Last day in Berlin 2018

As I sit down to think about my last day in Berlin, I’m already on the plane home. One sentiment continues to resonate for me- some of the first words that our tour guide Daniel uttered when we arrived: “Berlin isn’t a beautiful city, but it’s an interesting city.” After spending three full days touring the city, I have to say I agree.

And while on the subject of our tour guide- Daniel was phenomenal. He was a perfect blend of historical knowledge mixed with wit and high energy. When pronouncing the names of the train stops we would need to remember he would say, in his heavy German twang, “you will get off at the Gesundbrunnen stop. That is G-E-S-U-N-D… and more letters!” A clever way to shorten the long names that the Germans seem to attribute to most things.

After breakfast and a final training workshop, we had all afternoon to explore on our own!

I made plans to go up to the top of the TV Tower with two buddies I’d met on the tour- Tim- a special ed teacher from New Mexico and David-an art teacher from south Chicago. These guys wanted to do all the stuff I wanted to do- which was the tower and a half day of what David called an “urban hike”. Several other groups were going shopping and trying to stay out of the below freezing temps, but I wanted to explore and see more of what Berlin had to offer!

We ordered tickets in advance for the tower tour, and made our way to the subway. The Berlin subway, by the way, is called the U-Bahn when it runs underground or the S-Bahn when it comes up for air.

We got on the train that was supposed to be headed for the famous Alexanderplatz… Tim asked what the “Platz” stood for and David responded “you know- Platz [pronounced PLAYTZ]. Like you eat dinner off your Platz!” (Just a small example of loads of laughs in the day!)

The train we were on, totally going in the direction we needed, had other plans. It actually stopped in between stations and reversed directions! We backtracked to the previous station, where we got off to figure out how else to get to our destination in time to meet our 1:00pm tour time! We were down to seventeen minutes!

Tim found a train that we could take that was leaving in ONE minute, so, once again- in Amazing Race-style- we ran down the stairs to the lower level and met the train just as the doors opened!

We successfully made it to the Alexanderplatz stop and headed straight for the TV Tower… known locally as Fernsehturn. There were strict guidelines about bringing food and water in, so David had to scarf down the sandwich he smuggled out of the hotel breakfast and gulp down one of two water bottles. He hid his second, unopened water bottle behind a bench, hoping to retrieve it when we came out of the tower.

The lines to get in to the tower were long and we couldn’t read any of the signs or understand the announcements. We had “fast track” tickets, so we managed to move past the non-moving masses.

We got in the elevator, with more people than a fire code would appreciate, and headed up. We went up so high my ears popped. The tower observation deck is 207 meters up, which calculates to about 680 feet. (The actual structure, including the needle, soars a whopping 368 meters: 1207 feet. Taller than the Eiffel Tower!) In fact, our guide told us that it is the highest building in Europe that is open to the public!

Once at the top, we were able to wander around the circular observation area and look down on the entire city. There were excellent markers in front of each window that described landmarks and where to find them. It was exciting to note the places we had already seen and take note of the places we wanted to hit whilst wandering through the city.

I was excited to see that St Mary’s Church was an easy walk from the tower- I was eager to see the inside.

The white building with the mural all around it is a building called the Haus des Lehrers, which, Daniel explained, means ‘house of teachers.’ The building, he said, was built in the early 1960s by the GDR- the German Democratic Republic, and the architecture resembles all the other buildings built in the same time. Daniel described these buildings as “LEGO block buildings all over the city.” The mural, which is actually a mosaic that encompasses close to a million tiles, is a symbol of the New Berlin- the future of the city.

The tower was a great experience. It allowed me to really get a perspective of the scope and area of the city, and where things were. I recommend doing this after you have been in the city a couple of days, as it’s exciting to spot the places you’ve seen!

After making our way back out of the tower, David walked over to where he hid his water bottle… just as a man with a backpack had scooped it up. He somehow managed to communicate with the local man enough to get the man to reach into his backpack and hand back the water bottle. Point for David!

Our first stop was at St. Mary’s Church. We had walked past this on our first day, but had not gone in. We walked in and completely missed the glassed in exhibit showcasing the “Dance with Death” , a fresco painted in 1485. Inside, I was confused because there was a three panel mosaic that had skeletons dancing with people… but Then I remembered it was a fresco. We toured the church, and admired the pipe organ and the ornate pulpit.

On the way out, we were looking for stairs to see if the famous mural was upstairs, and that’s when we realized that the mural was right there- just inside the front doors! This church, a Catholic turned Protestant Church, is the second oldest church in Berlin.

We left St. Mary’s and began walking in the direction of the Neptunbrunnen, otherwise known as the “Neptune Fountain”, which is in a piazza (not sure what the Germans call this open area?) around the corner from Alexanderplatz.

