Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Berlin Underground

Lisa was given gift-certificates to Berliner Unterwelten (Berlin Underground) from a colleague several months ago. In mid-October, we were able to finally take Tour 1, of a WWII bunker. Berliner Unterwelten e.V., a non-profit, offers 11 tours throughout Berlin and six of those in English. The tours range from WWII bunkers, Cold War bunkers, Flak towers, pneumatic delivery infrastructures, and subway lines, to subterranean escape routes from East Berlin into West Berlin.

For Tour 1, we headed to the U-Bahn Gesundbrunnen station. This station is the deepest U-Bahn station in Berlin and space was created in several floors above the station for civilian protection in WWII. Thousands of Germans used this station in WWII as Allied bombers bombed overhead. This neighborhood was a manufacturing area and therefore a prime Allied target. Since the tour guide said the bomb shelter structurally was useless against a bomb, it is a miracle that the civilians in this shelter weren't killed.

Evidently, the Nazis knew that this shelter was useless against an air raid, but some shelters were constructed around Berlin solely to prevent panic and to assure the public that a plan had been devised for their protection. We toured many rooms, separated by heavy steel doors, a large bathroom with composting toilets, ventilation equipment, bunk-beds, folding beds, safety equipment such as flashlights and gas masks, and fluorescent paint that pointed civilians in the right direction.

In several of these rooms were artifacts from the war- Nazi and Russian military helmets, gas masks, uniforms for the civilian protection corps, weapons, and posters for identifying enemy aircraft and discouraging loose talk.

In the last part of our tour, we viewed some of the remaining infrastructure for a pneumatic delivery system that was used in Berlin from 1865 to 1976 with 90 stations and 400 kilometers of tubing. They demonstrated how the pneumatic system worked and that documents could be sent anywhere in the city, signed and sent back in only two hours. Evidently, Chancellor of Germany still uses a pneumatic dispatch system for communiques throughout the Bundeskanzleramt.

Pictures were not allowed on this tour, so these have been borrowed from the internet. Lisa and I hope when friends and family come to Berlin that we shall view more of these tours.

For more information on these tours, visit: Berliner Unterwelten

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Frohnhausen, Bonn Trip

About two weeks ago, Lisa and I had the opportunity to visit Lisa's family in western Germany. Lisa grew up, until the age of 8, in Frohnhausen, a village near Frankfurt, and still has relatives that live there. The opportunity to travel came from a conference Lisa attended in Frankfurt. Since Frankfurt is only about an hour away, we both decided to take the trip and for me to meet the family.

Lisa's maternal grandmother, Oma, who I've heard many stories about, as well as aunts and an uncle live near there. Lisa's Onkel Heinz and Tante Marlies provided a wonderful dinner of pork and sauerkraut in their basement.

Oma and Aunt Ulla

Marcel and I

Onkel Heinz and Tante Marlies' lake and cabin. Previously Lisa's grandma and grandpa's....Lisa has many memories of swimming here.

On the way back from Frohnhausen, we were invited to spend time in Bonn with Carolin, Lisa's cousin, and her husband Marcel. They were incredibly kind and gracious, taking us to this French restaurant Ratatouille in Bonn.

Lisa, looking her ever-gorgeous self

While in Bonn, we walked around the city and partially took in the Deutschlandfest. The Deutschlandfest celebrated the day of German unity, where West and East Germany were reunited.

It was a wonderful trip and I'm grateful for this connection to Lisa's childhood. I really liked the family and hope they liked me too. Unfortunately, we didn't plan the trip well and couldn't see Lisa's dad's side of the family in a nearby town to Frohnhausen. I hope to meet them in the next year.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bonhoeffer- House

A few weeks ago, Lisa and I had the opportunity to visit the Bonhoeffer-House here in Berlin. This is actually Dietrich Bonhoeffer's parent's retirement house in Berlin, but Dietrich spent a good amount of time writing here and was arrested by the Gestapo here in 1943.

Bonhoeffer was part of the Confessing Church in Germany, which opposed Nazism in Germany and was in direct contrast to the national churches' allegiance to Hitler.

Both Lisa and I had known about Bonhoeffer and I had read his book Life Together, about community, while at Word Made Flesh. We were delighted that, upon making an appointment, we could view the house. We were able to spend 1.5 hours with a volunteer guide as he told us about the history of the house and about Bonhoeffer.

Much of the furniture in the house are reproductions due to renovations and lending the collections to other museums/memorial centers/libraries. However, the bookshelves, writing desk, and piano in his study are original. His manuscript After Ten Years was hidden in these rafters and was not found until after the war.

