The Sahara and Us Morocco 2011

Friday, September 30, 2016

Leba and Gdansk,

Gdansk Old Town

We are drawn to Gdansk Poland purely because of the events that took place there with the Solidarity movement back in 1981-89. The fact is we personally and as North Americans only knew a small portion of the history of Gdansk, or the Solidarity movement, or the fact that WWII started here September 1, 1939 at just past 4:00 am in the morning. And a place we had found about 100 kms away, the little town of Leba,

Leba Tall Ships
is called the Polish Sahara desert, and was used by Rommel’s troops to train for the real Sahara desert later in the war.
Our drive up to Leba is really pretty, this part of Poland is beautiful. About 400 kms from Berlin and 100 from Gdansk we wanted to stop here to see the dunes, a World Biosphere Site, unfortunately you have to walk 45 mins in to them, and it was threatening rain so we didn’t make the trek in. But there were a number of Tall ships in the harbor there and it’s a real tourist spot for locals.

On to Gdansk, and we discover a spectacular city with a storied and sometimes sorry past. Fought over for centuries it was part of Poland in the 18th century, was captured by the German’s in another war, and after Germany’s defeat in WWI it became a ‘Free City’ and Poland began to provide services and governance to it.

Memorial to Initial Troops

Germany and Hitler, upset with how they were treated in WWI tried to coerce them back in the early 30’s only to be rebuffed. Shortly thereafter Hitler and Stalin established a pact with a secret deal, Hitler would take over Poland, give a part of it to the Soviets and have Gdansk as a centre piece. When Hitler attacked Poland from the west, a short time later Stalin attacked Poland from the east. Poland immediately capitulated. The Allies failed to step in to this point because a French foreign minister, who secretly was a Nazi supporter suggested Gdansk, or Danzig in German wasn’t worth starting the next war over. The war began at Westerplatte  Sept 1, 1939 and it took 7 days to take the city. Our late friend Julian used to tell us stories from his days as a Polish soldier who came from Lviv after it was partitioned off and became part of the Soviet Ukraine in the 1939 pact. We now find out he may have fought with a family member.

Gdansk Inner Harbor

Later during the Soviet occupation of Poland and the establishment of a puppet government in 1970 there was a Shipyard workers uprising that saw a large number of Polish shipyard workers murdered by the Soviets. Nearing the end of the 70’s Lech Walesa, a shipyard worker lead a group that became Solidarity after he was fired for being part of an illegal organization. He led the group as they locked out the Soviets and turned World attention on their plight. Shortly thereafter Pope John Paul II, the 1st Polish pope, made his first pilgrimage to Poland, and in total made 3 providing the moral support for the workers along with Walesa to lead a peaceful  uprising without violence. While the Soviets did respond with violence, Walesa won the Nobel peace prize in 1983, and Poland eventually became the first Soviet occupied State to become free in late 1989. The Museum to Solidarity in Gdansk is a must see.
Solidarity Museum A Must See
With our driving part of Gdansk nearly complete I use my GPS to find the Gdansk shipyard where the next 3 BC ferries are coming from.
Salish Orca

Inside the old town of Gdansk it has been restored to its former glory and is worth a visit both during the day and evening.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Berlin Wall Part 2 and the Philharmonic

Waving to Family at Christmas over the Wall
The Wall, how it separated Berlin
Berlin is really about two major things. WWII and reparations, and the Cold war as it affected Berlin.

On this note we stop on Bernauer Strasse at the Nordbahnhof station
Where the Wall was as it closed a street
to take in another section of the Berlin Wall accompanied by an interpretive centre. It is very worthwhile. While the eastside gallery has the funny quirky graffiti to it, this deals more with the loss of life, the ridiculous attempts the GDR made to try and stop people from escaping east Germany. This location highlights where the wall was, and some of the photos and stories are very interesting. Definitely a must see.

Remains of the Wall

It was called Stalin's Bed, a nail landing pad hidden on the other side of the first wall.
From there we continue into the city to Potsdamer platz,

Potsdamer Platz
the Times square of Berlin. It is very interesting architecturally and we spend time wandering the different shops close by.

Then on to the Berlin Philharmonic where an afternoon concert is taking place we want to hear. Yannick Van De Velde plays 3 pieces, our favorite a piece by Lintz, along with a 1000 other guests. It lasts an hour, we get great seats, and it is free. Afterwards we take in the Memorial to Euthanasia victims of the war, yes even Germans were victims of Hitler’s madman ideas. We first became aware of this practice by watching “X company”, a CBC TV show. What it amounts to is that impaired Germans, should they be Downs syndrome, TB patients, or mentally delayed, he had a squad that murdered them in similar fashion to the Jews. Many families lost love ones at the same time they fought for Germany. Definitely another full day in Berlin, and while we still have not seen everything we were wanting to we’ve run out of time.

