Wordless Wednesday

One of my best holidays - sailing along the Turkish Coast in October 2011

Ich habe meinen eigenen DDR Führerschein

Don´t panic I´ve not suddenly progressed into writing my Blog in German!  Translated it means I have my own GDR Driving Licence which I proudly earned yesterday.  My husband and I celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary (still nursing the hangover today) and in honour of the fabulous day we had a year ago I organised a trip round Berlin drving my husbands most talked about car, a Trabant, affectionately known as a Trabi.

Where do I find the cruise control button?

The Trabi started production in 1959 and was the most commonly used vehicle in the former East Germany.  It had an inefficient two stroke engine, noxious fumes and production shortages.  The waiting list could be up to 10 years for a new car. On the other hand, it was and still is regarded with deep affection as a symbol of the failed former East Germany.  In 1989 at the opening of the Berlin wall many East Germans streamed into West Berlin and West Germany in their wee Trabis.   The East Germans treasured their Trabis and were very skillful in maintaining and repairing them with the average  life span of a Trabi being 28 years.  Not something you would get from a car these days.

In our convoy of 8 Trabis spluttering our way round Berlin City Centre we immediately became the centre of attention.  The backs of the hundreds of Tourists admiring  the Brandenburg Gate swiftly turned round to gawp and laugh at our little group weaving it´s way along the route of the old Berlin Wall.  We tooted our horns gladly as people stopped to take photos of us. Half way round our sightseeing tour our group stopped to change drivers and I reluctantly took to the wheel and I am so glad that I did.  I´m nervous at the best of times driving a normal car round the City Centre never mind a dinky wee car with less than nothing in the way of safety protection.  This was the first time I had driven a car where the gear stick was on the column.  However, after a few grinding crunches away wee sped.  What I also failed to notice was the indicator does not go off when you turn a corner which meant I drove for the next 30 minutes permanently indicating left! Another modern day gadget we take for granted.  An hour later we sadly finished our tour and after being presented with our new driving licence we handed the keys back to our wee Trabi.

Back safe and sound

Tränenpalast Berlin – Palace of Tears

I actually managed to spend a morning last week with real people as most days are spent in front of my laptop networking with my on-line friends!  I  joined the Berlin International Woman´s Club (BIWC) on a trip to the Tränenpalast.  The name given to the border crossing station at Berlin´s Friedrichstrasse railway station because of the many tearful goodbyes that took place in front of the building.  It was here that citizens from the West had to say farewell to their friends and relatives from the former East Germany who were not permitted to travel to the Western part of Berlin. After the fall of the Berlin Wall the building was no longer required but reopened in September this year housing a museum in memory of it´s former role as the GDR border crossing station.

Friedrichstrasse railway station was located entirely in the former Soviet sector of Berlin.  The Tränenpalast was used only for westbound border crossings, with separate checkpoints for citizens of West Berlin, and West Germany, foreigners, diplomats and East German citizens. There were guards stationed to separate people permitted to cross the border leading to many tearful goodbyes in front of the building.

The extensive checks in the building included three individual passport  checks, customs control, waiting rooms, since the crossing could take anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours, offices to register and record people crossing the border, and a counter for visa fees and the mandatory currency exchange. After the border check, passengers would enter an underground walkway that led to the underground stations.  Thousands of Germans attempted to escape the East German dictatorship but only a small amount were successful in fleeing through the heavily guarded Station.

Although the Museum is small in size it is packed full of original photos, artifacts, recordings from families telling their survival stories and a small cinema showing old newsreels from both the West and the East.  This was really fascinating seeing how one story was transmitted to the West side and the same story relayed with an entirely different meaning to the East. Makes you question the power of media!  The museum is well worth an hour or more and I will be adding it to my list of “things to do and see” for our UK visitors.

Entrance to the Tränenpalast which is not visible when exiting Friedrichstrasse Station

More than a Day out

Ok so this doesn´t actually qualify for a day out but I wanted to write about our recent trip to the Amalfi Coast and our experience of the genuine friendliness the Italian people have towards children.  I´m not just talking about their own family members but towards total strangers.  Wandering through the streets of the towns and villages along the Amalfi Coast parents and grandparents would stop and speak to our son asking his name and introducing their child or grandchild to us in a genuinely friendly manner.  Total strangers would remember our son´s name even days later if we happened to cross paths with them again.  Our holiday was made all the more special by the hospitality given to us by Pino and his staff from Fico dÌndia, the small family run hotel we stayed in.  The service and hospitality we received from the locals could not be faulted and was the best I had experienced in a long time.

The only disappointment was our trip to Capri which was not the wonderful and romantic island we all imagine it to be.  It was bursting at the seams with day trippers and the price of food and drink was daylight robbery. The Amalfi coast line is a spectacularly beautiful spot in Italy, well worth a visit.  However, be aware that you take your life in your hands when driving along the narrow, windy roads stretching high into the mountains, definitely not for anyone suffering with vertigo. The area is famous for its wine but most notably for growing the biggest and juiciest lemons I have ever seen. Our highlights other than the spectacular views and the pasta was sitting in the small cafes drinking an espresso and sampling each town´s locally produced Limoncello, which had to be done at least twice a day.

Hmm, what flavour of ice cream have I been eating? Post your answers below

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