This turned out to be a rather intense area, as there was a group of Syrian demonstrators who were highly charged. They all waved flags from their country and they had draped additional flags around the necks of some of Neptune’s women. They set up a jail cell, and they brutally threw two men inside the cell- both wearing masks. I could only see one of the masks but it was a Putin mask. Running around the outskirts of the demonstration were three men dressed in white clothes and head bands smeared in blood. I wasn’t sure what their role was. Although tempted to stay and watch a little longer, the German SWAT team arrived, and I knew it was a good time to keep on moving!

Our next stop was at the oldest church in Berlin- Nikolaikirche or St. Nicholas’ church. The experience at this church perhaps started a downward trend of how the locals responded to us… the woman at the door glared at us. We went in, and another man glared at us. We saw that if we wanted to enter and take photos it would be 16.00 euros. I wasn’t up for spending that, and neither were my pals. David tried to head out a side door and got yelled at by the eagle-eyed man. We left in a bit of a hurry.

We ventured back out into the absolute biting wind, but were still eager to fill our time until dinner. (Did I mention the temps were in the twenties??)

We found our way across a very busy street and wandered around the Franziskaner-Klosterkirche Ruins. This was once a church, built in 1250, that was destroyed in the bombing of Berlin in 1945. There were giant blue pipes built inside that seemed to serve no purpose, so I’m guessing it was some sort of modern art. I felt like it really took away from the beauty of the ruins, if I’m being honest. It was, modern art aside, a good visual of the destruction that truly flattened the city… and what remained.

At this point in the day, we decided to find a pub to warm up and have a rest. We had passed what we thought seemed the quintessential German pub, so we decided to find it, since we had an hour and a half to kill before meeting the group for dinner.

We passed a few other interesting sites on our trek to the pub…

Once we got into the toasty warm pub, we were told to stand, as the waiter pointed to a tiny chair-less table. We ordered pints and stood, enjoying the warmth. After a few minutes, a tiny little booth in the corner opened up, so we carried our drinks to the table to relax for a minute. Well, this was apparently a sin of monstrous proportions, as the woman behind the bar began flapping her arms, rolling her eyes, and glaring at us. Since we had no idea what she was saying, although I certainly could have guessed, we just stayed where we were until we had finished our drinks. I may have also quietly rung the little bell that was on my table on the way out. While the service was rather alarming, the company and the pub feel made it a great stop!

We met the large group back at Alexanderplatz and headed out on a ten minute walk to dinner. On the way to dinner, we passed through the Kreuzberg neighborhood. This was a Jewish neighborhood before the war. Daniel explained to us that the church in the area was where many Jewish people were captured and taken to the concentration camps for being 1/2 Jewish or a 1/4 Jewish. They were actually worshipping in a Christian Church, but Hitler, with murder and hatred literally seething from his pores, found them and killed them.

We stopped to look at the ground outside the church and saw many “Stolperstein” (translates to stumbling) stones. These are stones that are mini monuments, with brass plates on each one that name the victim and the dates of their lives. Hitler murdered these people, and the modern Germans want visitors to honor them and never forget these innocent human beings.

Dinner was in this historic Jewish neighborhood at a place called the Grand Bar, and it was delicious! My vegetarian option was a delicious breaded goat cheese with veggies marinated in something wonderful. After dinner, we returned to the hotel to pack. Our wake-up call came at 2:30am! Ouch!

What a trip. Thanks to EF Tours for providing this amazing opportunity for the forty teachers who were on the tour!

-HC

MY “open” letter to Target…

Dear Target Decision Makers,

This letter is not akin to those you’ve recently received. I am not writing to condemn you. I am not writing to declare that you’ve lost my business. I am not writing to tell you that I am staging a boycott of your stores. On the contrary, I am writing to thank you.

I find it nearly impossible to put in to words the disappointment, the utter bewilderment I feel when I read the criticism that is flooding the media about your recent decision to allow “transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.”  I have read the protesters’ “open” letters, and I have become well-versed in two things from these reads: our country is inundated with discrimination and our communities are exploding with false judgement.  These “open” letters damn the honest and punish the innocent.

Thank you, Target, for standing up to the mass discrimination against transgender individuals. These individuals are being painted by your cruel protesters as miscreants of the worst kind: sexual predators. These transgender individuals have committed no crimes, yet they are being condemned as threatening, perverted, and dangerous. Thank you for realizing that these human beings are not criminals; they are law-abiding, honest, decent people just trying to figure out how to maneuver through this complicated world.

Thank you, Target, for standing up to the mass discrimination against transgender individuals. As a high school teacher, I have the opportunity and good fortune to work with transgender teenagers. These kids are struggling to find acceptance in a world that judges them with Draconian force. These kids want to have the same opportunities that other kids have- regardless of their gender identity. They are taunted, they are bullied, and they often feel completely alone. Thank you for being their advocate, their role model.

Thank you, Target, for standing up to the mass discrimination against transgender individuals. Thank you for realizing that it is a bathroom- a place to relieve bladders-and thus not destined to become some sort of  den of iniquity. Transgender people simply seek bladder relief just like every other human.

