The Heaviness of History

Simon Vogel Sidewalk Memorial

Berlin. Tuesday November 15.

History hangs heavy over the East. Berlin bears its history like the albatross around the neck of the Ancient Mariner.

Alan James Robinson's Ancient Mariner

A burden, an eternal curse for having sinned.

The city was lost for so many years.

The National Socialists took it in the early 1930s.

The Communists ran East Berlin and East Germany from the 1940s until 1989.

The Mariner’s body would be the rest of Germany and the countries in the East that sinned and were sinned upon during the hot war and then the Cold War.

Then the heaviness eventually wore down the masters.

“Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! …Tear down this wall!”



Reagan Memorial


And a return to the normalcy which it may never have had.

You sense that in the people.

They want to move on. Join the “west” in relative peace, stability, freedom. Most of it has.

But the three score years they spent under heavy history in the 20th century is in the fabric of the place. Berlin especially.

So many “old” edifices are reproductions; facsimiles of what was destroyed mostly in World War 2 but with plenty of revisions under the Soviet controlled second half of the 20th century.

Many old things needed to be “canceled” to fit the narrative that was being invented in the East.

Everywhere there are reminders. You cannot get away from it.

Nazi sites.

The Berlin Wall.

Here was perhaps the largest of the book burnings in 1933.


Bebelplatz with Christmas Market

They got the students to do the burnings. Students are malleable. Passionate. Easier to radicalize.

I sought out the plaza. I read there was a plaque in the center as well as an underground “library” under glass. The bookshelves are empty, representing the books that were destroyed.

The Empty Library

When I arrived, the plaza was blocked off. Polizei on the perimeters. They were installing a Christmas Market. There was lots of construction and wiring and painting going on. I walked along the perimeter and spied a very old plaque hung on a wall.

Bebelplatz Plaque

I have enough German that I was able to translate it.

I was at the right place.

Soon this place will be a platz of gaiety. Parents and children will create Christmas memories here. Food. Drink. Trinkets. Costumed characters. Booths with Santas. Manger scenes. Winter Festivals.

89 years ago in spring, the mood was far different:

The first large burning came on 6 May 1933. The German Student Union made an organised attack on Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (roughly: Institute of Sex Research.) Its library and archives of around 20,000 books and journals were publicly hauled out and burned in the street. Its collection included unique works on intersexuality, homosexuality, and transgender topics. It’s assumed that Dora Richter, the first transgender woman known to have undergone sex reassignment surgery (by doctors at the institute), may have been killed during the attack.

Not only German-speaking authors were burned, but also French authors such as Henri Barbusse, André Gide, Victor Hugo and Romain Rolland; American writers such as John Dos Passos, Theodore Dreiser, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Helen Keller, Jack London, Upton Sinclair, and Margaret Sanger; as well as British authors Joseph Conrad, Radclyffe Hall, Aldous Huxley, D. H. Lawrence, Henry de Vere Stacpoole, H. G. Wells, Irish authors James Joyce and Oscar Wilde; and Russian authors including Isaac Babel, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ilya Ehrenburg, Maxim Gorki, Vladimir Lenin, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Vladimir Nabokov, Leo Tolstoy, and Leon Trotsky.

I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get into the plaza and see The Empty Library or the plaque with a quote by Heine (a German Jew.) There had been another book burning in the early 19th century:

That was but a prelude;
where they burn books,
they will ultimately burn people as well.

Heinrich Heine, 1820

It is Tuesday, November 15th. I am onboard the United flight to Newark.

The day started at 5:30 in the Leonardo Hotel on Otto Braun Strasse.

I had barely slept.

It may have been the stress of being sure to awaken and pack in time for my transfer to Willy Brandt Brandenburg Airport.

Or it may have been too many sausages, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and beer at the Hofbrau Haus last night.

Hofbrau Haus Meal

(There are now Hofbrau Hausen in many cities. Long ago, I went to the original in Munich. I’ve been to the one in Manhattan numerous times.)

