Category Archives: Germany

Emmendingen…visiting the German Diary Archive

I came a long way for this visit and fortunately it proved completely worth the schlep. (schlep sounds like a German word. Yiddish. So close.) I did inadvertently make use of a German word I forgot I knew when a server at a restaurant sneezed. “Gesundheit” I said. She smiled. (I just learned how to spell Gesundheit…I was way off.)

Plaque on the old town hall

Anyway, I came to this small Black Forest town for a gathering of European diary archives hosted by the German diary archive which is located in a stately 1728 building known as the Rathaus/old town hall. There’s a small two -room museum with displays of interesting diaries, accompanied by an audio tour in various languages. There were people from diary archives in Germany, France, The Netherlands and Austria and very interesting presentations on how diaries are used by researchers (presenters were historians, a literary nonfiction writer and a musicologist) and on how A.I. coupled with HRT (handwriting recognition transcription) will revolutionize and democratize research. Combined they can be used to do super fast transcription of handwritten manuscripts…including diaries. Right now this is often done manually, so to speak, by very patient and skilled volunteers.

Old town hall, home of deutsches tagebucharchiv (German archive for diaries)

We had an excellent dinner at what I gather is the best place in town, Vielharmonie, where I had very good local fish (char?) and I stayed an odd hotel I wouldn’t recommend because it’s very understaffed. (Taome Feng Shui) although I was greeted by a pleasant former Texan, from Austin.


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Black Forest village of Freiburg im Breisgau

This Black Forest university town is as lovely as promised. Lots of narrow cobblestoned streets with an added quaint touch — narrow water canals/channels running along most of them past buildings with timbered beams, decorative stenciled coat of arms and flowers design on stucco. I watched little kids running with little boats they pulled through the water channel on strings and splashing each other.

The main square is paved with narrow cobbled stones and has a very imposing (and gloomy inside) sandstone cathedral surrounded by more pretty old stucco buildings with timbered bits.

Morning in Freiburg

Rick Steves: still feels medieval although it was heavily bombed during WW2. The little channels are calledBächle: tiny “stream-lets” that have been running down nearly every Freiburg street since the 13th century. They were originally designed to keep fires from spreading, as they could be quickly dammed to flood a street. Careful observers may notice how Freiburg’s streets were built at a slight incline, so as to keep the water trickling throughout the town.

Long hotdogs/brats and apple juice with view

Back to me: There’s a great market in the square every morning and I had a fantastic brat — grilled, which I prefer to Isa’s boiled one yesterday at the market in Frankfurt (was that only a day ago?) Tomorrow I may have to try the super long hotdog, now that I’ve gotten the hang of the condiment machine (operated with foot pedals!)

I walked around the narrow lanes, popping into one interesting craft store after another, especially when the rain blew in and through. Some very high end clothing stores too. Money in these parts. Later I climbed up and up and up a brick path on the hillside for a stupendous view of the city and the valley beyond, with clouds rolling in. At the top, I was rewarded with some rain. But nothing too intense. Just made the scenery more dramatic.

Southern German dining

I could have gone to a brewery but opted instead for coffee and Black Forest cake…when in Rome! Not sure I’ve had that before. Or will have again but enjoyed. I am staying at an old fashioned hotel, the Oberkirch, for a little variety. It’s on the square but my room looks out on the one modern building on the opposite side. (Yes, it’s the cheaper room.) it has heavy curtains and a big dark wood sleigh bed, a little writing table and an Oberkirch notepad and pen.

Dinner was at a very traditional southern German restaurant, zum Rauhen Mann (rough man in English) that a college student from upstate Ny recommended. (She was working at one of the produce stands on the square. She is going to college here.) It had a Rathskeller vibe, with cobbled stonewalls, thick dark wood beams on the stuccoed ceiling. very heavy food. I had fresh asparagus soup that looked like a cappuccino. The server even sprayed fresh cream on top. (Not sweet cream.) the thick slices of roasted pork tasted/looked more like ham. not my thing but when in Freiburg. And it was fun to have the meal interrupted a few times by the cuckoo clock behind me on the wall. (This is cuckoo clock land.) The guesthaus above the restaurant looked lovely. This is a pretty corner of the city, the oldest bit, I gather where two wider streams rush into each other and there’s an unusual landmark: A stone crocodile popping out of the water. Several nearby micro breweries were hopping. Uh oh, my German food stomach ache may have finally arrived.

