Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Friday, November 28, 2014

new york, new york! my top 10 list.

Magic happens when you least expect it.


Are you hoping to visit New York City in 2015? If you haven’t thought about it, you should. I've been lucky enough to visit many interesting cities, but NYC is still one of my favourite and most-visited spots. I’ve always thought it would be fun to do a Top Ten list, so here it is.

The Top 10 things to do and see in New York City:


#10. Park parade – There are so many great parks in Manhattan, some are like hidden gems and others as obvious as the proverbial elephant in the room. There is the never-ending Central (taking up half of the island), the intimate Christopher (at Christopher & Grove St, West Village), the dog crazy Carl Schulz (East 86th St, Upper East Side), and the unique High Line (Gansevoort to West 34th St) just to name a few. In Manhattan’s concrete jungle you will be constantly surprised when you turn a corner and see a lush, leafy enclave of folks just chilling with a hot dog or a book. And the New Yorkers can get pretty creative with their green spaces. A must-see is the High Line – a converted, above-ground, abandoned railway which is now a haven of regional grasses, bushes and cornflowers. The wooden daybeds and benches, on the slatted boardwalk will tempt you to stop and smell the green.


My tip: Walk the High Line starting in the West Village all the way to the Meatpacking District. Along the way, while cabbie horns bellow below you, the Hudson River seascape will draw you out on one side, while incredible architecture will pull you back to the other. Gehry’s most striking glass-enclosed iceburg, the leaning metallic Denari-designed luxury apartment or the Standard Hotel which straddles the High Line like an open book provide just some of the great ‘starchitecture’.


#9. Shopping! – Of course you’ll walk down Fifth Avenue and wander through Greenwich Village and Soho where great shopping is as certain as finding a beer at Oktoberfest. But, what you also can’t miss is Century 21 (22 Cortlandt St) located across from the World Trade Centre site. Here, all of the top designer rags come to live out their last days, hoping finally to find a good home. Discounts!


If you love books or even just kind of like them, then you must enter the Strand Bookstore (828 Broadway Ave, south of Union Square). Wall to wall to wall books of every kind will greet you down every book-crowded aisle. Books. Everywhere. Every book. If you are one of those people (like I am) who dream of someday having your own private library then this is a must see. It’s one of my favourite places…on earth.


For some alternative shopping check out the great vintage boutiques like Screaming Mimi’s (382 Lafayette, Noho) or the funky Eye Candy (225 W 23rd St, Chelsea). One of my favourite things to do anywhere is to hit a fleamarket, and in New York, the best one I know is Hell’s Kitchen (every Saturday and Sunday, W 39th between 9th & 10th Ave). Here, over the years, I’ve picked up vintage costume jewelry, a 1940’s skirt, even a wildly weird wedding dress – think Cyndi Lauper meets Snow White. I wonder if I’ll ever wear it.


My tip: Soak up the neighbourhood experience wherever you choose to shop. Take a side road, move off the beaten path and see where the New Yorkers live, shop and coffee. The best places are just around the corner.


#8. Getting out onto the water – to Ellis Island, to Lady Liberty, under the very many bridges (Brooklyn, Queensboro, George Washington, Triborough, etc)…use the ferry to get to another point on Manhattan Island while soaking in the one-of-a-kind skyline that is NYC.


My tip: Get off the ferry in Brooklyn and walk back across the incomparable Brooklyn Bridge. It’s almost as trippy as walking across the Golden Gate, but with more cabs.

The Brooklyn Bridge
#7. Eating! New Yorkers love to eat. I’m not sure how they do it since they all seem to be super skinny. I’ve heard that no one in Manhattan actually cooks for themselves – everyone gets take-out in the evenings and they lunch and brunch on the weekend. For this reason, the many, many take-out joints and food carts dotting Manhattan like craters on the moon, are actually excellent places to eat. If you have time, then definitely experience some of the tried and true New York restaurants. To name a few great ones, not all expensive, but all delish in my opinion: Bar Pitti for pasta fantastico (268 Ave of the Americas), Carnegie Deli for a classic pre-show cornbeef on rye (854 – 7th Ave at 55th St), Waverly Inn in the West Village for its exclusivity (16 Bank St), Gemma located in the Bowery Hotel (335 Bowery) or Pastis (9 9th Ave, which is unfortunately closed until September 2015). These are some of my faves…I’m getting excited just typing.

My tip: Go for breakfast. It’s not as expensive, but just as tasty.


