Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Berlin - Day 3 - Celebration Day

This is probably the hardest day of my trip to write about which is why it's taken so long to get to it.   I keep thinking about this day, and what all it means to the city of Berlin, to the country of Germany, and to those of us that spent any time at all growing up there during those years that the wall was up.   When I first realized I was going to be in Berlin for the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Wall Celebration, I was so excited by the idea of going back and just being there to enjoy the celebration, to be a part of history that would take place that night, and to share that experience  with friends that I went to high school with, was just an exciting idea.   For two days prior to this day, we'd spent time traveling around the city, reliving lots of great memories, catching up on stories of our experiences and what living there meant to us... and the more we talked about it, the the more we looked at the balloons lining the path the Berlin Wall had taken, the more I felt myself being impacted again by what that Wall really did to this great city and it's people.  I had flashbacks to the many times I just went down to the Wall and  sat and stared across it, watching people on the east side of the city going about their daily lives, and those emotions I felt back then about how horrible it must have been to live trapped like that.  I mean, in a way were were just as trapped as they were at the time, only we had the option of getting out of the city any time we really wanted.

So yeah.... waking up that morning was different than any other day on my 3 week trip.  I could feel those thoughts and memories bouncing around inside my head most of the day, as a group of us went back to visit old houses and parks from our childhood.  And then we went to  dinner at a place that was high up on the list of my favorite places to eat back then....  even though it was a different restaurant now... still fueled those memories....

After dinner it was time to head down and find a spot somewhere where we could enjoy the festivities, without being crushed by the amazing number of people lining the streets to view the ceremony.   It was amazing to see the number of people there, that had traveled from all over the world, just to witness this in person.
You could feel the excitement as they waited to watch the balloons being released,  and as it got closer to the time... the crowd became  so thick you really didn't have much room to move anymore.  Our group did manage to stay together somehow and we just waited along with everyone else for the show to start.

When the time finally rolled around, you could feel the excitement and anticipation building in the crowd as everyone strained to see Brandenburg gate from where we were standing... just a few hundred yards away.
People were climbing up on bus shelters, lamp posts, street signs.... there were people on top of buildings and looking out of office windows where you could tell they had been having parties throughout the day....

Finally off in the distance you could hear the crowd roar as the first balloons took to the sky.    I have never seen so many cameras and cell phones being held up at once ...  I think every single person standing there was filming or shooting photos ...  think about that... 2 million cameras all going at once.  It was almost mind boggling.
 The crowd around us got really quiet... and you could see balloons being released one-by-one, working their way towards us.... and as each balloon drifted up into the night sky, the cheer of the crowd standing in front of them moved towards us well.... it seemed to be taking forever for them to get to us and then suddenly it was almost like watching a train go by, the balloons being released one after another, rolling past us like a freight train rolling down the tracks.... the crowd roared  right along with them which only added to the effect, but even more unexpected for me at least, was the waves of emotion that washed over me at that same time.

It was almost like watching the wall come down again.... or at least that's the best way I can describe how I felt as I watched the balloons being released and as I watched them disappear into the darkness above.  It was amazing to be there and witness that....  and maybe as crazy as it sounds... feel a lot of old baggage let go for me as well.   I can't even being to explain it....   but Berlin meant so much to me during my life, and always will.   I think I needed to be there to witness that for so many personal reasons.

Okay, so that got to be a bit much.... sorry.  It's the best way I can attempt to describe that night though... and what it felt like to be there.

We knew getting back to the hotel by U-Bahn was going to be next to impossible for at least a few hours so we made our way through the sea of humanity over to the Christmas Market going on at Potsdamer Platz, got some food, some drinks and hung out for a few hours....  it was a great rest of the night for sure. :)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Berlin - Round 1 - Day 2

Day two in Berlin was mostly left open for us to do our own thing, as we weren't scheduled to do any reunion stuff until early evening.   There were a couple of early morning tours scheduled,  one being the underground tour I'd signed up for.... but being as I'm old and I'd signed up for things so far in advance, I'd totally forgotten I'd paid to go on that tour.   Instead, I did a little walking around town while the others went on the underground tour.... and just waited for them to get back and see what the plan for the rest of the day would be.

Since we had time to get in some more sight-seeing,  the three of us from the night before, along with our reunion photographer decided to head downtown and take one of the city bus tours, which would allow us to see as much as we could in the shortest period of time.... knowing we had to be back to the hotel in time for the social ...

