Archive for the ‘Tête-à-Tête’ Category

Bremer Loch – It crows, meows, barks and brays

Monday, September 25th, 2017

The Bremer Loch (Hole of Bremen) is a cleverly disguised underground collection box. It was installed directly in front of the State Parliament (Buergerschaft) among the cobblestones of the market square in Germany’s northern city of Bremen. Since 2007, tourists happily drop coins or paper money into a slot of what looks like a bronze manhole cover. They are rewarded for their donation with a musical thank you from one of the Bremen town musicians (Bremer Stadtmusikanten). Hearing the singing musicians express their gratitude from the depth of the Bremer Loch makes donating all the more fun. Often, visitors drop one coin after another into the slot just to hear all four animal voices.

 

The Bremer Loch (Hole of Bremen), a subterranean collection box. The Bremer Stadtmusikanten (Bremer town musicians) provide the musical thank you. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

The Bremer Loch (Hole of Bremen), a subterranean collection box. The Bremer Stadtmusikanten (Bremer town musicians) provide the musical thank you. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

How the Bremer Loch works

Underneath a manhole-looking cover, the Bremer Loch is a 36 inches deep and 20 inches in diameter steel container. When a visitor pushes coins into the slot of the box, the money passes a photocell. A light barrier triggers the animal voice of one of the Bremen town musicians http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/bremer-stadtmusikanten-story/. Moments later, the donor hears the cock-a-doodle-doo of a rooster, the meow of a cat, the ruff-ruff or a dog or the hee-haw of a donkey come out of the Bremer Loch. With each small donation, a different voice from the famous quartet of the Bremen City Musicians answers. The animal voices have been pre-recorded on a chip by Radio Bremen.

The Man behind the Bremer Loch Idea

Professor and designer, Fitz Haase, came up with the Bremer Loch idea to assist the city’s charitable organization. Indeed, since 2007, between 12,000 and 17,000 euros are dropped into the slot every year. A manhole that crows, meows, barks and brays is a novel and fun way to get tourists to participate in helping to donate to local charitable projects. In early 2017, the total amount collected since the inception of the Bremer Loch was around 150,000 euros. The collections are managed and distributed by the Wilhelm-Kaisen-Buergerhilfe, a charitable foundation. To learn more about which organizations and projects have been supported by the foundation, go to http://www.bremer-helfen-bremern.de.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

Mobile Grill Bauchladen – Unique to Berlin

Monday, September 18th, 2017

What on earth is a Bauchladen you might ask? Roughly translated, it is a “belly shop” and simply put, a Bauchladen is a wooden or cardboard tray that a mobile vendor fastens to the front of his torso. Once secured, the gizmo becomes his “shop” from which he hawks his goods. The tray is equipped with a sturdy strap that fits around the neck so that the tray ends up right in front of the belly and becomes a sales counter. During and shortly after World War II, it was popular to sell cigarettes by way of the Bauchladen. In the United States today, you might see these contraptions being used at sporting and promotional events where snacks are sold.

Although Berlin is best known for its historic buildings, museums, theaters, operas, exhibitions, shopping and nightlife, there is also an idiosyncratic side to the city: The use of the Bauchladen. In several prominent tourist spots near Berlin’s historic center, you might catch a glimpse of vendors with such a contraption strapped to their torsos. Carrying a Bauchladen makes street vendors quite mobile so that they can get closer to the people who might be interested in what they have to offer. Although a Bauchladen enables street traders to hawk their wares without being tied to a fixed location, they still need a city license.

Berlin’s unique type of Bauchladen

Although the Bauchladen is in use in many German cities, the mobile grill Bauchladen appears to be unique to Berlin. Sausage with mustard and a bun are still a favorite fast food in Germany. The mobile grill takes the place of the fixed Wuerstchenbude (sausage stand).  Vendors with a mobile grill Bauchladen strapped to their torso are generally referred to as grill-walkers. In addition to the food items for sale, grill walkers have to carry the grill and a gas tank. The tank is usually strapped to the vendor’s back. Added paraphernalia usually include an umbrella for protection from sun and/or rain. I am told that a mobile grill weighs close to 40 pounds, not including the food for sale. I imagine that grill walkers have sore shoulders and backs by the end of the day.

