Lights, gates, tracks and streets

Hello there! I wouldn’t be hurt if you forgot this blog existed. I kind of forget that myself too, sometimes. I tell myself, if anything, at least I’m posting at least once every calendar month. I’ll try to make up for quantity with quality!

Where to begin? September in Berlin was surprisingly mild and sunny, and this carried on well into the month of October. Being quite more comfortable than July and August, where temperatures were well above 30 centigrade, everyone was happy about the weather except the flora that just didn’t get enough rain. However, as the month wore on, the leaves changed colors, the sky got darker earlier and now a few rain days have refreshed the last bits of green around here.

October saw another celebration of the Germany reunification 29 years ago. And while I didn’t know that each year another German city hosts the nation for a week of celebrations, I figured it out this year since Berlin was the host.

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from zeit.de, © Jens Büttner/dpa

The Strasse des 17. Junis basically went from one event prep to the other as just a week prior to this, the Berlin Marathon happened, which saw the world record broken once again (7 times in 15 years!) by Eluid Kipchoge. Just a few days after the Unity Day celebraations, the lights and projectors were set up for the Festival of Lights that happens here yearly. I posted more extensively about this the first time I saw the different exhibitions two years ago.

A week into the Festival of Lights (it went from 5-14 October), there was also the massive demonstration of solidarity with anti-rightwing extremeism, inclusiveness, and anti-racism in Berlin, the #unteilbar Demo. For academic reasons I missed most of the demo, but I was able to participate in the last hours.

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from Tagespiegel.de, FOTO: IMAGO/EPD

So, basically, the Strasse des 17. Junis is open for the first time in over a month. I’m sure Berlin’s car commuters are relieved about this.

Other than riding up and down the street on my bike for the various events/ activities, I also crossed a major goal off the bucket list and ran in one of the most (in)famous stadiums in the world.

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From this, it looks like my smiling self is leading the pack. Not shown: quite a few people who had already made it around this turn of the track.

The Berlin Olympic Stadium, built for the 1936 Olympics, was one of Adolf Hitler’s showcase projects before he started WWII (a very offhand way of putting it, I know. I’m sorry). Jesse Owens famously won four gold medals there in 1936, becoming a game changer much like Usain Bolt, who broke the world record here in 2009.

Fun fact: my brother and I were out on a run once during that summer of 2009 and were able to sneak into the stadium to see the 300m hurdles, because we looked like we were participating athletes. I’ve also done the official hosted tour of the Stadium once or twice. However, I’ve never been able to run on that famous blue track and so when the opportunity came through the European Association for the Study of Diabetes to run a free 5k on the Olympic Stadium grounds, I kind of hoped this would include the track. And it did! And now I can say I’ve run on that track like the exceptional athletes before me.

Finally, to round out the last interesting news from Dorothea in Berlin, there are various literary events happening all over the city on almost a daily basis. It’s almost more exhausting to figure out what to do than to get ready to do something, and my priorities have shifted a little from exploring to writing, but there are still opportunities to join the Friday night revelers in Kreuzberg, Neuköln, and the like, to think about the ways the city is changing. Shifting resources, shifting demographics, the city is constantly changing and sometimes, a bottle of beer in hand standing by the exit to the last station on the line, watching the people come and go to catch the connecting buses or grab a garlic-sauced Döner, thinking about the days behind me and the days ahead, I can just feel myself changing too.

 

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The Romantic Conservative

It’s taken me longer to publish this post than most. I think perhaps because it’s a more difficult topic than my usual cultural observations and fun-time running. It’s also about someone who only recently died, and I’ve always taken a while with paying my respects.

I also realized that the longer I waited and the more I read other news and opinion pieces this week, the less I had to add except, perhaps, the European perspective. So I’ve decided to focus on that as well as a handful of personal notes.

A few days before Senator John McCain’s family shared the news of his passing, I came across an article in The New Yorker. Being a liberal literature nerd [1], it was the title that caught my eye: John McCain and the End of Romantic Conservatism“. Benjamin Wallace-Wells made me aware of McCain’s role in the senate following Trump’s election as well as his cancer diagnosis and his role in the Vietnam War. I know this seems ill-informed, but I was too young to acknowledge McCain as the 2008 Republican nominee in 2008, and I hadn’t really had reason to read up on him since. Even now, despite my interest in POWs due to another observation in my immediate surroundings [2], I read this article, thought, “hmm, I didn’t expect that,” forwarded the link to my Dad, and didn’t think too much else about it.

Less than a week later, the U.S. flags were all at half-mast.