I went here on my first night in Berlin. I ate light then. Monday evening, I was hungry. I had not eaten all day. My phone says I walked 44,004 steps.

Phone Steps

I think that is a record for tracking a day’s journey on my phone. Of course, it doesn’t record the steps I took while it was in the charger. When I got back to the hotel early Monday evening, the battery was nearly drained. I needed a drink and some bar snacks. The Leonardo has a very nice friendly bar. I’d gone each of the four nights. They make a good martini and have yummy salty Asian crunchy snacks. They serve those in a large tumbler with a spoon to dig them out.

I ordered some water. A large Paulaner Unfiltered draft. Then a martini up very dry. Then a glass full of snacks. I could have gone up and crashed, but it was too early. Plus, I wanted to visit the Hofbrau. It is pretty genuine/authentic. A vast space with a little beer garden out front. (Too cold.) Dozens of large wooden plank tables and benches lined up parallel to one another for efficiency. Waitstaff in blue check cotton shirts and lederhosen come quickly and serve quickly, but you are not rushed. Who knows how many beers a customer may want? Mirrors along the back wall make space appear even vaster and cavern like. Off to one side is a stage where an oompah band appears and gets spirits uplifted. Though I was alone, I enjoyed the people around me. It was a kind of spectacle.

Then a tired sore 15-minute walk back to the hotel. To bed and crashed right away at 9 something. Awake just after midnight. Lying in the dark, asking for sleep. Maybe I got an hour and a half from 4 to 5:30.

“I’m late!”

Up for a quick shower. Trying to be conscious and competent. Quickly packing. Jettisoning trash into the wastebasket. I decided to leave my 5 travel guides behind. They weigh a lot. I can easily replace them for free at home. We pulp many.

Chuck's Discarded Travel Guides

They weren’t much use this trip. The human guides did much of the orienting in each city. Then with free time, it was a combination of revisiting things we breezed through or looking at the tourist map each hotel gave us. If I had been on my own, I would have studied the books more.

The pilot says there is likely turbulence ahead. They are beginning meal service early. I’m not hungry, but it is something to do. 8 hours left. A text from United said I needed to download their app and Paypal to buy “snacks or drinks” on board. No credit cards or cash? No food service on an 8-hour flight? The text announcement seemed to indicate Economy doesn’t get free wine? United… not my favorite airline.

They had wine and beer and booze for sale at shops beyond security and close to the departure gate. It must be ok to carry them on, I assumed. I bought two small bottles of wine. After we were seated, we were informed it is a federal offense to drink your own alcohol on the plane. Now how do I sneak my unopened wines from the seatback to my knapsack up above? We headed over the North Sea just below the Danish border. We will cross over Scotland and then the ocean. It would be nice to sleep on some of this journey. Wine would help…

I was wrong. They did serve a meal—I had curried rice or something. And they did give me some wine.

We hit the turbulence right at the Scottish coast above Dundee. (Memo to self: It has been a while since I’ve had Dundee Marmalade.)

A flight attendant rushes past. “Seatbelts. Seatbelts. Seatbelts…”

Then they disappear to buckle up.

My water bottle topples onto the laptop. Fortunately, I had twisted it tight. No damage done.

Berlin. Monday morning.

My last full day. How to kill it off? I started out a little depressed. What was left to see?

How to kill the day off and get closer to going home? I just want to be home.

There is no one from my group at breakfast. Most had left on Sunday. But I knew some were staying. I came out in the lobby, and there was a clutch of 5 women from my group waiting for their pickup. I greeted them warmly, though I couldn’t remember a name. They’d stuck together pretty tightly. As did a Canadian pair of women. Maybe 14 people of Asian descent. I’d gotten to know a few of those women pretty well. Retired nurses who were gregarious and funny. A single guy from Denver and a woman from Central Pennsylvania were the people I’d spent most of the time with. A couple who had been to southern Italy with me a year ago were cordial, but, as on that trip, they struck out on their own at every opportunity. He’d shown me his phone. He had dropped a pin on every spot he wanted to visit. Off they would go. He had an older digital camera pressed to his eye often. Another couple from Georgia was very jolly. He was a very tall former engineer. She was outgoing, warm and funny. We’d been together on the trip to Scotland last March. Two younger couples who were on their honeymoon. There were others.

