2013 0812 Kiel Canal: We entered the canal around 2:00 AM, we were told. Pilot comes aboard for the trip. We’re in the last lock at about 1:45 PM and will emerge onto the open North Sea to make our way down to Amsterdam for arrival tomorrow morning. Canal runs through Germany, is international, but run by Germany.

I awakened early, about 6:30. Marian got up later in time for 8:45 champagne (complementary) breakfast in the suite. Was cold and rainy. Some of the rain was really heavy, so we’re glad it’s a day we’re not touring somewhere. Spent most of the morning in our room. Left for an hour around 11:30 so room could be made up. Tried to have lunch in Waves where they were doing German beer and sausages, but the line was way too long. So went to Terrace Café for buffet lunch around 12:30. Another couple sat with us. They are Eileen and Elliot Schuman from NYC. He was Naval Academy and 10 years in the Navy before getting PhD in Psychology. Teaches at Long Island University. She is a social worker who is an a hospital administrator in psychiatric wing. Both are still working …both look years older than us (but who can ever really tell). This is their fourth Oceania cruise and they love the line. Had an entertaining and funny lunch. Really nice. First time we’ve shared a meal with strangers (other than talking to people at adjacent tables).

Went back to cabin in time to see us entering the last lock. Water being let out and it took about 20 minutes or so for us to be at sea level to go through the gate at our bow. Massages are scheduled for 2:30 for each of us. They were wonderful.

In the cabin, we watched the North Sea: some waves and motion, some gray clouds, some rain. Dinner tonight in Grand Dining Room with Maureen and Bill Preston, the couple we met at a restaurant in Stockholm and have been trying to make a date with them.

Had a very nice dinner. Learned quite a bit about each other. They have/had Tennessee Walkers and did bird dog trials on horseback. Down to one old horse and one old dog now. Have 80 acres in Saskatoon. Dinner was exciting in that the sea was rough and the dining room is all the way aft. So we got some rolling and bumping. Had to hold onto things as we made our way back to our cabin. It got a bit smoother as we went along. But, hey, it’s the North Sea and not the Baltic.

2013 0811 Berlin: We got up at 5:00, had breakfast at 5:45, and were off the ship into our waiting Mercedes van at 6:30 for 2.5 hour trip into Berlin. Nice woman driver who lives near where ship was docked in Rostock, which is in the old East Germany. We met Carolyn Gammon, our wonderful tour guide, at Charlottenburg Palace.

Carolyn drew a circle in the sand to represent Germany, a line to represent the division of East and West, and a small circle for Berlin within East Germany. She gave us a history and context of where we were going and what we were to see.

Our first stop was outside the museum where Heinz Bergruen had lived above the fabulous art collection he had acquired and donated after returning here at end of war. Next we drove down a major avenue where the light posts are from the Nazi era and designed by Albert Speer. Speer had pled guilty at the war crimes trial, but said he knew nothing about the camps, which seems not possible. His daughter is “giving back” to deal with reconciliation.

We were too early to get into the Jewish Community Center. It’s on the site of old synagogue that was of Moorish design. We’ve seen this design before on this trip and Carolyn said it was based on nostalgia of old days in Spain per 1492 and a style that swept European synagogues. This synagogue was destroyed 11/9/38, Kristallnacht. At the end of the war, it was in ruins. It’s in an area of more liberal Jews now.

180,000 Jews in Berlin before war, 5,000 after. Many got out before holocaust. No one wanted to stay. Galinsky said if we all leave, Hitler would have won. So, many stayed or came back. Only a few hundred were left in E Germany, though. Was dying  community before reunification. Carolyn talked about the immigration of Russian Jews so that now the community here is about 75% Russian. And there are 12 synagogues in Berlin.

We stopped in front of the Kempinki Hotel. The original Kempinski had delis in the area. They were driven out. A plaque on the side of the hotel tells their story.