Photograph by Ludovic, featured in the article

The Romantic

The Romantics (and here I mean those involved with the literary and art movement, not the band) celebrated independent spirits and the subjective interpretation of the individual.  Wallace-Wells calling McCain a romantic already set the precedent of what to expect: a Lord Byron type figure coming from established nobility but going off to fight for what he thinks is right (at the time, some war of the Greeks) and dying in the process. This is a bit extreme, but McCain did leave behind a void to fill in an extremely partisan Congress that now needs another romantic hero to cross partisan lines and fight for the people, not just the party.

McCain has been called and called himself a maverick. Of course, he was unorthodox and independent in his actions. He was willing to put himself at odds with his own party and reached across the aisle on several occasions to push for action on issues like campaign finance reform, climate change and immigration. This, for him, was the definition of being a Republican. In his last appearance on the Senate floor to oppose the 2017 proposed Health Care Act and call for more work on the bill before it could be passed, McCain described what he saw as his task and that of his fellow senators. Speaking of senators of the past, he [3] pointed out that

however sharp and heartfelt their disputes, however keen their ambitions, they had an obligation to work collaboratively to ensure the Senate discharged its constitutional responsibilities effectively. Our responsibilities are important, vitally important, to the continued success of our Republic. And our arcane rules and customs are deliberately intended to require broad cooperation to function well at all. The most revered members of this institution accepted the necessity of compromise in order to make incremental progress on solving America’s problems and to defend her from her adversaries.

Collaboration. Cooperation. Compromise. What has happened to communication and trying to come to agreements in Congress? It’s now big stick ideology without the soft voices. I connected to McCain’s type of heroism in the political arena- without forgetting  the military heroism that he is remembered for as well. His willingness to go against the established norms and conventions of the current political positioning and to oppose Trump, and in turn much of the party aligned with the president, would, of course, win me over.

And not just me. In the days following the news of his death, McCain was remembered not just by the United States media, but also in European countries like Germany.

Some German coverage

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A freeze shot from the Heute news report from ZDF, one of Germany’s state television channels on 26 August 2018

McCain oneIt’s not often the German news has prepared tributes (you know, the archives of narrated collected video clips about VIPs available for broadcast without too much preparation in the case of death) for more minor (relatively speaking, of course) politicians like US senators. Yesterday, ZDF news reporter Claus Kleber explained some of this interest by comparing a US Senator to a Bundesminister, a member of the federal cabinet. The it’s a bit of a stretch, but I’ll let it pass because McCain was arguably more than just a senator, and I guess if anyone honors romantic heroes, it’s the Germans (in case of doubt, see Schiller). But the tribute made it clear that McCain came on the radar for his stark contrast to Trump as well as the other reasons he’s mourned by the nation.

In between news of their own democratic crisis: the rise of neo-nazism and xenophobism in cities like Chemnitz, the German broadcasters delivered the news of McCain’s death as well as his funeral, noting explicitly Trump’s exclusion. However, one should emphasize McCain’s idealism, which meant he would stand up for what he thought was right, even if it meant going against the man holding the highest office, officially his commander-in-chief.

Character and Heroism

Wallace-Wells also describes part of McCain’s appeal:

McCain’s deepest idealism, which he reserves for NATO and the defense of the West, is not much shared in the Republican Party now, subsumed as it is by Trump and nationalist retrenchment.

It’s McCain’s idealism that may likely have come from military service and even before. Very likely also being raised by strong woman. And it’s this kind of character that I actually associate with Republicans versus Democrats; the ability to have values and stick to them, no matter what, is sometimes both extremely infuriating and incredibly admirable. But this kind of adamant value-holding is only good if one examines one’s values and puts them to the test. The ultimate test may be: with these values, am I treating others the way I want to be treated? McCain’s is a similar character I see in my Dad, who went to the same high school (albeit twenty years later) that had the honor code:

“I will not lie.
“I will not cheat.
“I will not steal.
“I will report any student that does so.”

McCain followed this code of honor to the best of his ability throughout his life, even while in captivity. In fact, when one asked him about his time, McCain would mention his own faults- stealing someone’s washcloth- as much as what the Vietnamese did wrong with POWs, even though McCain would be the only one who would judge him for it. It’s the foundation for the character that made him refuse to be released from the Hanoi POW camp out of the order in which he was captured. This is part of his heroism. But not all would agree.

