Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

Strandbad Wannsee – still popular

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

Strandbad Wannsee has been a popular public swimming area in Berlin, Germany, for the past 100 years. It is located on the eastern shore of the River Havel, where the river forms a large bay, the Grosser Wannsee. Its broad, shallow beach is almost one mile long and is replenished annually with sand from the Baltic. Four historic two-story, clinkered buildings are arranged in a row parallel to the beach.

Strandbad Wannsee is one of the largest such inland lidos in Europe. It is run by the City of Berlin, and on a hot summer day, up to 30,000 visitors take advantage of this public beach. There is something for everyone: Strandkorb and deckchair rentals are available, a separate nude-bathing section is offered, and a water slide, a playground for children and a park and promenade for the entire family are on hand.


Strandbad Wannsee as seen from the River Havel. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017,

Strandbad Wannsee as seen from the River Havel. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017,

History of Strandbad Wannsee

Following Germany’s first unification in 1871, the City of Berlin experienced an unprecedented population growth. Existing housing could not absorb the sudden influx, so that inhabitants ended up packed into tiny flats like sardines, without much light or fresh air. As a result, residents sought escape in the great outdoors. But their yearning for sun and fresh air caused a new problem because the moral standards of the time demanded that men and women not bath within sight of each other.

In 1909, a public beach and swimming area – which eventually became the Strandbad Wannsee – was constructed at the River Havel. It was built with distinctly separate sections for men, women and families. The sections were separated by wooden fences, each containing tents that served as changing facilities. Changing stations were surrounded by yet another fence to discourage looky-loos.

After World War I, the City of Berlin took over Strandbad Wannsee. In 1924, the tents were replaced by thatched pavilions, and the sanitary facilities were improved. By then, the S-Bahn, Berlin’s elevated train system, had opened and made the area more accessible. During World War II, Strandbad Wannsee provided a welcome escape from the devastation in the city.

Pack your swimsuit … and off to Strandbad Wannsee

In 1951, eight-year-old Conny Froboess turned Strandbad Wannsee into a household word with her song Pack die Badehose ein … und nichts wie raus nach Wannsee (Pack your swimsuit … and off the Strandbad Wannsee). Conny was only two years older than I, and I envied her for being able to ride her bike, unsupervised, to the Wannsee lido. I only dreamt of such autonomy. The song, written by her father, became one of the great hits of that time.  To hear Conny Froboess, click


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 Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

Eiergrog – Magic Bullet for Frosty Days

Monday, December 18th, 2017

In the early days, there was no Eiergrog (egg grog). There was only grog, a mixture of hot rum and water. Over the years, the simple hot brew underwent many refinements and eventually became a popular drink among the Frisians, a Germanic ethnic group that is indigenous to the coastal islands on the edge of the North Sea. The people of the island of Helgoland went the extra mile and transformed the once simple grog into their potent signature drink, the Eiergrog, made from (you guessed it) egg yolk, rum, water and sugar.

A mug of steaming Eiergrog - hmmmm so good! Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

A mug of steaming Eiergrog – hmmmm so good! Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

History of Eiergrog

To prevent scurvy among the members of his seafaring crew, the 18th-century British admiral Edward Vernon provided his men with daily pints of dark rum. The only consequence was that they got drunk regularly. Hence Vernon – nicknamed Old Grog for the silk and wool cloaks he wore – issued Captain’s Order Number 349: From now on, all rum must be mixed with water, a little brown sugar and lime. None too pleased with the watered-down brew, the sailors named the drink after the admiral.

My Eiergrog Experience

On a recent trip to the Wadden Sea, which is the 4,000 square mile coastal intertidal belt that stretches along the coast line of the North Sea, I was introduced to Eiergrog. On a horse-drawn carriage ride to the tiny island of Neuwerk, we nearly froze off our noses. Icy winds penetrated our jackets, hats and gloves. By the time we reached Neuwerk we craved something – anything – hot. That’s when someone mentioned Eiergrog. I have to say that, when you are freezing cold, Eiergrog does the job. Sip by sip it warms , is simply delicious and knocks off your socks  in the process. At least, the air did not seem the least bit icy on the way back to the mainland.

How to make an irresistible Eiergrog in 3 minutes

Needed per mug of Eiergrog:

1 egg yolk, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/3 to 1/2 cup mild Rum (already warmed), and enough hot water to fill the mug. Important detail: Use room-temperature eggs to keep them from curdling when the hot liquid is added.