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Train FROM Frankfurt to Freiburg im Breslau with a Swiss -Albanian comedian.

I love riding trains in Europe. You never know who you’ll meet. Today, I’m sitting across from an intense young man, about my son’s age (he’s 33) who pulled out a notebook to write. Turns out he’s a young Swiss /Albanian comedian from Basel (our train’s final destination) who said he bombed during his first standup performance in Frankfurt so he was writing down his notes/thoughts in a little notebook with German writing on the cover.

I’d seen the same one in the book shop at the train station (I always get to train stations way too early) and wondered what it said. He told me it was the old Oscar Wilde saying: Everything is going to be fine in the end. If it’s not fine, it’s not the end. He bought three so he gave me one as a gift. Wise words.

He said he doesn’t write post show if it goes well. Apparently the crowd was full of women and if you lose the women right away, you’re sunk, the men won’t go for you either. He had 8 minutes to grab them. his favorite comics: Dave Chappell (the greatest, he says) and Trevor Noah plus two English guys and a Finnish guy. he’s only been at this for about 5 weeks (and has other game full employment.) He was also a big fan of Eminem. And had some interesting geopolitical views. He was very current on the mass killings in the U.S. (17 to date this year, he mentioned) and saw this as one of several signs our top dog status is drawing to a close. He showed me a sign with his name lit up that he puts beside him when he does his standup so I took a photo since he promises he will be a famous comedian some day.

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Frankfurt in the rain and sun. (Sun is best): quality market wurst stand, Romer reconstructed, Motel One Romer, Kaffeehaus Goldene Waage

Frankfurt looked gloomy when our plane landed. Grey and rainy. Didn’t help that we had to deplane down metal steps in the cold drizzle to catch a waiting shuttle bus. No matter. Lovely day in this interesting city. I hitched a ride on the subway into town with two American women who had bought a group tix that apparently covered 5 people. They were doing what a lot of people do in Frankfurt…a quick trip to check out downtown between international flights.

Romer area

The Motel One Romer turned out to be a gem. And a bargain at 99 euro a night. It’s a very modern, stylish place, with lovely lounges, bar and dining area. Best of all the very nice guys at the reception desk gave me a room almost 2 hours before official checkin which was very unexpected and appreciated after a long trip from Chicago.

I dragged myself through the city, with jet lag mounting. First stop the quality market/kleinmarkthall a huge enclosed market with all kinds of fresh fruit stalls, cheese and sausages counters, sushi, ethnic food stalls. Not as stellar perhaps as the food hall in Lyon that we visited in January but lots of good options and local character. I joined a line leading to a small window where two women worked very hard serving sausages (wurst) on buns with mustard.

A nice young traveler from Hong Kong was in line too and we struck up a conversation with a kind local (frankfurter) who offered to order for us and told us which of the four sausages was her favorite. (The one with the yellow casing, which didn’t look too appealing.)

Reconstructed Romer

She said she’s been going to this window for wurst since she was a kid. I later learned the woman behind the counter who was diligently boiling sausages of various colors and cutting and peeling off the casing before putting them in a to-go bun was Ilsa. A local luminary. The young woman from Hong Kong and I found a table at an outdoor cafe to eat our wurst, sitting under an umbrella in the rain.

Bombed out romer

Romer is a classic old German area downtown with elegant timbered and stone buildings. Except it’s been reconstructed after being obliterated by allied bombs during ww2. I had some apple Weiss (alcoholic apple cider) standing in the wide brick paved Romer plaza and later landed at lovely Kaffeehaus goldene waage) golden way)some delicious pastries (merengues, florentines) and hot chocolate served in a glass.

I walked a little through the busy shopping plazas and along the pretty riverfront then finally succumbed to jet lag.