 

Grill-walker with Bauchladen near the reconstruction of the Berliner Stadtschloss (Berlin City Palace), Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Grill-walker with Bauchladen near the reconstruction of the Berliner Stadtschloss (Berlin City Palace), Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

Paternoster Ride on your Bucket List?

Monday, September 11th, 2017

 

You have been on elevators, right? But have you ever taken a paternoster from one floor to another? If not, put it on your bucket list. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience. Paternosters are rare these days, but not extinct. I used to ride a paternoster regularly to get to the cafeteria level in one of the Tempelhof Airport buildings in Berlin in the 1960’s. Since the repurposing of the airport, however, I doubt that the paternoster still exists.

What is a paternoster and how does it work?

A paternoster lacks most of the features we associate with elevators. It doesn’t stop to take on or drop off passengers. There are no doors. There are no buttons to push to select a floor. The ride is slow (generally one foot per second) to allow passengers to enter and exit.

So how does a paternoster transport people? A paternoster is a continuously moving type of elevator, which consists of a chain of open compartments that slowly move in a loop inside a building. The compartments wrap around like a chain. There are two side-by-side openings on each level. Potential passengers wait for the next compartment to arrive and step into or out of either the “up” or “down” side on any given floor. These endlessly looping lifts are slower than conventional elevators, but the movement never stops so that they are quite efficient. It takes some getting used to, but it is lots of fun to ride a paternoster.

Schematic representation of the functional principle of a paternoster (from wikipedia). www.walled-in-berlin.com

Schematic representation of the functional principle of a paternoster (from wikipedia). www.walled-in-berlin.com

History of the paternoster

The paternoster was invented in England. British architect, Peter Ellis, installed the first elevators that could be described as paternoster lifts in Liverpool in 1868, making him the father of the paternoster. The first true paternoster was installed in 1876 at the General Post Office in London. It was used to transport packages, not people. Then in 1882, British engineer, Peter Hart, developed a paternoster for people.

Paternosters were quite popular in the 20th century and were mostly located in government buildings and universities because passengers in these places are usually able-bodied adults. Getting on and off requires some concentration to avoid tripping or falling and associated injuries. Therefore, paternoster use is not recommended for the elderly, the disabled, wheelchair users or for children. There are also prohibitions against transporting loads with the paternoster. Today, most countries have banned the construction of new paternosters. However, public support for existing ones has helped keep the last few hundred of them operational.

Where does the paternoster get is name?

Initially they were called cyclic elevators. The name “paternoster” became popular because the arrangement of the compartments resembles a rosary. Paternoster compartments make a loop on a chain similar to rosary beads that are rotated by Catholics reciting prayers. Pater Noster literally means Our Father, which are the first words of the Lord’s Prayer in Latin.

Where can paternosters be found?

During the 20th century, paternosters became popular in Europe while never really catching on in the rest of the world. In recent decades, many paternosters have been dismantled. But a few hundred still exist, most of them in Germany. According to some estimates, Germany still has about 231 operational paternosters. Others can be found in Great Britain, Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. There may be only two paternosters left outside of Europe.

The oldest, operational paternoster is located in the House of Industry – a concert hall – in Vienna, Austria. The lift was built in 1910. No new paternosters have been allowed in Austria since the 1960s. The last publicly accessible paternoster can be found in the fashion shop Bayard in Bern, Switzerland. The Parliament building of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein in Kiel has had an operational paternoster since 1950. And the Bundesfinanzministerium (German Finance Ministry, former House of Ministries, now Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus) in Berlin http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/detlev-rohwedder-building-history/ still has a 1982 paternoster. Although no new paternosters have been put into operation in West Germany since 1974, no such restrictions applied to East Germany. Since the Bundesfinanzministerium is located in a building that belonged to the former East Germany, its paternoster could be saved. However, it serves employees only. For safety reasons, they are were required to obtain a “paternoster drivers license” prior to using it.

