Berlin

Who is silly enough to decide on a Tuesday in early December to journey to Berlin by train the following day, spend two nights in a hotel, and three days to sightsee? And to use a booklet from 1973 as one’s guide? At least it was the 8th improved version from 1983!

My youthful optimism and burning desire to re-visit Germany’s capital which I only knew from an organized tour some thirty-odd years ago made me choose this course of action. During all my previous sojourns in Europe, I did not have or make the time to plan such a trip, and, lacking the foresight again during this last one, I resorted to this whirlwind excursion. As I knew full-well before I left, three days (two and a half, to be exact) were not nearly enough, but only afforded a brief glimpse into a metropolis with a convoluted history. I am glad I had the opportunity to get this glimpse, but when a friend asked me afterward about my impressions, I responded that they were mixed. I am still in the process of digesting them.

I arrived at Berlin’s Main Train Station. The Reichstag Building can be seen behind the Christmas wreath.

Crossing the Spree River, looking east toward the Fernsehturm (TV tower) on Alexanderplatz

Reichstag building, former home of the equivalent of the German parliament

The new dome of the Reichstag (completed in 1999). The original dome burned down in the fire of 1933 which was used by Hitler as a pretext to suspend the Weimar Constitution.

Berlin became the capital of Germany in 1871, after Iron Chancellor Bismarck’s multi-pronged machinations united different German regions and interests. Immense growth at the turn of the 19th century was followed by intense bombardment in World War II, and the division of the city into four allied sectors after Germany’s capitulation. This separation culminated in the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, and the subsequent existence of two parallel universes that lasted for 27 years, until the Wall was torn down in 1989, Germany reunited, and Berlin resumed its original role as capital of a unified Germany. As I moved across the Atlantic from Europe in the mid-1990s, I followed subsequent events from a distance only, but was curious to see the changes since reunification for myself.

Brandenburg Gate

Quadriga atop Brandenburg Gate

I remembered vividly the concrete, steel, and barbed wire from my visit in the early 1980s that separated the city into two, and West Berlin from the surrounding German Democratic Republic, a bizarre reminder of a bizarre situation. If the Brandenburg Gate was previously the center of the divided city, today it embodies the new Berlin. This became evident when I was able to simply walk up to it, and through all of its five arches. Even though remnants of the Wall are scattered along streets and thoroughfares, and former checkpoints and museums continue to recall this chapter of German history, I had the impression that this is something the country has, largely, put behind.

What Germany has, and probably should not, put behind is its infamous role during WW I and WW II, especially its racist, elitist views that led to genocide and a bottomless pit of pain and death. While it is impossible to ever right the wrongs committed, Germany has tried to take responsibility for its past actions. Monuments have been erected to commemorate the murder of Jews, Sinti and Roma as well as homosexuals during the Third Reich. Even though it took three generations to reach this juncture, persistent undercurrents in German society continue to laud Hitler’s “accomplishments” and espouse his evil racial views. I have always had trouble with my German heritage, on account of my birth country’s horrendous history: two catastrophic wars which led to the demise of at least 16 million in the first, 60 million in the second. Unlike a former chancellor, I can’t lighten my conscience by claiming “the mercy of late birth”.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Memorial to the Murdered Homosexuals

I grapple with the tension of how this nation can take responsibility for its past, and continue to celebrate its achievements, institutions, and elites, without belittling other states and claiming, once again, supremacy. Germany – and Berlin  still struggle to find answers to yesterday’s troublesome questions, while trying to heal internal divisions, and solve today’s challenges.

Neue Wache (New Guardhouse) on boulevard “Unter den Linden”, commemorates victims of war and dictatorship

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/01/14/berlin/

The Year in Pictures/Das Jahr in Bildern

 As I did for my 2016 review, I am again reminding myself of the motto expressed on a historic clock in downtown Colorado Springs: Dum Vivimus Vivamus. While we live, let us live.

     The greater my disenchantment with political, religious, and familial strife, the more I seek refuge in nature, camera in tow. Next to books, it is the only place where I can live in the moment, and be utterly happy. The more time I spend outside, the more photos I take of birds and plants. I am sharing some that have not found a home in my previous posts. Unless otherwise noted, all originated in Colorado. 