One small cute woman would walk around with her phone held as high as she could reach, recording her every step. I asked her, “Do you think you have a hundred hours of movies yet?” A guy next to me quipped, “More like a thousand.”

On the recommendation of one of the young married couples, I’d uploaded the app for Bolt. It is kind of Uber. The opera last night had been 3 miles across town. There was no way I’d walk to that. Or back. This morning I was going to start at the East Side Gallery on the river Spree. We had stopped there on the bus tour, but it had been so crowded, and we only had a few minutes. It is nearly a mile of “Mauer”—the Berlin Wall. When the end of the Berlin Wall came, artists descended upon it and did the unthinkable. They painted freedom murals on the eastern side. These artists flocked to the new free one-of-a-kind canvas. Before 1989, getting close to the wall, much less defacing it, would have been unthinkable.

Perhaps the most famous image is of Russian leader Leonid Brezhnev kissing East German strong Honeker on the mouth.

Berlin Wall Brezhnev and Honeker Mural

The kiss is a normal greeting between Communist dictators, I’d been told.

(Odd. I found a copy of Leonid Brezhnev’s novels in the Maryland warehouse Wednesday. I imagine it was a bestseller in the Soviet Union. Perhaps “required” reading.)

Leonid Brezhnev's Trilogy

I got dropped off at the Berlin Wall just before 8 a.m. and had the whole sidewalk pretty much to myself.

Some murals showed doves flying free and other symbols of the new freedom. Others were more graffiti than anything. It was all interesting in its context.

The bus had driven by a couple of sites on the way that I’d wanted to see more closely. They were on a wide boulevard formerly named after Stalin but changed to Karl Marx Allee when de-Stalinization had taken place. A huge bronze statue of Stalin had been toppled and melted into toys or something.

I found the square where a bust of Marx is tucked up against some shrubbery. When I got closer, I saw some vandals had removed all the lettering on the pedestal.

Vandalized Marx Bust

This was a main area of East Berlin’s Communist renovations. The road was lined with Brutalist architecture. One guide had called the apartment blocks “monsters.” Upon their takeover, the authorities wanted to fulfill their promise of housing for all. Apartment buildings were slapped up in a hurry. Cheap. People stuffed in flats which might have one toilet per floor. This street—so East German—was depressing to walk down. This was very much a heart of Communism in East Berlin.

I spied a bookstore! I had to go inside the Karl Marx bookstore.

Karl Marx Bookstore

I walked over to it.

The shelves were empty. It was morphing into a high-end home design store.

Karl Marx Bookstore

I had some quips on the tip of my tongue but didn’t give voice to them.

The bus had rushed by the most Soviet building I’d seen. The guide pointed it out. Walking and walking along Karl’s Allee, I thought I might have missed it. We’d driven past in a hurry. But here it was. A Soviet cafe/restaurant.

Soviet Restaurant

Yes. That is a model of Sputnik rising high in the sky above the roof.

Soviet Restaurant

Wow! Genuine! Authentic.

Then I headed back toward the city center.

What next?

Much is closed on Mondays. Most shops and museums. But I had bought a 3-day Museum Ticket that gained me free admission to many, many institutions. There was a list of them online. All I needed to do was scroll down the list and look for those open Mondays.

I’d passed the huge Humboldt complex a couple of times. There was a museum in there somewhere the list had printed. I walked in and searched. There was a huge soaring lobby. Most of it is newly designed to replicate what had been bombed to rubble. My ticket was good for the Berlin display. The rest of the museum was free.

“It will take you 2 hours to go through the Berlin exhibit,” I was told.

I don’t think so.