Paternoster in the German Finance Ministry (Detlev Rohwedder Building) in Berlin, Wilhelmstr. 97. Photo by Andreas Praefcke, 2007. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Paternoster in the German Finance Ministry (Detlev Rohwedder Building) in Berlin, Wilhelmstr. 97. Photo by Andreas Praefcke, 2007. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

 

Detlev Rohwedder Building History

Monday, September 4th, 2017

 

These days, the Detlev Rohwedder Building (Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus) in Berlin is the seat of the Bundesfinanzministerium (German Finance Ministry). However, the building wore many hats over the years and played a significant role in German history. The enormous office complex is located in the Wilhelmstrasse in central Berlin. If bricks and stones could talk, these walls would have interesting stories to tell.

 

Bundesfinanzministerium (Federal Finance Ministry) in Berlin. The building is named the Detlev Rohwedder Building. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2005. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Bundesfinanzministerium (Federal Finance Ministry) in Berlin. The building is named the Detlev Rohwedder Building. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2005. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Along the Leipziger Strasse, the exterior of the building is embellished with a famous wall mural, designed by Max Lingner. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/story-behind-max-lingner-wall-mural/ The mural was created during the post-WWII years when Berlin was divided and the building was located in the eastern section of Berlin. The wall mural is entitled “Building the Republic” and depicts East German excitement over the new social and political order.

How large is the Detlev Rohwedder Building?

The Detlev Rohwedder complex consists of five to seven storied buildings. At the time of its construction (1935 to 1936) it was the largest office complex in Europe. German architect, Ernst Sagebiel, designed the neoclassicist project. Sagebiel also reconstructed Tempelhof Airport on a similarly gigantic scale.  The Detlev Rohwedder building has as reinforced concrete skeleton and an exterior facing of limestone and travertine. The stone came from no fewer than 50 quarries. Even today, The Detlev Rohwedder Building remains one the largest office complexes in Berlin. It houses more than 2,100 offices, contains 4.25 miles of corridors, 17 staircases, four elevators and three paternoster lifts. The complex has two wings, an Ehrensaal (Hall of Honor) facing Wilhelmstrasse, two large inner courtyards and a facility management yard. The gross floor area totals more than 1,205,000 square feet with almost 603,000 square feet of useable space.

Detlev Rohwedder Building During the Nazi Era

The Delev Rohwedder Building initially served as the headquarters of the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Reich Aviation Ministry). Four thousand bureaucrats and their secretaries were employed within its walls. The building played a central role in the war effort during World War II.

Detlev Rohwedder Building During the East German Era

Miraculously, the building came through World War II with only minor damage. The exception was the Ehrenhalle (Hall of Honor). It underwent major expansion and remodeling to become a Stalinist-style Festsaal (Festival Hall). Until 1948, the building served as the headquarters for the Soviet military administration. From 1947 to 1949, the Deutsche Wirtschaftskommission (German Economic Commission) was located here. During that time, the building became known as the DWK-Building.