Drove by the place of where the Jewish Agency had been pre- and post-war where people went to get permission to move to Palestine. And by some wooden doors where an orthodox synagogue is behind in the courtyard – Joachim Valley Street Synagogue.

Then a Berlin sculpture that remembers the two Berlins with its intertwining pieces that never touches each other.

Next stop KaDeWa, the Harrods of Berlin. Was Jewish owned and expropriated by the Nazis. Now Jewish owned again. Big metal gates in front depict Jews doing different crafts.

By a subway station nearby, there is a memorial with the names of all the major death camps and the inscription that is something like: Places of terror we should never forget. Then, close by, there is a “B” in stainless steel that is upside down. Seems that the Jewish metal workers who did the sign over Auschwitz that read "Arbeit macht frei" – “Work will set you free” – put the “B” upside down as an act of defiance.

Then there is the Victory Column to commemorate the1870 Franco Prussian war. Decor contains cannons captured from French. Bismarck statue there, too. This was when Prussia became a power and Germany was formed, which was then bigger than France, their enemy.

We then went to the courtyard behind the Dept. of Defense where the Valkyrie plotters were executed - 7/20/44. Then to a Serra sculpture and plaque commemorating “Action T4” which preceded the death camps where “deficient” people were taken from their houses to this site and executed later with families being told they had died of some disease.

Next stop was a segment of “the wall.” It was in an area where the ruins from the basement of the Gestapo HQ are right next to it, the Berlin Parliament across the street as is the building that housed the Air Ministry during the war. Those two buildings would have been in East Germany. There were two walls with a “death strip” between with trip wires, trenches, vicious dogs, and guard towers in order to shoot anyone in there. Saw monument later to an East German who had been shot in there and left to bleed to death. By this section of the wall is a museum that deals with all the perpetrators, not just the Nazis or SS or Gestapo.

Then to Checkpoint Charlie-only foreigners could cross here. Then had to go thru East German guards. Not very pleasant. No checkpoint at Brandenburg Gate as many Americans think. The gate itself was inside East Germany. At Checkpoint Charlie, hordes of people posing at the guard stand.

Long visit to the Jewish Museum designed by Daniel Libeskind. From the air, it looks like jagged broken line. You enter through an old Berlin building and get to the museum through a tunnel. About 2,000 years of German Jewish history is depicted here in the main galleries (which we did not visit). Paul Brody trumpet concert was going on with a huge crowd in a part called the Sukkot. We grabbed some lunch at the cafe.

Libeskind had  a concept of voids, which is carried out spatially within the various axes of the building. Very moving altogether. Consider a space that is narrow, dark, about three stories in height, and only a slit of light at the top – a void to represent being in a cattle car going to a camp. Then a room with 10,000 metal disks all with holes in them representing mouth, nose, eyes…adults and children. All strewn on the floor of a long, oddly shaped room, again three stories high. See poem draft at end of this posting.

Outside all the Jewish sites are a police presence. And you go through security like at an airport to get into the Jewish Museum or the New Synagogue. Carolyn says the Mossad trains the German security officers.

Of course, a chocolate stop at the world’s biggest chocolate shop: Fassbender & Rausch. Big chocolate sculptures of many of the sites of Berlin.

Went to the site of the book burning of 5/10/38, a square with the Royal Library, a Catholic church, and Humboldt University. Plaque on the square has a quote from 1820 that says something like: If you burn books, you’ll end up burning people. Prescient.

Went to the site of oldest synagogue. 2/27/43 last Jews scooped up to holding camps on Rosenstrasse (the street where this synagogue was), 10,000 that day. 2,000 were “privileged” since they were married to non Jews. Their wives all came out and protested their being taken away to the death camps. After confrontations, the 2,000 were released. This was soon after Germany had lost 90,000 soldiers in St. Petersburg and the war was becoming unpopular at home. Nothing was done here to commemorate the site or rebuild the old synagogue until East Germany wanted to impress the US with the idea of getting recognized as a country. So, they got an East German artist, Ingebeorg Hunzinger, to do a memorial to the women’s protest (1984).

