From Off My List: Northern Germany, Part One

 

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“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”

-Marcel Proust

Like any other sane person, I would not normally agree to travel to Germany during the winter months. It can get verryyyy cold and wet there, and a California girl like me is not used to such challenging wintertime conditions.  But a very important family member was about to celebrate a milestone birthday on December 22nd, so we packed our bags, temporarily closed up shop and flew off into cloudy skies to chilly Northern Germany and the North Sea.

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December sunset, Langeoog

Family celebrations were the main purpose of the trip, but we also planned additional travel in northern Germany to destinations that I had not yet had the pleasure of visiting. Once birthday festivities and Weihnachten (Christmas) were behind us, we would take off for Germany’s historic capital city, Berlin.  Then after a three day stay in Germany’s arguably most storied city, we would then drive back to beautiful Hamburg to happily ring in the New Year.

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Wasserturm, Langeoog

My in-laws live in a quaint and picturesque village on an island in the North Sea.  My beloved father-in-law was raised on this unique piece of land.  Nine miles long, Langeoog is one of seven inhabited islands along northern mainland Germany.  Automobiles are not allowed there, and electric vehicles are few and mostly used for commercial purposes. Langeoog’s residents and tourists either get around on foot, by bicycle and sometimes even via horse driven carriage.

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Horse-Drawn carriage, downtown Langeoog

While most visitors gravitate to Langeoog during the summer, when the days are warm and long and outdoor seating at restaurants and beer gardens is full and lively, Christmas time on the island is not without its charms.  On Christmas Eve, we ambled around the downtown area, where few shops were open and the streets were beautifully decorated with live trees, evergreen garlands and creative rustic displays.  Late in the day, we attended a children’s mass at one of Langeoog’s elegant old churches, where grammar school aged children and younger adorably acted out events around the birth of Christ.

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Inselkirche, Langeoog

After a fun four days filled with birthday cake, time around the candle-lit Christmas tree and relaxing family quality time, we packed our bags again and got ready for our next adventure.  We rose at dawn, hopped a ferry back to the mainland, picked up our rental car and drove straight east to the bright lights of Berlin.

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Shop sign in downtown Berlin

We arrived after dark, but even without daylight it was easy to see that Berlin was unlike any other place we’d been.  We made our way to the heart of the city and settled in to our 2 room AirBnB rental in on the Leipziger Strasse.  After a quick meal, we sat around the small kitchen table planning our itinerary for the three day stay.  There was so much to see and do, but realizing that we could never cover everything in 72 hours, we figured we’d walk around and tour outdoor points of interest on the day rain was not forecast, and then visit a couple of Berlin’s world class museums the following day during the time of predicted rainfall.

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Brandenburg Gate prepares for New Year’s Eve

On our first day as Berliners, we got up early and dressed for lots of walking in chilly temperatures. Since our apartment was not too far from the Platz der Republik and it wasn’t yet raining, we walked toward the northwest, stopping first at Brandenburg Gate.  Built in 1791, Brandenburg Gate is the site of several major historical events in Germany.  The day we visited, event organizers were putting up tents and crowd control gates ahead of Berlin’s New Year’s Eve celebration that would happen in a few days. Located one block from the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate symbolizes not only the tumultuous history of Germany and Europe, but at the same time also peace and unity.

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The impressive Reichstag, days before 2019

Next stop was the Reichstag. Construction on this famous building lasted 10 years; the building opened in 1894.  The Reichstag housed Germany’s government until it was badly burned in 1933 under mysterious circumstances.  Although the official reason for the fire remains unknown, it was rumored around the region that the fire was the sinister work of Adolf Hitler.  He declared a state of emergency (sound familiar?) after the fire, which worked to his advantage due to laws that allowed him to establish a dictatorship.  Consequently, the burning of the Reichstag suspiciously ended up being an important factor in Hitler’s unfortunate rise to power in the Berlin of the 1930s.

Over 17,000 square meters big, the Reichstag was painstakingly restored and a large glass dome was added to the roof in 1999.  The German government, after moving to Bonn during the Cold War years, relocated to the Bundestag instead, and the now structure serves as a monument of historic trials and tribulations in Berlin’s history. The words “Dem Deuschen Volk” (for the German people) act in current times as a public reminder of why this magnificent building was created in the first place.

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Turkish market, Kreuzberg Berlin

After cruising a few other sites of interest, it was time for lunch and my German born husband was craving, of all things, a Turkish Döner kebab.  You were probably thinking that above all, he craved a German beer and while this is not incorrect, Jan had Döner kebab on the brain. When planning our trip back home months earlier, he had announced that a Döner lunch would be high on his list of things to do while in Berlin.  And he also knew that the culturally diverse Kreuzberg district in Berlin would be exactly the right place to find this tasty lunch.  As it turned out, not only would we get to dine on the best Döner kebabs around, to get there we would travel through the sights and sounds of Kreuzberg’s Turkish outdoor market as well.

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International Döner, Kreuzberg Berlin

My guy virtually lived on Döner kebab during his graduate school days, and loves the flavors and ingredients of this interesting dish. Made from thinly sliced pieces of beef, the Döner is basically an open faced sandwich, topped with salad and tangy sauce. Ours were delicious, and my order was served on top of a bed of French fries.  Thank God we walked an average of 6 miles a day while staying in Berlin; by the time we got back I hadn’t lost any weight, but thankfully I hadn’t gained any, either.

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My Döner kebab lunch

We went on to eat more, drink more and see much more in Berlin- even in 3 short days- which I will definitely share soon, once I’m able to put it all together.  We saw sights we’ve never dreamed existed, and experienced things we’d never be able to enjoy back home in California.  It was a trip we’ll not soon forget.  Looking forward to taking you further along for the ride in the not too distant future.  Stay tuned and stay warm 🙂

©2019 Lisa Ihnken, All Rights Reserved

 

 


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