“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said, early in his Presidential campaign. “I like people who weren’t captured.” (Wallace-Wells)

Trump’s logic that being captured is not heroic is based on his incomprehension of what it means to survive the capture or refuse the opportunity to be released earlier- no less, what it even means to be in a position to be captured to begin with- that is, what it means to be willing to lay down one’s life for one country.  And yet, surprisingly, Trump’s approval rating continues to remain higher with veterans than with the general public a year after his election.

It makes me wonder about the contemporary US voter and what’s important to people.

What now?

I didn’t intend to bring up the Midterm Elections when I started this post, but McCain’s passing occurred within the same week at the Florida, Arizona and Oklahoma primary elections, and of course the rather solitary Wallace-Well’s article has been joined by a lot more writings. Those who continue to approve of Trump and anything he does think that there’s a lot of “fake mourning” going on for McCain, especially from liberals. This does not surprise me, but it does continue to sadden me. I think anyone who mourns McCain’s passing mourns a man who had character, served his country in every way he could, and did a lot of good for the people of Arizona and the US.

While John McCain stood for integrity in leadership and bipartisan politics, Aretha Franklin stood for women’s and African American rights. The funerals of both these people within the past week have provided spaces to openly discuss simmering issues within US society and politics. Why do we wait for these symbolic figures? It only makes sense if we intend to continue the work they began.

What are the ways in which we can still do something powerful when Twitter comments overrule one another by the millisecond,  when partisanship has ruined communication on Capitol Hill and we have one of the most contested presidents in history? We can vote. It’s not the only thing we can and should do, but it is one thing.

With the Midterm Elections and the death of McCain, the vote is out on who can be the romantic hero McCain was. But my primary hope, for now, is to find people to vote for who can play nicely with others- be that Republican, Democrat or other.

In the words of McCain:

What have we to lose by trying to work together to find those solutions? We’re not getting much done apart. I don’t think any of us feels very proud of our incapacity. Merely preventing your political opponents from doing what they want isn’t the most inspiring work. There’s greater satisfaction in respecting our differences, but not letting them prevent agreements that don’t require abandonment of core principles, agreements made in good faith that help improve lives and protect the American people.

Florida, Arizona and Oklahoma had their first chance to find those willing to try to work together at primaries Tuesday; the midterm General Election is on November 6th. I’ll be in Germany again, but you can bet I’ve got the mail-in ballot ready.

Related posts:
US civic duty while across the pond 
A little bit of democracy: Election Season

[1] really nerdy would be to point out the recognized romantic conservatives in the literary world, the Inklings.

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[2] These past weeks back in south Florida, I became aware of the National League of Families POW/MIA for the first time when I  noticed the flag flying in my neighborhood and along the route I use to get to uni. Turns out, Federal Highway, or United States Route 1 north from Key West, Florida, to the border with the State of Georgia is part of the routes designated with the POW/MIA Memorial Highway Designation Act  in 1995 as a POW and MIA Memorial highway. The reminders are fitting. These men and women should not be forgotten.

[3] note Mark Slater was McCain’s speechwriter

 

 

 

the long distance runner’s guide to (west) Berlin

Now, I’ve got a pretty big head, but I’m not delusional enough to think that I run Berlin (and I don’t think I’d want to). I know that this is the Social Democrat Party’s job, helmed by mayor Michael Müller. However, whenever I do a city run, it makes me think “I run this city.”

I’ve most likely mentioned this before, but as a runner I’ve always appreciated how easily navigable Berlin is and the ability to cross more than half the city in a 2 hour run, seeing a lot of the major monuments and landmarks in the process. As a point of reference, I ran 18 miles through London back in July and still only saw about 1/5 of the city’s major landmarks (albeit, I also got lost a bit and repeated some stretches).

Despite being in Berlin for two years now, and many times many summers before 2016, I finally managed to take my camera on the run. Below, you can see my last run through Berlin before heading back to Florida for the rest of the semester break and I’ve numbered the locations of the photos I’ve taken and included in this post. It’s important to note that, seeing as I turned south and then west again at the Brandenburg Gate, this post only covers interesting points in former west Berlin. There are a lot of equally interesting and important monuments and landmarks in the former east as well! I also didn’t include the Grunewald or Wannsee, which easily make up a long run in themselves. But here goes: a guide to running this part of Berlin.

Map of running (west) Berlin

  1. Schloss Charlottenburg
  2. Schlosspark Charlottenburg
  3. Siegessäule  or the Victory Column
  4. Statue of Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
  5. Großer Tiergarten
  6. Soviet War Memorial
  7. Brandenburg Gate
  8. Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
  9. Entrance to the Zoologischer Garten
  10. Breitscheidplatz, ruins of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, and remains of the European Track and Field Championships

Start at Theodor-Heuss Platz, which is the western end of the Kaiserdamm that begins in Berlin Mitte as Unter den Linden and extends straight for about 4 miles. This little green-covered plaza is marked by a nice blue monument that turns clear to allow the late sunlight to come through in the evenings.