What was the old Jewish quarter was really like the Lower East Side in NYC, a cheap place for immigrants to live. It attracted Chassidic, Yiddish-speaking people. Saw the house of the first female rabbi, 1935, from school run by Leo Baeck. Practiced until 1942 when deported Theresienstadt for two years. Then to Auschwitz and murdered.  

On the street, there are Brass stumbling blocks in places where Jews lived. They personalize the 6M. Here lived ... yr born, yr deported then saying murdered. All over Europe now. 30,000 of them.

Next the site of the Jewish old people's home. It was turned into holding camp. 55,000 went thru here to the camps. And the old Jewish cemetery. Ivy covered, the 1,500 bodies buried here now are war dead from nearby bombing, all non-Jews. All the Jews were taken out by the Nazis. There is a replacement headstone for Moses Mendelsohn who had been buried here.

We went to the New Synagogue built in 1866. It was saved during crystal night by the police chief but later destroyed by errant allied bombs. Now, only part of it has been rebuilt in 1995. Moorish design. Not orthodox not reform.

Drove by the RR station, Chancellery, Reichstag and to the Brandenburg Gate, which was behind the wall in East Germany. 1791 built to enter city for royals. Napoleon took chariot off top. Prussians restored it. Nazis used it for propaganda. Gate only thing left standing after war in this area.

Final stop was a new Holocaust memorial of 2,000 pieces. NY artist. Graves? People? Shtetls? And the pieces are of different heights which you cannot see cannot see until inside.

It was now 4:00 and we hugged Carolyn goodbye. She was outstanding and a joy to be with. Our driver took us the 2.5 hours back to the ship. Got there at 6:30. Did some stuff in our suite. Had dinner at 7:30. And tomorrow is the only day “at sea.” So, it’s a day of rest.

We wondered how we’d feel being in Germany and in Berlin. I think we were alright with it altogether mostly by the way Carolyn did our tour, what she said, and how she said it. I never felt out of place. It was interesting, moving, and a good thing to do to see firsthand all this history and the Holocaust.

We do owe it all to Carolyn, a Canadian who has lived here for 21 years, married with a son. L.D. Brodsky recommended her and we are in his debt for this. She's the best. And being with Carol and Ken West though all this was a treat. They are wonderful companions, new friends.

 

Faces

Faces are piled all over the floor,
ten thousand faces, metal
faces, thick round disk faces, terror
in eyes, mouths. Depersonalized
adult, children faces personalized
by the sheer number of faces.
The sound
when you walk over them
is the clank
of freight cars
coupling, uncoupling
as Jews head to their deaths,
then silence in this void of memory.

In the Jewish Museum, Berlin

2013 0809 Klaipeda, Lithuania: Got up late on purpose with 8:30 breakfast. Weather forecast had not looked promising and it was blustery while we ate. So, we left the ship around 10:00 with rain gear and an umbrella and waterproof camera … none of which we needed other than to keep warm in the stiff breeze along the water.

The ship is anchored right across from the Curonian Spit. I had wanted to go over there, but it looked too nasty and it’s 65 miles long, so would have been a walk to wherever we wanted to go. So we walked along the river into the old section of the city. It’s not as “old” as Tallinn in its buildings and architecture, but it’s nice. Peaceful. Not hordes of tourists even with our ship in port. We walked up one street and down the next. In Theatre Square, I bought a tourist size/quality piece of amber. Bought a much better one later … has insect inside. Oh, Jurassic Park here I come!

We then went in search of the synagogue which shows clearly on the map. Even found Synagogue street, with was a dead end into a fence. Not sure how one gets around to the building. Tried a couple of sides, but could not see it or a way in. So, we ventured into the big open-air market wht produce, flowers, clothes, electric and plumbing supplies, etc. It’s “the” place for local folk to shop. Saw lots and lots of different kinds of potatoes. Saw some produce we couldn’t identify and the young woman at the stall didn’t know what some stuff was in English. In some stalls, berries or mushroom were in open-top glass jars to be sold that way. And in the clothes section, there were lots of booths with bras, pants, underwear, shoes.

