Sunday, September 30, 2012

Day 1 & 1/2 in Berlin

Had a good nacht sleep after walking a few miles last night and started the day at 5am. By 5:30 I was out the door to take some pictures and see some sights before the other three McCloy Fellows showed up.

The sky was clear and a full moon was beautiful as I hit the avenue leading to the Brandenburg Gate. It was nice not have crowds of people there (a marathon is going on this weekend) and the moon was directly over the gate.

After that I followed the map from an app called EveryTrail. It had a pre-programmed map of sights to see and my next stop was the Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. It is between the U.S. Embassy and the sight of the Fuhrerbunker. 

I walked into the middle of the memorial and the path I was on was leading down. With the time of day (early morning and little light) it was eiree, like walking into one of the ditches that were used for body disposal.

My next stop was a watchtower left over from the Berlin Wall. It was very humbling to be underneath it. I was trying to imagine what it would have been like to live in East Berlin with towers everywhere looking down at you and guards waiting to shoot people if need be.

From there I walked to a remaining section of the Berlin Wall. I just can't imagine how the people on either side of it felt, knowing that you couldn't move freely about. 

Next stop was Checkpoint Charlie. Need I say more?

That was were I ended my journey following my app map. I headed back to the hotel to grab breakfast and get ready to meet my other Fellows. Also, I needed to repack my things to change rooms so I had internet. What a slave I am to all this technology stuff.

I made it back to the hotel and met up with my first Fellow, Garrick Hall from Utah. His room wasn't ready so we went up to my room and I worked on getting picts off of the camera and ready for posting.

After doing that and me repacking my bags we headed downstairs to get onto the internet. Just as we were getting ready my new room was made available. We headed to that and I was able to post my pictures from yesterday and this morning while he took a nap.

We headed downstairs around 1:45 to meet our host and hopefully or next Fellow. Udo from the DBV (sister organization of American Farm Bureau) met us and him and I had a beir. As we were tossing that back Raquel from Louisiana showed up and joined.

We headed out to take a tour of the area killing time until our official tour. We headed up river and then met our official guide. She took us on a tour of the Jewish area of Berlin (ghetto). We went off the beaten track through openings in buildings for carriages to nice courtyards (and some not so nice but very interesting).

It was very sobering to see buildings that had not been renovated with bullet marks from WWII (67 years) or patched up from bomb damage. The Socialist/Communist system didn't do a good job of trying to build up the economy. It makes me wonder where our country is heading?

During our walk-about we had a good discussion with our guide (who is atheist) about religion. Imagine me being the one to ask the question that is controversial and combative. I really wanted to know because religion was one of the things that I identified during my Eisenhower Fellowship.

In Germany they are taxed at 9% just for belonging to a religion and it is tied to the government because of medical and educational reasons. Another reason for the decline of religion was due to the communist side of Germany (and eastern Europe). If a person belonged to a religion they  or their children could not attend university.

The last reason was family lifestyle. If the parents didn't belong to a religion and brought up their children that way their kids wouldn't be religious. It is amazing how government policy and bias brought that about, especially since it was started under the Nazis.

I don't care what our media or activists say, religion is a major component to the success of the United States. We were founded by people who did not want a governmental religion (Church of England).

Because of this ideal, religious tolerance was a key building block. Each colony had its own religion. From that the people that formed the Constitution realized religious freedom was a key component for a successful nation. Boy were they correct.

We did a little more touring and then parted ways. We covered quite a bit of territory (not as much as I did on my own), but we had a great insight into the history of Germany, yesterday and today!

The time schedule we were on (imagine Germans trying to be punctual) led us catching the train to the station close to our hotel. We arrived there and met the final Fellow, Paul from Arizona.

After we put a few things away in our rooms and freshened up we headed out to do a boat tour on the Spree river. It was only an hour long ride but it showed many of the beautiful building, new and old that I want to know more about and take pictures of .

When we docked at the end of our tour our host suggested a restaurant that we should try. It was started after unification (after the Berlin Wall came down) as a way of making the West German officials feel at home in the new/old capitol.

Our host recommended that we try a local cuisine, currywurst. During my jaunts through Berlin I saw restaurants and small food vendors offering it. It was good but the calf liver our host had looked even better. Next time.

We ended the meal with some awesome schnapps. This made me feel at home because the area I live in is German and I grew up with this. However, that tradition ended with my Great Aunt passing away last year.

All things have to end and we headed to the hotel to give our host gifts and head to bed for a big day tomorrow. I don't know if I will have time to reflect and post tomorrow, but I will definitely get my travels into this blog.

Prost and Gott Nacht!

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