Paul's Northern Europe 2002: Berlin II

After Berlin I

May 2002

Monday, May 27, 2002 (Memorial Day)

Zeppelin Flight

This morning the weather made a dramatic turn toward perfection! Our Zeppelin flight, postponed from yesterday, was therefore "on." Indeed, today turned out to be a two-flight day, since we were also able to take the Screwmaids aloft in the evening.

We gathered in the lobby at 11:00 and rode to Tempelhof Airport in the Previas. This is the Berlin base for the Zeppelin NT airship. After receiving our safety instructions, we boarded a van that took us out to the field where the Zeppelin was waiting for us.

Hermann had arranged for us to have the entire ship to ourselves, so the only people on board were the pilot and the flight attendant, plus our little band of travelers. We were required to remain seated and belted during the very beginning of the flight, but as soon as we reached an altitude of 500 feet, we were able to get up and wander around.

The Zeppelin has huge windows that are angled down to provide excellent viewing of the earth below (including the television tower we visited for lunch yesterday). During the course of our two-hour flight, we covered all of Berlin and its surrounding areas. We began with the Zeppelin company's regular tour, but because Hermann had set us up with a longer flight than the usual program, the crew took our requests for further exploration. For instance, Robin was interested in the various stadiums in the Berlin area, and so we flew all around the Olympic Stadium and were able to see it from all angles. At one point, it appeared that Jez was falling to earth, but it turned out to be an illusion. During portions of the flight, Mike picked up some aviation tips from the pilot.

We strapped ourselves back into our seats for our landing at Tempelhof, and after leaving the airship we remained on the field to watch it take off with its next group of passengers. This flight was truly a unique experience, and one that I'm sure none of us will ever forget! To help us remember it, we were award certificates of flight completion by the Zeppelin ground crew.


We were back at the Adlon around 15:00, and it was time for lunch. Cindy and Annie were in the mood for Wiener schnitzel, but unfortunately the German restaurant in the hotel wasn't open. The concierge was able to direct us to a fine restaurant a few blocks away, however. Half of us had Wiener schnitzel and half had pike perch with risotto. As I was unaware that this restaurant had a reputation for serving the best schnitzel in town, I opted for the latter choice. This was a mistake, as the risotto was definitely not up to Adlon standards, and the schnitzel did indeed look excellent. The biggest surprise: Stephani ordered "lamb's lettuce" salad, without really knowing what it was, and it turned out to be "mache" ... our mainstay at Château d'Oex's Ermitage!

While we were dining outside, the Zeppelin flew over us.


Balloon Flight

In addition to the afternoon Zeppelin flight, we also had an evening balloon flight! First, though, the crew arranged for a "photo op" in front of the Adlon.

Tonight was the first appearance of the Screwmaids since Château d'Oex, and as always, they looked happy to see the light of day again. Actually, there wasn't all that much "light of day": The sky looked a bit ominous over our launch field. In fact, Mike called the weather station at the airport from the field, and they told him there was rain there and it was headed our way ... with a 95% chance that we'd have some substantial moisture. We decided to take a chance, however, and see if we could at least have a short flight.

The organization of our flight, with respect to locations and other logistics, benefited from the assistance of a couple of local balloonists: Stefan and Sebastian. In addition to their prep work, they also brought their little "cloud hopper" balloon to the launch field. This is just a one-person vehicle. In fact, it doesn't even have a basket: The pilot sits on a bench somewhat like a ski lift. We did a dual inflation, and the two balloons flew together.

We actually wound up having a pretty long flight, for two reasons. First, the rain never materialized for us. After landing, we learned that rain had fallen on the chase crew, but it avoided us altogether. The other factor contibuting to our long flight was the prolonged lack of a suitable landing site. The area where we flew was heavily wooded, and the clear areas tended to have high grass or crops ... or they were inaccessible by road.

Of course, we did ultimately land, in a very nice field, and the crew set up our traditional table with champagne and other refreshments, plus a very nice selection of wild flowers.

By this time, it was almost 22:00, and we were quite far outside Berlin. We didn't get back to the hotel until about 23:00 ... and the restaurant was not especially happy to see us walk in exepecting dinner at that late hour. We were able to order one course, however, and so we didn't have to go to bed hungry.