Preparing one mug at a time:

Separate an egg and place the yolk into the warm mug. (Save the egg white for another use.) Add 1 tablespoon of sugar and whisk vigorously until foamy. Slowly whisk in the warmed rum. Do this one spoon at a time to keep the egg from curdling. Top off with hot water and voilà, you just created an Eiergrog. All that is left to do is to raise your mug and say PROST! It’s definitely the magic bullet for frosty and festive days.

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 Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.



Friedrichstadt-Palast – Berlin’s Top Revue Theater

Monday, November 6th, 2017


With 700,000 visitors annually and a seating capacity of 1,895, the Friedrichstadt-Palast is by far the most popular theater in Berlin and the largest and most modern show place in Europe. Located in Berlin’s central district of Mitte, it is also the last large historic landmark structure dating back to former East Germany. Today, major galas and events take place here, whiche include the Berlinale and the German Film Awards. Celebrities, such as Mikhail Gorbatchev, George Bush Sr., Helmut Kohl and Angela Merkel, have attended events in its walls. Marlene Dietrich, Udo Juergens and Liza Minnelli have performed on its stage.

The Checkered Past of the Friedrichstadt-Palast

The theater’s history goes back to the 19th century. In 1867, it opened as a market hall near Schiffbauerdamm, approximately 650 feet from its current site. For economic reasons, the venue closed again seven months later. Over the next fifty years, the building served as a food depot, a replenishment center for the Prussian Army, a circus arena and a nightclub. In 1919, following World War I, it re-opened as Grosses Schauspielhaus under the direction of theater genius Max Reinhardt. Revues by Erik Charell set the pace for the Roaring Twenties.  During the Nazi era, the theater was renamed Theater des Volkes (Theater of the People). In 1945, it was seriously damaged during repeated air attacks and eventually abandoned and taken over by the City of Berlin. In 1949, the city renamed the theater Friedrichstadtpalast (no hyphen). Due to structural problems, the building had to be closed in 1980 and demolished the following year.

Today’s Friedrichstadt-Palast

The current Friedrichstadt-Palast was rebuilt at Friedrichstrasse 107 and opened in 1984, five years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Since then, it has not only retained but broadened its reputation as a revue theatre that offers some of the most spectacular shows and technical marvels in reunified Germany.

Vestibule of the Friedrichstadt-Palast. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Vestibule of the Friedrichstadt-Palast. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Venues at the Friedrichstadt-Palast

The Friedrichstadt-Palast offers diverse programming from children’s shows and guest performances to festival galas. It specializes in complex shows that incorporate cutting-edge lighting and stage technology, over a hundred performers, and stylized acrobatic numbers. A ballet company, a show-band and a children and youth ensemble are in permanent residence. The ballet company includes 60 dancers from 26 countries worldwide. Its show band includes 16 musicians. And the children and youth ensemble consists of 250 Berlin children ranging from ages 6 to 16.

Current Show at the Friedrichstadt-Palast – THE ONE

The shows at the Friedrichstadt-Palast tend to be suitable for international audiences. Currently playing is THE ONE, a Las Vegas-style revue featuring song, dance, special effects and acrobatics. The show does not have an explicit narrative. Instead, it leads the viewer on a dreamlike journey through time in search of the person that means everything to us – THE ONE.

THE ONE grand show playing at the Friedrichstadt-Palast. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

THE ONE grand show currently playing at the Friedrichstadt-Palast. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.


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 Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.


Bremen Roland: Bremen’s “Statue of Liberty”

Monday, October 16th, 2017

The Bremen Roland is a statue that symbolizes trading rights and freedom. It stands in the  famous market square (Rathausplatz) of the City of Bremen, Germany. Measured from the ground to the tip of its canopy, the tall stone statue reaches a height of 34 feet. The Statue of Liberty in  New York Harbor in Manhattan would dwarf it with its 305 feet from the ground to the tip of the flame. When it comes to age, however, the Bremen Roland beats New York’s Statue of Liberty by a whopping 482 years. The Bremen Roland was erected in 1404; New York’s Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886. Both sculptures are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Roland statues can be found in a number of German towns that were once part of the Holy Roman Empire. According to legend, Bremen will remain free and independent for as long as Roland stands watch over the city.