#6. Broadway-ing ('Broadway' really should be a verb) – It is a universe unto itself. Classic theatre, over-the-top musicals, intimate shows and huge superstar productions are all to be found in and around the blocks on and off Broadway Avenue. Times Square bookends one end of the unofficial official Broadway, where 7th Ave and Broadway Ave smash into each other in an explosion of glorious light and sound. There are billboards 7 storeys tall, millions of moving lights, bells and whistles, like being stuck in a really fun, giant pin ball machine ...with a naked cowboy walking around strumming his guitar (sorry, I've never taken his pic). After pushing your way through Times Square head to Jack’s (147 W 40th St) for a pre-show drink – where the locals hang out - or enjoy pre-theatre discounts at restaurants like Barbetta (321 W 46th St).

My tip: Before your trip, cruise the internet to find out what shows will be running while you’re there. Tickets are not more expensive online than at the door, but you might be able to find an online deal. Do your research, and if you don’t get around to doing that, just head to the box office, buy a ticket in your price range and enjoy the show! They’re worth it.


#5. Art hopping. Why NYC is called the ‘Big Apple’ and not the ‘Big Easel’ I don’t know. Art is superfluous here; in mesmerizing museums and every sort of gallery, in commissioned open-air spaces, and on building facades where it might creep wickedly. Pop in at the Modern Museum of Art where admission is free every Friday from 4:00-8:00pm – don’t stand in line, just show up at 4:10 when all of the tourists are already inside and walk on in (MoMA, 11 W 53rd St). Or amble through the most incredible Metropolitan Museum of Art, the outer stairs are a landmark in itself. Located on the Upper East Side, the Met lies halfway up Central Park on 5th Avenue. Take in the great view from the rooftop terrace – a Kodak moment unlike any other. (Met, 1000 5th Ave).


My tip: Browse Time Out magazine, online at http://www.timeout.com/newyork to see what exhibits are showing when you’re in town and then definitely take in that venue. You won't be able to visit all of the great art galleries and museums, so pick one or two based on exhibits that interest you. The location will be the bonus!


#4. Square squatting – Union, Washington, Times. The squares are NYC’s meeting points; hubs of activity, music and people watching. Influenced by their location, New York's squares are each a bit different. Washington Square is eclectic, young and hip where NYU students float through on their way to a lecture or some great party. Union Square has a garden fresh, healthy vibe going on, most likely due to the Green Market taking over on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. I will usually grab some take-out and perch on a bench at Union Square, giving my feet a much-needed rest.


#3. Neighbourhood-ing – West and East Village, Soho, Nolita, Upper West, Chelsea, Meatpacking. You won’t be able to explore them all, so pick 2 or 3 for this trip and get to know them the best you can. Each is like a town unto itself, with a unique energy. Wander the side streets, ask a local about their favourite café or restaurant, duck into small shops and take a break in a neighbourhood park.


My tip: Loop. Take your city guide and make a plan for the day, hitting a few neighbourhoods on your must-see list, in a large loop. For example: Start your day with breakfast in the West Village, then wander over towards Soho and through Nolita (North of Little Italy), grab lunch then head north into Noho (North of Houston – pronounced Howsten). In the evening grab a cab and head uptown. New York City at night is spectacular.


#2. Soak up the free! Save your money for shopping (that’s what I do) because there is so much free entertainment in and around New York City. In the summer months there are free movies in Bryant Park and on the beach at Coney Island. On certain summer nights you’ll come across free salsa dancing at the Bandshell in Central Park (located between 66th & 72nd Streets), which I also stumbled across. What an experience, watching hundreds of ordinary couples shimmy and sway and groove to the Latin DJ tracks. They were having a blast, as was I just watching. Another treat is watching the Dance Skaters who rock ‘n roll throughout the park. The Skate Circle is just north of the Sheep Meadow and beginning in April roller skaters and bladers, young and old dance to boom boxes or their own tune – your time will fly watching the beauty of them (http://cpdsa.org).


Or if TV is more your thing, find a taping of a talk, late night or daytime show – New York has it all and the tickets are usually free. Do your research beforehand because the best shows (think SNL, Letterman or the Tonight Show) have pretty specific, jump-through-hoops kind of procedures in order to maybe land a ticket. If you persevere you’ll be right there laughing along with Fallon. (A great free guide of things to do is http://www.nycgo.com/free)


My tip: While not free, if it’s your first time in NYC then it’s so worth your money to buy a hop-on/hop-off sightseeing bus pass. You’ll drive through and hear about all of the great New York neighbourhoods (Harlem anyone?). Just jump off at any of the stops in an area you want to explore a bit more. For 24 or 48 hours you’ll save on subway and taxi fares while seeing and hearing about all of the intricacies of NYC from the audio guide on the bus. When your time runs out, hail a taxi whenever you need to get uptown or downtown quickly – it’s a hold-your-breath, hang-on-tight amusement-ride in itself, and not that expensive. Otherwise walk. It’s free.


