Eastern Germany, May-June 2003 - fulfilling a teenage promise
In 1970, my mom took my brother and me to Europe to meet my sister, who was finishing a year as a Rotary exchange student in The Netherlands. We spent six weeks driving through central and eastern Europe. Remember, this was 1970.
We drove through the former East Germany on a transit visa from the former West Berlin to the Czech border. We left the autobahn in Dresden and drove through the center of the city, which was still a bombed out shell. The few people on the streets looked very sad. I vowed that I would return someday to see the (hopefully) rebuilt city. I also wanted to see two other towns, Meißen and Wittenberg, which were behind the Iron Curtin.
When our church announced it was going to hold its annual meeting in Berlin, there was no question in my mind that we would attend: 1) to support all the overseas members who have made the journey to Boston in previous years, and 2) to see eastern Germany. We spent two weeks in Germany, one in Dresden taking day trips and one in Berlin. It was wonderful!
We stayed in an small hotel in Dresden for six nights. It was walking distance to great ethnic restaurants and to the trams, which would take us anyplace in the city we wanted to go. A woman in the tourist office told us that we qualified for a family pass on the regional transportation network, which saved money, even though we were just a family of two people. It was very handy to know that.
In Dresden, we attended church services twice and visited the Zwinger Museum. Unfortunately, even though I tried months in advance, performances at the Semper Oper were sold out. We kept ourselves busy, anyway, by taking quite long day trips.
We toured through the Sãchischer Schweiz (Saxony Alps), doing a little hiking and driving extensively. It's beautiful, but not as mountainous as Switzerland. We took the train to Prague for a day. We used the regional train system and went to Meißen to see the china factory. Meißen is a beautiful town and it was a special treat to see the china factory. The artisans in Meißen "reverse-engineered" the formula for Chinese porcelain in the early 1700s. I had hopes of buying a complete set, but one small (very small) plate had to be sufficient.
Finally, we drove to Wittenberg, where Martin Luther nailed the 70 treatises on the door of the Schloßkirche. It was as close as I will ever be to going on a pilgrimage. I am very grateful for his courage, which started the Protestant Reformation.
Berlin was quite a contrast from my teenage memories. First, it is a complete city, with the east and west rejoined. What a contrast today walking along Unter den Linden with its upmarket restaurants to the sad, poorly stocked shops of 1970. One of the most memorable meals we had on the trip was in a sidewalk café on Unter den Linden looking west toward the Brandenburg Gate. It was a celebration of freedom.
Eastern Berlin was a study in contrasts – those areas, which had been rebuilt since the fall of the wall, and those which were in as much disrepair as some of the buildings in Havana. There’s so much work to do to bring the eastern part of the city up to the standards of the western part.
Half of our time in Berlin was spent at our church’s annual meeting. We helped out with ushering, which both was fun and enabled us to see a broad cross-section of the attendees from all over the world.
For the rest of the time, we selected a few highlights: the Ägyptisches Museum and the bust of Queen Nefertiti and San Souci Park and its palaces in Potsdam. We also enjoyed great ethnic food!