Heading east, you can run by with the Convention grounds and central bus station mere houses away to the south. Head east until you get to aptly named Schloßstraße, which will get you to Berlin’s largest castle with grounds that have a circumference of more than a mile.

After running through the Schlosspark, which features mausoleums, flowers galore and even some sheep (royal properties are expensive to maintain, need to save somewhere), one can head out east again, this time on the Spree River that runs through Berlin. Factories often got placed on rivers in the 19th and 20th centuries, so one can find Nivea, BMW, and other well-known names running back towards the Kaiserdamm, which has now changed to Strasse des 17. Juni. One can continue to head east here until one reaches the golden angel which stands on top of the Victory Column.

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This is easily one of the most well-known monuments of Berlin. It features a 270 step climb to a viewing platform that I wouldn’t advise to visit on the run, but could deserve a separate visit. Instead of visiting the column, one could continue along the round about, featuring other famous monuments to pre World War generals and, of course, Bismark.

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These sculptures and the Tiergarten in general add to the feeling of a Berlin before the destruction of the World Wars. The park initially served as hunting grounds for the king before being transformed into a green space in the middle of the city where one could see and be seen (or not, it was also a hiding spot for some illicit activity as well) on weekends and in evenings.

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Continuing through the Tiergarten, one eventually comes back onto the Strasse des 17. Juni, where one eventually happens upon a monument to the Soviet’s role in World War II. The history of Berlin during the war deserves it’s own post, but it may suffice to say that Berlin was one of the last battlegrounds of the war, and the allies had agreed to the Soviets advancing on the city first, trusting they would split control of the city after the war. The war memorial just south of the Reichstag reminds of this role and of the many Soviet soldier’s lives WWII took.

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Like most post-war Soviet memorials, the display features impressive life-size tanks and a larger than life model of a soldier.

Now, while I didn’t do this on this run, one can easily skip a little north of this memorial and see the home of the German government (Bundestag) in the Reichstag. Instead, one can also just continue heading east to find THE German monument par excellence: the Brandenburger Tor.

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Now, unfortunately, there’s some construction going on the right side, but at least there are not a lot of people. This is only because it is 7 AM. Come anytime after 8 AM and you won’t get a people-free shot. This is why it’s recommended to be an early-rising runner.

It’s also recommended because then one can beat the crowds in this part of Berlin, which is Berlin Mitte and very popular with the tourists, politicians, and business people. It’s also near a lot of important embassies such as the French, USA, UK, and others.

To continue, one can head down the east or west side of the Brandenburg gate to come back around to the front of the US embassy. From here, one can see the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

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Placed on about 4 acres of land, this memorial is one of a few memorials in Berlin to victims of the Holocaust, though this memorial is specifically to the Jewish victims and some people like the author of this opinion piece explain some of the controversy of the design and the name. I personally can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the meaning of the columns and the feeling of angst incited walking among these tomb-like structures, but there is some question about the effectiveness of the reminder it represents. As a runner, I run by it, but it also deserves a separate visit. There is a documentation center in the center that takes some time to go through as well.

The west side of this memorial faces the Tiergarten again, and it is this space, the southern part this time, that one can continue along, passing even more embassies. The architecture of these buildings is always unique and decorated by the flags of countries all over the world with some cultural note that could be a tour in itself.

This last part of the run, other than bringing one through more of Berlin, is pretty uneventful until one gets back to the Kurfürstenstraße that leads to the Berlin Zoological Gardens and, of course, eventually the U- and S-Bahn station of the same name. I visited the Zoo with my mom and bro last year, so one can read about that here.

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The entrance way is iconic and there’s just a little bit of cultural appropriation here, but it is an interesting visit as well.

Just a little further down the road one finds the Breitscheidplatz and the ruins of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. This summer some of the European Championships were held in Berlin, so the stands for spectating were just being taken down as I ran by. Those are obviously not always there.

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What is there and not photographed is the small memorial to the victims of the 2016 Christmas Market Attack (this is just behind those stands).

Unfortunately, as apparent from the run, the occupants of the city cannot escape its history, as the reminders are always all around. At least there’s a lot to also keep from dwelling too much on this as well (i.e. live music at an Irish Pub advertised in this photo). Berlin is a sobering, ugly, and yet beautiful and lively history-conscious city, all at once.