On 7 October 1949 the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was founded in the building’s Festival Hall. Later, the complex served the Council of Ministers of East Germany and became known as Haus der Ministerien (House of Ministries). It was in this building that East German head of state, Walter Ulbricht, http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke/ertle/image-challenged-walter-ulbricht/ insisted in June of 1961 that “no one has any intention of building a wall.” The statement was made only two months before construction of the Berlin Wall began. As a seat of governmental power, the House of Ministries was also at the center of the East German people’s uprising of 17 June 1953. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/east-german-uprising-of-17-june-1953/

Detlev Rohwedder Building since German Reunification

Following German Reunification on 3 October 1990, the building was used by the Berlin branches of the Bundesfinanzministerium (German Finance Ministry) and by the Federal Court of Auditors. The Treuhandanstalt, an agency charged with privatizing the East German economy, occupied other parts of the building  http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/Germanys-unite-through-Treuhandanstalt/

The building was renamed the Detlev Rohwedder Building in honor of Detlev Karsten Rohwedder, head of the Treuhandanstalt, following his assassination in 1991. In the course of the relocation of the German Government from Bonn to Berlin, the German Finance Ministry transferred its head office to Berlin. During subsequent reconstruction and renovation works the structure of the offices, stone facade and the mural by Max Lingner were preserved. Conference, press and visitor centers were redesigned and equipped with state-of-the-art conference technology.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com  Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

 

 

Story behind Max Lingner wall mural

Monday, August 28th, 2017

 

In 1950, Max Lingner (1888 to 1959), German painter and graphic artist, won a competition to create a 60-foot mural. Made out of Meissen porcelain tiles, the mural embellishes the exterior of a massive office complex on Wilhelmstrasse in central Berlin. When Lingner created the mural, the complex was known as the Haus der Ministerien (House of Ministries). During World War II, it was called the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Reich Aviation Ministry. Since 1991, it is referred to as the Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus (Detlev Rohwedder Building). http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/detlev-rohwedder-building-history/

 

Bundesfinanzministerium (Federal Finance Ministry) in Berlin. The building is named "Detlev Rohwedder Building". Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2002. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Bundesfinanzministerium (Federal Finance Ministry) in Berlin. The building is named “Detlev Rohwedder Building”. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2002. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

Why such a large mural was commissioned

The East German state was created  in 1949. At the time of the design competition, Germany was divided and the House of Ministries was located in the Soviet Occupation Zone. It had miraculously survived World War II and needed to be repurposed. First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, Walter Ulbricht, http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/image-challenged-walter-ulbricht/ and East German Prime Minister, Otto Grotewohl, tried to reinterpret the building’s Nazi architecture in accordance with the new socialist ideals of East Germany. They commissioned Max Lingner to create a large mural depicting contented citizens looking toward a bright future under communism.

Max Lingner tries to meet the challenge

Lingner’s original design was entitled, “Die Bedeutung des Friedens fuer die kulturelle Entwicklung der Menschheit und die Notwendigkeit des kaempferischen Einsatzes fuer ihn.” (The Importance of Peace for the Cultural Development of Humanity and the Need to Fight for it). https://www.museum-der-1000-orte.de/kunstwerke/kunstwerk/aufbau-der-republik He chose to portray several self-reliant, poised family groups filled with zest for a new and better life. But Otto Grotewohl had different ideas. He sought a mural with political undertones. He changed the name of the mural to Aufbau der Republik (Building the Republic). Lingner was asked to revise his design no fewer than five times to achieve these new objectives. In fact, Grotewohl, a hobby-painter, changed Lingner’s drafts several times himself.

As far as East Germany’s leadership was concerned, Max Lingner, who had lived and worked in Paris for many years, had adopted a style of drawing that was considered too frivolous and playful. His style was criticized as being “too French.” The final product bore little resemblance to Max Lingner’s original design. In fact, neither Lingner nor Grotewohl were ever really satisfied with the final “Aufbau der Republik” mural.

Elements of the Max Lingner Mural

In the “Aufbau der Republik” mural, everyone looks strong, healthy and happy to work toward a common cause. Young members of the FDJ (a youth movement in the former East Germany), musicians and young pioneers sing and dance in the streets. Officials in business attire, working class tradesmen, a farmer, an engineer and an intellectual work closely together in the new classless society.