     I hope 2017 was a good year for you – and that 2018 will be even better.

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     Wie auch im Jahresrückblick 2016, erinnere ich mich wiederum an das Motto einer historischen Uhr im Zentrum von Colorado Springs: Dum Vivimus Vivamus. Während wir leben, laßt uns leben.

     Je größer meine Verdrossenheit über Politik, Religion, und Familienangelegenheiten, desto mehr suche ich Zuflucht in der Natur, mit meiner Kamera als Begleiterin. Neben Büchern ist sie der einzige Ort, wo ich im Hier und Jetzt leben, und mich völlig glücklich fühlen kann. Je mehr Zeit ich draußen verbringe, desto mehr Bilder mache ich von Vögeln und Pflanzen. Hier teile ich einige, die in meinen vorherigen Blogbeiträge noch kein Zuhause gefunden haben. Wenn nicht anders erwähnt, stammen alle aus Colorado. 

     Ich hoffe, 2017 war ein gutes Jahr für Dich, und 2018 wird noch besser.

JANUARY / JANUAR

American Kestrel/Buntfalke (Falco sparverius)

Russian Olive/Schmalblättrige Ölweide (Eleagnus angustifolia), invasive species, but the berries are much beloved by the birds/invasive Art, deren Beeren allerdings von den Vögeln geliebt werden

FEBRUARY / FEBRUAR

House finch/Hausgimpel (Carpodacus mexicanus)

Last year’s sunflowers, with Pikes Peak in the background/Sonnenblumen des letzten Sommers, mit Pikes Peak im Hintergrund

MARCH / MÄRZ 

Spotted Towhee/Fleckengrundammer (Pipilo maculatus)

Cottonwood tree in the light of the setting sun/Pappel im Licht des Sonnenuntergangs

APRIL / APRIL

American Avocet/Amerikanischer Säbelschnäbler (Recurvirostra americana)

Pasqueflower/Echte Küchenschelle (Pulsatilla patens), one of Colorado’s earliest spring flowers/eine der ersten Frühlingsblumen Colorados

MAY / MAI

Osprey/Fischadler (Pandion haliaetus)

Crabapple/Holzapfel (Malus sp.)

JUNE / JUNI

Great-tailed Grackle/Dohlengrackel (Quiscalus mexicanus)

Prairie Spiderwort/Dreimasterblume (Tradescantia occidentalis)

JULY / JULI

Flammulated Owl/Ponderosa-Zwergohreule (Otus flammeolus), handled by Colorado College Professor Brian Linkhart who has been studying this species for decades/wird von Professor Brian Linkhart des Colorado College gehalten, der diese Art seit Jahrzehnten studiert

Green Gentian (Monument Plant, Elkweed)/Grüner Enzian (Frasera speciosa)

AUGUST / AUGUST

Northern Red-shafted Flicker/Kupferspecht (Colaptes auratus cafer), male in the back, female in the front/Männchen hinten, Weibchen vorne

Colorado’s State Flower, Colorado Blue Columbine/Kleinblütige Akelei (Aquilegia caerulea)

SEPTEMBER / SEPTEMBER

Great Blue Heron/Amerikanischer Graureiher (Ardea herodias)

Sunflower/Sonnenblume (Helianthus sp.)

OCTOBER / OKTOBER

Western Bluebird/Blaukehl-Hüttensänger (Sialia mexicana)

Fall landscape with signature aspen trees/Herbstlandschaft mit unverkennbaren Zitterpappeln

NOVEMBER / NOVEMBER

Cedar Waxwing/Zedernseidenschwanz (Bombycilla cedrorum)

Cottonwood tree in late fall foliage/Pappel in späten Herbstfarben

DECEMBER / DEZEMBER

Hooded Crow/Nebelkrähe (Corvus corone cornix), Berlin, Germany

Christmas Rose/Christrose (Helleborus niger), Germany

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

I don’t consider myself a practicing Christian, yet continue to practice – and relish – Christmas, at least certain aspects. In a globalizing and homogenizing world, traditions have the power to ground and to offer a sense of belonging.

My recent journey to Europe coincided with the holiday season and re-exposed me to some of these cherished traditions. Opening one door of my advent calendar daily, from December 1 through the 24th, to discover a different piece of chocolate, used to be my favorite childhood activity, other than opening presents on Christmas Eve. It still is, even when I am content to find something other than candy behind each door.