It was fine. Maybe a half mile of galleries meandering the perimeter of the vast building displaying the history and current state of Berlin. I didn’t stop to mess with the interactive displays. I chose not to bring wristband that allowed me to “vote.” But I enjoyed the colorful displays. Many of the artifacts were cool as well. A music box played “La Marseillaise.” It had to be kept secret because in the 1840s revolts, it was considered a revolutionary tune.

You could have gotten in real trouble listening to that tune in the mid-19th century.

The other three floors were what would have once been called anthropology. I don’t know what you would call it 2022. I was instructed at the entrance that I was unable to look at it dispassionately.

White Worldview

Still, I tried.

It was fascinating. Beautiful display cases exhibited the accouterments of indigenous peoples and ancient civilizations from all over the world. It was much like other similarly stocked museums had I had visited since I was a kid.

I walked through a mile and a half (my estimate) of galleries of old and ancient cultures. I’d like to think I understood the context of them. I don’t consider them primitive or anything else derogatory. They are what they are—or were—in the time and place where these things were made.

In the Mesoamerican sections, terrifying stone demon gods stared at me.

Incan Stones

5 or 6 tall stelae were engraved with scenes of a ball sport one culture played. The game included severing heads.

Incan Stones

I guess you’d consider that a blood sport.

I walked past thousands of Native American clothes and tools. Many were stunningly beautiful.

Oceana. Asia. Africa. Polar…

Then back outside.

I went to the Holocaust memorial, which has a field of about 2500 large blank stone monoliths, The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. We’d stopped there briefly, but I wanted to experience it in the morning light and with fewer visitors. It is a powerful place. You can walk down into the passages. Some visitors’ heads disappearing as they descended rows. Others appearing.

Holocaust Memorial

The American Embassy is just across the street. And it is a short walk to Brandenburg Gate.

The Charlottenburg Palais was my next destination. It is a couple of miles west. A long straight boulevard leads from the Brandenburg Gate across the city. It was modeled after the Champs Elysee. A vast park borders it either side—The Tierpark—which had once been royal hunting grounds.

I walked up it a bit. We had stopped here before. There is a free toilet—always welcome.

In Germany, most public toilets have a human attendee. You must pay a Euro—sometimes less—for relief. I found these people to be uniformly grumpy. I can’t imagine why.

Nearby is where the large brass display in the sidewalk commemorates where Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! …Tear down this wall!” He stood only 50 yards from the west side of the Wall. The Brandenburg Gate was just beyond—on the eastern side.

A little further down the Strasse des 17 Juni, a statue of a young woman is on a pedestal in the median. The Crier. She is calling at the wall a couple hundred yards a way.

Maybe she was calling to tear down the Wall too.

A little further in another large Soviet war memorial. This one is on the western side of the wall.

Thru there are supposedly the first Russian tanks to enter the city.

It was then I summoned another Bolt. It carried me along the boulevard to the western part of the city where I had attended the opera the night before.

The car dropped me off, and I headed for the Charlottenburg Palais. The digital guide had said it was open on Mondays. It hadn’t mentioned it was closed on Mondays from November to March. Still, it was a beautiful day. I could walk around the grounds. There were vast formal gardens in the back which were still stunning in their decline.

What now?

The flight is just getting to the Maritimes. We are arcing southwest a bit—following the curvature of the earth. We will fly over Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts…

I am so anxious to get back. Emotions well up in me for some reason. I want to be home. Cold and lonely as it is. My adventuresome life atop a mountain. And my passion, my addiction to play with books and keep the business alive.

I got a text on Saturday that an old friend had passed away. Debbie Schnibbe. She started at Wonder Book in 2000. Her daughter worked there for many years as well. Hayley left for a second maternity. She was an excellent shipping manager. I hope she returns someday. Debbie had gotten tinier and tinier and more and more frail. Still, she wanted to come in and do what she could. We accommodated her needs. We would chat pretty often. I’d ask about the grandkids, and she would show me pictures. She loved Merry and Pippin, and if I ever had them with me, she would make a point to play and snuggle with them. In fact, she did this the day before I left. I’d brought them in to get them to the sitter. They almost bowled her over. Long, long ago she told me what a fan she was of the Egyptology mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. (A penname of my friend Barbara Mertz.) I got us an invitation to go visit Barbara for tea and cigarettes. They got along very well. Debbie was thrilled.