Walked back to the heart of the old town and the river and ate lunch there. Good food and service. Wonderful cold Lithuanian beet soup with crispy potatoes. When done, we walked back along the river to our ship. Sailing time is 3:00 from here, so we wanted to be back in plenty of time. Got back around 1:30.

Spent the afternoon relaxing in our suite. Were some waves as we left Lithuania, but it smoothed out later. 6:30 we were up at Toscana for a lovely dinner and back hone around 8:30. Late docking in Copenhagen tomorrow 10:00, so can sleep in a bit.



2013 0810 Copenhagen, Denmark: Could sleep late today, but I was up at 6:30 … doggone time changes are getting me. Started at 7 hours from home, then 8 for a day, then 9 for three days, then 8 for three days, and not 7 again until we reach London.

I watched as we came into the harbour. Lots of wind turbines. We ended up in a berth that is the closest one can get to the city … very nice. We got off the ship about 9:30 and didn’t return until close to 4:00. We walked the whole day except for a cocoa stop and a lunch stop. Were pooped when we got back…Marian took a long nap.

We walked along the waterfront until we got to Christian’s Palace. Walked into the center, talked to a group who were from our ship and also on their own today. Saw some changing of the guard, but it was just a few soldiers … shift change. Then walked toward Kongens Nytorv, which is where the Hotel D’Angleterre is (where we stayed in 1970 and 1986) and the beginning of Stroget, the walking/shopping street that stretches all the way to City Hall Square, a long way. Frist came to Nyhavn, the old harbour that backs up on Kongens Nytorv. Walked around to an ATM for some krone and then into the hotel where the concierge was really nice and told us all about the subway construction that was in the square in front of the hotel so that the park that was there was all torn up and it will be years before it’s restored.

Walked up Stroget. It’s wall-to-wall people. It’s a Saturday and everyone is out, not just tourists. Crowds, crowds, crowds. Stopped at Hotel Chocolat, a place where it’s all about cocoa in its finest form. Had a “classic” hot cocoa with chocolate whipped cream on top. Thus fortified, we went back into the fray. Cruised into and through Illums Bolighus, especially all the kitchen stuff. And back into the crowds.

Made our way into City Hall Square and it started to rain. Fortunately, we had an umbrella and I had a rain jacket. And it didn’t really last long. Went to what we thought was entry to Tivoli Gardens, but we walked a block out of our way and retraced our steps. Went into the gardens and I asked directions to a restaurant I had read about. Got lost anyway and went to another that was nice. Sat on the water. Had aquavit, beer, herring. Lovely. Watched the rides where people screamed either iin delight or in fear. All of them would make us really ill. Then found some slot machines for a brief foray to lose a few krone.

Now it was time for the very long walk all the way back to the ship. It’s probably over two miles and we got slower and slower as we went along. Marian went horizontal as soon as we climbed the steps.

Oh, two things. First, we have only used the stairs on the ship traversing up and down to and from Deck 3, 4, 5, 9, and 10 and our Deck 8 room. No elevators for us. Aren’t you proud of us? Second, lots of bikes all around Copenhagen. None of them have any type of lock on them when sitting along the sidewalk anywhere in the city. Amazing.

Well, it’s about 7:00 and the ship leaves at 8:00. We’re going to eat in the Grand Dining Room. And it’s really early tomorrow for Berlin. 

Had dinner with a window seat and could see the Oresund Bridge that is part of a bridge/tunnel that connects Malmo, Sweden to Copenhagen, Denmark. The bridge comes from the Swedish side and then a tunnel runs under the main ship channel to the Danish side. When we’ve been here before, we’ve had to take car ferries across. This bridge/tunnel is for cars and for a rail line.