Speaking of not dwelling on things, the run doesn’t end here (though it easily could). For me, it lead on the Hardenbergstrasse past the station, the Technical University, and to Ernst-Reuter Platz. From there, one can head west again on the Bismarkstrasse (aka Strasse des 17. Juni aka Unter den Linden aka Kaiserdamm) until one gets back to where one started.

Given the right conditions and the right training, this tour is manageable in under two hours. There are enough quick shops and stations along the way (even a Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts by the Brandenburg Gate) to get one through the run if one has some spare change. I wouldn’t encourage using the Tiergarten as a toilet, though it is possible in emergencies. However, there are some public restrooms at the Victory Column, the Gate, and near the Zoo Bahnhof.

Obviously, this tour is just one of multiple options of runs to complete in Berlin. However, for the tourist who is also a long-distance runner, this does the job of seeing a lot in a little time and having a lot to write home about.

tschüß,
Dorothea

Catching up (c’mon, keep up!)

Hello readers! I know that most of you who have been following my blog for a while have gotten used to the rather sporadic posting. I think, before disappearing, I’d settled with a comfortable post a month. However, to go four months without blogging? Well, I can’t really say that I’m consistent (except maybe in my inconstancy). But I have to say that when the summer semester started at the Freie Universität, I got sucked into three seminars, a colloquium, and actual writing for the dissertation. Then my parents arrived for their yearly vacation in Germany and all bets were on that I’d barely make it to WordPress.

It’s difficult to summarize all the things that happened and the things I did and the posts I could write. Here are a few titles and photos for those imaginary posts:

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  • “How medical operations are like races”. I drafted something about relationships of the doctor’s appointments, pre-surgery clearance, getting high off anesthesia and feeling like crap afterwards to the reality of running something like a marathon (spoiler: the recovery is rough for both, but gets easier the more you do it!) but that post will have to wait. This post would have been in conjunction with another post that I may actually get to post at some point about having a craniofacial birth defect.
  • “Jagdschloss Gelbensande, or how all of Europe’s royal houses converge in a tiny little hunting lodge in Mecklenburg Vorpommern”

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  • “Hamburg revisited” Three years after studying in Hamburg, I finally visited with all three of my family members and was able to show them the part of the campus I studied at as well as the Speicherstadt and part of the Hafen.

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  • “Salt Life Baltic Style”

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  • “Let’s go see the river Marlowe also flowed down”
  • “Hogwarts: in real life” (these last two titles would be for the posts where I talk about my conference trip to Cambridge with a little detour to London).
  • “Germany’s super summer and bike tours that go wrong”. Seriously. If you think it’s a bad idea to try to go out for a ride when the temps are above 30 degrees centigrade, you’re probably right. It doesn’t help getting lost or flat tires without repair kits on you, either.

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  • “Four reasons why living in a big city is not so great”. To include the noise, the smell, and close-contact with people who don’t know their limits on drugs or alcohol. Bascially a college campus on the weekend, but on a larger (maybe more dangerous) scale.
  • “Revisiting old haunts with new eyes”. Despite traveling to the Baltic coast every summer since I was 4, there’s always something new to experience or something old to experience in new ways.

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  • And finally, “running through (west) Berlin”. Stay-tuned, because I’ll actually be posting this one!

In summary, I had a good summer. Mostly work, but also a lot of play. Hope you did as well and good luck to those getting ready for new school years and semesters!!

Cheers,
Dorothea

p.s. While being a goof off the web, WordPress celebrated my four years of being on their site. Yay. Happy writing anniversary to me.

One of the most beautiful places in the world…

I’m not just saying this to give the overused statment another whirl. The Fischland Darß, found in the north east of Germany, is really one of the most beautiful places in the world. Give me the Darß, 15 degrees, and a lot of sun, and I’m soooo happy. It helps that I like running marathons and managed to do that too.

On my running blog site, I’ve been posting about marathon training for the past 16 weeks. I figured I would spare non-runner folks the details*, but I don’t want to deny you the grand finale: I ran the Darß Marathon 2018 (and I have the t-shirt, too!).

Darß as a part of the larger map

I must have mentioned the Darß on this blog before, because since I was about 7 years old, my family would take bike tours around the Bodden (the body of water between mainland and peninsula) and break up the long 100+ km with lunches, coffee and ice cream. We’ve had a lot of good rides and some not so good rides. Sometimes it’s broken out into storm halfway through, causing us to ride home shivering and wrapped in beach towels on the bus. I even rode it by myself once, just to enjoy a late summer jaunt and see the leaves changed in the heart-memorized northern German coast and landscape.