And now she is gone.

The place won’t be the same.

Maybe this is affecting my emotions as well.

I want to go HOME!

36,000 feet. A blanket of clouds far below.

A couple more hours. Then I am in Newark to change planes.

I want to go HOME! I miss it so much.

What to do after walking around the closed palace and its grounds? I was in a far flung part of the city. I hadn’t seen the area, so I had my phone take me toward the zoo. I passed through European neighborhoods that were interesting in their architecture and streets and shops.

I passed this huge church. Its steeple had been bombed off. It was left broken as perhaps the highest memorial.

Bombed Church

I got to the zoo but decided I didn’t have time to go in. I should have. I could have breezed through and exited the other side. It has the most species of any in the world. I walked a little further and crossed the Spree. I summoned another Bolt. It took me to the Topographie of Terror Museum. This was much like the Terror Museum in Budapest. But it was in a modern building. A few hundred yards of Wall is in front of it. The displays are all print and photos. They tell a dreadful story of murder and cultural “cleansing.”

Then I headed back toward the Brandenburg Gate. More memorials to murder… Crosses with black-and-white photo images staring out. The people shot while trying to leave East Berlin. Mostly young men. The memorial to the Roma and Santi people who were purged. The Denkmal für die im Nationalsozialismus verfolgte Homosexuelle.

Victims and memorials everywhere.

My feet felt heavy. As did my heart.

The last goal was the Reichstag building.

My Globus tour guide, Lucy, had the foresight to get me a pass to go into the glass dome atop it. (Lucy was a wonderful and helpful guide for the whole trip.) The passes are hard to get. You have to apply to the German government for one. Lucy had done this Saturday and given me the printout before she and most of the others left Sunday.

I showed my pass and credentials and was admitted. I rode up in an enormous elevator crammed with about 50 other visitors. The transparent glass dome has a spiral walkway up and up and up. An audio-guide speaks as you progress. More stories and landmarks.

Far below the dome, you can see where Germany’s legislative body meets. The dome and the view of the plenary counsel represent transparency.

The sun began setting.

Reichstag Sunset

The West.

That was a beautiful end to my touristing.

Time to quit. I decided more walking. I passed under the Brandenburg Gate and made my way to the hotel.

It is Thursday morning. Early. I’m still on central Europe time. I’m revising and adding to what I wrote on the plane. I eventually got to Dulles. My little wine bottles were confiscated at security in Newark. What an awful airport. The only food choices are postmodern “restaurants” where you don’t interact with humans. You order via a Q code. Pay. Eventually, your order is sent out—wordlessly. The flight was late. When we landed, it was pouring rain and in the 30s. It was a dismal ride with little visibility back to Maryland. I kept an eye on the car’s thermometer. Would it drop from 36 to 32? Would I be able to get home?

I did. I lit a fire and turned on the water. Slowly, the house came to life. I made tuna salad then put on Carol Burnett re-runs. They were so hokey when I was a kid. Old people viewing. Now, I find the humor comforting. Some people I’d rejected then were very talented. Jim Nabors could sing almost like an opera performer. Burt Reynolds was actually an accomplished stuntman and performed pratfalls far beyond Chevy Chase while lip syncing “As Time Goes By” to a bevy of beautiful dancers.

When I awoke Wednesday morning, the sunrise was well into the forest.

Wednesday Dawn

I have a new wall and path and garden beds!

New Gardens

Good thing. All the bulbs have arrived.

New Bulbs

There’s snow on the ground and roof on Thursday morning. The driveway is clear, although it is covered with leaves. I tossed a lot of birdseed onto the roof and into the window feeders. The chickadees and titmice appeared immediately.

So much work to do. So much catching up.