You said,”Everyone deserves to feel like they belong.” I can’t believe how many in our world disagree with this very simple, important statement. Thank you, Target, for your fair and positive treatment of your employees and customers. Thank you for refusing to cave to the masses who preach hatred. Thank you for paving the way for an end to discrimination. Thank you for standing up for a group of human beings who are being criminalized for choosing a gender that better fits them.

If you need me, look for me in the Target nearest my house. I’ll be there. And I’ll stop by the bathroom if I need to go.

Sincerely,

Heidi Campbell

 

 

Extinction on the dumpster horizon

“Sorry. No recycling today- no kids showed up.” That’s the email I read from the Environmental Club adviser just before I left school today. Those eight words alarmed me, and I’ve been mulling it over ever since. When this happens, the only way to truly clear it from my temporal lobe is to “write it out.”

These environmentally concerned students work tirelessly to spread the importance of recycling. They come in after school, on their own time and volition, and provide the service of recycling for the entire campus. Now, these kids are wearing down. The people in my building need to beware: we are in dire straits. These “green” kids are on the verge of giving up.

No one is showing up to the recycling club. And it is no wonder. It is truly a thankless job. These kids bundle up all of the paper in boxes around the building, load up their carts, and haul the bales out to the recycling dumpster. They then have to schlep these piles and piles of paper into the receptacle, which is physically exhausting. For many students, sadly, recycling bins are synonymous with trash cans, making the papers within lined with food residue, old chewing gum, or perhaps even a booger or two. The volunteers still sort through this swill, with nothing but the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra humming under their breath.

This is not a pleasant job. These volunteers don’t get paid, and they  get little to no recognition. Their only motivation is in the hope that they are making the world a better place. But this hope, this ideal, is waning. With every bottle filled with backwash, and every paper bin filled with snotty tissues, their motivation dwindles. Who can blame them?

People have come to rely on these volunteers. In fact, in a previous school, I’ve seen folks become enraged when no one came to collect their unwanted paper. If the kids don’t show up to empty the bins, the bins topple or the recycling simply stops.

What happens when the recycling volunteers become extinct? Will we all come around to the idea of lugging boxes of unwanted paper to the dumpsters? Will we sort through the bottle recycling bins to sort the recyclable from the trash?

That email said this to me: we need to thank these kids. We need to appreciate them for their thankless work. We need to do our part to make sure that our bins are “volunteer ready.”

Who’s with me??

A letter to a misguided judge…

Dear Mr. Utah Judge,

Sometimes I am, admittedly, naive. I have always associated “justice” with my personal definition of a “judge”. I have defined a “judge” as a thoughtful academic, an individual who upholds the constitution of our great country- one who seeks to make decisions based on fairness and humanity. The decision you made last week, to remove a foster child from the care of a married lesbian couple, was not only unfair and inhumane, it was a slap directed to the faces of our Supreme Court justices who, like most honorable Americans, embrace marriage equality for same-sex couples.

Apparently, however,  you’ve had an epiphany. After the media backlash, you have rescinded your decision. You have allowed the couple to keep the child, with the understanding, as reported by CNN,  that there would be “further hearings”. You have temporarily appeased the masses, but these “future hearings” reek of suspicious motives…

Again, my naive mind wonders if it could be possible that you have truly changed your mind, and realized the error of your ways? Maybe you’ve had a sincere change of heart? As a believer in rehabilitation, I do believe everyone can change and make themselves better humans. In fact, if I were a judge, I would send you to my own sort of rehabilitation facility. I would order you get to know one of a million same-sex couples who are raising loving families. I can suggest a handful in my small world who would reshape your misguided prejudice.

These “two-mom” or “two-dad” families ARE traditional, Mr. Utah Judge. They love their children. They pray with their children. They go to sporting events and activities and cheer on their children. They provide kisses for booboos, hugs for tears, and consequences for misbehavior. They worry, they smile, and they live for their children. Their kids go to school and they come home and tell their two moms or two dads about the day’s activities. There is nothing untraditional about the way that these families raise their kids. They are human beings, and great parents.

You made your initial decision without knowing these two mothers. You, a judge who makes life and death decisions every day, threw away your impartiality in favor of discrimination. The implications of this sort of reckless disregard for the law is alarming.

But you corrected your error, Mr. Utah Judge, and for that, I am grateful. My internal optimism for humanity is willing to believe in you, cautiously of course. I am willing to take your backpedaling as a sign that you’ve come to your proverbial senses.  Thank you for that. Thank you for accepting the oath of your position which understands that “all men are created equal” in our country.

You have taken a step in the right direction. I encourage you to follow the laws, and refrain from allowing your own personal prejudices to corrupt your societal decisions. I hope that you will think of the best needs of the children in our communities, children who are loved and cared for by same-sex parents.

Stay on track, Mr. Utah Judge. Please help me, and others,  restore our faith in the judicial system of the United States. Discrimination is an unwelcome intruder in our courtrooms.

Sincerely,

Heidi Campbell