2013 0808 Riga, Latvia: Got up at 7:00, breakfast at 8:00, assembled in Nautica Lounge at 9:00, and out to our bus (along with 34 others and the guide) for our Jewish Heritage Tour of Riga.

We rated the overall experience a 3 out of 5. Bus was hot (and this was the hottest day here in 50 years – upper 80s) and the guide, while knowledgeable (and this is going to sound familiar) sometimes when on too long. Also she was way too close to the mic while we were on the bus so her voice was distorted. And with 36 people (some of whom were not exactly agile), it took time to get off and on the bus. Now the good parts.

First stop was site of the Choral Synagogue (same name at one in St. P) that had been built in 1870 and burned down by the Nazis (with people inside) in 1941. So the ruins have been turned into a memorial and there is also a big white sculpture with the names of the righteous … Latvians who had saved Jews.

Next we drove through the area that had been the Jewish ghetto. Lots of wooden buildings, many still in use, outsides in need of repair/staining. From here we went to the site of the original Jewish cemetery. There are no stones there (Nazis took them all down), so it’s park like with some monuments, although the bodies are still buried here, now totally unmarked. The hard part of the morning was ahead.

From here, we went to the forest where the Nazis shot 25,000 Jews over two days (11/29/41 and 12/8/41) … Rumbula Forest. It was Latvians with Russian submachine guns that did most of the shooting. The Jews were told they were being relocated to a new area since the ghetto was overcrowded especially since some German Jews had been transferred there. They walked 3 hours in freezing November or December weather, suitcases in hand. Like many other stories we’ve heard, they had no clue what was going to happen to them. 1,000 at a time were the groups and they killed people from 9 am to 6 pm. The Nazis were here only three years, but eradicated all but a handful of Jews over that time period. Even with the monuments that are there in the forest (which are beautiful), there are waves of negative energy all around. Tough place to be.
http://www.rumbula.org/remembering_rumbula.shtml

So, if this wasn’t enough to break your heart, we went to the newly built New Ghetto Museum. It’s all outside except for a small museum building (which we didn’t go to). The atmosphere (building walls, barbed wired fences, gates) is to replicate the feeling of being inside the ghetto. And there is a long white wall with most, if not all, of the names of those murdered in the forest and at the camps inscribed, pictures of some. Lots of people with Hirsch as their last name. Roll of the dice we’re here and they’re not. Very moving … the whole busload was Jewish, I think, except for maybe one or two.

Our final stop was the synagogue in the old part of the city. Built in 1905, it was spared by the Nazis since blowing it up would have ruined a whole block of historical buildings. Interior has been restored and the décor/theme is almost like it’s Egyptian. Interesting especially when comparing it to the Choral Synagogue in St. Petersburg where the interior is of Moorish design.

Then back to the ship and a buffet lunch in the Terrace Café around 1:45 and to our suite to unwind. And Marian took a nap … and we skipped tea! About three hours later, we headed to the dining room for another lovely dinner. In many ways, the Grand Dining Room is a better choice than the two premium restaurants. While the food in all the venues is really good (Terrace buffet included), the portions in the premium restaurants are really too big to eat and there is no way to take home leftovers for the next day’s lunch. For example, in the Polo Grill they offer a 32 oz. bone-in prime rib. And the smaller cut is 16 oz. I had a double Iberico pork chop and it was huge. In Toscana earlier, I had the veal chop and it was huge. In the Grand Dining Room, the portions are of a good size so that you can have a starter, salad, man course, and dessert and are not stuffed. We had prime rib tonight, at it was a perfect portion size.

I was a bit bombed after dinner having had some of the white wine we had bought at lunch and some red from last night. We went into the Nautica Lounge and sat waiting for the show to begin. I napped. When the show started, I was awake for its hour-long duration. Tonight was Nolan Dean, who does all the public address work onboard. He’s a wonderful singer and had a really funny comedy routine that had the crowd all laughing hard. Then up to the suite and to bed.

 



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