The 613-year-old Bremen Roland statue. The shield is emblazoned with the two-headed Imperial eagle. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

The 613-year-old Bremen Roland statue. The shield is emblazoned with the two-headed Imperial eagle. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

History of the Bremen Roland

The young knight, Roland, was one of the principal warriors of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor who reigned in the 9th century. During his 46-year reign, Charlemagne won many battles but was badly defeated in the Battle of Roncevaux Pass, an area between France and Spain. Roland died in that battle and became an iconic figure in medieval Europe, a symbol of civil liberties, freedom and justice. The Bremen Roland is the oldest surviving statue of its kind. 

After the archbishop’s soldiers destroyed its wooden predecessor in 1366, the city fathers commissioned the current Bremen Roland, carved from limestone. Over the years, the statue was repaired and restored a number of times. During the most recent renovation in 1989, workers discovered a cassette with Nazi propaganda inside of the statue. Apparently, the cassette was deposited there in 1938.

Significance of the Bremen Roland

A representative of the Emperor and dressed according to the height of 15th century fashion, Roland’s task was to protect the city and to guarantee its market rights and freedoms. The Bremen Roland statue stands in the market place in front of the Town Hall and intentionally faces the church. The placement served as a reminder that city rights prevail over the prince-archbishop’s territorial claims.

Fun facts surrounding the Bremen Roland

The distance between Roland’s knees is exactly one Bremen “Elle”, a historical unit of measurement. In 2004, the city fathers played an April Fools joke on the Bremen population. They released a press statement that the Bremen Elle is still in use as a scientific measurement. Internationally known as LMR (Length Measurement Roland), it is employed in airplane construction and space travel, the statement read.

Just as rubbing the front hoofs of the Bremer Stadtmusikanten donkey is said to bring good luck, rubbing the knee of the Bremen Roland supposedly guarantees a return to Bremen.


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 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 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.

Alte Liebe (Old Love) in Cuxhaven, Germany. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.


Four Legends surrounding the Alte Liebe

There are at least four folktales surrounding the Alte Liebe. 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.

Alte Liebe (Old Love) viewing platform. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.


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 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.

A Wattwagen with leaf springs to elevate the coach floor. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

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.

Wattwagenfahrt from Duhnen to Neuwerk. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

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



500th Anniversary Martin Luther’s Theses

Monday, February 27th, 2017


On 31 October 2017, Protestants throughout the world will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the day on which Martin Luther is said to have nailed 95 Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther was a German monk and professor of moral theology at the University of Wittenberg who became disillusioned with certain abuses practiced by the 16th century Roman Catholic Church. Martin Luther’s Theses eventually sparked the Protestant Reformation. Twelve years after he is said to have nailed the Theses to the church door, the word “Protestant” became a term that described those who protested against the Catholic Church.

Why Martin Luther’s Theses?

In 1510 Luther visited Rome and was disgusted by the practices of church officials, and in particular, by their sale of indulgences. Indulgences were certificates that could be purchased to reduce the punishment for sins committed by the purchasers or their loved ones in purgatory. Martin Luther argued the church practice lead people to think that they could forgo repentance by purchasing indulgences.


Martin Luther depicted as nailing his 95 Thesis to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

Martin Luther depicted as nailing his 95 Thesis to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany.


 In 1515, Pope Leo X granted indulgences to finance the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. These certificates, in particular, could be purchased to reduce the punishment for almost any sin, including adultery and theft. With his 95 Theses Luther intended to express his disillusionment over this corruption. His Theses called for a reform of the Catholic Church and challenged other scholars to debate church policy. The indulgence controversy set off by the Martin Luther’s Theses was the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, which set into motion lasting social and political change in Europe.

How did Word of the 95 Theses Spread?

On 31 October 1517, Luther sent a letter to Albert of Brandenburg, Archbishop of Mainz, because it was under the archbishop’s authority that indulgences were sold. Whether Luther also posted the Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church and on other churches in Wittenberg is not clear. In any case, Martin Luther’s Theses were quickly reprinted, translated, and distributed throughout Germany and Europe. Although Luther wrote the Theses to be argued in an academic disputation (a formalized method of debate), there is no evidence that such a debate ever took place. No copies of a Wittenberg printing of the 95 Theses have ever been discovered.

Is the nailing of Martin Luther’s Theses a myth?

