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Written yesterday.

When we last spoke, Eric had just arrived and you were not invited to the welcome party.  🙂  We have since had four and a half lovely days in Germany, and I’m writing to you from the Hamburg airport where we are waiting for our two-part journey to Ireland.  Tonight we fly to the London Luton Airport and stay overnight, and then tomorrow morning very early we hop over to Dublin.  Finally!  But first, our time in Germany.

Friday was spent in Frankfurt, Eric’s old stomping ground from four tours with the English Theater there.  He got to show me his Frankfurt, which was fun for both of us.  Of course we ate dinner American-style (why not?) complete with BBQ ribs and French fries!  Thanks to the generosity of old friends, we spent the evening watching a riveting production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the English Theater – so fantastic that Eric even stayed awake despite 48 hours without sleep.  Afterward we hung out with some of the theater staff and had a great time.  Then we went back to our very nice hostel (don’t let its surroundings in the heart of the Red Light District scare you!) and Eric passed out for the better part of 12 hours.  Day One of jetlag: done!

By the way, this was Eric’s first stay in a hostel, and he was impressed.  I’ve been staying in them since I was 17, and it was fun to show him that a cheap bed doesn’t have to be a dirty or dangerous bed (unless you want it to be).  The Five Elements Hostel gave us a lovely room to ourselves on the 8th floor of the building, sharing bathrooms and a kitchen with four other private rooms on that floor.  In the lobby the staff served espresso and beer, provided tourist information, held events in the evening (we missed out on trivia night in favor of the play) and served a fine breakfast in the morning for €4 ($5.50) per person.  Cereal and yogurt, meat and cheese, rolls, juice and coffee filled us up for another nice walk around Frankfurt, including a stroll along the Main River, before we packed up and headed to the airport for Hamburg.

There we were greeted by Sonja and her family, who warmly welcomed us into their home.  We apparently are bringing rain wherever we go, and it was drizzly in Hamburg the entire time we were there.  But no matter!  As soon as our luggage was inside we all went for a walk to the Elbe river, where we shared drinks and ice cream at the famous Strand Perle riverside cafe, watching dogs play in the high tide and the shipping docks at rest.  Then it was back to the house where Sonni and Dirk made us a fantastic dinner and Eric promptly passed out, this time for 13 hours.  Day Two of jetlag: accomplished!  (This one set him aright.)

Sunday was a leisurely day and after a lovely late breakfast where we discussed international politics for a couple of hours, the kids stayed behind while the adults went out for a tour of Hamburg city in the rain.  Hamburg is an understated city, beautiful and lively but not in a flashy, touristy way.  This city is for its residents – I found that to be pretty refreshing. That night they took us to dinner at one of their favorite restaurants, Engel, which sits on a pontoon boat in the harbor.  We enjoyed wonderful company, and food that was simply divine: pumpkin and mushroom soup, scallops on beet puree, veal steak (fish for me) with risotto, and finally “Chocolate Disaster” with ice cream, truffles, and nougat squares.  Lordy!

Early Monday morning Eric and I headed out by bus for a daytrip to Berlin, with our friend and guide, Ralf.  What a beautiful city!  And of course, what a heart-wrenching history.  It was interesting to walk around and see how the two halves of the city have, and continue to, weave back together as a whole.  We visited the requisite sights – the Brandenburg Gate (where we, yes we did, took a picture with a Storm Trooper, why we cannot say), Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie and the East Side Gallery (a 1.3km portion of the Berlin Wall which still stands, painted in a series of murals by artists from around the world).  Checkpoint Charlie was particularly interesting, as it is now a hub of capitalistic marketing of a deeply tragic history.  We took part in it, each buying a souvenir, but not without awareness and some discomfort at the irony.

The Holocaust Memorial is a haunting city block full of blank rectangular monoliths gridded like a hedge maze.  Walking through it is incredibly powerful and, as Ralf and I discussed, a poignant experience of wading into something that seems manageable until you’re in the overwhelming thick of it, and suddenly the way out (or even how you got in) is difficult to see.

We also visited the new media hub, the Sony Center and the Walk of Fame celebrating Hollywood Boulevard-style the greats of German cinema such as Marlene Dietrich, Wim Wenders and Billy Wilder.

In eight and a half hours we saw quite a bit, but of course it was only the tip of the iceberg of what Berlin has to offer.  One could easily spend a week there and not run out of things to do and see.  The bus ride back to Hamburg was a bit long so late at night, but what a wonderful day.

Tuesday was an easy day, sleeping late, doing some leisurely breakfast-and-shopping, packing up, spending a bit of time with Sonni’s youngest, and then before we knew it we were off to the airport.  Goodbye, Germany!  With Ireland ahead of me I can hardly take the time to feel into the great many gifts this country has given me in the last two months.  But it has been an unforgettable time in a land, culture and people of great beauty.  I hope to come back someday soon!

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