Holland (7th), Germany (8th)

Dutch and Germans didn’t like the look of the sound-proofing barriers along the highways either so they’re using Virginia Creeper to disguise them. Good thinking. You can tell this is in Germany though because in Holland there would not be weeds growing underneath

Our favourite stop for the night is a Truck Stop. It might be noisy but it feels very safe

We were keen to see the rest of the famous Delta Works, south of Rotterdam.    The Dutch engineers are masters at clever designs and this was no exception.   Just south of the city in the low-lying flood plain the Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt rivers meet the North Sea.  These rivers travel 350-1200 kms to get to here so all three of them are massive.   A major flood in the region during January 1953 killed more than 1,800 people when a storm surge caused 89 dikes to fail.  Over 72,000 residents had to be evacuated and 10,000 houses and buildings were destroyed.   This same storm surge actually caused massive flooding along the east coast of the UK as well.    This prompted the Government to build a system that would minimise the possibility of a repeat performance.  They have used a series of dams, sluices, locks, dikes, and storm surge barriers  over a long section of the coast and all this is known collectively as the Delta Works.  The constructions took from 1950 and 1997 to build them and now with the threat of sea water levels rising due to climate change they are now considering ways to strengthen them and make them taller!   We felt sure that they would have a Visitor Centre where we could learn more about the process of how they built these impressive gates, etc so we stopped at the first large building that looked a likely suspect.  Unfortunately, it turned out it was an aquarium and pool complex, although they did have a video running about the Delta Works as well, an odd combination really.  The video in English was not due to start for ages and you couldn’t buy a ticket to the film session alone, so we decided it was probably not worth the effort and expense and would watch something on the internet instead.

Some of the impressive gates that make up the Delta Works, as you can tell the weather was terrible

We stopped at the town of Middelburg and took a wander around the town square.  What a beautiful place this is.  What I thought must be a cathedral used to be the Town Hall but is now used as the University.  It completely dominates the town square.  Dennis couldn’t resist buying another cone of patat, “you never know how many more of these delicious treats we were going to see in our travels so you have to be prepared to take every opportunity” is his motto.

The Middelburg town square

Somebody had a sense of humour, carvings on the side of the University

What a friendly place

Even in residential streets right in the middle of cities the Dutch authorities think that kids can still have fun

Middelburg is so beautiful

Between the towns south of Rotterdam it’s farms or industry cheek by jowl all the way

Ineke had told us about Floriade 2012.  It is a huge exhibition covering 66 hectares, along the same tradition of the Chelsea Flower Show in London.   It differs in that it’s held once every 10 years and runs from the beginning of spring to the end of summer.    This year it was on the outskirts of a place called Venlo, right near the border with Germany, and when we went there it only had six more days to run.  To gain entry you needed to park in their own Park and Ride place a few kilometres out of town and take their bus to the actual exhibition site.   We were on the first bus at 10a.m. determined to make the most of this opportunity, even if it was raining.  Everything, including all the buildings, had been built specifically for Floriade and were an attractive mix of quirky styles.  I really enjoyed the floral displays, huge hothouse complexes with 1000’s upon 1000’s of blooms all tended to perfection.  Other than the signs advertising that the exhibitors’ buildings were up for sale now, as well as their products, you wouldn’t have known that the gates would close for the last time on Saturday and everything would be dismantled!   The display gardens had lost most of their flowers, due to the combination of the current weather and the time of year, which was understandable but still they were impressive.  The general theme for Floriade this year was “sustainability”, a common theme for this type of gardening expo I find, but they presented good ideas and the latest in green technology as it relates to growing in general.  The only thing (other than the weather) we were disappointed in was with the technical sections.  Why do they try to cater for seven-year-olds rather than the people likely to be spending money on these items?    There were crowds of people there on the day we went, I would hate to have gone through in the height of the season, at least we didn’t have to queue for very long at popular venues.  We must have walked for miles before we left the site at 6.30p.m. but we loved the day and were thankful to have been able to attend.  

The entrance to Floriade 2012, that snake-like thing in front is the footbridge over a very busy motorway.

Lots of neat statues, garden art, etc all over the site

The living sculptures were great, sorry we didn’t get to see them while the flowers were putting on a good display though

Taking the 1 kilometre long cable car not only saved the legs but gave you a great perspective over the entire site

Eh? Surely not!

We had seen signs for K&R and not realised what it stood for until today! Usually it’s P&R for Park & Ride

Sorry, I couldn’t help staring! But what happens when it’s windy?