Today, the majority of researchers agree that Luther mailed the Thesis to the archbishop on 31 October 1517, but they question that he nailed them to the door of All Saint’s. In the early 1960s, researchers began to doubt the latter because the first written account of the event comes from Philip Melanchthon, Luther’s colleague and close friend. Erwin Iserloh, a catholic Luther researcher, suggests that the nailing could not have taking place because Philip Melanchthon did not arrive in Wittenberg until 1518 and therefore could not have been an eyewitness to the event. Besides, Melanchthon never mentioned the nailing until after Luther’s death. Although announcements were routinely hung on the door of All Saints’, the nailing of the 95 theses prior to hearing back from the archbishop seems unlikely.

Walk in Martin Luther’s Footsteps

The German tourism industry has geared up to help visitors discover the history of Reformation. Visitors are encouraged to follow Luther’s footsteps on the 745-mile Luther Trail or to discover his life and legacy on numerous mini-tours across Germany. Tours by train, bus and foot are available to fit every budget. The most prominent Luther sites are Wittenberg, Eisleben and Eisenach. Other cities and towns associated with Martin Luther are Allstedt, Altenburg, Augsburg, Bad Frankenhausen, Bad Hersfeld, Bad Neustadt, Bretten, Coburg, Dresden, Eilenburg, Erfurt, Gotha, Grimma, Halle, Heidelberg, Jena, Leipzig, Magdeburg, Mansfeld, Marburg, Moehra, Muellhausen, Naumburg, Nuremberg, Oppenheim, Pirna, Schmalkalden, Sonneberg, Speyer, Torgau, Weimar, Worms and Zeitz. For more information, visit


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


Allied High Commission governs Germany

Monday, October 17th, 2016


The Allied High Commission (Alliierte Hohe Kommission) was a form of Allied military rule following World War II. It was established on 21 September 1949 by the three Western Allies (The United States, Great Britain and France) and superseded the Allied Control Council

Purpose of the Allied High Commission

The function of the Allied High Commission in Germany was to regulate and, if necessary, intervene in areas of military, economic, and foreign policy matters of the newly established Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany).

Creation of the Allied High Commission

On 9 May 1945, Germany unconditionally surrendered to the four allies: The United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. The four allies assumed responsibility for the government of Germany via the Allied Control Council. Each power occupied a specific zone of Germany. Berlin, located entirely within the Soviet Zone, was to be governed by an Allied Kommandatura

The four Allies attempted to formulate a common administrative policy for Germany, but the divergent interests among the occupying powers made their efforts futile. In 1946, British forces agreed to an American proposal to merge their two zones to create a bizone for economic reasons. The bizone was established on 1 January 1947, and in June, a plan to include the French Zone was agreed upon. The Soviets blockaded West Berlin. In return, the Western powers counter-blockaded the Soviet zone and organized an airlift to keep West Berlin supplied. The Soviet Union finally lifted the blockade in May 1949, but Berlin remained divided into three Western and one Eastern sectors until the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Meanwhile, a German government was set up in the Western zones. In April 1949 the United States, Great Britain and France published a new occupation statute of Germany governing their respective zones. It guaranteed self-government to the new West German State, with certain restrictions. West Germany’s constitution went into effect in May 1949. In September, the Occupation Statute went into effect, and the Allied High Commission replaced the Allied Control Council in September 1949. images/government publications/pdfs/germany-allied-control-zone-government-publications.pdf

The High Commission took its seat at the Hotel Petersberg became active as of 21 September 1949. It ceased to function under the terms of the Treaties of Paris on 5 May 1955.


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

Poesie Album – Facebook Predecessor?

Monday, January 4th, 2016

When I was a schoolgirl in Berlin, Germany, it was popular to own a poesie album. In a way, that little book was a forerunner of today’s Facebook account. Both connect family and friends. While poesie album holders got in touch with only one person at a time, Facebook users can connect with many in just one click. Yesteryear’s poesie album connections were slow and deliberate; today’s Facebook users can continuously stay in touch as long as they have access to the Internet.

History of the Poesie Album

Towards the end of the 16th century it became customary to write a motto into the family register of friends. By the 18th century these aphorisms often also included drawings. Eventually, poesie albums (also known as keepsake books, poetry books or friendship books) replaced family registers and became the depositories of verses and artistic contributions in which members of literary circles “immortalized” each other. Originally, only adults kept a poesie album. In the 20th century, the custom became popular with children – mostly girls – and rare with adults. For a brief period in the early 1980s, it was even fashionable among boys to keep a poesie album.