Koffeehaus Goldeneye Waage



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Weird Aer lingus

Yes, I have only myself to blame for flying this odd airline again, after a fiasco in January with lost luggage (for five days) plus long airport lines that almost caused us to miss our flights from Paris to Dublin to Chicago and led to the disappearance of my watch at the Paris security checkpoint. You get what you pay for I guess. But I arrived safely in Frankfurt (via Dublin).

Still it’s not reassuring when three flight attendants cannot figure out what appears to be an ancient entertainment system. After poking at the screen for who knows how long, I sought advice from an attendant who also had no luck with the touchscreen. Another attendant told me to use the remote hidden in the armrest, also from another era. None of the attendants could figure out how to use the thing, which is an ancient cell phone on one side and an ancient remote on the other. Neither work. I did find a barely functioning screen by switching seats. Terrible sound but at least I got a movie.

I get the impression from the attendants that this is an old plane that they don’t usually fly. Hopefully it’s just the entertainment system that’s out of date…and not working. I didn’t check my luggage.

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On the train from Berlin to Gdansk

Despite some lingering concern that flooding in Germany is still disrupting rail service, my train left Berlin’s impressive new train station (hauptbahnhof) right on time, in true German style. Now we are zipping across fields of corn, wheat and some other shimmering yellow crop, through forests of spindly fir trees, stopping at the occasional village with red tile roofs and, sometimes, wind turbines, between Berlin and Gdansk. God is there anything better than a train ride to a brand new place, listening to music on an iPod, feeling decades younger than You are. Probably but I do love the liberating feel of riding a train. Never feel that way on a plane or a bus. Sometimes I feel it in a car but I’ve still got to drive or sit in a confined space. I am in a six person compartment with a sliding door and three young women who seem a little less enthralled by the ride.

What I could use is one of those computerized maps on airplanes so I knew when we are in Poland. I wonder if there will be some telltale signs…beyond signs in Polish. Not sure I know the difference but the latest sign sure looked Polish and some of the young women in my car said we are indeed inPoland and have been for the past 30 minutes or so. Who knew?

My last day in Berlin was pretty laid back. I wandered around Charlottenburg, the gentile neighborhood near my hotel, past elegant buildings and attractive cafes. I browsed around KaDeWe, an opulent department store akin to Harrod’s, although the food halls didn’t have as enticing food. near my hotel in Wilmersdorf, I stumbled upon a quiet well tended residential street (Duisberger or Dusseldorfer Strasse) with a plaque at the corner explaining that this was where Charlottenburg’s Jews were relocated before their ultimate grim destination, the death camps. Took me aback. Reminded me of a conversation I overheard during my first day in Berlin. The dad kept pointing out to his two little kids this sight and that sight but his son kept asking “are there any concentration camps here?” Dad tried ignoring his question but finally said gently, “No, this is a city that is coming back and has all this cool stuff.”

Just arrived in Gdansk and some kind young people here for a big music festival helped me find my hotel, tucked in the old town, a house circa 1451. Two of our favorite bands are playing at the festival, turns out. The National and The Kings of Leon! Who knew? Below are some photos from the train journey!





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Berlin by bike…the way to go!

I wanted to be one of those cool Berliners (or tourists) breezing through the Brandenburg Gate on a bike and today I was. What a kick! For six euros (less than a 6.50 transit day pass) I rented a sturdy thick tire bike from a bike shop near my hotel and pretty much rode from 11 a.m, until 7 p.m. I rode all over the place, checking out new places on my list and revisiting others I had already seen. And I was impressed at how well laid out this city is for cyclists. There are bike lanes all over the place, some in the street, some in the sidewalk (it took me awhile to figure this out but I just followed other bikes along a narrow corridor in the sidewalk that apparently is for riders.) I had a vague sense of where I was going (mainly east and then south) and when I occasionally had no idea where I was, another helpful tourist information sign would appear (ex: Alexanderplatz 1.2 and an arrow pointing the direction).

The best part is that I could cover so much ground in a few hours, see so many things and get a feel for how different parts of the city connect with each other, something you don’t get when you are popping and out of the U bahn (underground subway). From my Wilmersdorf home base I rode east through the Tiergarten, sort of a Bavarian Black Forest version of NYC’s Central Park or even of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, with lush green lawns, lots of trees, dirt paths to ride, a lake or river in there somewhere, although I never found it. Next stop, Brandenburg Gate which was even more packed with tourists than yesterday, if that’s possibly. Along with the tourists were fashionistas attending Berlin Fashion Week nearby. (My new geriatric German sandals, bought today at an orthopedic shoe shop located, as fate would have it, around the corner from my hotel…would make the fashionistas shudder. See photo below, along with yet another photo of the view from the roof where I have been enjoying my late evening meal.)