My favourite things at the Floriade 2012

Dennis had a vague idea of a route planned in his head for the rest of our travels and I was just happy to go along with his plans, now that we had left behind my family in ‘s-Gravenzande.  He was aiming to spend a few days in Berlin.  When you look at the map this is a long way to drive so he decided that we should get going straight after our evening meal and avoid some of the traffic in this heavily populated area.    But contrary to our expectations the motorway was so busy!  Along with the trucks, which is normal there were plenty of cars as well, which did seem strange.  By the time we found a truck stop just outside Emden in Germany I was completely exhausted.  We quickly made the bed up and I fell asleep instantly until 9a.m. even though we only had a grass verge between us and the very busy motorway.  As well as that the trucks come and go all night long, the drivers must have a set number of hours they are required to rest, and they have the habit of running their engines a good 15 minutes or more before they actually leave so truck stops are usually very noisy places but on this particular night, after walking for miles around Floriade then driving for a few hours, I never heard a thing.
 We set off again the following day and enjoyed the scenery now that we were driving in daylight again.   We had noticed yesterday that quite soon after crossing the Dutch/German border the flat plain soon turned into rolling hills and we felt like we were slowly climbing all the way.   This part of Germany had so many more trees than Holland and the majority were just starting to change into their autumn hues.  Very beautiful.   They also have more wind turbines than I have ever seen anywhere.  They all need to have blinking lights on the “box” bit, white for daylight hours and red ones at night.  It looks quite weird at night or when it’s foggy, all these blinking lights seemingly suspended way up in the air, as you can’t see the tall poles they’re sitting on.  It was quite common to see large sections of photovoltaic cells attached to sloping platforms raised off the ground on farms, here they were farming the sunlight.  Germany is certainly very “green” – some of the escalators only start up once you step on them, very clever!   Dennis remarked that there seemed to be so many signs for a place called Ausfarht.  I actually thought it was a weak joke so didn’t reply, but when he repeated it after a few more kilometres I laughed and laughed.  Surely he had realised that Ausfarht means Exit in German?  Just like in Holland they were harvesting huge paddocks of maize for silage all through this district.  We called into the small town of Dulmen looking to restock our larder.  It did seem very odd to find that all the supermarkets were closed at 2.30 on this Wednesday afternoon.  It was days later that we learnt that it was the public holiday celebrating Re-unification Day.  No wonder the motorway was so busy last night!  

Farmers cover their effluent tanks to extract the methane gas

Germany has so many turbines it’s remarkable

Sorry Dennis, but that was funny!

Good to see the Germans are trying to do something about it

McDonalds is our new favourite place!  Free WiFi for one hour, clean English style toilets and safe parking.  We don’t eat their food very often, knowing from experience that it tastes like cardboard, but the McCafe coffee’s not too bad and their ice cream is rather yummy.
Dennis remembered that Matt and Kathy had flatted with a German guy in Newtown, Wellington years ago and he had the bright idea to contact Matt to ask if he knew where he was now.  Turns out Torsten lives in Berlin now so we emailed him to arrange a meeting.  He was so helpful to us and suggested an ideal place for us to park as Berlin has a Low Emission Zone as well.  Following his instructions we stopped beside a small park on the corner of Heildelberger Straase and Schmoller Plats in a quiet residential neighbourhood in the suburb of Alt-Treptower Park.  This area used to be part of East Germany and still has a line of bricks laid down the middle of Heildelberger showing where the Berlin Wall used to be.    We ended up staying in this spot for five nights.   

The footprint of the Berlin Wall

Berlin is so beautiful

We met up with

On our way to breakfast with Torsten we passed a Church with a statue of Martin Luther, we must go back and look inside but we never found it again

Torsten for breakfast on the following day and had such a lovely time with him.  He was eager to hear all about our other children, most of whom he had met on occasion in Wellington.  He tells us the longer he stays away from NZ the more homesick he is to get back.  He loved the relaxed pace of life back there and the fact that you didn’t feel you needed to keep up with the latest fashions, etc.  There are so many rules and regulations in Germany which he finds annoying particularly remembering the more spontaneous atmosphere in NZ.   Also the contrast of living in a country that only has 4.5 million compared to a 3.5 million just in Berlin and on top of all that NZ’ers are so friendly.  He remarked that Berlin was known as a lonely city with 50% of the population living by themselves.   We enjoyed a typical German breakfast of hot bread rolls, a selection of salamis, olives and cream cheese, with a delicious coffee on the side.  

