2001 Shawn Vidmar

 When I gladly volunteered to attend the VW New Car Show in Germany, I was anxious to see if I'd retained any of the German I learned off and on since 8th Grade.  In stepping off the plane at Tegel Airport and in catching a cab to my hotel, I realized I understood more than I could speak. Luckily the Germans are pretty well versed in English, and what we couldn't convey, we pantomimed. Funny they never teach you the words for "Do you want stamps with that" or "Do you want a bag with that" in language class.

I arrived a few days before the meeting and planned to stay after as well. I found Berlin relatively easy to get around, and as luck would have it, I was on one of the main streets, Kurfurstendamm at the Kempinski Bristol Hotel, which was more swanky than I'm used to when I'm abroad. 

Along the Kurfurstendamm was the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedachtniskirche. A church that was built in 1895 and destroyed during WWII. Berliners decided to clear the rubble but keep the standing remains of the church in the center of the business district as a constant reminder of the casualties of War.

I often based my travels from the Berlin-Zoo U-Bahn (subway) & S-Bahn (street train) station. I did make it into the actual Berlin Zoo and it was amazing to see all the different kinds of animals just in a park of sorts. Very few cages were used, and mostly the animals were separated from each other and visitors by a moat or cement ditch. For the first time in my life, I saw a live panda. Very cool. 

The first evening there I ventured to the museum that was open the latest, the Checkpoint Charlie Museum  (Mauer Sammlung) on Friedrichstrasse. People's will for freedom in the west gave rise to many a clever invention. I was inspired and saddened by the tales of escape and thwarted escapes. Throughout the whole Berlin visit I kept finding myself navigating back and forth through the former no-man's land surrounding the wall. There is only one guard tower remaining, and truly some of the only remnants of the wall have a wall surrounding them to protect them from souvenir collectors.

In talking with my Uncle Peter who was in Germany before the wall came down. He remembered how unnerving it was to take the U-Bahn through the ghost stations--the closed stations located on the wrong side of the wall. He reminisced about the hours it took to cross the border, the checking and double checking of papers, trunks, undercarriages of cars and so on. The notion that if your papers weren't in order or someone objected to them, you could land in an East German jail, was not comforting either. I exercised as much freedom as I could by freely moving throughout the city. Some of the S-Bahns actually went through apartments because the line had been severed in 1961 when the city was divided, but now the line is active, so every 5 minutes or so, a commuter train goes through the building.

I thought about my Uncle Ted who went to East Berlin and somehow smuggled film in and out. In hindsight, he could've gotten into a lot of trouble. As a child all I can remember of that slide show was its greytones. He swore the slides were in color, but there wasn't any color in East Berlin. I found it interesting that many buildings in the former East Berlin have all sorts of color now, both on trim and such, but also in murals on the sides of buildings.

To truly trace the wall, all you have to do at this point is look for the big cranes, because the former no-man's land is prime realestate right now, so there's tons of building going on as the two cities literally grow back together.

In moving from one museum to the next, I tried to fathom what it was like to see the Berliner Dom but not be able to visit it. Or to know of the Brandenburger Tor but see that it was inaccessible. Hundreds of years of history were preserved in sad buildings on the Eastern side because no one could afford to fix them. On a positive note, though, all of the statues and buildings and historical sites are now being tended to. Unfortunately for me, that meant a lot of things were closed. 

It wasn't until I took an architecture tour of the city, that I discovered the true lay of the land. I'd been going out of a guide book that broke the city up into north, south, east & west. Since most of my travel was by the U-Bahn, I couldn't orient myself to the size of the city. Come to find out, the city isn't that big. By the end, I was walking most places. 

The art museums were fantastic. Under construction was the Judisches Museum, the Jewish Museum. It wasn't quite open yet, but the building concept seemed very interesting. Although I don't understand modern art, I did like the experience of not "getting it" at the Hamburger Bahnhof (old train station) where there was a lot of installation art. I did get to see a few Warhals & Lichtensteins up close and personal, which was well worth the price of admission. I loved the Sammlung Berggruen, which was a converted private collection by one of Picasso's favorite gallery owners. There were a few Matisse I hadn't seen before and I was introduced to Paul Klee's work, which I liked a lot. 

The VW show was great. We were taken to their Autostadt (car city) near Wolfsburg. They turned us loose on Autostadt after they'd closed, then they presented the new cars, which included a prototype MicroBus, a SUV, the luxury sedan D-1, the W8 and W12 engines in the Passat and a race car respectively.  We weren't allowed to take any pictures, but you could find the some of these on the VW website before we returned from Germany, which was odd. The evening cumulated in a wonderful dinner with cirque de solei type of performers dropping in from everywhere. And finally we were spirited back to Berlin on the high speed--up to 160 miles per hour--train.

It was nice to connect with other VW dealers from the US. Many were surprised I'd ventured out on my own, solo style, but little did they know, that's the way I like it. I gave helpful tips to spouses who weren't interested in the meetings as to how to navigate the Bahn (train) system. Also how to choose which museums to see, and which I felt were Charlottenburg Schloss where you had to pay to see the art in each wing of the castle (I bought the book).

Then, I hopped a plane and headed on down to Frankfurt to visit a pre-school friend of mine, Rand West. We hadn't seen each other since 3rd grade. He runs the European Geico Insurance Office. It was a small miracle that we were able to connect because he's often on the road. We saw some sights in Frankfurt, then got into his car and headed on down to Munich. We did a brief tour of Munich and landed at the Hoffbrauhaus (beer garden) credited as being the birthplace of the Nazi party. They're not so proud of that aspect of it, especially since it is a bit of a tourist destination and members of all walks of life can be found dining & drinking & singing at the same table. 

On the third day, we drove south into Austria, where the Vidmar clan is from. We found ourselves in Salzburg & I wanted to take a Sound of Music tour which points a lot of the filming spots for the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic. It took us through the valleys, lakes & mountains. And I can see why only three generations ago, my family kept moving west until they found something close to their homeland. We only spent the day in Salzburg, known also as the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I know enough now that I desperately want to spend more time there.

We zoomed back to Frankfurt on the Autobahn. And I caught my series of planes to deposit me back safely in the Colorado Springs airport. 


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