Onto the Holocaust memorial and then Checkpoint Charlie where this time I found another “wall” documentation center of sorts, focused on “terror.” Next stop, a return to the other worldly Alexanderplatz and its Jetsonesque tv tower and famous lumpen world clock. This time I found Karl Marx Allee, famous for its drab communist era concrete high rises. Then I suddenly found myself in Kreuzberg, a bohemian bordering on seedy at times neighborhood with a big Turkish population. I ate donar kebab and drank chai at a well known Turkish restaurant, Hasir, and stopped for a Turkish pastry at the equally well known Turkish bakery Melek Pastanesi nearby. Then onto the East Side Gallery, another stretch of remaining wall that has dozens of bold murals by various artists on one side and more of berlin s remarkable graffiti on the other side. Both sides were well worth a look.

I returned to my neighborhood and had a soda at a little cafe where the owner asked where I was from. “You’ve probably never heard of it, Iowa,” I said, fully intending to give my standard explanation, I.e. near Chicago. But instead the guy responded with a knowing smile, “des Moines?” Turns out he had visited dsm several times, in his previous life in Computer software. So glad I decided to come to Berlin!



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Prenzlauer Berg… The soho/village of Berlin

So my ankles are aching and I have begun to bore a hole in my sandals which I fear may not make it to Poland. But Berlin is worth it. Today, on a perfect sunny day, I set out for Prenzlauer Berg, a trendy neighborhood with leafy pocket parks, pretty architecture, fun boutiques, and one enticing restaurant after another. Sort of reminded me of a mix of the east and west village of NYC. I hAve been using a somewhat outdated but still useful guidebook my London friends lent me, called 100percent Berlin, which has six walks. Beyond the fact that they are longer walks than my feet can handle, they steered me to some good spots, including Kulturbrauerei, a sprawling complex of art venues in an old brick brewery complex; the shops around Kollwitzplatz, And shops along Kastanienallee. Some boutiques didn’t take credit cards, which is a bummer. Alone took visa but not MasterCard; another took MasterCard, not American Express. I bought a few high design little paper journals, a retro Berlin tea towel, and two little cardboard VW buses that you assemble (the whole store was these ingenious cardboard things that you assemble, from boxes to waste baskets). (See The paper store was called Georg Buchner Buchladen.

I had the best chicken schawarma hummus I have ever had at Babel, a popular Lebanese place on Kastanienallee. Lots of people were eating at picnic tables there, which did turn out to be a good sign. Each slice of chicken had a crispy crust full of flavor but the meat was still moist. How can that happen? I also had a delicious chocolate bottomed macaroon at Lindner, one of the many pastry shops.

I went on to the Berlin Wall Documentation Center which gave me a far better understanding of the wall and what it did to Berliners than sites like Checkpoint Charlie. First of all, you get it visually because a section of the wall (or walls since there were actually two walls facing each other across a grassy no man’s land) remained. And stretched out across a long corridor of grass where remnants of some a building and church that were knocked down to build the wall. There were also displays with photos and recordings and old home movies showing how the wall tore families apart (one in particular showed a couple getting married on one side of the wall while the bride’s parents watched from a window on the other side). There were also photos and movies of people jumping out of windows in buildings lining the wall so they could get to the west…including a nine months pregnant woman. And then there were photos of people being evicted from these buildings and the building windows being bricked up to stop the jumpers.

From there I went to the grand Neue Synagogue which was built to resemble the Alhambra in Granada in the 1800s, but didn’t survive the war, nor did most of its community, of course. Some parts have been restored and there is an interesting exhibit about jewish life now and then, plus you can schlep to the dome for great city views. Definitely worth a visit.