#1. The very best thing in NYC is to people watch! Models, Wall-Streeters, dads pushing baby carriages, gym-goers, strugglers, celebrities (wherever one or two slimy guys are lurking, holding big-ass cameras, you know there’s a celeb around), artists, blue-collars, intellectuals, students, fashion designers, and plain old normal folks – Manhattan is like musli. There are a whole bunch of completely different things thrown together in a small space, resulting in a strange, interesting, some-hate-it, some-can’t-get-enough-of-it, got-to-try-it-once experience.

My #1 tip: Don’t plan too much. Allow time for just being…and be open to the magic that you just might see when you least expect it. And have fun!

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Friday, November 21, 2014

the best fests of the year

The festivals in Germany are many and magical. Maybe it’s the wine…everything in my current neck of the woods, including the festivals, revolve around wine and the grape harvest. One of my favourite things to do in the Rhine Valley, or in Germany period, is to go to a fest!


On the left side of the Rhine, in the middle of its long slithering path from south to north, there are some spectacular fests. Intimate gatherings around wine stands, crowds clustered in the dark shade of a castle with firey lightshows above or simple moments with families and friends spread out under a huge walnut tree in the midst of grapes.


The year’s festivities always start with the craziness of carnival. Here on the left banks, in Rheinland Pfalz (Rhineland Palinate), for a couple of weeks in February it's as if the circus has come to town. Parades, music, dancing in the streets, the random tossing of candy and streamers, costumes of every animal real or not, and the smells of French fries and bratwurst - this is Rosenmontag. If you haven’t yet experienced the insanity, mayhem and fun of this day, then put it on your bucket list – Rosenmontag in Cologne or Mainz is FUN. Next opportunity for crazy: February 16th, 2015!


As regular as the seasons, the first true wine fest, and my personal favourite, is Nacht der Verführung (the night to be seduced…by wine of course) and happens in late spring. A small group of wine producers set up their stands underneath a massive walnut tree in the hills above Bingen, with rows of heavy grapevines as far as the eye can see. Overlooking the Rhine, spending evenings listening to local bands, while sipping new wines with friends you haven’t seen all winter, is a joy. Next seduction experience: June 4-6, 2015!


As the summer settles in, it seems like every weekend a different wine producer or town has a wine fest. Rows of wooden tables are brought into the town square or family’s yard, people gather, wine flows and no one drives. Rieslings, Burgunders, Silvaners and Dornfelders - these are the favourites in this region and the wine families are as abundant as the grapes on the vines.


Sprinkled throughout the summer months, some beloved fests include Bingen Swingt, a jazzy celebration of musicians from all over the world. Stages are set up high on the castle lawn, down along the riverbank, and smack dab in the middle of town. On Sunday morning, the river carries black gospel choruses through the air from the stage where the Rhein and the Nahe rivers meet. Throughout the days and evenings, large and small ‘big bands’ trumpet and rock their tunes throughout the valley. Next swing’n good time: June 26-28, 2015!


For more of a chilled, laid-back musical experience, check out Ingelheim's Eurofolk fest. This event reminds me of the supremely great folk festivals in Canada, except for the looming castle walls. Relaxed, zen, hippy, call it what you may, everyone is welcome to dance, hop, sway or groove - no one cares, just move. Wine is also available. 


At Eurofolk, I saw one of the coolest food kiosks ever. Offering vegan doner with plum chutney and fresh herbs, I wanted to move into this sweet foodmobile. Next folksy fest: July 10-12, 2015!


This area's biggest social and wine event of the season is the Bingen Winzerfest. Young and old(er) meet on the streets and town squares, have a drink or two together for eleven days of great wine tasting. Tour buses dump guests out by the hundreds and the herds of locals mix amicably with the tourists. Vintners have stands on what seems like every corner, inviting their customers from near and far to taste their newest bouquets.


Winzerfest is when the homegrown kids come back to town to see each other again. It is one big reunion, which even the newbies can enjoy. Great guy spends all of his time reconnecting with old friends during this week. Winzerfest is like homecoming for the wine folks.