 

Max Lingner's famous wall mural embellishing the Detlev Rohwedder Building in Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2002. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Max Lingner’s famous wall mural embellishing the Detlev Rohwedder Building in Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2002. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

It is all the more ironic, then, that only one year after installation of the Max Lingner mural, the House of Ministries became the focal point of the 1953 East German Uprising http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/east-german-uprising-of-17-june-1953/ when construction workers from a Stalinallee project (renamed Karl-Marx-Allee) http://walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/karl-marx-allee-post-wwii-flagship-project/ marched to the House of the Ministries to protest a 10% increase in performance quotas. When the peaceful march turned into a rebellion, Soviet tanks crushed it.

In 2000, Wolfgang Rueppel’s magnified photo of the 1953 protesters was laminated under glass and sunk into the floor in front of the Detlev Rohwedder Building, not far from the mural. Rather than happy, contented faces, the photograph shows angry and disappointed ones. Next to each other, mural and photo clearly reflect the conflict between socialist wishful thinking and social reality.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

“Alte Liebe” denotes more than affection

Monday, August 21st, 2017

 

Alte Liebe isn’t just a feeling of deep affection, passion or strong liking for a person. In Cuxhaven, Germany, the “Alte Liebe” is also a well-known two-story wooden pier and breakwater at the bank of the Elbe River. It was originally constructed in 1733 as a bulwark against the loss of coastal land into the Elbe and to secure the harbor. Over the years, the Alte Liebe has been renewed and improved several times. While the jetty rested on wooden poles in the olden days, concrete posts  have replaced them in modern times. Today, the Alte Liebe still serves as a dock for small ships and ferries that transport passengers to the islands of Neuwerk http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/neuwerk-worth-a-staycation/ and Helgoland and to the nearby seal banks in the Elbe estuary. In addition, the pier is a popular viewing platform where visitors observe the giant container ships navigate down the Elbe River.

 

Alte Liebe (Old Love) in Cuxhaven, Germany. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Alte Liebe (Old Love) in Cuxhaven, Germany. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

Four Legends surrounding the Alte Liebe

There are at least four folktales surrounding the Alte Liebe. http://www.cuxhaven-seiten.de/alte_liebe/alte_liebe.htm According to German author, Gorch Fock, an old sailing ship by the name of Olivia used to serve as a dock prior to the construction of the Alte Liebe. The pier’s name changed over time from “Olivia” to “‘Olive” to “o Leev” and finally to the high German “Alte Liebe.”

According to another story, the French sailing ship Olive ran aground on this spot in the 18th century. Its hull first served as an anchor bridge, but when it broke apart, a rampart was formed from the wreckage. Common parlance turned the ship’s name Olive into Alte Liebe.

Another legend has it that three old ships sank in this spot in 1733. One of the ships was called Die Liebe (The Love). To create a protective bulwark from the wreckage, wooden posts were used to surround the three ships, and the spaces were filled with rocks. According to this story the three ships became the foundation of the Alte Liebe.

The last explanation is the most romantic one. It is based on the ill-fated love between a Cuxhaven sailor and his sweetheart. According to the saga, Lorenz and Else were in love since their youth. Their parents did not allow them to marry for many years. After 15 long years of waiting for permission to marry, both mothers finally agreed to the marriage. A few months later, Lorenz had to go back to sea for six months. On the day of his expected return, Else went to the beach to watch for his ship. Finally, Lorenz appeared at the bow and waved. Suddenly, a strong gust washed him overboard. Out of despair, Else threw herself into the sea. In her memory, the pier is called “Old Love.”

 

Alte Liebe (Old Love) viewing platform. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Alte Liebe (Old Love) viewing platform. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

 

Berlin’s House of the Wannsee Conference

Monday, August 14th, 2017

The stately House of the Wannsee Conference – Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz – overlooks the Havel River in the quiet suburb of Berlin-Wannsee. However, the palatial country estate has a sinister past. In January of 1942, an infamous meeting was held in its dining room with fifteen high-ranking representatives of Nazi ministries and the SS (Schutzstaffel – Protection Squadron) in attendance. They discussed details of the planned “final solution to the Jewish question.