On the way back to the s Bahn I picked up at excellent pork Vietnamese Bahn mi sandwich (hey, I am nothing if not a reform Jew, and an Iowa transplant, hence the love of pork) at Babane, a “banh mi deli” which I am eating at a table on the fifth floor roof top patio of my lovely hotel in Wilmersdorff. On the way back here I stopped to people watch for awhile at the Brandenburg gate, which is awash in tourist of all stripes. my favorite site was two veiled middle eastern women taking a photo, as requested, from a guy in a cowboy hat! I took the other scenic bus west, the 100, which did not disappoint.



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Mitte South, Potsdamer Platz, Alexanderplatz, gendarmenmarkt, artemisia

Greetings from Berlin where my biggest frustration has been trying to get Internet access on my iPad. I had the same issue in London at my friends house but finally got it. never had any issues in Peru, when I last used it in a foreign land. I did go to a computer store nearby and the guy pressed one button and charged me 15 euros. I thought he was joking. But no.

Anyway, I walked myself silly today and although I made several wrong turns, after awhile I started to understand the lay of the land, literally, and how the various u Bahn and S Bahn trains connect, plus the 100 and 200 Buses, which are cross town buses, doubledecker no less, that offer a great respite from walking long straight streets and some terrific scenery.

I am still trying to work out where “the wall” ran and what is east vs. West Berlin. But it was intriguing to see bits of the wall here and there – the bits by the now super modern Potsdam Platz appear to be covered not only with graffiti but wads of chewing gum. A lot of Berlin requires a better imagination than I have so you can see ugly wall where there are now huge modern buildings and Hitlers bunker where there is now what appears to be an apartment block. ( Right across the street from the other women only hotel I was thinking of staying at, Intermezzo.) while Berlin has its imposing older monuments, the Brandenburg Gate, the post WW2 communist architecture and the 21st century monuments, most notably the Holocaust memorial (which got me choked up as I found myself wandering deep inside the maze of bar slabs of grey stone, laid out in a dizzying number of fluctuating heights) are really the most captivating. Anywhere else, say Chicago and its Cabrini Green housing complex, these bleak concrete slab buildings might be knocked down. But here they are a source of fascination, maybe even pride, a historical record of the brutality of communism. This seemed particularly the case around Alexanderplatz, with its famous bizarre Jetsonesque tv tower and strange mosaics and painted murals on occasional communist era buildings. I also find myself looking at the graffiti differently, as another historic artifact. So that is interesting because architecture I would gave dismissed and graffiti I would have disdained at home, is here in Berlin a surprising source of fascination.

So far, I am enjoying staying at this women only hotel. As I type outside on the fifth floor rooftop overlooking the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorff area, three women in their sixties, from Canada, Germany and Australia are talking about life, carrying for elderly parents, their adventures as retirees, where to eat dinner, which U and S bahn stations have the most stairs.

I did have my fix of grilled Bavarian coarse fried sausages, mashed potatoes and sweet cooked cabbage that I remember eating in Munich and even had a midday (Augustiner Hell) beer at Augustiner Gendarmenmarket, a lovely reconstructed square. When in Rome. But I cannot seem to bring myself to eat curry wurst…which looks even worse than I thought: sausages served with curry powder and then, even worse, ketchup. Ick.

Other interesting sights: a guy juggling while riding a unicycle in front of traffic stopped at a busy intersection (when the traffic started, he put out his collection hat and got out of the way);eight or so tourists riding some awkward contraption that they sat atop in a circle and peddled; tons of cyclists and tourists on bikes, which seems the best way to see everything. Hope to do that!!






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Thoughts on leaving…

Clockwise:Charlottenburg Palace, Fernsehturm Berlin, Reichstag building, Berlin Cathedral, Alte

So as I’m rushing around trying to do all the last-minute errands  and tie up  work projects before leaving on a three-week trip to Berlin and beyond, I find myself feeling surprisingly sentimental about the calm, comfortable, everyday life I’m shelving briefly. Maybe that’s an unexpected bonus of travel, suddenly appreciating what you’re leaving behind and will soon return to!

Des Moines, Iowa
—  City  —
City of Des Moines

Clockwise from top: 801 Grand (Principal Financial Group), Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, Kruidenier Trail bridge, and the Iowa State Capitol

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