A historical timeline of the Bonhoeffer-House located in the front lobby:

We truly enjoyed paying respect to such a celebrated theologian, one who wrestled with nonviolence, but came to another conclusion in the midst of the evil of Hitler. We made a small donation at the end and also purchased a few pamphlets.

A nearby old train station, still in use, that Lisa and I imagined that Bonhoeffer would take frequently as he made his way to various Christian fellowships.

Also, Lisa and I happened upon a luxury condo building in west Germany that used to be The Imperial War Court. This is where Bonhoeffer was indicted and from where he was sent to prison. He was arrested and indicted because of a power struggle between the Abwehr (military intelligence) and the SS; his participation in the failed plot against Hitler was not found out until early April 1945.

A picture in the house shows the Flossenb├╝rg concentration camp where Bonhoeffer was taken, tried, and executed in less than 24 hours. He was hanged less than 23 days before the Nazi's surrendered.

Lisa and I hope to visit more memorials for Dietrich Bonhoeffer and read more of his writing. For more information about Dietrich Bonhoeffer's life, here is the Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dietrich_Bonhoeffer

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Berlin Life

I have settled in more to life in Berlin. I love being here. Lisa and I seem to be out-and-about a lot of the time as we enjoy the remaining days of summer.

Some things we've been enjoying recently include:
1) Bicycles: Berlin has been great (or better than my experience in the US) about creating bike lanes, bike paths, bike parking, and bike rentals for its residents. The mayor of Berlin, also, in his welcome letter to new residents encourages people to bike and take public transit. Bike Rental Program through Deutsche Bahn, the transit rail company here in Berlin:

At the Prater Biergarten....along with plenty of space to park bicycles. We come to the Biergarten for Rostbratwurst and of course, Bier.

2) Green Space:
There seems to be a concerted effort to create green space in the midst of city life here in Berlin. It is actually difficult for us to walk more than a few blocks without finding a park...either a playground, park, or sports field. I especially like that there are ping pong tables throughout the city and trampolines and chess tables can be found intermittently.

During our weekly small group, we have often sat by riversides while reading together:

At a park near my school...

There are ping pong tables everywhere around the city and Lisa and I have already purchased paddles and played some games.

Trampolines built into the pavement in a park...

Overlooking the Park:

3) Culture:
Saturdays Lisa and I have visited several museums including the DDR Museum, the Pergamon Museum, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer's house (actually his parents' retirement house but where Bonhoeffer would visit frequently and wrote his incomplete Ethics...more on that visit in a later post).

Pictures from the Pergamon Museum holding The Ishtar Gate, the Pergamon Altar, among other antiquities from Babylon, Greece, Rome, and other ancient civilizations.

4) Church...with a strong sense of history
Lisa and I have recently attended a Lutheran church in the neighborhood. The pastor preaches Jesus, there is liturgy and an observance of the liturgical calendar, and a connection with other believers, past and present; it feels comforting to sing hymns that were written in the 16th, 17th, and 18th century and that Christians have been singing for hundreds of years.

5) We never know what we'll come across walking or biking around the city...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Short Reflection

Lisa and I have been able to walk around the neighborhoods of Prenzlauer Berg and Pankow several evenings. I love coming across historic buildings- many of which hold plaques that denote the history of the building or the tragic death in WWII of one of the inhabitants.

This building was most notably used as a dormitory for the SS in WWII and then by the Stasi in East Germany, where suspects were first taken after an arrest. It is currently used as a women's jail.

Other plaques we have seen surrounding our neighborhood denote the passing of Jewish, communist, and (if I remember correctly) Roma peoples killed outright or taken to a death camp by Nazis.

In other news, having finished Rosetta Stone German disk 1 and being without other disks, I am immersing myself in the German language. I will enroll in a local college for more formal and rigorous language study later this month but for the time being, analyzing German t.v. is a popular pastime.

Television in Germany consists entirely of news, documentaries, Schlager music, talent shows and a few American and Indian shows that are dubbed into German. There aren't any shows in English (with or without subtitles), so I am using my Iphone to translate words I see scrolling at the bottom of the t.v. news.

Here are a few:
erschossen- shot/shoot dead
Krawalle- rioting
die Steuern - taxes
verklagen - to sue
schaden- damage
die Hungersnot- famine
das Urteil- verdict
eintauchen- plunge (related to stock market)

Maybe this is in particular a tense news cycle....

Finally, a blog about Berlin I have really enjoyed reading is: Abandoned Berlin.

Lisa and I also hope to visit a couple of these places, including the abandoned amusement park featured in the movie Hanna.