany and WWII.  It was outside, so I'm hoping they will bring it back once it gets a little bit warmer, but it was the best part of the Topography of Terror Museum by far.

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Tuesday was an earlier start because we wanted to hit up two museums and grab lunch.  We started the morning at the German History Museum.  I had never been there, but Mike had and said it was worth it. They had an exhibit on German Colonialism that I thought was captivating because it was an area that I knew very little about. The permanent exhibit is also extremely engaging but be prepared to allot a whole afternoon or morning at this museum.  We didn't even make it to the WWII portion of the museum because we were both hungry at this point, plus the whole city is like a WWII exhibit.  We walked around Museum Island and down to the Hofbrauhaus Berlin, which is just a fun, Bavarian themed restaurant.  The Hofbrauhaus in Munich is iconic, but the one in Berlin is worth a visit if you aren't heading south.

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Some music while we ate spaetzel.  Not pictured: the older couple dancing. 

After lunch, Rachel headed to the DDR Museum and I sat in a cafe and read my book.  The DDR Museum is one of my favorites and is perfect for almost everyone because it's interactive and gives such a great feel for what life in East Germany was like.  I've been two or three times and was feeling pretty tired, so I opted out this time, but Rachel agreed that it's worth a visit if you have time.  

Wednesday, we were up and out the door by mid-morning to make our first stop at the East Side Gallery.  

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The most famous (and most crowded) painting at the East Side Gallery!
The East Side Gallery is such a fun stop and something that everyone can enjoy while still getting a little bit of history. The art is so diverse that everyone can find a piece they like and can relate to. After we explored the East Side Gallery, we headed to the Jewish Museum.  I hadn't been here and had kind of been saving it for when we had a visitor.  Having Rachel as my companion for this was perfect because she was able to provide personal anecdotes throughout the museum about her family's history or just how certain things (like pomegranates) are incorporated into Jewish culture. Even without Rachel, the museum would have been fantastic.  It's interactive enough to keep anyone, including children, engaged.  Maybe the best part of this museum is the layout.  There are three axes which symbolize the three paths of Jewish life in Germany- continuity in Germany history, emigration from Germany and the Holocaust.  It was so well done and Rachel and I were both impressed.

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Holocaust tower in the Axis of the Holocaust.
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Axis of exile.  Some of Rachel's family emigrated to Shanghai from Germany, so it was cool to see Shanghai featured!
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Like I said, the Jewish Museum was so cool.  I think I've told Mike at least five times he needs to go. Plus, it's not huge, so it's doable in a couple of hours and isn't too overwhelming.

Thursday was Rachel's last full day in Berlin so we wanted to make sure to check a few things off of her sight seeing list.  Since we live so close to Tempelhof Field where the Berlin Airlift took place.  The runway that was built for the airlift is still there and now the entire field is a huge park where people can go and hang out. I had lots of visions of walking with Baby Maximus down the runways once we're ready to venture out.

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We came back to our house for an early lunch before heading out to West Berlin for the afternoon.  Rachel had a few things to do on the outskirts of the city, the first being try to exchange some German Marks.  Pretty cool, right?  She had about $15 worth and had heard there was a bank that would give you euros for them. Unfortunately they were closed (possibly just for lunch), so that was a fail, but it was on our way.  Honestly, I think I'd just hang on to them because they're so cool.  

The next thing on our list was the cemetery where Rachel's great-grandfather is buried.  How cool, right?  We had some vague directions from Rachel's relatives and had researched where to go, but apparently we weren't quite right.  After a little bit of wandering around the cemetery looking for the Jewish section (I got really excited when we saw a gravestone with stones on top (a Jewish custom) only to see Josephine Marie buried next to it with a big cross on her gravestone...obviously not the Jewish section) and no success, we finally asked someone who told us we were in the wrong cemetery.  Luckily, he was able to direct Rachel to the correct one, so she decided to go back the next day.  

While discovering that we were in the wrong cemetery was disappointing, it wasn't a complete bust because it was located right next to the Olympic Stadium.  Hitler had this all built with the intention that this would become the permanent location of the Olympics, starting with the 1936 games. Rachel's grandfather was actually there! How cool!

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The Olympic Bell that was destroyed during WWII.  Not pictured: the swastika on the other side. 
The stadium is a functioning stadium today and I think we both agreed it would have been better to just go see a soccer game there, instead of paying the 7 euros to get in, but it was still kind of cool to see.   By this point, I was exhausted. A week of sight seeing was catching up with me, so we headed home. Rachel packed a bit before we ventured out to an Austrian restaurant in our neighborhood so that Rachel could get one last "German" meal before she headed back to the United States. 

The next day, Mike's flight got in at 9:00, so I went to pick him up from the airport while Rachel headed back out to find the Jewish Cemetery. Luckily, she was successful this time!

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Her solo stone on top.  So cool!

Afterwards, she did part of Rick Steve's walking tour to take in the city one last time before coming back to our apartment to pick up her bags.  Mike and I drove her to the airport and bid her farewell.  She was spending the night back in London before catching a noon flight back to DC the next day. I think we were both exhausted after such a fun week! Although it was sad to see her go, it won't be too long before the Hogans are back in the United States!

PS thanks to Rachel for all of these pictures! I didn't take my camera out once!

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