Germans can do many things well, and fireworks are definitely one of those things. During the Binger Winzerfest there are no holds barred when it comes to fireworks. On the first Saturday and the Wednesday of the fest, the city puts on a spectacular event. With light cascading off bridges, fire spraying from the river, and explosions over the castle, people just stop, stand and gape. Next wine spectacular: Aug.28-Sept.7, 2015!


In all good conscience, I can't speak of fests without including the mother of all fests: Oktoberfest. In every small and large town, in many corners of the world, the Münchener Oktoberfest has been recreated since its inaugural turn in 1810.


The slight difference here, in the land of wine and more wine, is that Oktoberfest is celebrated with masses of beer (the litre steins) plus all kinds of wine! A cozy wine tent and wine stands abound for all of the diehard grape consumers. Dirndls and lederhosen, aprons and suspenders, schweinshaxen (ham hocks) and würstl (sausages), sauerkraut and pretzels - you might think it's all one big cliché, but oh is it fun.


Whether in München or any other German town, the very best thing about Oktoberfest is that everyone sings and schunkels (sways to music with their arms entwined) together; young and old, cool and uncool, friends and strangers. Everyone knows the Oktoberfest songs and even if you live under a rock and don't know them, you soon will. Next time for ein prosit (cheers!): October 2015 all over Germany!


To cap the year off, the most romantic fest in Germany is the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market). These winter fests, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, are an absolute must-experience. With stands of intricate woodcarvings, toasted almonds, and mulled wine, whether it's snowing or not, the magic of Christmas will wrap you up like a warm blanket.


Christmas markets nestle into almost every town square in Germany; beneath cathedral domes, castle towers or under a blanket of twinkle lights. Some are themed with bright shooting stars overhead  (Wiesbaden Sternschnuppenmarkt) or fairytale wonder (Oberhilbersheim Märchenweihnachtsmarkt) to greet the parka-clad guests. Next mulled wine: 8 days! Happy festing - Looking forward to seeing you!


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Saturday, November 8, 2014

escape from east germany - 4 friends and a trabi, October 1989

A true story, as told to me by my friend Gerry, who escaped East Germany 25 years ago.

This story starts on a fall October day, much like the days we’ve been having recently. But it’s another time, and place. Gerry is a blond, bright-eyed, 21-year-old nurse living with her boyfriend, Knut, in a small apartment in Weimar, East Germany. It is 1989.

On Saturday evening, Gerry and Knut and their 2 friends, with son Roger, decided they were finally going to do it. Everyone had been talking about it in hushed huddles, in bars and living rooms for weeks now. Friends of theirs had already left - we should really do it too they thought. What do we have to lose? They had some furniture in their rented apartment, had a car and jobs, but they had no freedom. No freedom to move. No freedom to be individuals. No freedom to live the way they wanted to. But, they had to be very careful. This was dangerous talk. They could be imprisoned; could disappear just like that if the wrong ears even overheard them talking, let alone catch them in the actual act. 


They decided to leave on Tuesday morning. It would give them Monday to still buy some supplies and make final arrangements. Pack the car: a glacier-blue, 1969 Trabi combi. As if they were just going camping for a few days with their close friends, across the border to Czechoslovakia. Gerry told her mother what they were doing in a difficult conversation. She didn’t know if she would ever see her mother again. But, her mother was cool and she understood why the young people needed to take this step. She, herself, was resigned to the fact that things wouldn’t change.

Knut, on the other hand, didn’t tell his parents. One had to make sure that only people who could keep the secret were told, and that those people were able to handle the information without becoming too obviously emotional. Neighbours might get suspicious that something was going on. Nobody knew who was loyal to whom. The Stasi had eyes and ears everywhere.

Gerry called in sick to work at the hospital where she was a nurse. Later her colleagues would tell her that they had seen her and Knut get on the train in Prague, the Train to Freedom, as images of the thousands being moved to West Germany were broadcast on televisions around the world, including East Germany.

They had packed the car carefully, as not to draw any unwarranted suspicion at the Czech border. Knut had made sure that all addresses of distant relatives or people they knew on the other side who might help them were memorized. He had reiterated time and time again not to take any address books, old letters, or even photos from home. Have nothing in the car that looks like you’re not coming back again. But Gerry had made a mistake. She had been so full of anxiety she couldn’t memorize anything in the days leading up to their escape. She wanted to make sure that if they got split up at some point she would be able to contact people for help. So, without telling the others, she wrote the numbers and addresses of relatives in the West on tiny little pieces of paper and hid them throughout her bag and the clothes she was wearing.