History of Facebook

Facebook is an online social networking website that was created by Mark Zuckerberg and his Harvard College roommates and fellow students. It made its debut in 2004. Once registered and at least 13 years of age, Facebook users can not only exchange information but also post photos and videos and share links, along with several other applications. Facebook users can even express their appreciation provided by clicking a “Like” button.

My Poesie Album

I was almost ten when my mother gave me a poesie album. It was deep red and measured approximately 6.5 by 5.5 inches. Every girl in my class owned one. It was an honor to be asked to write into someone else’s album. We used our finest handwriting and wrote classic, sentimental or whimsical rhymes and verses into each other’s books. While the right side of an open album bore the quotation, the left side remained reserved for illustrations or photographs.

My Poesie Album, Photo © J. Elke Ertle 2015

My Poesie Album, Photo © J. Elke Ertle 2015

In 1955, my mother made the first entry in my poesie album. Not wanting to miss a teaching moment she wrote, “Honor a mother’s heart as long as it beats. When it is broken, it is too late.” My father passed along a less guilt-producing morsel of wisdom when he penned, “Talk is silver; silence is golden.” A couple of years later, my best friend, a boy by the name of Juergen Bertram, shared his twelve-year-old take on the world. Over a period of five years, most of my girlfriends, teachers, aunts and cousins contributed aphorisms to my album. The verses often mirrored their personalities.

Poesie Album entry, Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Poesie Album entry,
Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

In a way, I think it is sad that the poesie album has all but disappeared. Now it is a small window to the past. Can we call it a Facebook’s predecessor? The poesie-album-process was definitely slower, dreamier, quieter and more time-consuming than Facebook. Was it maybe also more selective and permanent? What are your thoughts?


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 Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.


Berlin’s Kammergericht – Appellate Court

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

Most tourists visiting Berlin for the first time head for the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the Radio Tower and a few other historic sites. A much less known gem is the 100-year-old Kammergericht (appellate court) in Berlin’s District of Schoeneberg. By the way, only Berlin’s Court of Appeals is known as the Kammergericht. All other German appellate courts are called Oberlandesgericht (High Court of Appeals).

Berlin's Kammergericht in the Heinrich-von-Kleist Park, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Berlin’s Kammergericht in the Heinrich-von-Kleist Park, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

History of the Kammergericht

Berlin’s Kammergericht is the oldest German court and the highest court of Berlin. It was established by the Electors of Brandenburg and first mentioned in 1468. Originally, it functioned as an arm of the royal court, but in 1735 it became an independent institution. At that time the Kammergericht moved into the Kollegienhaus in central Berlin, now the Jewish Museum. (also read In the early 1900s, the court’s space requirements increased dramatically, and the Kammergericht moved into its own building in the Heinrich-von-Kleist Park in the district of Schoeneberg. It first opened its doors in 1913.

All About Berlin’s Kammergericht – Appellate Court

As a result of the division of Berlin following World War II, the city ended up with two appellate courts. While East Berlin’s Kammergericht remained in the Heinrich-von-Kleist Park, West Berlin’s appellate court moved to the district of Charlottenburg in 1949. In 1961, East Berlin abolished its Court of Appeals altogether. Following German reunification, the Kammergericht returned to the site in the Heinrich-von-Kleist Park in 1992 and, once again, serves the entire city.

Division of Berlin into four sectors (1945 to 1990)

Division of Berlin into four sectors (1945 to 1990)

Features of Berlin’s Kammergericht building

Constructed from sandstone and basalt, the Kammergericht is a 5-story building with over 500 rooms. Its entrance faces the Heinrich-von-Kleist Park. Two stately colonnades frame the edifice. The imposing entrance hall extends through all floors. The building’s interior is richly decorated, each floor in a different color. Sculptures decorate the stairwells.

Interim Uses of the Kammergericht building

–During the Nazi period, the Volksgerichtshof (Peoples’ Court) was housed in this building, and it became the site of the show trials against the conspirators in the failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler on 20 July 1944.

–Between 1945 and 1948, the building served as the headquarters of the Allied Control Council (Allierter Kontrollrat). The four Allied powers met in this building to discuss issues concerning the four German Occupation Zones. After the Soviets stomped out of the Control Council in 1948, the Allies no longer met.

–In September of 1971, ambassadors of the four Allies signed the Four Power Agreement on Berlin (Viermaechte-Abkommen ueber Berlin) in the building’s chambers.

–Until 1990, the Allied Air Safety Center (Allierte Luftsicherheitszentrale) was housed in this building.


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 Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.