 

House of the Wannsee Conference, since 1992 a memorial and educational site. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

House of the Wannsee Conference, since 1992 a memorial and educational site. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Final solution to the Jewish question

The Final Solution to the Jewish Question (Endloesung der Judenfrage) was a Nazi plan to systematically exterminate the Jews during World War II. At the time of the Wannsee Conference, the decision to exterminate the Jews in German-occupied Europe had already been made. The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss collaboration between agencies. A secondary goal was to arrive at definitions of who was Jewish, who was of mixed race, and who should be spared. At the Wannsee Conference it was decided that persons of mixed race of the first degree (with two Jewish grandparents) would be treated as Jews. This would not apply if they were married to a non-Jew and had children by that marriage. Such persons would be sterilized. Persons of mixed race of the second degree (with one Jewish grandparent) would be treated as Germans unless they were married to Jews.

History of the House of the Wannsee Conference

Originally referred to as Villa Minoux or Villa Wannsee, the estate is now known as “House of the Wannsee Conference.” The spacious mansion was built in 1914 by German factory owner Ernst Marlier. Six years later, Marlier sold the house to Friedrich Minoux, a German industrialist and financier. When Minoux was convicted of fraud and went to jail in 1941, he sold the estate at market price to a foundation that was controlled by the SS. https://www.visitberlin.de/en/house-wannsee-conference The SS used the villa as a conference center and guesthouse and held the Wannsee Conference in its walls in 1942.  In 1943, the Third Reich Security Main Office purchased the residence. Following WWII, the villa served various functions until 1992, when it was turned into a memorial and educational site on occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference. https://www.scrapbookpages.com/EasternGermany/Wannsee/History.html

Free Exhibit at the House of the Wannsee Conference

In 2006, a permanent exhibit opened on the ground floor of the villa, entitled, “The Wannsee Conference and the genocide of the European Jews.” It is free to the public. Although the Wannsee Conference is the central focus of the exhibition, there are many documents on display about the history of Jewish persecution, anti-Semitism and racism in the 1920s, Third Reich propaganda posters and leaflets and photos and books about Jewish ghettos. The exhibition was one of the best I have visited in a long time. The estate is small enough to allow for full absorption of the information provided. Given current events around the world, the visitor cannot help but wonder what humankind has or has not learned during the past 75 years.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

Neuwerk Worth a Staycation

Monday, August 7th, 2017

 

Neuwerk is a small, inhabited island in the North Sea, about 9 miles northwest of Cuxhaven and 75 miles northwest of Hamburg. It is only about 1.5 square miles in size. As of spring 2017, 33 residents plus 2 children and their teacher make their permanent home there. However, over the course of the summer more than 120,000 guests visit Neuwerk and up to 2,000 may do so on a given day. Still, peace and tranquility abound.

Politically, the island belongs to the city-state of Hamburg. In 1990, it became part of the Nationalpark Hamburgisches Wattenmeer, (Hamburg Wadden Sea National Park), and in 2011 the entire area was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Neuwerk is a captivating spot for nature lovers as well as those who relish off-the-beaten-path experiences.

How to get to Neuwerk

There are a number of ways to reach the island. A fun way is to cross the wetlands on foot (called wattwandern in German) or on horseback. In either case, the tide must be low. Departure points are Cuxhaven-Duhnen and Cuxhaven-Sahlenburg. A marked path guides the hiker through the Wadden Sea http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/allure-of-the-wadden-sea/ on this 3 to 3.5-hour trek one-way. Wetland hiking is best during the summer months because during other times of the year, icy winds and water can turn such outings into Kneipp expeditions, and those are best left to the extremely hardy. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/kneipp-cold-water-cure/.