The indestructible, yet unreliable blue Trabi arrived with its courageous cargo at the border crossing at precisely 3pm. Twenty-five years later, Gerry still knows the exact time. She was beyond nervous. In fact, she was terrified. The border guards came to the car, asked everyone to get out, and then proceeded to search the car in every nook and cranny. The search lasted well over half an hour. Gerry could not keep still, but she tried hard to look as relaxed as though they were just heading to the grocery store.

All of sudden, the search was over! They were allowed to go through. The group piled back into the car, not too excitedly, and continued on their road to freedom. At exactly 4pm they heard on the radio that Czechoslovakia had closed its border due to the growing situation happening in Prague. Already thousands of East Germans had filled the West German embassy there refusing to leave. Soon there would be five more East Germans trying to get in.

Tuesday evening. The centre of Prague looks like a Mensa candidate’s maze of blocked-off streets, closed alleys and barricaded sidewalks. Couples, groups, families - people are everywhere and they all seem to have the same purpose. Gerry and the gang decide to just park the Trabi wherever they can find a spot and then continue on foot in the dark. Fortuitously they parked their loyal blue friend in front of some army barracks, thereby unknowingly cementing its fate. Like a trustee boomerang, the ice-blue Trabi was later able to make its way back to Weimar, unscathed with only one or two parts missing. Nobody had dared steal it from that location. In the days and weeks after the freedom trains left Prague the citizens had not only the remnants of thousands to clean up, but also all of their abandoned vehicles. Sad, lonely cars (many of them Trabis – the East German car) lined the streets of Prague, still filled with belongings (but not for long), as if all drivers had been suddenly raptured.

The warm glow of streetlights guided the group through the streets. They could tell they were getting closer to the embassy due to the increasing number of people. There was electricity in the air as real as if a droning power line was emitting a constant spray of sparks. Finally they recognized the embassy in the distance by the hive of thousands of people trying to get in. The atmosphere was tense. It was chaos. The embassy was beyond full and the doors were now locked. Rumours were flying around like hornets causing excitement, anger or frustration depending on where and how they stung. Some people had radios, others said they had overheard diplomats talking, but nobody really knew what was coming or when. Lines to the outdoor toilets were over three hours long.

Gerry’s group walked into the crowd and sat down under a big clock. Now, as I sit across from her in a café along the Rhine, she recalls this part of the story with a disbelieving smile. Shaking her head at the absurdity of it, she tells me that when the clock struck 9pm the two girlfriends looked at each other and said, ‘Denver Clan (Dallas) is starting.’ Sitting in the cold, dark night on the cement among thousands of people the two young women discussed the current plot line between J.R. and Sue Ellen.

I ask Gerry, wasn’t she scared? She says that they hadn’t thought about the consequences, at least she hadn’t really. They had left all of their belongings, their apartment and their families, but the certainty that life would be better on the other side was what drove them.

Source: ARTE Documentary "Zug in die Freiheit"
24 hours passed. Evening again. Throughout the day Czech citizens had gone through the crowds and handed out apples and water. Mothers had found fleeing daughters and had said tearful goodbyes through the embassy gates. Gerry and her friend had stood in line for the toilets. They were so tired, uncomfortable and hungry, but they were not going back.

All at once something started to happen. Fear, who had been slithering in and out of the crowds, finally wrapped itself around Gerry. The crowd was being moved. Like herding cattle, guards with long batons started yelling unrecognizable orders and hitting the air or maybe flesh if you weren’t fast enough. The rolling mass of mostly young people was pushed down through funnel-shaped gates, squeezing the group into a line. Along the streets and barricades, people staying behind waved and cheered. They knew what was happening more than Gerry did. She just went with the flow, staying as close to Knut as possible, and having no other choice at this point but to move forward. The belief that good was happening was all she had, and she held on to it as tight as her bag.

Gerry captured on the evening news just before entering the bus.
The people were loaded into a steady stream of buses that took them all to the Prague main station. Estimates are that over 5000 people boarded the freedom trains that West Germany organized that night, and who Honecker allowed passage through the East. Gerry and her friends had no idea where they were going.

This blind faith amazed me as I listened to Gerry talking, and even more now as I write this story down. Considering that 70 years before, people were loaded on to trains and never seen or heard from again. I find this courage incredible. I’m pretty sure I would have been petrified.

