Monday, May 17, 2010

Tschuss, Berlin

It's our final day in Berlin- I'm worn out, but I will terribly miss hanging out with Haden and exploring this city.

Yesterday we gave Haden a reprieve and ventured out by ourselves. We are feeling very smug because we have learned how to take the 200 bus right near Haden's house in to the downtown area. Loren always has his trusty map along, and I am the faithful Sancho Panza along for the ride.

Loren wanted to go and see the restored section of the city. On our way, we passed a construction site which had a platform with a ladder leading up to it for people to observe what was going on behind. We aren't altogether sure what this is, but it is in Alexanderplatz, which was the central headquarters for the Nazi operations. Obviously there were bunkers or something underground. Haden says they are planning a major development in this section that will unite Berlin in a good way.

The restored section called Nicklausplatz (or something like that) was a bit of a disappointment. We had expected to see old buildings and cobblestone streets. Instead, it has really been built as a tourist mecca with souvenir shops (which, by the way, were open on Sunday!! They must get a special dispensation.) There were a lot of cafes; it all looked very clean, but we didn't really get a sense of the old city.

Our next stop was to go check out the Museum of German History. Our walk took us by some wonderful sites. In the middle of a large park, we saw this imposing statue. We think it might be Marx and Engels, but there were no plaques or words of any sort indicating who they were or why they might be there.

This church can be seen from many areas around the city. It is huge. It was built in the late 1800's and was in the news just this past Saturday. It was the site of the first gay marriage in Berlin!

We reached the German history museum, and ended up in a new wing which we thought was the entrance to the whole museum. We found not one person who spoke English, so we wandered around and felt that we had walked in to a museum with no exhibitions! It was very odd- a beautiful space, but just stairways that led to nothing. We were about to leave when we saw some people going in to a room. We followed and found a huge photo-journalist exhibition. We bought the audio tour and wandered around seeing some very interesting photos of the war, refugees, Albert Einstein, and much more. After this, I was fading, so we asked if there was a cafe around. With motions and gestures, we figured it was outside and around the corner. Lo and behold! There was a huge German History museum with a lovely cafe. So we had a bite to eat, and Loren said he would like to return tomorrow.

Today, our last day, we split up. Haden and I wanted to go and see the Topography of Terror- where the Nazi's had their headquarters. Loren wanted to go back and see the German History Museum. We walked all the way from Haden's house to downtown, getting in to parts of East Berlin we hadn't seen. Haden told us this building is typical of what a lot of East Berlin looked liked before the gentrification took place.

Before going our separate ways, we stopped off at the White Trash Restaurant where Barack Obama had eaten. It is said they serve the best hamburgers in all of Berlin. It was a very weird place with a kind of Chinese dragon decor, palm trees, a picture of Elvis Presley, and a TV set that was showing Abbot and Costello movies! The entire menu was in English- and the burgers were great! Soon after, Loren went his way, and I followed Haden- who it turned out didn't know where he was going. We got on the wrong bus, then decided to walk.

Our walk took us past some interesting sites. This statute of a Bear wearing a Statue of Liberty crown is in the front lobby of the U.S. Embassy. It's kind of odd looking but very cute. (The Bear is the mascot of Berlin.)

This is a huge sculpture in an open plaza that honors the gypsies. It is supposed to symbolize all their possessions.

We came across a sign that told us we were looking at Hitler's bunker that he had built to withstand the strongest possible air attack, and where he supposedly used as his command post. We were looking at a parking lot! I guess this is progress!

He was sure it was in the vicinity of Check Point Charlie, but when we got there, we kept walking, but not before looking at some of the historic pictures showing Check Point Charlie during the division, and watching as tourists got their pictures taken with an American solder!

Another very interesting sight was the cardboard cars that the East Germans developed. They are for rent for tourists and they even give tours in them! Haden assured me they were made of cardboard even though they appeared more substantial than that.

By this time, we had been walking for quite a while. We passed a park and I adamantly said, "Haden, I'm stopping in that park for a rest!" It was then that he got out his iPhone and asked where the Topography of Terror was. Feeling confident that we now had a map to show us the way, we trudged on... back tracking...following... until finally we found it - not at all near Check Point Charlie, but right near the Reichtstag where we had been three hours ago!

The Topography of Terror is housed where the Nazi headquarters were. It was originally the School of Industrial Arts and Crafts, but in 1933 the Nazi SS Police took it over and moved in. Inside there is a huge photo documentation of the Rise and Fall of Hitler's Regime. There were some amazing pictures, and you got a real sense of the domination of the SS and the power of the Police State. I took this picture because it shows the round up of Jews in Lorrach, Julia's hometown.

A fascinating display was of these index cards with the names of the Nazi police that the Berlin Police had in their files. It was not until 1966 that Berlin began looking in to the war crimes of their citizens. Of the myriad of names they had information about, only 16 were tried and only 3 convicted.

We came home for a lovely dinner, after which we had planned to watch the Finale to Survivor. Haden gets Survivor always the day after it airs. But for some reason, it never came to his system! It would have been fun to watch it with Haden in Berlin, but it's not meant to be. Our plane leaves tomorrow. We fly Berlin to Paris and then non-stop to SF. Keep your fingers crossed that the volcanic ash doesn't interrupt our trip once again...although five more days in Berlin would be delightful!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Heckmann Ancestral Soil

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, we went back to "old" Rothenberg: first stop - the cemetery. Once again, is was as though Hollywood had arrived just before we did. The cemetery was pristine, with beautiful headstones and fresh flowers on every grave. It wasn't hard to spot our first Heckmann grave as they were everywhere. I even took a couple of pictures of some Hoffman headstones, as it was Niklaus Hickmann who married Elizabeth Hoffmann just before leaving Rothenberg for the United States in 1752. Loren's cousin, Hoyt Hickman, who is the head genealogist of the family, also told us that Niklaus' father had been the mayor of Rothenberg!!

