My series of posts about our German Christmas and New Year’s holiday begins, only three weeks late 😉 Christmas was spent with Pat’s sister Kate, her husband and their four children, as well as Kate’s husband’s brother, his wife and their two little girls, who had come from Spain. Our family is very international. There was much family time, delicious dinners and indulgent eating, like Christmas dinner for 13:
We ran, read, played with children and yoga’d, and I learnt how to say ‘Look at my bum!’ in Spanish from the funniest and most bold three year old I’ve ever met. I also baked with my niece for the first time:
We got some alone time and headed to Bremen for the day to feast some more, especially on Bratwurst:
Then before we knew it, our time with family was over. It was time to kiss and hug our family good-bye and head to the capital and eastern Germany. We took the Deutsche Bahn (German train) to Berlin, stopping quickly in Wolfsburg, the world headquarters of the Volkswagon Auto Group.
A fantastic sight for Pat, the VW owner, and myself, the Skoda (VW group) owner and former Golf owner 🙂
We arrived to an incredibly busy Berlin Hauptbahnof (central station) and met up with my friend Alicia from my University of Alberta days, and my partner on the slopes of Alberta and BC. Alicia currently teaches at an international school in Berlin. Our first night there, we spent it shopping for hipster outfits for the next day’s NYE hipster-themed party, and dining at I Due Forne, enjoying their delicious, authentic Italian pizza and the writing on the wall:
The next day, aka New Year’s Eve, marks one of the best days, and best runs, of my life. I won’t go into the entire day in this post, that would just be too long; I’ll save that for next time. Pat and I had done a very good job of running while we were away; we never missed a run and were often joined by my nephew, (who’d cycle next to us), my brother-in-law Gonzalo, and now in Berlin, Alicia’s boyfriend André. We were fortunate for the company because otherwise, I wasn’t sure what where we were going to run! André’s tour around East Berlin, where we spent most of our time actually, was very informative and interesting. We joked that André’s calling is as a running tour guide of Berlin, (but still a good idea).
The run started like any normal run in a city: making our way past traffic lights, bakeries, shops, and cafés; then past Bauhaus-styled apartment blocks and Mauerpark, the site of a very cool flea market in the summer. We turned right onto Bernauer Strasse, and came upon the Berlin Wall Memorial.
The Berlin Wall was erected in 1961 and stood for the length of the Cold War (until 1989), splitting Berlin into halves: West Berlin, formed by the Western Allies of France, the USA and the UK, and also belonging to West Germany; and East Berlin, formed by the Soviets, and the eventual capital of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). As a result of political and economical tensions between East and West, which included a stand-off of tanks at Checkpoint Charlie between Americans and Russians, the GDR constructed the Berlin Wall in 1961. There were four versions of the Wall, with its original barbed wire version taking only 51 hours to build across the city. Once the wall was up, people were literally stuck on either side, splitting and displacing families, and tearing people’s lives apart. Imagine sending your children to their grandparent’s house in the East while you and your husband had a dinner party at your home in the West, only to go pick them up the next day and find out you would never see them again? West Berliners enjoyed a western way of life and could travel between East and West through various checkpoints throughout the city. Those living in the East, however, we not so lucky.
Today, sections of the wall stand all over the city as a reminder, but here on Bernauer Strasse, there were also photos, brass beams representing the wall, and plaques on the ground where an escapee was caught, or even killed. Where the wall has been taken down, a trail of two cobblestones in a line marks the spot that divided Berlin for decades.
We spent quite some time on Bernauer Strasse, examining and photographing what lay before us.
And being a bit silly too.
It’s safe to say that as a westerner, I knew bits and pieces about the Berlin Wall, but not nearly what I learned on that run, and later on, during a walking tour of Berlin. Pat commented ‘How could this small wall rule Berlin?’ and to look at it, he’s right. Surely you could easily climb over it, right?
What we didn’t know was that there were actually two walls with a no-man’s-land in between, complete with beds of nails, a road (known as ‘the death strip’), trenches, watch towers with armed gunmen and foot soldiers with Alsatian dogs. Crossing illegally was virtually a life and death situation.
5000 people successfully defected to the west during the almost thirty years the wall was up, including the soldier in the black and white photo at the Berlin Wall Monument; in fact, many soldiers from East Berlin working the wall checkpoints defected. Unfortunately, about 136 people lost their lives in their attempt at a better life in the West.
After our incredible history lesson, again us Westerners learning so much more, we continued on our run, leaving the Cold War behind us.We ran past Alicia’s school, where André and Pat showed me how they would keep fit as old men:
We then headed to Volkspark Humbolthain (or Humboldthain Park), on what is essentially one massive pile of rubble leftover from World War 2. The entrance to the park looks like any hilly park: walking paths taking you all over, trees and other greenery. Once inside the park, we spotted a large hill with an observation deck on top. You could walk or run up the hill using switch back trails all the way up, or take the stairs. It turns out the this deck was actually built on top of Flakturm III, a massive flak tower.
These flak towers were built across Germany during WW2 and were used to defend against air raids, coordinate air defence and shelter people. Attempts to completely destroy Flakturm III had failed, as bombs only left minor dents in the structure. These remnants are now used as part of the underground tours that Berlin offers, (so going to one the next time we’re there!). The tower also offers an excellent view of East Berlin.
As it was New Year’s Eve, and it legal to set off fireworks wherever you’d like in Berlin, our run soundtrack was a steady stream of crack’s and pow’s as people set fireworks off, during the day, all around us.
With our WW2 history lesson complete, we made our way back to the apartment and concluded our run. Altogether, our historical tour of East Berlin run was 5.75 miles, at an easy pace, finishing it in over an hour. Yes, there were many start and stops, and many times I had to stop my watch, but in terms of significance and impact, this run definitely rates as one of the best ever. It was a humbling experience to see the Berlin Wall and Flakturm remnants, and to think about what had taken place decades ago on the ground where we run. I look forward to running here again soon.
Believe it or not, that was just our morning, the day gets even better from here 🙂
Where have you had a best run?
Would you take part in a running tour?