I experienced two advent Sundays in Germany, and with them, the festive lighting of the first two candles of the advent wreath. For the illumination of the 3rd and 4th, I will be back in Colorado.

Towns and homes I visited were bedecked with seasonal decorations, with each family adding its own touches, thereby beautifying human habitations and gladdening the senses.

Christmas markets, famous beyond Germany’s borders, were in plain evidence. While I did not seek them out, I happened across them wherever I went. Berlin seemed to showcase one on each public plaza. As I am no lover of large crowds, I did not linger long after absorbing the atmosphere. What appeared to be a serious case of associated shopping frenzy acted as additional deterrent.

The new normal, pervasive police presence, in response to last year’s attack at Berlin’s Breitscheidplatz

Mainzelmännchen in the pyramid equals Mainz

     November and December weather tends to consist of cool, covered, or rainy skies in many regions of Germany, but I was surprised by a series of snowfalls, albeit short ones. A walk through the wintry woods with my father created one of my favorite memories for this trip. ❤ 

While the ways to interpret the meaning of Christmas are as manifold as ice crystals, my fervent hope against hope continues to be that, one day, we might all embrace one of its central tenets: Peace on Earth.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/12/17/es-weihnachtet-sehr/

Late Autumn in Germany

When in Germany for a late fall visit, I vacillated between simple admiration of the floral abundance, and concern about the effects of climate change. Having lived away from Europe for decades, I am ignorant of blooming cycles of most plants, but the quantity and variety of still-blossoming flowers at the end of November seemed unusual. Next to the expected or absent fall foliage, multiple blossoms I associate with summer continued to shimmer. Despite the problematic implications I could not help but smile at the poly-petaled plethora, and revel in its inherent beauty.

While I struggle with humankind’s destructive effects on our exceptional and exquisite Earth, I marvel at its vitality and wonderful resilience – in spite of us. May we fail in our best attempts to destroy the only known planet that affords us life.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/12/12/spatherbst-in-deutschland/

A Natural Enclave

     In a recent post, I commented on the ubiquity of castles in Germany. Besides these rather massive medieval monuments, more delicate and recent palaces abound, a reflection of the country’s division into myriad principalities until not-so-long-ago, each of which flaunted its status with its own stately domicile. One such palace graces Herrnsheim, an incorporated suburb of the city of Worms.

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The edifice’s current incarnation rose out of the ruins of late Middle Age and Baroque precursors. In the early 19th century, it was erected in the eminent Empire style, named after Emperor Napoleon. The surrounding estate, designed as an English landscape garden in the 18th century, has been maintained in the same style up to the present.

     As Herrnsheim was the hometown of my best friend, and near our mutual high school, I frequented the location throughout the years. It took on added significance when my now husband and I strolled around its grounds, newly in love, in an attempt to walk off nervous energy, before he met my parents for the first time. All these sentimental reasons combine and I find myself irresistibly attracted each time I am in its vicinity. Last year was no different and I returned to it on more than one occasion, finding its timeless beauty augmented by its autumnal attire.

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     The principal building can be toured once a month, or by special request, and the adjacent orangery now houses a café, but I did not make use of either, since the destination’s main appeal lay in its outdoor scenery.

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A gravel path led me past stretches of lawn complemented by groves of deciduous trees, to a lake with a central island, covered by canopy of fall foliage. Even though a gazebo, bridge, and diverse statuary were clearly fashioned and placed by human hands, the harmony between manmade and seemingly natural structures was very appealing.

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I don’t recall the first time a striking statue of what appears to be an African woman materialized at the edge of the isle in the middle of the pond, but I have sat opposite her many a time and pondered her meaning.

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The forest and water have always attracted a variety of creatures, among them waterfowl and raptors. All enhanced the impression of a wild place, with a slight reminder that even wilderness needs to be organized.

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Only in Germany: Birdhouses with numbers :=)

     In typical fall fashion, the weather was changeable and alternated between sunshine, overcast skies, and gentle showers. I opened and closed my umbrella repeatedly, which happened to share the color of the leaves.

