Monday, July 23, 2018

Berlin, Germany: A Family Circuit

A bit of a confession:  This last post of our 2018 trip was written over four months after we returned home. The distractions of everyday life exacerbated a case of writer's block.  But I finished the post before the end of the year, so no need to include it on my list of New Year's resolutions!

We had only three weeks remaining of our travels after leaving Prague.  We took to the hills for a couple of days to cross through the deep rural countryside of the northern Czech Republic on our way to Germany.

We dropped into the valley of the Elbe River and followed it through the town of Děčín with its picturesque castle perched on the dipping sandstone cliffs.  Beyond the town the river valley became a canyon with more of these sculpted sandstone outcrops.

Going with the flow of the Elbe we crossed the border into Germany.  We were now retracing our route from our first bike tour in 2008, going downstream towards Dresden and a reunion with my cousin Pia and her husband Jorg.

We took a short detour of the restored old center of Dresden, rebuilt from the destruction of bombing at the end of World War II.

It was a lovely visit with my cousin in Radebeul, an upscale suburb just east of Dresden.  Our timing was good to take in a concert of the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, a world-class symphony orchestra in Dresden, but a decidedly local affair where people rode their bikes to the concert hall.  Jorg pointed out their friend who plays the cello in the orchestra, and the harpist which is a patient of Pia, who is a doctor.  Old vineyards populate the hills above Radebeul, and we walked one evening to a high terrace for wine and eats at a pop-up eatery run by a local vineyard owner.  Such a treat -- thank you Jorg and Pia!
Back to camping in the woods after leaving the comforts of Radebeul.
While in Dresden we visited a little museum with artifacts of the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) period, including many Trabant vehicles.  They were manufactured from 1957 until 1990 in the former East Germany.  The ones in the museum were in cherry condition, but it was fun to see a few "in the wild" in this junk yard.
We crossed through the region southeast of Berlin called Spreewald, characterized by channels and canals and designated a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1991. These shallow punt boats known as Kahn were once the primary mode of transportation in the area.  Now tourists flock here to take rides in the boats piloted by men in traditional garb.
We stopped in a cemetery, one of many in the area.  The last major land battles between German and Soviet troops took place in this region, and the many crosses and historical plaques are a sobering reminder of that history.  We were happy to find a spigot to fill up with water, since free water is hard to find in Germany.  I filled up a water bottle and took a couple of sips, and just as I registered the off flavor a man pulled into the parking lot and yelled that the water came from the canal and was not suitable for drinking. We poured out the water, but I would later come to regret that small amount I tasted.
We took two days to explore Potsdam, just west of Berlin.  The big attraction is the Sanssouci Palace and the surrounding park, once the summer home of Fredrick the Great. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it includes the historical buildings pictured here that house the library and Institute of History of the University of Potsdam 
So many statues... much restoration work to be done.
Our original plan was to stay only two nights in Potsdam, and then continue biking north to visit another cousin in northeastern Germany.  But on the second night I began to feel ill - sick to the stomach and wracked by chills.  The next day we had to check out of the cottage we were renting since it was reserved by someone else.  I was too sick to bike as we had hoped, so we found another unit across town.  It took all my strength to bike across the city in the rain, and we holed up for two days until I felt a bit better to travel.  Not until I read the entry in my journal that reminded me of those two fateful sips of water that undoubtedly caused my illness.

We took the train to Medow, where my dear cousin Ottfried lives.  I was not fully recovered, but Ottfired's wife Christiane is a doctor, and she gave me medication for my stomach and I was able to eat again and overcome the chills.  By the end of the weekend I was well enough to attend the community choral performance, in which Christiane sang beautifully.  It took place in this old church, whose grounds butt up to the backyard of my cousin's house.  There was a potluck afterwards -- a perfect way to spend a summer afternoon.

The church had a restored organ, and since Ottfried was the caretaker of the church, he let John give it a try.  Hymns are not in his repertoire, but he did justice to the opening of Elton John's "Funeral for a Friend".

Nice memories of time with family...from the right are Ottfried's sisters Almaty and Tina, Ottfried, Christiane, their daughter Margarehte, and us!

One day Ottfried took us for a visit to the town of Stralsund, an hour's drive north on the Baltic Sea.  The Marienkirche (Saint Mary's Church) is the largest church in the town, and according to Wikipedia it was the world's tallest structure during the period from 1625-1647.

And since it is still the tallest thing in the area, sweeping views are the reward for climbing up the winding staircase of the Marienkirche tower.

My great-grandfather, Dr. Bruno Brukner, moved to the town of Stralsund in 1900 with his family to become the technical director of the local sugar factory.  My grandfather was raised here and married my grandmother, also a local girl from Stralsund.  It is a place my father visited often as he was growing up, and the family vacationed on the barrier island Hiddensee, just a short ferry ride from Straslund's harbor.  On our last bike tour to Germany in 2015 we took rode that ferry and explored the island.  It was an important experience for me to walk these same streets as my family had not so far in the past.