I’ve always thought it would be amazing to go through the landscape a little more slowly and combine two things I love.

In 2016, I was hunting around for a marathon to run in the Spring and found the Darß Marathon. The Darß was a place I knew well, I’d have logistics taken care of easily, and I would have something to train for (always nice to have as a runner). Unfortunately, I didn’t get to run the race in 2017 due to other responsibilities, but it was always at the back of my mind to try again.

This year, the opportunity arose; I paid my entry fee, even rented a car to drive up north from Berlin, and started training. Things were good until about a week ago when I started having a pain in my foot that my doctor and I both feared could be a stress fracture, and so I waffled back and forth for a week trying to decide if I should even start the race.

I ultimately decided with the support of family and friends to just go to the race, start it, and see how far I could go.

I set goals for myself: first 5km, then 7km, then 10km… keeping a check on my foot and updating my plans on what I’d do if the pain in the foot sparked at any given moment. I ran without music to stay in tune with my body, and I was therefore able to have an open ear for fellow runners along the way. I found out what is meant by the sportsmanship drug Runner’s World talked about the other day in reference to Boston Marathon winner Desiree Linden, using energy I would have used otherwise for a PR to ecourage other runners and gaining some enery and distraction in return. The miles kept ticking by, no real change in the pain in my foot.

I didn’t plan on running a marathon anymore when I prepared for the trip, so I only had one sport gel on me, but the coke, water, and sport’s drink offered along the course, along with bananas and apples, kept me going all the way through 42 kilometers.

I also walked all the water stops and took a lot of photos, prompting a few runners to ask me if this was my first marathon. “Nah,” I’d always answer, “I’ve done four already. But this run is about getting to the end and enjoying myself along the way.” It’s not often one can say that about a marathon, but I really did enjoy myself.

Darß Marathon Küste Ahrenshoop

This is the face of a happy person; water behind me, miles ahead of me.

So, details? I finished. I actually had several goals for the race: place top-three women, PR, sub-3:30… all those I threw out the window with the foot injury. Still, despite all the dilly-dallying and worrying, I finished 3:55:49, which, as runners will know, is not too shabby for an injury. It also manages to land smack in the middle of my race results, so I know I’ve done better, but I’ve also done worse!

And now, for some photo evidence of the beauty:

There you have it, tourist advertising and marathon recap in one. If you are a runner and think about doing this race, let me know… because I wouldn’t mind doing it again!

Cheers and happy days,
Dorothea

*insert chart of training recap here, 600 miles and 78 hours.  Darß Marathon

p.s. that injury? Well, I had an MRI lined up for today, the day after the race, and no stress fracture! Not even a stress reaction! No clue what it is yet, but I’m sure the doc will have some theories for me next week.

Livestock and Airports

Before I start, no, I don’t think airports are great places for cows either.

It’s been three weeks since I flew out of cold Berlin to the Sunshine State, and now I’m back again. I actually meant to write a post about the trip home right away, for, you know, prosperity’s sake. Because my opinions are, like, really important. But now I have 2 more airports to talk about. I could just scrap the post, seeing how late it is, but some interesting and funny things happened and it’s almost the end of the week (or the weekend when you read this) and you could really use a fun read, right? I’ll at least try to keep it fun.

My trip on March 15th started with a 3:30 wake-up call, because the plane was leaving at 6 and I’ve heard stories of people who headed to one of Berlin’s two operational airports only to find out their plane was leaving from the other side of town. I obviously wanted to avoid missing the flight!

I would have missed this:

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and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss celebrating birthdays and Easter with my family, either, of course.

Although I checked five times already, I still left early and it felt good to arrive at luggage check-in with more than an hour before human check-in. There, I was reminded that Tegel Airport is the small, old airport that it is.

And when I mention Tegel’s age, I actually need to acknowledge Berlin history. Berlin once had 8 airports, and, as one can imagine, these were heavily used during the World War II. Most of these airports were key for the war efforts and were meant to be closed after the war. In fact, Tegel (TXL) would have been shut down after WWII if it hadn’t been for the Soviet Blockade of West Berlin in 1948 and the ensuing Berlin Airlift. But since the airport was needed, it lived to serve Berlin through the Cold War. And since the major BER airport, under construction since 2006 and meant to be opened in 2011 STILL is not opened, TXL lives to fly good people like myself in and out of the city. And that’s a wonderful thing, since while Schönefeld and BER are 18 km out of the city center, TXL is a mere 5km and 20 minute bus ride away.