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One memorable moment, I stood agape, admiring a golden “leaffall”, brought on by a hefty gust of wind. Not many people were out and about, and despite the relative smallness of the park and a nearby busy road with its muffled engine noise, I had the sense of being far away from the crowds. I regularly seek solitude wherever I go, and even small enclaves of nature have the power to restore in me a sense of well-being and belonging. This colorful gem in the old country, though exceptional, is no exception.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/eine-naturliche-oase/

Where Do Babies Come From?

The dark point circling in the sky assumes shape, size, and color with diminishing distance, and soon I recognize a large white bird with long red legs and beak. Its head points straight forward, its white wings and black trailing feathers beat measuredly up and down. I am not the only one who anticipates its return. Before me, inside a stick nest on top of a tall pole, two nestlings flap their wings impatiently. Once the adult alights and regurgitates food, the offspring commence to devour it hungrily, while the regal elder surveys the surroundings. Luckily, at a distance of 100 yards I pose no threat, for all three ignore me.

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After five minutes, the adult takes off again and leaves the young ones to their own devices. Until the next visitation by mother or father, who are not easily distinguished at first glance (the males tend to have thicker and longer bills), the youths fill their time inside their nursery by sitting, pacing or pumping their wings in preparation for the day in the not too distant future when they will fledge. They observe their environs and a cock crowing nearby captures their attention. Their heads turn in synchrony toward that sound, rendering their black beaks obvious, a contrast to the adults’ bright red ones.

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I know of this White Stork nest in the southern portion of Hessen in West-Central Germany from a previous visit. In June 2015 I reach it by first ferrying across the Rhine River from my childhood home in Rheinhessen, and by riding 5 miles on my bike. I am thrilled to find it occupied again, and elated to observe clusters of storks in the sky overhead. Ten individuals suddenly descend, land behind a tractor, and follow its wake, where they pierce whatever scuttles underneath their beaks.

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Culinarily not choosy, their menu includes earthworms, insects, fish, frogs, snakes and small rodents. Nearby, in the town of Biebesheim, I find the explanation for their abundance when I happen across an animal refuge which is home to a stork colony. The air is filled with the sounds and sights of storks. They are coming and going, feeding, and clattering their elegant bills. This latter activity translates as klappern and is responsible for one of many common German names of this beloved creature, Klapperstorch.

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White Storks typically lay three to four eggs, and in times of abundance as many as seven, but only two to three hatchlings survive into adulthood. After 33 days they emerge from the eggs and the nestlings mature for two months before they take flight. Called European White Storks, their distribution is not limited to that continent. Breeding also occurs in Asia Minor and the various flocks migrate to their wintering grounds in Africa. This happens in two distinct patterns. From Western Europe they fly across the Straits of Gibraltar to West Africa, whereas eastern groups follow a route across Turkey, the Bosporus Strait, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Gulf of Suez to reach East and South Africa. The flight path across the Mediterranean Sea, albeit much shorter, is not feasible because it lacks the required thermal uplifts which are only generated where soil is heated by sun.

Growing up in Germany forty years ago I never encountered wild storks. This did not prevent me from following a folk custom related to me by my grandparents. To encourage the birds to bring me a sibling, I placed many a sugar cube on the windowsill. Sadly, it didn’t work. In school in the 1980s, I learned that these magnificent avians were threatened by extinction and their future appeared dire. All the more welcome the news that their numbers have not only stabilized, but have grown in the last decades, in Western even more than in Eastern Europe.

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This recovery of their ranks is at least partially attributable to changing migratory patterns (many of the storks overwinter on the Iberian peninsula where they find enough food, instead of undertaking the treacherous trip south), but human preservation efforts also play a role in the storks’ success story. Provision and caretaking of breeding spaces on tall poles or rooftops, restoration of wetlands and meandering streams, decreased use of pesticides, and insulation of high-power utility lines to lessen the risk of electrocution contribute to attracting breeding pairs, and to promoting the survival of their offspring.

