The Gift of Travel – Berlin Overview – A Photo Essay

From the earliest days of our marriage, travel has been a high priority for us.
Eight months into this adventure we’ve shared, we climbed aboard a freighter
and spent 18 days on the Atlantic Ocean to begin our two years of life in Zambia.
Every year since then, we’ve tried to see something of this great world
we live in, and we have never regretted one moment of it.
(Well. . . there was that 2-week camping trip when the weather
never allowed us to set up the tent. . . but even that was fun!)

Since our 25th anniversary, we’ve tried to go to Europe about every five years,
and about 8 years ago, we discovered river cruising.

Now this is a grand way to see things!
At years 25, 30 and 35, we rented cars in England, Ireland and Italy
and, for the most part,
enjoyed exploring those lovely lands from the front seat.
But sleeping on a barge (a very large barge, but still. . . ),
viewing village and city life from the vantage point of the rivers that run
through them, unpacking only once,
and enjoying walking tours
in every port?


This trip took us from Berlin to Prague with three days
in each of those great cities on either end, and
seven days on the river between them, The Elegant Elbe.

We flew into Berlin early on the morning of May 9th, having left LAX at 7:00 a.m. the previous day. Our room was ready, even at 9:00 a.m.,
and we crashed for 5 hours,
grateful for every single amenity of the Hilton Berlin,
beginning with the upside down bear at the door —
the first of many such bears found all around the city.

Our hotel was located across the street from one of the most beautiful
squares in the entire city and
we enjoyed walking this neighborhood each day we were there.

We took a long walk that first afternoon, right down to
the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag, or parliament building.
Dick had been to this area 50 (!!) years ago as a college student,
just months after the Berlin Wall went up.
It was a joy to see this city wide open on this return visit.



Berlin’s river is not actually the Elbe, but the Spree, and it meanders
everywhere. We loved the bridges and the boats and the sound of water nearby.

This double wide row of bricks winds its way around Berlin,
a tangible reminder of the wall that once stood
between east and west.

 Fun touches of whimsy abound in this city,
from eyelashes on cars to silver painted street performers,
to wildly colored architecture, balloons in the park and wildflowers through the fence.

And speaking of flowers,
by some stroke of divine luck,
we arrived just in time for lilac season.
Oh my, they were gorgeous and filled long stretches of
city streets with their sweet fragrance.

 We dined alfresco each of the three nights we were on our own,
enjoying a few Berlin favorites (like weinerschnitzel and curry wurst)
and finishing each meal with a scoop of apricot gelato.

There were reminders of Germany’s hideous 20th century history here and there,
with this stark holocaust memorial the most prominent.
(We also toured the Jewish Museum – but more on that in the next piece in this series.)


Visiting this thoroughly modern and very prosperous city,
it was hard to imagine the horrors that were concocted here,
the cruelties and outright evil deeds that occurred during
the twelve years of the Third Reich.

This is a growing city, with new construction dotting the horizon everywhere.
People are friendly, conversant in English and very aware of
the history that haunts them.

This gorgeous chapel is built next to the bombed out ruins of
the cathedral (now under repair, but not being rebuilt.)
We ducked in here and were stunned by its beauty and simplicity.
That figure of the resurrected Christ visits my thoughts
and dreams a lot these days.

 Most of the wall has been broken into bits and sold as souvenirs,
but here and there are remnants.

 This is what the wall looks like now, rotting and slowly disappearing.
But along one stretch of the river, a large chunk
has been preserved, artists have been commissioned,
and the entire structure is covered with brightly
colored paintings and sayings.

I think both images are representative of Berlin in 2013 —
a city with a most definite past.
But also one that seems to have a vibrant present and bright future.

 There will be several more installments to this series over the next week or two; it was a wonderful trip and I’d like to share it with you as I’m able.

Milestones… Archive-Diving, June 2009

Reflections on our eldest grandson’s graduation from high school – now THREE years ago. 

Well, it’s here. We are officially OLD. No matter that we started ‘young,’ having babies in our early 20’s and grandchildren in our mid-40’s. Because now, we have a high school graduate. Yes, our eldest grandson, Ben – age 18, a generous, kind, smart, talented and funny young man – has graduated from Oaks Christian High School. Wow. And weird. 

I distinctly remember, like it was yesterday, the anxious early morning phone call: “Come NOW, Mom. My water broke!” Driving to the Burbank airport to catch a nearly empty flight to Oakland, landing in the densest fog I’ve ever seen, hitching a ride from complete strangers to get to Lisa and Mark’s little house on Abbey Street in Pleasanton where I could pick up my own car, left there two weeks before, and driving to the hospital. Where Ben decided not to come, thank you very much, requiring an emergency c-section and then weighing in at 10# 5 oz. Started setting those milestones early!

