During our 3 nights in Berlin we stayed in a very comfortable pension named Hotel Enzian, located near the Botanical Gardens. It is a quite neighborhood with narrow, cobbled, tree-lined streets. Every morning we started the day with a “civilized breakfast” of boiled eggs, fresh rolls, butter, marmalade, cheese, cold cuts, coffee, juice, and milk served on the little dishes, dispensers, and cutlery that I would call “fancy” back home. The proprietor, Michael, is a friendly and gracious host and we really felt like we were hosted vs. housed during our stay.
One piece of business we attempted while in Berlin was to acquire visas from the Tanzanian embassy. Turned out it was simply not possible. We rallied ourselves early in the morning, navigated the Berlin train system, visited 3 banks to find one willing to convert US and Icelandic bills to Euro, and then located the Tanzanian embassy. We then discovered that at the embassy in Germany can only issue visas for Americans who have permanent residence in Germany. That was the bad news. The good news (we hope) is that all we need to do is show up at the airport in Tanzania with $50US and we will get a visa – “NO PROBLEM”. Once we explained our situation, the kind lady in the embassy smiled and said, “just go there, give them the $50 and there will be no problem”. I must have had a skeptical look on my face because she looked at me with real concern and said “What is the matter? Is there any other problem?”. I had to shake my head and say “OK, no problem, that is what we will do”. Since we appear to have no other options – that is what we will do. Stay tuned, I’m not sure what happens if we get there and the visa office is closed for a new paint job or something. Hopefully we won’t find out.
The Olympic Stadium from the 1936 games is just one train stop from the embassy – so we stopped by to take a look. This is the first of our Olympic themed destinations and it was a good warm up. You may already know that this is the place where Hitler played world politics with the games in 1936, and the African Americans (especially Jesse Owens) really put a hitch in his plans to showcase the Nazi political agenda. The stadium has been recently renovated with a new roof and is used for major events today.
Next on our list was Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall. Suzanne and I enjoyed walking through the museum and seeing the various escape schemes the East Germans used to get to the West such as home made scuba gear. The kids were pretty burned out, and a museum with black and white news print, miniature models of different types of walls, old East German equipment, and grainy black and white news reels of politicians pushed them right to the end of their tolerance. However, the seem to remember some of the content such as how West Berlin was an island of the West surrounded by Soviet controlled East Germany and that the NATO and Warsaw Treaties set the stage for the cold war. If they remember those two things, I suspect they will know more than 90% of the American population on recent European history.
The trek home was our first experience this year navigating an underground and regional train system. Suzanne & I checked and double checked each other’s conclusions on which train to take. She brings a much more deliberate “train hopping” methodology than I do. I’m more willing to take a risk of getting on a train if I have a good feeling about it – leading to occasional backtracking once I figure out I’m headed in the wrong direction. She has the more deliberate and effective approach of stopping to think for a few minutes, study the map, ask people, and other such techniques that get better results, but probably also avoids serendipitous adventures. In this case, she navigated us home, safe and sound, from central Berlin. We also started implementing the “Bus/Train Separation Protocol” (BTSP) with the kids. The BTSP has 5 steps in the case where one of the kids is separated from us on a train or bus: 1) DON’T PANIC 2) Get off at the next stop if you are on the bus/train – if you are at the station and we are on the bus/train, stay there. 3) Find a place close by where you are not in the flow of trafic and wait. Check your watch and plan to stay in the place you just found for at least 30 minutes. 4) If your phone has coverage, call Mom and/or Dad. 5) After 30 minutes find a uniformed official or an friendly looking lady (preferable with children) and ask them for help. Remember that mom and dad will come find you – so don’t wander away from the area you found in step 2. Hopefully we won’t need to invoke the BTSP, but we feel better knowing we have it in place.