Torsten

We walked around Berlin for seven hours, just getting the feel of the place and taking note of things we wanted to explore further.  It is an interesting city and had very helpful notice boards up in front of important buildings, etc explaining the history of each in English.  During our walk Dennis noticed a Fiat distributor, which sold various car parts to the public.   What a find!  While we were back in Epsom, England he had ordered a rear engine mount for the van as the one on there is fairly sloppy and is definitely getting worse.  When the part arrived it turned out it was for a different model and didn’t fit, so he has had it in the back of his mind to find the correct one while we are in Europe.   It was funny trying to communicate with a German who spoke very little English and us who had no German.  Dennis is really quite the artist when words don’t work.  As this was on a Friday afternoon he told us the part would not be delivered until Monday morning, that was okay as long as they had understood all of Dennis’ explanations and it was the correct part.   Walking back in the general direction of home we passed the famous East Side Gallery.  With a name like that I was looking for a building but of course Dennis knew it was a section of the old Berlin Wall that was completely covered in astonishing graffiti.  Wow, it turned out to be quite amazing.   Now I realise why there’s so much graffiti of the artistic kind in this city.

The Easy Side Gallery stretches along a 1.3 kilometre section of the old Wall

While we were slowly walking down the length of the Wall, six Trabant cars pulled up alongside. Needless to say Dennis struck up a conversation with the first driver.  This was his business, providing guided tours to tourists in these cars.  (They do a self-drive option as well.) The Trabant car was built in East Germany.  It has a two-stroke, two-cylinder engine, weighs 600kgs and has a fibreglass body.  He told us that years ago when the cotton crop failed in Russia they used the fibres to create the world’s first fibreglass.  The car’s top speed is 100km/hr which earned it the nickname of The Racing Cardboard Car.  The driver opened the bonnet to show the now gathering crowd where the petrol tank was and explained that the dip stick clamped under the bonnet was to determine how much fuel was left in the tank.  Each car has a birthdate and this is stamped on the chassis, this one was made on 5 May 1988.  The cost for one of these Tarbants nowadays ranges from 200-2000 Euros.  

Trabant cars are known by their nickname of Trabis

The Oberbaumbrücke Bridge built in 1896 is a double-deck bridge spanning the River Spree, (cars on the bottom and trains on top). It was one of the checkpoints between West and East Berlin.

Huge section for pedestrians and bikes on the bottom section as well

Each afternoon in Berlin we experienced a thunder-storm.  Torsten had warned us that Berlin in particular had an awful climate, usually it’s cloudy and can be pretty cold,  never-the-less with the place being so flat we decided to use our bikes after that first day of walking.  They cater for cyclists really well, with dedicated lanes on the roads or on the pavements everywhere.  The cyclists here are not as bossy as in Amsterdam so we were confident that we would be able to blend in all right.  We went looking for an Internet Cafe as we needed to sign a few documents for our accountant back home and have them scanned back (why does it take so long to wind up a business?).  Dennis finally found one a few blocks away from where we were parked, none at all in the central city, but he was unimpressed with the dour man who spoke to him there.   When we went back later, there was another Turkish guy behind the counter who couldn’t have been more friendly.  While I was doing my thing on the computer and getting Dennis to sign here, here and here, Dennis was having a great chat to this guy.    Turns out the dour man was his brother who along with owning this business was a bodyguard to Angela Merkel, the German Prime Minister.  They had opened this shop that was a small cafe/bottle store/tobacco outlet about 10 years ago and when the Wall came down they shifted the shop across the road so that it now stood on what was once East Germany.  He told us how the East Germans were so scared and timid for the first few years.  There had been no shops in this area at all on the other side of the Wall, they had never seen a Turkish man before and they didn’t trust him.  It took them a long time to purchase the items that were unfamiliar to them, it was only that this guy was kind and patient with them, explaining what all these new things were and how they should use them.    Slowly his gentle, friendly manner worked and now people pop in just for a chat with him!  We were there for around 45 minutes and he was just as friendly to everyone.  When Dennis asked “how come a Turk was living in Berlin?”  he told us the story of how after WW2 German Government representatives went to Turkey inviting men to come and work in Germany.  Understandably, there were few German men left after the War.  They offered good wages and his father decided to stop being a farmer in Turkey and shifted his whole family to Berlin and become a factory worker.  They still go back to their hometown for holidays from time to time but this guy had his own family now and there was no way he would shift from Berlin.   There are 180 different cultural groups within Berlin but it is rare for intermarriage with native  Germans to occur.    He thought it was amazing for us to drive all the way to Istanbul, very adventurous.  He also warned us about driving straight through Romania and Bulgaria, not stopping at all.  He said the people are so poor they are dangerous, whereas we might think we had little of value we would look very wealthy to the locals.  When he drives his family to Montenegro he gets there as fast as he can, in his smart Mercedes V-8.