But woops, I got off track. So I was saying that I was reminded of TXL’s size and age, and this is because my walk from check-in to security check was 20 meters, and the security line itself was only 50 meters long. Can you imagine a time where security wasn’t necessary? You could after being in Tegel. But anyway, before I knew it, I was out of the waiting area of the terminal, and I barely had time to check out the same 5 kinds of candy and alcohol and perfume in any duty-free shop in any airport in. the. world.

First stop: Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. I’m ignoring the namesake for brevity’s sake (look him up!), but I do want to talk about something that struck me about this large airport in Paris: its two priorities seemed to be the highest end shopping I’ve ever seen in an airport and the fancy patisseries and, well croissants. They were awesome. I felt so cool with my high school French ordering cappuccino and croissant until having to revert to English when they needed smaller change for my payment.

The stark contrast between Charles de Gaulle and the German and US airports I’ve been to made me more aware of the other airports I went to: Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale International. Travelling through several international airports, I learned that one can tell a nation’s priorities based on the venues offered. European airports seem to feature a mix of shopping and food. German airports especially have a lot of news/book/paper supplies stores.

But then Atlanta also surprised me with its very well done decorations between terminals. Besides having one food place next to the other, the airport still gave the impression of being interested in sharing its history, geological heritage, and culture. One of the busiest airports in the world, Atlanta (or Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International) airport features an indoor railway that brings people from terminal to terminal. One could opt to take the shuttle, but my layover was long enough to walk the not-so-long distance between terminal F and A and see the sights along the way.

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And I’m not telling you where this was, because I want to encourage you to walk and discover for yourself. Or I forgot.

What really impressed me was a timeline of the history of Atlanta. Created by the artist Gary Moss, ‘A Walk Through Atlanta History’ is a permanent exhibit in the transportation mall between terminals B and C, it reminds people of the Cherokee and Creek tribes who inhabited Georgia before they were forced to leave their lands during Andrew Jackson’s presidency.  For a country that likes to wash over this difficult part of its past and present, acknowledging the indigenous people of Georgia is a bold move (and if you think “duh, of course it had to be acknowledged,” check out some history books from before the 1960s). The Indian Removal Act that led to the “Trail of Tears” was not mentioned, but I admit… that may have been too much to ask (or perhaps not? Comments below!).

But yes, I enjoyed my walk and after Atlanta, arriving in Fort Lauderdale was a bit of a letdown. It’s a bit too old and unimpressive with low ceilings and gray walls to really make a great airport to come home to. But I’m sure plans for renovations are in place.

Okay, enough with the history lessons and facts, already. You’re probably asking where the funny stories are, that I promised.

Let’s start with me informing you who/what the real MVP of my trip was: my bladder. Marathon training and international trips don’t mesh well. After the trip, I was glad for my excellent hydration habits. During? Not so much. My short trip from Atlanta to FLL was the only one where I had an aisle seat. From Paris to Atlanta, I spent 9 hours stuck between two guys and since I hate asking people (unless it’s my brother) to get up, I just kept it down to  three requests to get up. Window seat guy didn’t get up once. Seriously?!

See? I’m terrible at telling funny stories. I’ll try again. This time, it starts with a Ukrainian in seat C on the way from Paris to Atlanta. Not being one to start conversations with strangers, I kept my earbuds in and tried to be a responsible PhD student and work on my much-too-large for an airplane laptop, and then digressed to watching Despicable Me 3 (yes, I’m an adult child-though I laughed enough to make window seat guy start watching it too, not sure if he had much fun as I did). At some point, though, after the second time asking him to get up, aisle guy, in a thick accent proceeds to tell me that he’s Ukrainian and his English isn’t so great. Could I help him fill out the customs form? “Sure!” I say. And then we proceed down the sheet. I get through mostly okay. I don’t tell him that I took three years of Russian (which is related to Ukrainian) in college in order to avoid unnecessary attempts to hold a conversation after this good deed is done, but when we get to the question about handling livestock, I wish I had. I also wished my three years of study had taught me what livestock are in Russian. I tried as many examples of livestock that I knew. I wasn’t even sure if chickens counted as livestock. For some reason, I only mentioned hooved animals. Mostly, I was hoping he would understand with the word cow… He didn’t. And I couldn’t even tell him the Russian word, because I’ve forgotten all my Russian, it seems. So remember, kids. Take your language studies seriously. You never know when you might need them!