He was an absolutely fearless toddler and little boy, climbing everything, jumping from dizzying heights, constructing fabulous inventions, painting early masters, figuring out how things worked. Towheaded to a blinding blonde color, blazing blue eyes, energy out his fingertips – he was a wonder to us all. Our first grandchild – nothing short of a miracle.

He grew up in much the same way he began – fearless, inquisitive, capable of amazing technical expertise and with a wonderful artistic eye. When he was 13, he showed interest and ability in photography. So I gave him my original SLR film camera when I bought my first digital.

Immediately, he figured out more things to do with that camera than I ever dreamed about. The kid had talent – real talent. And the school he chose to go to aided and abetted that talent in a big way.

Oaks Christian is an anomaly in education – a huge endowment from an invested grandparent created a magnificent campus, drew gifted administration and faculty members, and made possible absolutely top of the line technical resources. And all of it anchored in solid commitment to discipleship, commitment and mission.

Ben took every class that was offered in both photography and videography, successfully mastering every challenge. His work won first place in multiple shows and he was in demand as the videographer of choice for most of the faculty, from football coaches to dance instructors. He did good! Real good. And we are all so very proud of him.

A tableau of graduation accoutrementes -(clockwise)
robe & stole, fabulous $$ lei made by Ben’s other grandmother, the senior award certificate, diploma and medallion (well the ribbon shows, at least.)

His graduation ceremony was last Thursday afternoon and I drove down to Westlake early in the day to help Lisa with flowers and errand-running. She, as usual, had everything organized to a fare-thee-well, having accomplished both a new roof and a complete re-landscaping of their backyard in preparation for this momentous day. It was a day rich with deep emotion as Mark’s presence was strongly felt through every moment of it. And how grateful I am that Mark was able to participate as fully as he did in his sons’ lives right up until the day he died last fall! He is, I am sure, so proud of these remarkable young men.

Family came from all around southern CA to attend the ceremonies and/or the wonderful dinner party Lisa hosted afterwards. Lisa and Joel, her youngest, held onto 3 rows of seats (Luke, grandson #2, was playing clarinet in the orchestra) and was soon joined by one great-grandmother, a great-uncle, two great-aunts, two sets of grandparents, two cousins on Mark’s side, an uncle, two aunts and two cousins on Lisa’s side – and those 3 rows filled right up! It was a great ceremony! Good speakers, a suitably (and intimidatingly!) impressive valedictory address and a lovely setting.

The big surprise, that hit us all in our communal solar plexus, was that Ben was one of 5 seniors honored with a special award! We knew that he had won the departmental award in art the previous week, but this one was completely unexpected. The 3 ‘prongs’ of an Oaks education are: Leadership, Athletics, and the Arts – and Ben received the medallion and certificate in the Arts.

It was just so lovely to hear the tribute offered by the head of the department, based on the comments of all Ben’s teachers and on Ben’s own fine work and many contributions to the school through his technical and artistic gifts. He proudly wore the medallion for the picture above and it’s inscription is shown in the one below. The actual introduction is printed in italics below the picture. It was written by Ryan Kelley, Chair of the Arts Department at Oaks.

The recipient of the Dallas Price Van Breda Fine Arts Award is a wonderfully talented visual artist. This fine young man has a passion for photography and film that he has shared with all of us at Oaks Christian School. His exceptional photography was recently featured as the cover of our poster and program for our high school art show and his marvelous film work at our dance concert, Define. His creativeness and technical expertise is only surpassed by his generosity. He never turns down a
request to help others; this includes producing numerous football highlight videos, helping teachers with various video needs all the while making full use of our incredible media studio. He is creative, inquisitive and is always the first to try out a new technique. I have no doubt that we will hear his name again – probably announced at the Oscars for best cinematography. And we are all certain that your father is as proud of you today as we all are.
The winner of the Dallas Price Van Breda Fine Arts Award is Ben Fischinger.

The party itself was grand! A great celebration – with another great-grandmother, great-uncle, two more cousins and multiple friends of all ages. And to top it all off, that day happened to be the 15th birthday of Ben’s brother, Luke, another stellar student at Oaks Christian High. It was a rich day – tiring! – but incredibly blessed. We are all full to the brim with gratitude for God’s good gifts of family, education, beauty, love and laughter.

Word Candy. . . Some Sweetness and Light

There’s a wonderful new app out there that allows you to pick from a wide variety of fabulous, short quotes and then set that quote against either a photo (all of which are way cool) or a colored background. You can do amazing things with these Word Candies:

     …post them on your wall at Facebook
     …send them in an email to a friend or two. . . or three
     …tweet them to a friend (or several)
     …put them up on your blog
     …use them as a springboard for a poem or a post
     …cheer yourself up on a blue day. 

This one pretty much summarizes why I blog at all — no one else can tell my stories. And no one else can tell yours, either — only YOU.

You can get there by clicking on this line. You sign in using Facebook or Twitter and then – let the fun begin!