 

Wattwandern (wetland hiking) along a marked route from Neuwerk to Cuxhaven-Duhnen. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Wattwandern (wetland hiking) along a marked route from Neuwerk to Cuxhaven-Duhnen. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

An alternative to wetland hiking is a Wattwagenfahrt (horse-drawn carriage ride). Also only available during low tide, the rides use same marked route through the Wadden Sea. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/wattwagenfahrt-endless-discovery/ A Wattwagenfahrt takes 1 to 1.25 hours each way and is probably the most scenic way of reaching the island.

The least cumbersome way to visit Neuwerk is by ferry. Between April and October, the MS Flipper transports passengers almost daily to and from the island. Unlike crossing the wetlands on foot, horseback or Wattwagen, a ferry ride requires high tide. Check the tidetable. Ferry boat excursions take 1.5 to 2 hours each way.

To allow for sufficient time to explore the island, visitors often decide to walk one way and return by ferry or Wattwagen.

Neuwerk is an important habitat for birds

Neuwerk and the surrounding wetlands are an important habitat for breeding and resting birds. For millions of migratory birds, the Wadden Sea provides the sustenance for the flight north in spring and for the flight south in fall. The island is an ideal nursery for many bird species. Starting in May, various species breed in the vegetated interior of the island and in the salt marches surrounding it. The nearby, uninhabited islands of Scharhoern and Nigehoern, are bird sanctuaries. While Scharhoern can be visited as part of a tour or by prior arrangement with the warden, Nigehoern is off limits to visitors.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

Wattwagenfahrt – endless discovery

Monday, July 31st, 2017

 

A Wattwagenfahrt (horse-drawn carriage ride in the Wadden Sea) is an eerily romantic and definitely unforgettable experience! Along the 280-mile stretch of German coastline, the seawater recedes for an incredible nine miles during ebb tide and exposes vast tidal flats in the process. We wanted to see this rare vestige of unspoiled nature and signed up for a Wattwagenfahrt. We started in Cuxhaven-Duhnen and headed for the tiny island of Neuwerk, about 7.5 miles into the North Sea.

What a Wattwagen looks like

A Wattwagen is a horse-drawn carriage that has been outfitted with leaf springs so that the body of the coach perches high above the vehicle’s wheels. The reason for the raised suspension is that the expedition will take us through tidal gullies, called Priele. Contrary to popular belief, the Wadden Sea Read: Allure of the Wadden Sea does not recede and refill evenly during low and high tides. A vein-like network of gullies cuts through the surface of the wetland. These tidal creeks can be just a few inches deep at low tide and grow into rivers as the tide returns, which can happen within minutes. Negotiating the gullies, the horses frequently end up in the water up to their bellies. That means the floor of the coach also gets wet. To minimize this problem, the leaf springs raise the coach and hopefully keep it from becoming immersed in water.

A Wattwagen with leaf springs to elevate the coach floor. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

A Wattwagen with leaf springs to elevate the coach floor. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Our fascinating Wattwagenfahrt

We signed up with the Wattwagenfahrt operator, the “Wattenpost,” operated by Jan Bruett. This family business has been in continuous operation since 1880 when the German Emperor Wilhelm I charged Christian Bruett with the task of delivering the mail to the island of Neuwerk. To this day, the Bruett family continues to deliver the mail on a weekly basis. You might say we felt in good hands.

Each Wattwagen has the capacity of loading nine people (8 passengers and the coachman). Our coachman was actually a woman, Claudia, who possessed a keen sense of humor. The expedition began with ladders being readied for the boarding process since the seating area is so high off the ground. After everyone was seated and wrapped in warm blankets, our convoy of about 10 Wattwagen slowly crossed the dike, the dunes and the beach and then entered the mudflats of the Wadden Sea. Tufts of birch tree twigs stuck in the ocean floor marked the route. The tide was low and the sun was shining. The horses broke into a trot. Soon, we were joined by another expedition coming from nearby Cuxhaven-Sahlenburg. Together we made the 1.5-hour trek to Neuwerk.  Read: Neuwerk Worth a Staycation Although it was early May, the temperatures were outright frosty. A robust wind blew from the east, and some of the gusts managed to penetrate our carefully layered clothing. We looked and felt a bit like early pioneers making our way to the New World.