In an interesting series of coincidences, a conversation while home with my former Russian teacher (also Ukrainian!) happened to remind me of корова, which also happens to be the name of a Russian candy:

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from RussianFoodDirect.com

And then, the walls of the airport in Amsterdam were covered in cows. So maybe the universe was telling me it’s a good thing I never finished my post in Florida, because now I can say:

no, I don’t think airports are great places for cows either.

Unless it’s these cows:

Cows in Amsterdam

Let’s not forget the windmills.

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check out the shadow effects!

Clearly, Amsterdam Airport’s priority was making sure you didn’t forget you were in the land of windmills and cows.

Cheers! Until my next attempt at entertaining posts,
Dorothea

D & D: Den Haag and Duisburg

It’s amazing how long a weekend feels when you leave your comfort zone and routines and just take things as they come.

Back in February, I finally decided to visit some friends I knew from childhood, and with whom I coincidentally shared a city in 2014-2015 in Hamburg. I also wanted to visit some friends of the family who were partially responsible for helping me get to Hamburg for the study-abroad. I booked the tickets on a late night, being able to take advantage of some sales-prices and my DB BahnCard25, and before I knew it, travel day had arrived. Of course, the main goal of the trip was to reconnect and have good times, but I also got to see some pretty impressive cities while I was at it.

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First stop: Den Haag. It took a while to get there, though. The trip I had planned to Den Haag Centraal was with only one change. I ended up taking 5 trains and one bus due to a technical failure in Bad Bentheim, but miraculously, I only ended up arriving two hours later planned, so it turned out to be alright.

And what a sight awaited me. To be honest, I always thought of Den Haag, or the Hague, as it is otherwise known, as a nice little coastal town of the type one sees in England. Little houses, small cafes, no high rises… The city blew my expectations away. Sure, there’s a whole beach district with absolutely beautiful, wild dunes (upon which the city was originally built, in fact) and wild Scottish cows running about freely.

But it quickly became apparent to me that I’d ended up in the 3rd largest city in the Netherlands and one of the world cities of Europe.

I also had a few reminders that Holland still, in fact, has a monarchy. Sure, one doesn’t hear about them as much as the British monarchs, but they’re there, and their palaces in Den Haag are always nicely taken care of. I’m actually not totally clear about politics in the Netherlands. It’s a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy, but unlike the UK where devolution happens yielding power to the nations, the UK has provinces…yeah. This isn’t a politics class though, so that’s where I’ll leave it.

But I can’t say enough about the architecture, both interiors and exteriors. The city is over 600 years old, but like many major cities in Europe, it has learned to feature the old and new right next to each other. I mean, just check out the skylight in the H & M building below (for those who don’t know, H & M is a low-end designer label). It is clear that Den Haag has a rich architectural history, with a lot of modern designs and no fear of experimentation.

However, I think the part I liked most, other than seeing my friends again, was seeing a beach in winter. It has a beauty all of its own. Coming from Florida, I’ve never had the opportunity to see the coast covered in snow and icy tide pools.

My friend and I had a very cold walk on the beach, and she told me about the way that whole buildings are set up on the beach in the summer for all the people who visit. They’re taken down in winter, but one could just see how people were slowly getting the containers on the beach, opened and ready to set things up again.

As one can see, Den Haag alone would have been enough for the entire weekend, or longer. But I had to leave less than 24 hours later to make it to Duisburg. I had a half-hour delay there, too (I mean, what is it with the Deutsche Bahn lately? Or is it just whenever I ride it? Maybe it was just winter), but I made it easily enough.

I’d been to Duisburg a lot when I was younger, at one point even spending two weeks there to do an internship with the President of the Federation of German-American Clubs (who is also one of the family friends I mentioned), but I didn’t realize the city’s social, economic, or historical significance at the time. I mean, it’s the WORLD’s biggest inland port. It was responsible for a lot of the commerce of North-Rhine Westphalia. It’s also an old city, dating to the Middle Ages, and was a court of the Frankish Kingdom, but a lot has been done lately in the city to make it interesting and a “happening” place.

Unfortunately, I had just as little time in Duisburg as in Den Haag, and I didn’t even get to take photos, but I just wanted to mention it, to put it on the map for many American readers. It’s not far from Dusseldorf Airport, so even a day-trip there before flying on is well-worth it. It helps to have friends living in cool places, though. I’m glad they were willing to let me dirty sheets for only one night.

Hopefully this post doesn’t come off as too flat. I was actually planning to write and explain a lot more, but I’m running out of time. I wanted to post it before it becomes irrelevant. And if anything, there’s pictures!

Cheers! -Dorothea