We came across a memorial to those who had died during the Prussian war, WWI and WWII, and we discovered that there were Heckmanns honored on the plaque.

Looking further, we saw a Leon Heckmann which had special significance. Hoyt Hickman's father was named Leon!
Standing there amid unknown relatives of the Heckmann clan was a very powerful experience. One thing that puzzled us however was that none of the graves were very old. The oldest birth we could find was about 1889, and most of the deaths had occurred within the last thirty years.

We decided to go back up the hill and check out the Evangelical Lutheran church that Hoyt had said held the records of Niklaus and Elizabeth's marriage. The church was not opened, but we saw another church, which turned out to be Evangelical Lutheran as well. There was an elderly lady trimming some flower pots outside of the church and she opened the door so we could have a look. Walking in to this little church was like stepping in to a fairy tale setting. Almost at once, snow was falling outside, it was Christmas Eve, and the organ was playing "Silent Nacht!" There was also a plaque honoring those who died in each of the World Wars and once again, the name Heckmann was on it.

Loren's curiosity was peeked by now, so he went in search of someone to ask if there might be an older cemetery around. It took him a number of tries to find someone with an iota of English, but he spoke to a man who said that there was an old cemetery about 250 kilometers away. We think he said that every forty years or so "we start over again." We're not sure if they take the older bodies to the cemetery 250 kilometers away or if they merely take down the old headstones and bury the new atop the old. At any rate, that explained why the cemetery looked so new and fresh!

By this time, the dogs were needing a run, so we decided to head for the Neckar River - specifically Hirschhorn, aka The Pearl of the Neckar River, where we had seen some nice paths on our way up. Haden wanted to get across to the other side of the river, but we couldn't see a bridge. Taking a left and going down a funny road, we found ourselves on the river's edge just as a ferry boat was approaching.

This trip was already becoming a treasure trove of the unexpected, and here was a ferry boat coming to take us to the other side! There was a salty guy with a wry smile who said something in German. Haden understood 2 Euros which he handed over. Two other cars followed us on, the "captain" cranked up the boat, and we were on our way! On the other side, we drove along the river until we found a parking area. Getting out, we began our walk with the dogs down a path through a forest that meandered along a ridge. Little did we know we were in for yet another serendipitous surprise.

The path led us past an old castle and came out upon an entrance way in to a little village. It was as if time had left this place untouched; I have never seen such an adorable, idyllic
spot in my life. We had discovered the town of Dilsberg!

After our stroll through the town we got back in the car and decided to go to Heidelberg for lunch. Heidelberg is a very interesting old town. As I mentioned before, it was spared by the Allies during the war, so there are very old buildings and cobblestone streets. It is a big university town as well as a mecca for tourists. There is a huge castle that sits atop a hill overlooking the city.
It was cold and rainy, but the city was still abuzz with people. We found a nice restaurant and I thought it so appropriate that we were seated underneath an accordion!

There was another couple seated next to us, and it wasn't long before we were talking with them. They were celebrating their 50th anniversary. Both had been born and raised in Berlin. The wife said she was too young and didn't really remember too much, but the husband told us about watching the American pilots fly overhead and hoping for his candy! Both of them were in West Berlin after the war. Haden asked them what they thought of Berlin now, and they were split. The woman said she would never go back - the city isn't home anymore- it's too different. The man said he had wanted to go back and live in Berlin, but his wife wouldn't come! It was a really fun time - but we did miss Gisela. Gisela is Julia's mother who lives in Lorrach, a small German town nestled between the Swiss/French border. She had planned to join us in Heidelberg, but wasn't able to. It would have been really fun to have her with us.

We drove back to the hotel and met at a local Cafe for a beer before getting ready for dinner. The people at the hotel were fabulous. Since we originally thought the trip was only 3 hours, we had thought we might only stay one night, so Haden needed some extra food for the dogs. He asked where he might buy some, and the chef, Stephan, said, "I have a dog, I will bring you some of my dog food!" There were a number of groups staying at the hotel. One was a senior biking group; there was a group of about eight young guys; and then there was the Stammtish group that comes to the bar every Friday night to discuss local politics! These are older men, each has a specific chair reserved for him, and they get pretty lively. At one point one of the Stomtish guys came over to talk with Loren and they ended up discussing the bailout of Greece! We found out from Julia that Stammtish is a tradition in many German restaurants- that on a certain day of the week, a group gets together to discuss politics. We are thinking we may like to start the first San Francisco Stammtish society when we return.

When we went in to dinner, we weren't given any menus. The waitress came over and said that Stephan had prepared a special dinner for us, would that be alright? We all heartily agreed, and we dined on a delicious asparagus soup and Weiner Schnitzel with a mushroom sauce that was delicious. For dessert we had a scoop of ice cream with chocolate sauce infused with pumpkin oil. It couldn't have been a better ending to a very magical day.

We were all tuckered out, and I collapsed in bed, with Zita following close behind!

The next morning we went for one last farewell to Rothenberg. Loren wanted to go visit the cemetery once more, then we drove away, but not before we took one last picture or two of the ancestral home of the Heckmanns

- Rothenberg, Germany.