Last week’s story was posted from the bus. We were driving from Prague to Dresden. Part way into the trip, the heater broke. It broke in the “on” position. It wouldn’t turn off. It was a very new high-tech bus. Some chip must have failed. It is hard to estimate the temperature, but we all stripped off any outer layers of clothing. There were no windows to open. The driver stopped a couple of times, so we could get off, get something to drink and cool down.

It made writing a warm but not cozy experience.

I don’t know how far to go with this story. There was so much that happened before and after the last one.

Which highlights to pick out and record. All the photos on my phone serve as reminders—memories—of things seen or done.

I can’t spend too much time on it. There’s so much work to be done. I am so far behind.

I’ll take the dogs into the warehouse. They are getting old. Over 80 in dog years. And they’ve been inside the last couple of weeks and haven’t acclimated to the season. I think it is too cold to leave them out in their pen today, though there are 2 houses filled with cedar shavings. Maybe there’s a way to heat them?

Debbie won’t be there to greet them.

The new warehouse building projects have progressed. The concrete slab on one has been poured. The second is nearly ready. Weather becomes an issue this time of year, but things may have progressed to where rain and cold won’t stop things.

New Warehouse Slabs

Dresden is near the southern border of the eastern part of Germany. It is famous for many things, Meissen pottery, for example. But the holocaust created by Allied bombing is the first thing to come to mind for most people.

The war was winding down. Russians were in eastern Germany. The Allies were at the Rhine. Decisions were made to try to speed the conclusion. Leaders wanted to break the morale of the population as well as the fighting forces.

Dresden is and was a beautiful city. Germany’s Florence. In February 1945, the population was swollen from 650,000 to over a million by refugees and retreating soldiers and their support.

On February 13th and 14th, the city was carpet bombed with tons incendiary ordnance. It created a firestorm which reduced the city to rubble. Some tallies say only 25,000 perished. Others claim there were over 125,000 because of the unrecorded refugees and soldiers packing the city.

Areas were totally annihilated.

Bombed Dresden WWII

Kurt Vonnegut was among the many prisoners of war in the city. He wrote Slaughterhouse-Five using many of those experiences.

Today, Dresden has been rebuilt. In many instances, the former buildings and landmarks were replicated. It is again a beautiful city. Lucy walked us around for a while, pointing out sites. She had a bunch of cards showing before images of buildings she led us by.

Here’s what the entrance to the city looks like now.

Chuck in Dresden

The Elbe River flows behind me.

It is a beautiful city. You would never know the history seeing to today. And I don’t recall there being much in the way of memorials and reminders—at least not in the old area.

Then we were let go on our own. I immediately walked across the bridge, adding the Elbe to the list of rivers I have walked over.

Then I had to choose what to visit. There was only an hour or so. I definitely didn’t choose lunch like most of the others.

Something drew me to the old art gallery. I knew it had the famous Putti at the foot of a giant Raphael canvas.

Dresden Putti

What I didn’t recall was the Vermeer there!

Dresden Vermeer

I have a thing for Vermeer. When I was younger, I chased them all over the states and Europe. I managed to see them all. Often at special exhibitions in the US. It must have been at one of these where I ‘d seen this one before.

I even saw the Vermeer that was stolen from the Gardner in Boston in 1990. It is still at large and may be lost these 32 years later. Only 34 of his works exist. Or maybe just 33.

I didn’t mention I saw one in Vienna too!

Vienna Vermeer

Both were just luck. Serendipity. Just put one foot in front of the other, and who knows where you will be led.

I wrote two narrative poems about this one. I’ll append those at the bottom as it is impolite to burden people with one’s amateur poetry.

Lute Vermeer

All the galleries I visited were stunning, but this may have been my favorite.

Then it was onto Berlin is the very hot bus.

This is getting long. Maybe I’ll make some addenda in future stories.

We got in Friday late afternoon. I went to the Hofbrau Haus not knowing it was one of THE HH’s. Another single guy went with me. He had flown transports in Vietnam and was pretty interesting.

Saturday, we had a local guide. She was a feisty West Berliner. She made it clear there is still a great distinction between the two. We spent the morning getting off and on the bus at various sites. Her commentary ran on throughout the trip, and I learned so much. I took a lot of notes. We passed several opera houses, and I thought… why not?