Since we had to relocate hotels we decided to try the DBahn rail system in Berlin. An all day pass was E7.60 and allowed us to come in from about 20 kms outside the centre of Berlin, then catch any of the S Bahn or U Bahn rail system, any buses, etc. for the whole day, and return. It is great value and with a free app to plan your routes it is a breeze.

Native Berlin and Sansoucci Palace

Us at Petra and Bernd's Machine Shop  Coffee and Cake
Sandra getting a Demo
Today we head towards a suburb of Berlin where Petra and Bernd’s shop is located. When they visited us this spring in Canada they described his machining business, a throwback to times where custom parts were needed since repairs to a machine were worthwhile rather than purchasing something new. Also he has an interesting collection of motorcycles which I wanted to see. Their shop is rather eclectic but he has a very sharp mind and knowledge of his craft. 

However, some of the motorcycles, a one-of-a-kind NISA motorized bicycle
Nisa Proto type
which had the drive gear of the motor run directly onto a toothed inner edge of the rear wheel. Also a 1955 Metz 50 cc motorcycle that he used to ride in what was west Berlin and on an autobahn corridor passing through the GDR (German Democratic Republic) (a Soviet puppet state)to the west and actual Germany.

From Bernd, now 73 and Ingo we heard many stories about living in west Berlin during the 60’s through 1989 before the wall fell. It was a very interesting if not somewhat depressing time, however not as depressing as that of the East Germans who had nowhere to go. Bernd was working in Stuggart the night the Wall fell, and said he just sat there and cried. Petra with her first husband who lived in the US at the time immediately began making plans to come back home.

Ingo’s favorite story was when he travelled to West Berlin to visit in the GDR the sister of a friend. Out on a date they went to a local café in the GDR, where the waiter came up to him and shook his hand and said “Welcome Ingo”. Since Ingo did not know the waiter at all before that moment, he realized that the waiter was sending him a message that he was aware of his movements in the GDR. Ingo said he became aware through a recent documentary that u to 1 ½ million secret service agents worked in the GDR around Berlin establishing patterns and movements of people.
A great day in the Neighborhood

Later in the day we went for a nice lunch to a favorite biker café (Slipper Brucke) near Potsdam, then Sandra and I headed into Potsdam to see the Sansoucci Palace and area. It of course is a World Heritage Site.

Wannsee and the Berlin Wall Part 1

4 Amigos At Wannsee
Late Saturday we are chased down by our friends Ingo and Patricia (whom we met in Sicily in 2014) to confirm our plans for Sunday. They've driven 6 hrs from Darmstadt to see us! 

Scenery is Great!
At their suggestion we then head out to Wannsee to catch the Heritage boat tour near Potsdam.  The Sunday we were there was beautiful sailing weather with lots of boats out.

In this Laser one design series race the lead boat is
helmed by a lady. Could be our daughter!
Wannsee played a significant role in the 3rd Reich planning sessions as it was just outside Berlin, and later, it was part of the Berlin Wall barrier. Sansoucci palace is located here, the home of Fredrick the Great, the last of Germany's kings. It's rumored Brad Pitt own a home on the waterfront.This boat tour is exceptional value and lots of easy going fun, and a lot easier on the feet than the day before. 

Bridge of Spies
From the water
One of the main attractions is the Glienicke bridge, or commonly known as “The Bridge of Spies”. A place where East and West exchanged spies during the Cold war. We’d highly recommend this sight and bring lots of sunscreen!
Ingo and Patricia with
Breshnev and Communist puppet leader
After a nice lunch in the Tiergarten in Berlin with Ingo and Patricia we all head to the Berlin Wall’s east side gallery with its many graffiti painted sections of the Wall.

Us with them, we don't them at all!

Plaques to those who died trying to escape

Lastly we head to the Treptower Park that hosts a Memorial for the Soviet Solders who were part of the Allied Invasion. It was a very large monument supplied by the Soviets of course as propaganda.
Soviet Memorial at Treptower Park

Monday, September 19, 2016


Berliner Dom
 We begin our 2 ½ hr drive east to Berlin. Unfortunately it becomes 4 hrs. with traffic accidents and tie-ups on the Autobahn.  One you can’t lane split so the trip takes longer, and traffic inside Berlin on a Friday afternoon at 3:30 pm. At 31C is nuts!

We finally arrive at our hotel, which is excellent and right in the centre core. They provide 2 beer (Berliner) and 2 water each day, and we freshen up and head out for a great supper at the Georgebreau pub just a few blocks away. After a goulash and a dark beer we are ready to walk it off on museum island and Alexanderplatz. 
Alexanderplatz at Night
We head in the direction of Berliner Dom, a beautiful cathedral on museum island. As we get closer we can hear symphony music in the square out front. Indeed as we arrive the grass of the central park has near 100 small parties of 4-6 people all listening to the music and conversing in the evening warmth. Near us a late teen, early 20’s girl gets up and attracts the attention of a small 4-5 yr old girl with her parents. She strikes a ballet pose, offers her hand to the child, and they begin to dance. The little girl is enchanted, and the young woman is smiling herself from ear to ear. Needless to say this chance encounter is seared into our memory. We continue our walk to Alexanderplatz where the place is a swarm of teens and tourists enjoying the evening. We were so fortunate to be there.