We were especially glad the restaurant could accommodate us, since this was Hermann's last night: Tomorrow it's back to work in the stamp mines! As always, it has been great to spend time with him (and of course, his assistance in organizing the Zeppelin outing was invaluable).


Tuesday, May 28, 2002

IN OUR PAGES: 75 AND 50 YEARS AGO
[from the International Herald Tribune]
1927: Proper Teachers Only

NEW YORK: The way in which a North Carolina village school teacher had to bind herself by oath to stringently restrict her actions, if she desired to hold her job, is revealed by Mr. Thomas Mineham in an article in the weekly "Nation." The oath in part follows: "I promise to take a vital interest in Sunday school work, and to abstain from dancing, immodest dressing and from other conduct unbecoming to a teacher and a lady. I agree not to go out with any young men, except to stimulate Sunday school work."

1952: Presbyterians' Prayer

NEW YORK: The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church has approved a proposal to change the wording of the Lord's Prayer. At present some denominations say: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Some use the word "debt" for "trespass." Under the new proposal, the wording would be: "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us." The proposal was approved yesterday after a sharp debate in which it was called "silly tampering" with the prayer.

Hermann left for Tegel Airport shortly after 11:00 this morning. We will miss having him with us for the remainder of this trip; he always adds so much to our adventures. Our flight conversations and our dinner conversations are always more fun when he is with us; we are grateful that he was able to spare this much time from his schedule in order to be here.

Our primary activity today was a boat ride on Berlin's Spree River. We're not entirely sure what we saw, since the boat captain's running commentary was entirely in German (except at one point when we went under an extremely low bridge and he used multiple languages to tell people not to stand up). Actually, there were portable cassette players available with English tapes that described the sights, but most of us were content simply to be out on the water, idly gazing left and right.

The weather looked worse tonight than last night, and driving out to the country for a flight that was only slightly possible didn't seem to be an efficient use of our valuable time ... so we stayed in the hotel and had an early (by our standards) dinner. I began with a chicken caesar salad that had been a big hit with others on previous nights; Cindy and I each followed with a wild salmon with spinach that was strangely disappointing. The wines were excellent, however!

Despite our "early" dinner, we still didn't finish and get up to our rooms until almost midnight. I tried to get caught up on some email, then I watched episode 3.1 of Sex and the City (which was just released on DVD the day before I left Washington), and then I drifted off to sleep.


Wednesday, May 29, 2002

To my considerable surprise, I woke up at 7:30 this morning.

Last night, a plan was devised for going to the Reichstag building today, leaving the hotel at 7:45 and arriving in time for its 8:00 opening. The building has a glass dome that is open to the public, but it is a very popular attraction. Those planning to make this visit hoped that arriving first thing in the morning would succeed in avoiding long lines.

I had really not anticipated going on this field trip, but when I found myself awake I took it as a sign. I hurried to get ready, and I dashed downstairs to meet Mike, Dan, and Robin.

I'm so glad I went!

The building has played an important role at various times in German history: After WWI, Philip Scheidemann proclaimed the German Republic from one of its windows. The Reichstag fire on the night of February 27, 1933 destroyed large sections and allowed Hitler to blame the communists, thus cementing his power. At the end of WWII, bombs and Soviet invaders nearly finished it off. Restoration lasted until 1972, with the new dome added much later than that. In 1999, the German parliament (the Bundestag) moved in ... and just a few days ago, perhaps less momentously, George W. Bush delivered a speech there.

The new dome (designed by British architect Norman Foster) is extremely impressive and fun! I enjoyed walking up one circular ramp and down the other, snapping lots of photos. There are interesting patterns, and through the glass, nice panoramas of the city.

After wandering through the dome and out on the rooftop, we had the "Big Apple Breakfast" in the rooftop café, and then we headed back to the Adlon. The afternoon slipped away in various endeavors: shopping for some, museums for some, email and related pursuits for others.

Many in our group (including me) had never been to Berlin before, but the trip was a return for Alf. In fact, today he returned to a specific place he had visited on December 29, 1968 ... Checkpoint Charlie ... exactly 31 years and 5 months earlier.

While the weather looked good throughout the day, the forecasters said that an occluded front was heading our way, so once again there was no balloon flight and an "early" dinner at 20:30.

Tomorrow we leave Berlin: Cindy has to go home to Florida, and the rest of us will begin our two-day trek to Helsinki.

Next: Transfer to Helsinki

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