News that the trains have to first travel through East Germany before crossing into the West greet the masses like a sledgehammer smashing a piñata. Some people refuse to board. Mistrust is flying around like shit hitting a fan. Embassy attendants, who are escorting the group, struggle to assure everyone that the trains have been given permission to travel through East Germany. Gerry and Knut get on the second train.

The fear slowly turns to excitement as the group finds some empty seats. People are hanging out of the windows, shouting jubilantly and throwing out their last East German Ostmarks on to the platform; along with car keys and anything else they won’t be needing in the West. Nobody thinks they will ever be returning to the East.

The trains start rolling. It is tar-black outside and inside the train it’s freezing cold. Sleep stays away from most, except for the kids. Roger sleeps. The attendants walk through the train cars giving the instruction that at some point members of the Stasi (State Security) will board the trains and demand the return of East German ID cars. Do not draw attention. Do not be rude. Do not cause any problems. A tense quiet fills the train as it rolls through dark empty stations in the middle of the night.

Unbeknownst to Gerry and her group, the first train encounters major problems as it rolls through the Dresdener train station. News that these trains to freedom are coming through create a wave of young people hoping to jump on, literally. Chaos and danger ensue as young people do everything possible to get to the train platform…and on to a train.

So, Gerry and Knut’s train becomes the first train in the parade of freedom trains. In the darkness, nothing is recognizable. They don’t know where they are or when they will finally enter their Schlaraffenland (paradise). Along the way, people stand in fields or in lit windows and watch the trains pass. A father, holding an umbrella stands beside his car, waiting for the train that holds his daughter. He knows only that she’s on one of them. The daughter sees him as she realizes the train is nearing her village. She thinks it’s the last time she’ll ever see him.

Source: ARTE Documentary "Zug in die Freiheit"
A waitress comes and places a piece of cheesecake on the table between us as Gerry continues her story, and I frantically try and write everything down. At times tears fill my eyes and I cannot write clearly.
The train finally stops at what looks like a ghost town and the Stasi officers come walking through the cars. It is quiet as if everyone is holding their breath. In Gerry’s car nothing eventful happens, and after what feels like hours, the train begins to move. They can breathe again.

It is 5am and still dark, but for the faintest hope of light. The train has been rolling again for hours; weariness has won out over the cold. And then the train begins to slow down. It stops. There is nothing outside, no lights. Gerry and her friends press their faces against the window trying to make out where they are. Have they crossed the border? Slowly they begin to notice people coming closer to the train. Lots and lots of people are outside and they start to wave and shout, ‘Wilkommen! Wilkommen!’

Gerry and her friends throw open the window, the chilled air greeting their exultant faces like being hit with teddy bears. They wave and yell ‘Hallo! Hallo! Tears stream down a face or two. Baskets filled with bread, fruit and water are lifted high up to the windows. ‘Empty the basket and hand it back down so we can fill it again for the next train,’ comes the order. They do as they’re told and relief holds them like a warm blanket. They have made it.

Soon after, the train rolled into Hof, their first official West German stop. Tired and unsure, Gerry and her group exited the train and again were greeted with hundreds of people cheering and waving. They were hugged and kissed – who says Germans don’t show emotion? Tables had been set up on the platform and filled with food and drink, cakes and coffee for the weary East Germans. People filled Roger’s hands with candy and a woman stuffed 20 Deutschmarks in Gerry’s hand, squeezing it tightly.

Gerry’s trip was far from over at this point, and the uncertainty about her future was only beginning. But they were free! And strangers were willing to help them stand on their own two feet. Four days went by, spent sleeping in large gymnasiums, with donations of food and clothing given to them by West German volunteers, before they landed in what would become their permanent home. They had been asked where they wanted to live – rural, urban, which province. They chose Bingen. Forty people made the trip to Bingen along with Gerry and Knut. “It smelled like soap, laundry powder and candy,” she told me. This is what the West smells like.

A few weeks later the wall fell and the border opened. On New Year’s Eve, Gerry and Knut were able to return to Weimar to visit their family…and their trusted Trabi. But only for a visit.

Note: Over the years Gerry has volunteered to be a part of short-term medical teams travelling to developing countries. The teams perform hundreds of surgeries in a matter of a couple of weeks, in the barest of conditions, providing life-altering care to people who wouldn’t otherwise receive it. The freedom to do this is something she wouldn’t have had 25 years ago.

Second note: My apologies to Gerry and Knut (and anyone else) if my memory or my handwriting have provided any inaccurate or false information.

Sources:

My friend.
“Zug in die Freiheit” ARTE Documentary. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_8cf4QSYwk

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