Wattwagenfahrt from Duhnen to Neuwerk. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Wattwagenfahrt from Duhnen to Neuwerk. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

The island of Neuwerk beckoned in the distance. Before us lay the great expanse of wetland, serrated here and there by small and large priels. Sea birds above the ground, small sea life below the ground. Every once in a while we passed a safety cage propped on a giant pole. These cages serve as safe havens for people who misjudged the speed of the incoming tide while crossing the mud flats on foot. Looking to our right, the superstructures of giant container ships slowly moved down the nearby Elbe River towards Hamburg. In this fast-paced life, a Wattwagenfahrt is a truly peaceful and bewitching experience. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat and recommend it to anyone for their bucket list.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

 

Allure of the Wadden Sea

Monday, July 24th, 2017

 

Whether you call it Wadden Sea in English, Wattenmeer in German, Waddenzee in Dutch or Vadehavet in Danish, what takes place twice each day within this 310-mile stretch along the coastline of the North Sea is nothing short of spectacular. I am referring to the coastal intertidal belt that encompasses an area of almost 4,000 square miles. Twice each day, the North Sea rises to its highest level (high tide), covering the intertidal zone; and twice each day, the sea level falls to its lowest level (low tide), revealing the intertidal zone. Each day, land appears and then disappears again.

The Wadden Sea near Cuxhaven at low tide. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014. www.walled-in-berlin.com

The Wadden Sea near Cuxhaven at low tide. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Where are the Wadden Sea National Parks?

The Wadden Sea National Parks are located along the German Bight of the North Sea and include the wetlands of the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. In 1986, UNESCO declared the Wadden Sea a biosphere reserve. The area stretches from Den Helder in the Netherlands, past the Elbe and Weser river estuaries of Germany, to Skallingen in Denmark. Divided from each other by only administrative borders, the parks form a single ecological entity. The landscape of the Wadden Sea was formed by storm tides in the 10th to the 14th centuries, which carried away the land behind the coastal dunes. The small remaining islands within the Wadden Sea are remnants of former coastal dunes. Winds, waves and the tides continually reshape the landscape with constant pressure from every angle.

Flora and fauna of the Wadden Sea

The Wadden Sea is the largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and tidal flats on our planet. Geologically, it is an extremely young area. Its unique landscape hosts habitats found nowhere else in the world. Up to 6.1 million birds have been present at the same time, and an average of 10-12 million pass through the area each year. The salt marches host 2,300 species of flora and fauna. The marine and brackish areas hosts an additional 2,700 species as well as 30 species of breeding birds http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1314. The wetlands are home to creatures of all sizes ranging from the smallest, like worms and crabs of all sorts, to seals and dolphins that have re-colonized the area in large numbers. Hundreds of thousands of gulls, terns, ducks and geese use the Wadden Sea as a stopover, a wintering or a breeding site.

A typical inhabitant of the Wadden Sea is the Wattwurm (lugworm), which lives in a U-shaped tube beneath the surface. Their casts produce unique patterns in the sand. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014. www.walled-in-berlin.com

A typical inhabitant of the Wadden Sea is the Wattwurm (lugworm), which lives in a U-shaped tube beneath the surface. Their casts produce unique patterns in the sand. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

From the shore, the Wadden Sea looks flat and almost uninteresting, but once you get away from the shore, you’ll find yourself in another world. It feels a bit like having left planet earth and travelling in a parallel universe. Much of the wetlands can be explored on foot or by horse-drawn carriage. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/wattwagenfahrt-endless-discovery/

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com