The Deutsche Oper had a banner out saying Carmen. I started working on my phone, and it turned out Tristan and Isolde was on Sunday. I was able to buy a ticket about 12 rows back center. Technology is amazing. I mentioned this to the guide and asked if I need to dress up. I’d failed to pack my brother’s Orvis blue blazer. I think that was the only crucial thing I left behind.

She looked me up and down with a jaundiced eye.

“Yes. We like to look good at the operas. I am so sad. They are canceling The Nutcracker this year. Something about racism. I’ve gone every year.

We took a break for lunch back at the hotel. We’d passed a huge used clothing store—a charity shop. Humana. I hustled down the 10 blocks and found a nice jacket for 14 Euros.

In the afternoon, we had a second optional session with her. “Berlin’s Hidden Past—Get a peek into Berlin’s WWII past, including the Soviet War Memorial, East Side Gallery, Checkpoint Charlie, and a visit to the Topography of Terror, site of Gestapo and SS headquarters…”

We went around Berlin again.

Sunday, I was on my own. I wandered to sites we had just breezed past.

I’d bought a museum pass which worked at getting me entry on Berlin’s Museum Island. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with five museums.

I got there early. My main goal was to see Nefertiti.

I did.

She is in a corner room with a domed ceiling. She is the only object in it.

She is in a glass box atop a neck high pedestal. She took my breath away. Even better, I had her to myself. I’d gotten there at opening. Two guards eyed me warily.

Nefertiti Bust

No photos were permitted. This image from online doesn’t nearly do her justice. Not even close to what she looks like in person. Alive.

I think it is the most beautiful object I’ve ever seen.

And to think this was not a royal figurine, but a piece found in a sculptor’s workshop!

All the museums were great. I saw the Babylonian Gate of Ishtar and…

From there, I wandered back to Checkpoint Charlie to visit it when it wasn’t so crowded…

Checkpoint Charlie

I got a comment from last week’s story. The writer had checked up on one the vintage Harlequin romances I’d posted a picture of:

Hi Chuck,

I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of years and went back and read all the old entries. I’ve thought about commenting before. I really enjoy traveling vicariously, I’m a gardener though not as ambitious as you, and a lover of used books. However what prompted me to finally comment was the Harlequin photo of “Ward of Lucifer.” I had to look it up and quickly found this on the Abe book site:

A teenager goes to live with a sinister guardian following her aunt’s death. Mary Burchell was the pen name of Ida Cook, a British campaigner for Jewish refugees. She and her sister rescued 29 Jews from the Nazis in the 1930s, mainly funded by Cook’s writing. Between 1936 and 1985, she wrote 112 romance novels as Mary Burchell for Mills & Boon (many of which have since been republished by Harlequin.) Many of her titles are now hard to find, especially in hardback…

So it looks like you are on to something by keeping at least some of these.

Thanks for your blog and your rescue of used books.

That is so cool! And it ties in with Berlin and all the nightmarish things.

I guess there may be literature in Harlequin Romances after all!

Wait! The commenter went back and read all my book stories?! There are over 275 now. I thought only I and my editor had read ALL of them. She should get an award.

One of the last things I saw when I was walking in western Berlin was a candle in the middle of the sidewalk. There are candles like this all over the city. In the US, they might memorialize a recent car wreck or something. In Berlin, they memorialize a tragedy that is nearing 80 years old.

This man nearly made it to the end of the war. Was he denounced by a neighbor? Another victim?

