Friday, February 20, 2009

Alles Gute im Deutschland!

We got back from Germany late last night. It was a trip of a lifetime. There aren't enough words to express all the experiences, emotion, and enjoyment of this adventure. As I walked down the streets of Berlin and looked at the faces of certain people, whether is was imagined or real, I felt some strange DNA recognition. I felt like I was among MY people. That might be a little far fetched, but I could feel a connection with the pricks of my German heritage coming more fully into focus.

Berlin is a beautiful, historic city with magnificently detailed architecture and friendly people. The food was divine. What a delight it was to eat! A German bakery is a thing to behold, almost a holy experience. I'm sad I forgot to take a picture of all the delicacies! I now know why one of my dad's favorite places to take us on our Saturdays with him was the German bakery in SLC. Also, I think Brett got his fill of bockwurst for quite awhile. The hotel we stayed at was elegant, and even though our luggage told the people there that we were a bit out of our league, they were gracious anyway. We now know first hand why the word "ritzy" has its roots in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

My trip to Castrop-Rauxel and Herne was emotional and quick, but so worth the six hours on the train. My cousin Gudrun was such a wonderful hostess and helped me walk the streets where my dad grew up. She took me to the house where he was born. She indulged all my picture taking and even helped me recreate a photo from my dad's childhood where he is standing underneath the window of his apartment building. I met my Uncle Walter for the first time and enjoyed visiting with him, Aunt Trude, and my cousin Gerd even though my German is terrible and they speak little or no English. Uncle Walter proudly showed me a wall of old black and white photos that included ones of him working in the local mine, riding a motorcycle, and posing for the camera in his best outfit. With a big smile he stood proudly at his gate when it was time for me to leave. He posed for a picture and then waved good-bye to me until we were out of sight - just like my dad always did. It touched me deeply and I couldn't explain my tears to Gudrun. As night came and I found myself riding the train back to Berlin, it finally sunk in, what my dad had done when he immigrated to Canada from Germany at the age of 18. He changed the course of not only his life forever, but mine too.

The old and new history that Brett and I were able to visit was overwhelming. We walked the bricks in the road that still preserve the line where the Berlin Wall once stood. We even bought a piece of it to bring home with us. We marveled at the people getting their photos taken at Checkpoint Charlie, remembering how many people were trapped in East Berlin, some dying for freedom. We walked the square at the Brandenburg Gate where Hitler watched his glorious troops march in parade around the Victory Column where the Gilded Goddess of Victory (Golden Else) stands vigil, and also where President Obama spoke as "a citizen of the world" last July. We walked through cement blocks in the Monument to the Murdered European Jews that splays out on the block across the street from the new American Embassy. We traveled to Potsdam and saw the beautiful palaces of the Prussian King Frederick the Great. Then, as icing on the cake, we visited the Freiberg Temple in what was once East Germany and walked into that beautiful, miraculous building that was built BEFORE Mr. Gorbachev tore down that wall.

As a teenager I remember being almost embarrassed that my dad had a German accent, that I had a German last name, and that my family was not the imagined typical American family. Of course, I was young and so unaware of what my German heritage meant and what it embodied. My pilgrimage to Germany brought new depth and understanding to what my father endowed me with. I hope somehow he forgives me now for not realizing, not knowing what it cost him to give me his name, because now I know even more how much my dad loves me.

The Brandenburg Gate

Schmeckt Gut!

The Victory Column with "Golden Else"
Here is a shot of me inside the maze of concrete blocks making up the Monument to the Murdered European Jews - odd name, huh.

My cousin Gudrun served me a delicious lunch of what she called "Oven Soup" that was made with chicken, cream, vegetables, peaches, and other things she didn't know the English words for.

My Uncle Walter, Aunt Trude, and cousin Gerd

My Uncle Walter proudly showing me some of his history wall

Auf Wiedersehen Onkel Walter!

Here I stand in front of the house where my dad was born - Herne, Germany

Here Brett is standing in front of a piece of the Berlin Wall - this is a monument across the street from our hotel.
Here Brett is standing on the brick line that runs through the street, marking the place where the Berlin Wall once stood.