The friendly Turkish brother

The following day after listening to a sermon from St. Helen’s on our computer, we cycled back into the central city again.  This time we  went to visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  What a sobering place.  We both thought that the German nation have made such a fitting memorial here in the heart of the city, even though it has been the subject of controversy over the years.     Outside there are 2711 stelae of varying heights and sizes lined up, covering 19,000 square metres (4.7 acres).  Stelae are the above ground graves that Jews have in Israel, having just come from visiting Jerusalem these ones were so evocative.   Narrow lanes between the stelae give you an overall oppressive feeling, you never quite know what might be around each corner and the ground underfoot is uneven and adds to the confused feeling all around.  You can see over top of some of the “graves” while others are so tall they tower over you.   Just this large section of the Memorial is pretty impressive by itself but then after passing through the security scanners you walk to an underground bunker, where the ceiling has the undersides of the stelae in relief.  Here the various themed rooms tell the story of the who, how and where the Jews, disabled, homosexuals and Gypsies were murdered.   The first section explains the changing attitude the Nazis held from 1933, when these people were imprisoned in the Ghettos, through to the 1940’s when they developed the factory style killing systems.  Six large portraits of real Jewish people were hung in the foyer, symbolising the six million murdered Jews.  In the following rooms each of these person’s story was told using the spoken word, written articles and videos to describe their fate, not all perished.  We are all familiar with the infamous concentration camps such as Dachau and Auschwitz but there were actually hundreds of similar sites all over German occupied Europe.  Before the gassing of people had been ‘perfected,’ about a third of all deaths were by massed shootings.  This really brought home to me that it was individuals shooting other individuals and not just a faceless mass of people being gassed by a few men who were just following orders from higher up.   Hitler was so intent on wiping out every Jew he could find, he employed Germans to travel throughout Europe and even into Africa to trace Jews who had escaped before the War and return them to Germany to be gassed.   One of the rooms at the Memorial, traced the lives of 15 separate Jewish families, using photos, personal letters and historical records, detailing each family member and their history during the war years.  Many were murdered but a few had managed to escape or hide.   One example was of an extended family that had 26 members, only one of those people survived.  Another example I remember was of a large Jewish family who thought at the beginning of the War that surely only the men would be targeted.  Subsequently, the father and sons either fled or were hidden by sympathetic Germans, thus leaving the mother and sisters at home, who were promptly sent off to one of the murder camps.   In another room, they had the names of a few murdered or missing Jews on a screen with a short biography read out about each person.  They change the names continually and in this way it takes 6 years, 7 months and 21 days to read through the entire list of known names!   It truly is so hard to comprehend the enormity of the evil done to this section of society.  I believe it is crucial that we don’t forget what happened not that many years ago, it’s like what they say “those who forget history are likely to repeat it”.  The last section was so interesting.  We didn’t get to see all of it as it was close to closing time and the screens were eventually turned off.  We were watching an interview between a few people off-screen asking the questions and a Polish Jew called Sabina van der Linden-Wolanski.   We missed the first part where she detailed her life through the War years.  When we sat down and watched she was telling the story of how she survived after the 1945.  How after liberation, at first she just wanted to forget about life in a concentration camp and the killing of her parents and siblings and all that horror and pack all those memories away in a little padlocked ‘box’ in her mind and get on with her life.  She spoke of meeting and marrying her first husband in Paris and emigrating to Australia, of the birth of her children and the successful business she developed in Sydney.  How she loved Australia, its friendly people and the great climate, etc.  But all was not well in her head, it was such hard work keeping the lid on the ‘box’, in all this time she had not talked about her experiences to anyone.  Eventually one day one of her children began to ask her about her life back then and she realised then that it was part of their history as well.  Over time she did explain to them her experiences at the hands of the Nazis and actually took her children back to Poland  to show them the significant places in her past.   Although it was a terrible time for her, this was the start of her healing and from then on she made it her life’s work to visit schools, clubs, etc and talk to young people in particular, to convince them not to hate others.  She taught them to forgive one another and was so concerned that all the evil done during WW2 by the Nazis towards the Jews and others should not be forgotten, so that all those people who had been murdered did not die in vain.   She was determined to teach others that hatred and discrimination are doomed to fail.  It was so moving but also such an uplifting story to hear this old woman speak from the heart.  It was a fitting end to our visit to this solemn Memorial.

It’s difficult to take a photo that gives you the true impression of the vast size of this Memorial

Before Josef Pitel of Parczew, Poland moved to the British Mandate of Palestine in 1938 they had a family photo taken. In 1942 his entire family was murdered in Treblinka.

All those orange marks are where the Nazis had their Death Camps

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