The bus took us around the city, stopping at a number of spots and letting you jump off the bus to take photos if you wanted. or to do some shopping and other things before jumping on the next bus that came along.

Since we were on a limited time schedule we just decided to stick with this bus and only jump off when the bus was going to sit for 10-15 minutes here and there.  Here are a few of the shots I got during the tour.

It was a very fun time on the bus ... we did a lot of talking and laughing during the tour, saw a lot of sights and got some history lessons along the way.

Once the tour was over, we decided to head back to the hotel and get ready for the get together that night....  the rest of the night was just spent catching up with old friends, having drinks, meeting new people and telling stories from our time in Berlin ... as kids... since many of us were there during different years.  It's always great hanging out with other Berlin Brats and always feels more like a family reunion than a school reunion to me.

Tomorrow is the big day... the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.  For most of us that lived there when the Wall was up, it was hard to imagine it would ever come down.....  now it's hard to believe it's already been gone 25 years.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Berlin - Round 1 - Day 1

It's been a few weeks since returning from  Europe and I've been meaning to get around to writing about the first part of my trip,  to finish this story in true Pulp Fiction Style as I'd promised in the first post.   Climbing into the way back machine and hoping my memory is working well enough to even remember a lot of what happened those first few days in Berlin.. I'll try to fill in that blank spot in the story.

The trip to Berlin started off with a very long first flight, from Seattle to Frankfurt, non-stop.  I don't think I've ever made the trip to Germany from here without a stop somewhere along the way (Usually at JFK) so I was wondering how long this flight was going to feel... especially since I don't tend to sleep at all on flights. I've found that for me, the trick to flying to Europe is to get as little sleep the night before the trip as possible....  and then not sleep on the flight. That tends to work out well for me as when I finally get there I'm already feeling really tired but then  I force myself to stay awake until 11:00 - 12:00 pm that first night, until I'm just exhausted so I sleep through the night that first night and get my body on the right sleep schedule right away.

Anyway, enough about my trick to beat Jet Lag when flying east.  :)  The first flight was very smooth and went by fast now that most international flights give you a lot of options of movies to watch.   Once I landed in Frankfurt, they unloaded us onto buses, which then drove us to the far side of the airport, dumped us off at a part of the airport that seemed totally deserted, and then we had to go through customs... which in this case was just a customs agent looking at my passport for a minute, stamping it and sending me on my way.   Now I had to hike back to the terminal where my flight originally dropped me off to catch the short hop to Berlin....  but luckily Frankfurt airport is super easy to get around and I made it back in plenty of time to board my flight.  If you have ever flown through Paris, you don't want to attempt this with less than a 3 hour layover.

Once the second flight landed in Berlin, that feeling of being home washed over me, and I walked out of the airport, bought a bus ticket and jumped on the bus to get across town as if I'd done it 3 weeks ago instead of 8 years ago now.   It always catches my by surprise at how familiar everything is even after all this time.  I made the 30 minute trip to the hotel and got all checked in, said hello to a couple of people in the lobby that I knew and put my stuff in my room.

Since I knew today was going to be a check-in day for most people, I went back down and hung out in the lobby for a while, watching for friends to show up and catch up with others that were hanging around downstairs at the time.  It's always kind of exciting to just see these people again after a few years ...  even though most of us are in touch on Facebook almost daily.

Someone from my class ('83 Rules!) showed up with her cousin and I got to listen in to a couple of very funny conversation at the front desk, between her and another friend that was standing down there complaining a little about his room.  Lots of laughs were had and teasing ensued.... and then the three of us made plans to head down to Brandenburg Gate to see what was going on and do a little sight-seeing.

We headed for the Potsdamer Platz U-Bahn station and came out to see that they had already begun to line the old path of the Berlin Wall with the balloons being used in the celebration Sunday night.

I was surprised by how much had already been set up. I couldn't believe I'd actually made it back to Berlin to witness this and was suddenly so happy to be here.  Even though this trip had been in the works for 3 years, it still almost felt surreal.

The number of people that were already flooding into the city for this was amazing and to see so many of them out here that same night, wandering around taking photos, soaking up the atmosphere, was really cool to see.  From here the three of us wandered down to Brandenburg Gate where the speeches were going to be given, along with all the musical performances ...  we thought it would be great to see what that area would look like and we weren't the only ones that wanted to see.

The stage area looked very cool and seeing them test out all the light for the show added to the excitement of being here.  We knew it was going to be a fun weekend for sure!