I spent a lot of time waiting for trains. I had never ridden on a train before this trip. Potsdamer Platz is the area of Berlin where we stayed.

This is the Prussian King Frederick the Great's summer palace called Sanssouci in Potsdam. The name is French for "without cares." Oh how I wish Brett's conference had been during the summer months! The snow was terrible for sightseeing, but brought all my stereotypical dreams of Germany to life. On the train I felt like I was in a scene from Dr. Zhivago - yes, it was that cold.

Here is one of the happy accidents from the trip. At Potsdam, as we were making our way around the large parks by the palaces, we walked into the Church of Peace and found a replica of the Christus in its inner courtyard. The original one is in Copenhagen, but this one was included in the construction of the church in the mid 19th century. It was beautiful.

All over the Potsdam buildings we saw winged cherubs - fat naked babies with wings. I guess they were very popular with the Rocco style. All we could think about though when we saw them was our chubby baby grandson Kimball - but he is waaaaaay cuter!

Our last full day in Germany was spent in the Freiberg temple. Freiberg is a small town nestled in the mountains near Dresden in what used to be East Germany. Our experience in the temple was remarkable and so humbling to be among German saints - who didn't speak English, by the way. It was very interesting trying to rent temple clothes using sign language and my VERY terrible German. We met the temple president and his wife. President Monson called him to be the first stake president there in Freiberg 25 years ago, then he became the first mission president, and now he is the temple president.

Can you see the fatigue setting in on Brett's face? Six hours on a train or waiting for one will do that.
Here is one last shot from the day we left Berlin. This is the only standing part of the wall and it is near the Check Point Charlie guard house. It is quite ironic that there is a wall around the old Berlin Wall protecting it from souvenir hunters.

So there you have a short synopsis of our adventures in Germany. I wish you all a similar trip at least once in your life. What a blessing!


Kristy said...

Wow wow wow wow wow. I don't even know what to say, just wow. What an awesome, amazing experience. I had tears in my eyes reading about your visit to Uncle Walter. Wow. Do you have any chocolate pictures? :)

Jared said...

This was beautifully written and inspiring. What a blessing of a trip! We love you. Reading this post helped me to feel close to you even when you are away.

Marinda said...

Isn't it a remarkable city? Although you got to see a LOT more than I could get to while sight seeing with my two little boys. What a great experience. I love reading your blog and am always excited when I see you've posted something new. I'm so glad you got to go to Frieburg. I'm reading a book right now of selections of Pres. Monson's journal documenting his experience with the East German saints, it is a miracle that temple exists. I hope I get to go soon!

Glad you had a wonderful time!

adrienne said...

This is so touching, Dianna. I'm so glad to be able to hear about your sweet experience with the spirit of Elijah.

Richardson Five said...

That is really cool. I am glad you got to meet some your extended family you never met. What an awesome experience.

Amy said...

Oh, Dianna what a beautiful post. Talk about turning hearts to their fathers, you certainly experienced that, I can tell! Are your father's family members also members of the LDS church? I'm glad you were able to enjoy that once-in-a-lifetime trip! Where did Abbey stay while you were away?

Dianna said...

Hi Amy! Thanks for your great comments. Abbey stayed with our friends here in Qatar - friends we have known since Brett worked at GSBS in SLC - five years ago. She wanted to go with us, but we just couldn't take her out of school for that long. My uncle and his family are not LDS, but they have a strong family bond. The spirit of Elijah is working on all of us - binding us together.

ljanlyons94 said...

I am so jealous. It has always been a dream of mine to go to Deutschland. To visit where my grandmother was born. To touch base with my Zimmerman and Zwingy roots. Alas, I threw a temper tantrum after nine years of German when I received a mission call to North Dakota and haven't spoken or read a word of German since. I am so glad that you got this wonderful enriching opportunity. What a blessing to meet relatives that you heard your father speak of and now you have your own memories of them.