Ottfried took us to this church to see some portraits done by a close friend of the family.
Inside the church we discovered this list of names of local soldiers that died in World War I.  Looking carefully at the list, it was a jolt to see the name "Alarich Brukner", which is my father's name.  This was his uncle that died on the Western Front just three months before the end of the war, and after whom he was named.  A little ways further down the list is the name "Wilhelm Dankwardt", which is the maiden family name of my grandmother, although I am not sure the exact relation.
Feeling completely healthy again we were able bike the distance from Medow to just south of Berlin over three days, where we would have another family meet-up.

We spent a warm summer day with my dear cousin Eva and her family wandering through Berlin.  We weren't the only ones having our picture taken in front of the Brandenburg Gate.

We were graciously hosted by my cousin's brother-in-law at his home in Blankensfeld.  He borrowed a trailer to take us and our bikes to the airport on the morning of our departure from Europe.  Our bikes weren't all that heavy, but it was a hefty trailer that pushed his little compact car to the limit!

We flew over Hiddensee as we headed home.The white line of the sandy beaches is why this is such a popular summer destination for many Germans.

After a rest to get over jet lag at my sister's house in the Bay Area, we opted to take the train and bus back to June Lake. California was on fire when we arrived home in late July, and we glad to only have to bike a few miles from where the bus let us off to our house.  It was good to be home, but so disappointing that fire is now a common experience in our part of the world.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Prague, Czech Republic: A Favorite City

Have you been to Prague?  No?  You must put it on the list.  Yes?  Then our infatuation with the city will be no surprise to you.  For us, it was all about the architecture.  Splendid buildings around every corner from the Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque eras.  Apparently the city was not rebuilt in the 18th and 19th centuries like many other European capitals because it was only a provincial town.  Although it was bombed during World War II, it was not leveled like many other cities, notably Dresden, Germany.

For three days we walked around the city from an AirBnB we rented in a bedroom community to the north. And we have some photos to prove it.  Enjoy!

Early morning is our favorite time to wander -- nice light and few people.  The Old Town Square is surrounded with interesting architectural treasures.

Churches are abundant, squeezed in between other buildings and often shrouded in some kind of scaffolding. 

The core of the old town is a canyon of stone buildings.

We did a tour of the Municipal House, a public cultural center built at the turn of the 20th century in art-nouveau style.  It was decorated by artists of the day and celebrates the Czech nation.  There is great attention to detail everywhere, like the embroidery on these drapes.

Earlier in the day we had visited the Mucha Museum, a gallery with just a sampling of the prodigious work of Alfons Mucha.  His work may be familiar to you, especially the posters he produced while living in Paris.  The Lord Mayor's Hall in the Municipal House was decorated by him, with the characteristic penetrating stares of figures from Czech history and mythology on the spaces between the arches.

Love, love, love the style of art-nouveau!

Just another tremendous building on a wedge-shaped piece of property.

We took in a free organ concert on a Sunday morning in the St James Cathedral.  The organ dates from 1705. A beautiful sound in a beautiful space.

The chandeliers in the church sparkled with Bohemian crystal.

A good place to sit and ponder.

Crossing the Charles Bridge is an obligatory thing to do when visiting Prague.  We had a clear morning to see it from the south before we ventured across.

It is also a thing for many Chinese couples to have photos taken in iconic locales in European cities.  We saw more than a few on the Charles Bridge when we were there.

There are 30 statues mounted along the sides of the bridge.  The originals date from the 1700's, but only replicas remain.  The pigeon, however, is real.

The Charles Bridge crosses the Vltava River, and on the west bank is the neighborhood of Mala Strana.  There is a castle and a few cathedrals, but most impressive was the massive Wallenstein Palace which houses the Senate of the Czech Republic.

I am collecting pictures of doors, which I call the "Portal Collection".  This one is particularly nice, don't you think?

Inside the Senate building was this wallpaper made from tooled leather.  That is a lot of cows.

We clanked around on the trams which provide great access to most corners of the city.  Some were very modern and sleek, others vintage.  I kept trying to get a good picture of some of the old ones, but they were almost as elusive as a deer in the forest, stopping and taking off before I could whip out my camera.

We spent a good half hour sitting in this garden space and taking in the open-air cathedral ceiling.

Paddling up and down the Vltava River by the Charles Bridge is apparently a fine thing to do on a clear summer day.
And paddling in a whimsical boat is even better!

Ok, just one more impressive building .
Our final afternoon we spent in the Czech Museum of Music. There were many old instruments -- pianos, strings, woodwinds, and brass -- and recordings of pieces played on those instruments.  The piano collection was quite impressive, as in the craftsmanship of this one with wood and mother-of-pearl keys. 

One thing we learned is of the various different piano designs through time.  We think this space-saving upright might just fit in our living room.

The museum is housed in a former 17th century church, and includes this performance hall which nicely blends new and old architectural elements.

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All original text and photos are copyrighted Doris Reilly © 2006-2018. No part of the content or the blog may be reproduced without prior written permission.
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