In this day and age when we are overwhelmed by sad tidings about the demise of so many species, the example of the White Stork reminds and admonishes us that we humans are, indeed, able to protect and share habitat through concerted efforts. I am happy that the legendary storks which populate German nursery rhymes, songs and myths once again populate the German landscape.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/er-hat-ein-schwarz-weis-rockchen-an

A Charming Capital along the Neckar River

Until recently Stuttgart was virtually a blank page for me. Even though my parents and I visited relatives in its suburbs throughout the years, these social calls were usually in connection with birthdays, or my cousins’ confirmations, and did not entail sightseeing. So it was with fresh eyes that I encountered Baden-Württemberg’s capital during my travels this past fall. My aunt and uncle housed and fed me royally, and my aunt also introduced me to her home turf by taking me on a circuit of the city’s center.

Our tour began at the new Central Library, completed in 2011. This fabulous futuristic cube affords Escheresque views on the inside, and a panorama of Stuttgart from the rooftop’s observation platform.

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The town developed in the picturesque Neckar River valley, but is composed of a number of vales and hills. The river climate is conducive to the thriving of forests and vineyards and I was pleasantly surprised by so much verdure and viticulture.

From the library, we strolled to the Main Train Station which was saved a few years ago by citizen protesters from demolition in the context of Stuttgart 21, a controversial public transportation renewal project whose ongoing process has resulted in ubiquitous construction sites. The railroad hub sits at one end of downtown’s main shopping avenue, the Königstraße. Parallel to this pedestrian zone runs the Upper Castle Park with a number of historic buildings.

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We admired the elegant Opera House and the Neues Schloß (New Castle), the 18th century baroque residence of the former kings of Württemberg which now accommodates offices of the state legislature.

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It replaced the neighboring Altes Schloß (Old Castle) whose origins date back to the 10th century, after it had outlived its purpose. Since 1969 it is home to the state museum.

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Like many German communities, Stuttgart was in the crosshairs of Allied bombing during World War II, and was heavily damaged. The two palaces have been restored to their former grandeur, but of the nearby Stiftskirche (Collegiate Church) mainly walls remained, and it was rebuilt with major modifications. Surviving stone fragments highlight the original architecture, and glass panels on the ceiling are arranged to imitate the former existence of a main nave and two side aisles.

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At the beloved art nouveau Markthalle (market hall), which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2014, the appealing aroma and appetizing aspects of an assortment of local and international foods provided a veritable feast for the senses.

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Enticed by its ambience and attractions, I returned downtown repeatedly. An amazing 4 story bookstore, Buchhaus Wittwer, with a dizzying array of regional, national, and global titles, and comfortable chairs, kept beckoning. Near this buzzing book hive, I encountered an extensive string of soap bubbles, enchanting to the young, and the young at heart. The shopping district’s proximity to numerous notable structures creates a very alluring combination in the core of the city.

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I was delighted to detect that the Upper Palace Park was only the first in a succession of connected oases of greenery that run like a ribbon through the urban landscape. It is followed by the Middle and Lower Castle Parks, as well as the Rosenstein Park. Miles and miles of non-motorized trails wind through copses and alleys of trees and along scenic creeks and lakes. My stay coincided with a string of sun-kissed days, stimulating to man and animal alike and I relished the brilliant arboreal colors.

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My family also introduced me to additional local landmarks, among them the Max-Eyth-Lake, nestled adjacent to the Neckar. Along this stretch of the river, one of the embankments is steep and covered with vineyards, the opposite gradual, with high-rises. A Black Swan seemed as enthralled by the sights as I.

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In Ludwigsburg, a short distance north of Stuttgart, my cousin and I strolled across the Saturday market and caught a glimpse of the baroque palace and gardens. With more time at our disposal we would have paid the fee to view the annual gourd festival which features artistic cucurbit displays.

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On a stunning Sunday we joined what appeared to be the majority of the resident population on a pilgrimage to the Württemberg, the state’s eponymous hill, where King William I expressed his love for his wife, the Russian Duchess Catherine Pavlova, in a magnificent edifice, after she passed away prematurely. He commissioned her sepulchral chapel in the neoclassical style with a dome modeled on the Pantheon in Rome.

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Its prominent position offers jaw-dropping views of the scenery, similar to those from the nearby Kernenturm (Kernen Tower) in the midst of the flamboyant fall forest.

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I was spoiled by this beautiful Swabian locale, the clement weather, and by my obliging hosts. Stuttgart and surroundings will definitely remain on my travel wish list, and I highly recommend it as a destination.

Click here for the link to the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/charmante-landeshauptstadt-am-neckar/