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Monday, January 10, 2011

Journey Back Poland (Germany)-Final Berlin

Berlin Wall Remnants
Berlin was ultimately the perfect place to conclude our Mother-daughter "Roots" journey for a variety of reasons.  In planning the trip, it was natural to end in a city with an international airport and Berlin was also where my grandmother and grandfather last lived in Europe before fleeing to Haifa and then on to New York.  Berlin also offered a broader view of the history of Germany/Eastern Europe/the Jews than the smaller cities and villages where we had spent most of our time. Finally, Berlin today most definitely is looking forward and this energy, enthusiasm and optimism was the perfect balm to the grief and sadness that inevitably suffused much of our looking back and connecting with our personal and ethnic history.
After driving through primarily remote regions, our approach to Berlin served as an abrupt return to the 21st century with congested, interlacing roads with the requisite confusing signs-at least when keeping up with the pace of the Autobahn.  We found our hotel, perfectly located within walking distance of nearly all the important East Berlin sites with several convenient transportation hubs available to allow more expansive exploration.  My first great surprise was learning the hotel would arrange to have my rental car returned-that I would not have to negotiate the Friday evening rush hour traffic in central Berlin after all.  With my new found freedom,  I had time to set off to stretch my legs and explore our immediate neighborhood.  Mom rested and we made arrangements to enjoy a nearby Turkish restaurant for dinner.
The next morning we took the U-bahn to Alexanderplatz-the meeting point for our guided tour on Jewish life in Berlin.  As much as I like exploring on my own, the right guide can really unveil the heart and soul of a city and that's just what happened. We saw smaller and larger memorials to the Holocaust and to the small but meaningful efforts at resistance-hearing stories little known of bravery but also of brutality.

In the heart of the old Jewish quarter, we also saw the Hackescher Hofe which have largely been rebuilt (gentrified) since the fall of the Wall and may be one of the ultimate representations of the rebirth of what was once a bleak East Berlin.  The tour culminated at the New Synagogue-a spectacular building completely renovated to serve as tribute to the once thriving Jewish community of Berlin.
New Synagogue

Hackescher Hofe
We said goodbye to our guide, hopped on another U-Bahn and headed to (Charlottenburg), the center of my grandparent's life during their married years.  The lovely Platz (square) was ringed with inviting cafes-just what we needed.  Then we set off up Knesebeckstrasse in search of my grandfather's store.  We easily found the first address and were lucky to get inside the lovely iron doors to look around.  It was an amazing feeling to think of my grandparents selling furs right on this spot to support the family.  We then wandered on to the second address.  This one was less obvious, especially as we had one photography of my Grandpa Henry standing in front of the store so we were trying to match not only the address but the door frame.  In the end, we linked them all and felt this confirmed when we walked around the corner and found a fire station-Mom immediately recalled her brothers talking about this.  We had been to their places of birth and to places where they were raised but somehow, this felt so much more tangible-like I could reach back through time and touch the lives of my ancestors.


We had paid our respects to our family and now we paid homage to history.  Though we were both exhausted-physically and emotionally-we headed to Checkpoint Charlie then wandered back along the remnants of the Berlin Wall.  While little remains of the physical structure-art, poetry and historical placards remind all of another challenging time in German history.  I deposited Mom at the hotel and with just a little time left, walked up to Berlin's monument to Jewish martyrs.  An entire large city block has been given over to this memorial which is both simple and moving.  I love the fact that tourists and Berliner's alike perch on the stark stone blocks to rest and remember-with signs of a rebuilt Berlin bursting forth in all directions.  I concluded by foot wearing day walking to, through and around the Brandenburg Gate.

Berlin's Memorial to Jewish Martyrs
Now, Mom and I could share a final meal together and celebrate all that is Scharf, Benzil, and Kranzer.  After donning our best attire, we headed to one of Berlin's restaurant stars: Rutz.  There we luxuriated over a spectacular 5 course meals accompanied by the best of German wines.  Certainly a fitting end to a very special adventure.

Naomi at our final meal at Rutz

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