Simon Vogel Sidewalk Memorial


It is me she sees
through her doorway.
Me reflected in her iris
if you could get close enough.
Me inverted on her retina
if I could get close enough
to look inside and know.
I am not sure I should enter
if I should cross that threshold
but I must know.
So I pass that portal
in to her vestibule
toward the light.
Crossing through the bright beam
focused through her casement
I pass her by.
Because the tilt of her head
is noncommittal
I cannot chart her countenance —
coy or concerned or questioning.
“So he’s back.”
I know that much
is behind her eye.
I’d been away long
and now
we neither knew where we stood.
Passing her
I would break that light
put her in brief darkness
as I stride passed in pride
to the map hung upon the far wall.
Too prideful to look.
Too worried to look because
if she cast her eye down
what it would mean.
I know.
if her gaze followed me
o, what it would mean
to where I stand
looking at the map of the world
where I have been.
The world or her?
I know now where in the world I stand.
I have made my choice.
To prove my works
I would note the errors
on that world,
“It is not like that you know.”
“Was it grand?” she replies.
“I see more in this room
than mysteries of the deep
or distant shores,”
I confess with no conceit.
Would she would then stand
and come to my world
lay a hand upon my shoulder
looking too
upon her wall
before which we have been before
so often.
She would not leave the light
where she had been all along.
Would I could step to her
turning my back to the wall
and touch the sunlit cheek
my hand casting a shadow
upon her face.
But I am transfixed by fear
for to touch would be to know —
perhaps to know finality.
I am in her picture now
and so I stand where I stand.
Then she touches a string.
It is her favor to me.
I know.
We two sang this song
we knew long ago.
I know now.
So I may.
I can step to her
my shadow moving unseen
because of the sun’s station.
And stand at her shoulder
and with her last verse
raise her face to mine
from the work of her hands.
Both faces brightening
in the window’s light
wordless lips speak
I had not gone too far.

Vermeer Distaff
He is there
in my doorway.
Four and forty months
since he had sailed
on that winter solstice
which changed my life.
I see no feature
for the bright afternoon sun
pours in from behind him.
The doorway frames his shape
but it is his black frame.
I know.
For I know that tilt of the head
and his stockinged calves.
It is his shape.
So he is back
and each muscle
wishes to rise and run to him.
I am frozen where I sit
by the uncertainty
and, I admit, pride
— though pride is a sin.
He enters with no word spoken
with broad steps he crosses the room
with not so much as a glance.
The light pouring in the casement
is between us
so I still see no feature.
His countenance inscrutable.
No look to read.
He steps to the map
he hung upon my wall
before he left me so long ago
when he pointed to that world
to which he would go
leaving me.
“It’s not like that, you know.”
It is my love’s voice.
I turn my head and our eyes lock.
“Was it grand?” I ask
my words nearly catch in my throat.
He says he sees more in this room
than the rest of the world
and his eyes have never left mine.
He’s looking through my face
into my soul.
I wish I could rise and move to him
to that map
before which he had held
and kissed me so long ago.
But I dare not move.
I may go to find a ring
upon his finger.
Or eyes that confess another departure.
I turn so my features do not betray me.
And facing the open window
I turn the lute upon my lap
and strike the notes
of a ballad we had loved so long ago.
God grants me grace
so my voice holds through verse and verse
Then I think he is near
— behind me.
And upon the last note
his unadorned left hand
gently sweeps down my cheek
to tilt my chin
up so his lips
may lean to meet mine.
God grants me grace
and I withhold the flood of tears.
He had gone so far and wide
but has returned to our room.

4 Comments on Article

  1. Charlie Downs commented on

    It sounds like you had a wonderful trip. I certainly hope we aren’t headed to book burnings given the current removal of books from school libraries. Hopefully we have enough checks in our government to prevent us from moving in this direction. Frightening times though.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Charlie.
      There are sadly some parallels. I hope the pendulum swings back a bit.
      I appreciate you writing!
      The pictures will be added to this Monday

  2. Gregory commented on

    Interesting trip, Chuck. I did a bit of Berlin a few years ago, and found it fascinating. And the people I interacted with were generally helpful and forgiving of my lack of German.

    (I wonder if you intended to insert some photos in the last half. I didn’t see any.)

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Gregory.
      Yes! The photos will go up on Monday. I made the story too long and gave my editor too many pictures to make deadline.
      Everyone was very helpful throughout the trip – Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Dresden and Berlin.

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