Saturday we wake up late to some rain which retreats as we begin our walk to the Bundestag, the home of the German parliament and our date with Angela…. Or at least a tour of her house. We have booked our 10:30 tour 2 months ago and our guide is knowledgeable, funny, and very bright. It was well worth taking the time to see it, and the double helix staircase to the dome.
Double Helix Staircase

Bundestag Chamber itself
But wait there’s more. Sandra has a smorgasbord of sights to see and we weave the streets to see them all. The Westin Grand, where some of the Bourne Supremacy was shot, Brandenburg gate, 
the most identifiable monument and 2nd only to the Berlin wall. 
Us at the Brandenburg Gate

On the former east German side there are crosses in memorial to some of the people who were killed attempting to escape over the Berlin Wall. Close by, is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. We walk through this in early afternoon and later make our way back for the English guided tour at 3:00pm. on Saturdays.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Symbolically and with irony, Hitlers bunker, nothing more than a sign next to a parking lot, is all that is left about 2 blocks away, and ........

finally we walk to Checkpoint Charlie, now a tourist trap with actors portraying soldiers on the original site.
Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie
It’s amusing. By the end of the day we are wiped, but satisfied that we got to see so many interesting sites. One of the funniest encounters was when we were waiting for the guide at the Holocaust site, 2 late teen early 20 girls, were sitting with us on a block when I asked them since they were virtually identical down to their clothing, hair length etc. if they were twins. Imagine my surprise, and Sandra’s when they remarked "No!". For a split second I am looking at them in disbelief, then they clarify by stating they are quadruplets, from Manchester England. Sandra tells them they are her first quads she’s seen, and I comment and likely our last.

Next Part 2, The Berlin Wall and Wannsee

Passion in Family and Friends

Sandra and I enjoying peaches in Braunschweig's street markets
As you begin reading this blog you will soon realize that we aren’t riding our Vstrom but rather we have rented a car. Blasphemy you say! Well, you will understand soon enough, and we’ll re-assure our friends this is a short term use of 4 wheels over 2.
We planned our northern trip and took into account the northern climate, time of year, and terrain and determined that we’d possibly do it by a small RV or rental car. As it turns out the rental car was the practical choice but by no means the most enjoyable one.
We begin by flying in to Amsterdam and renting the car from there. Since our trip will cover former eastern European countries many car rental companies especially in the Netherlands won’t allow them to enter those former eastern bloc countries. At this time AVIS and Sixt do, with Avis being the most reasonable, professional to deal with. With car in tow we head out for Braunschweig  for our friend Heiko’s  birthday, and the opportunity to meet his sister Ingrid and mother, who just turned 95.

Bicycling in Braunschweig, Heiko with Sandra
After an evening of catch up, we were outfitted with bicycles and Heiko took us for a tour of Braunschweig, his hometown and a city which exists now as the human resource hub for VW, and it’s plant in Wolfsburg some 30 kms away. We were really impressed with the green belt nature of the city that with a population of 250,000 has a very small town feel, friendly people, a bakery to fetch your fresh morning bread, and another for your evening gelato.

ROSSO, Ingrid's Shoe Store

We rode into the centre of town where Heiko’s sister Ingrid runs "Roeser", a high end shoe store right in the old town centre. 

Sword Sharpening Marks on the outer door of the Church
We parked the bikes for a bit and toured the old town with a visit to the Lutheran church that Heiko was baptized in. We joke to him that apparently it didn’t take.
Cannonball from Medieval times stuck in Church wall

Braunschweig was of course a target during the WW II, and has in it, stumbling stones, small metal cobblestones with the names of Jewish citizens who were deported or murdered. It is sobering when these are found everywhere in town. As you will see as we write this trip there will be more reminders of the Holocaust be it here, Berlin, or Warsaw. This is important, especially considering a certain candidate for president in the USA.

Next we ride south to the other end of town where we encounter a street market and we spot fresh peaches. At top of page is a shot of Sandra and I walking and eating, a candid by Heiko! In all we ride over 20 kms that day, most of it on the flat , thank heavens since it is hot! Later that afternoon we have the honor to meet Heiko’s mom, who is now 95 and she had us over for coffee and cheesecake, which she had prepared.
Heiko's mom and Us
Heiko provides translation between us and his mom. When we suggest a picture she is up and in the mix with a big smile. Heiko later jokes to Ingrid when reporting the coffee and cake afternoon that an alien possessed his mother's body while we visited. But both are very caring and passionate about their mother, and it shows. As we leave Braunschweig heading east we are happy for Heiko, as we both loved our mom’s dearly and he still has his in such good health. Thanks for being able to experience life within their family circle, simple and beautiful.