Mirah’s parents chose Berlin as a new—for them–European city destination. Eli and I had been there before, but only briefly as a shore trip off a Baltic cruise in 2012 with friends from San Francisco. We knew then we’d only seen a tiny fraction of a place we’d be happy to return to. Germany is a country with history evoking pain and trauma in the minds and hearts of Jews.

I know people who travel extensively but still refuse to go there. My own parents were in that category, yet visited Vienna, Austria, an early hotbed of Naziism. Eli and I never thought not to go, and we were glad to go back.

After four days in Paris, we traveled by train to Cologne, where Sibonie, a friend of Amy and Jonathan, lives. Amy and Sibonie first met at yoga and meditation retreats in India (Jonathan went once, too), and Sibonie has traveled several times to Beijing to teach classes there. In addition to owning an apartment in the city, she leases a garden plot about twenty minutes into the countryside, and a highlight of the two days in Cologne was a picnic dinner made from her vegetable harvest. Another retreat.

Berlin is a place I can see visiting repeatedly and forever barely scratching the surface of the sites, history, museums, culture, city walks. I suspect we will all return. Amy and Jonathan have friends who divide their time between Berlin and Beijing, and we were honored by their home hospitality for dinner the first night. Our host, a journalist colleague of Jonathan’s, had read for his virtual three-person book club the same book I’m reviewing for my larger group in August: Go, Went, Gone, by German author Jenny Erpenbeck. The book follows a newly retired university professor as he engages with African refugees seeking asylum in Berlin. I’d opted to review the book because of my angst about the family separation and other hideous immigration practices ongoing at home—and also because we were going to Berlin. It’s a moving and timely read, and it was interesting to get some local Berlin insight into the experience of main character, a remnant of the former East Germany.

Conversations with people one encounters while traveling add to the experience. Of course, traveling with a baby, especially one as winning and engaging as Mirah (who’s biased?), invites interaction. Mostly pleasant, even from people who later turn out to be less so. A retired British couple sitting at the next restaurant table charmingly described their train trip from London, their son’s work with the British consular corps in Beijing and now Tokyo, her work meetings that took her to Madison and Milwaukee several years ago. They panned Trump but supported Brexit–at least the husband did—which we found surprising, but politics are local and complicated, and that’s not (directly) ours. All of a sudden, upon finishing the last drops of an enormous pitcher of beer, the guy gave the waiter an ultimatum that their meal had better arrive or they’d leave. The dinner did arrive a minute later. He still got up, refused to pay more than a pittance of cash thrown down for the beer and an appetizer, and broke a wine glass in the process of departing.

Always heartening to know Americans don’t have a monopoly as “ugly” tourists.

Here are some photos:

Travel is exhausting, so a train nap is a good idea!

But, after napping, a good read is a pleasant way to enjoy the train trip.

Next reading companion.     

Locks people have inserted on bridge over Rhine River in Cologne. As in Prague, a “thing” we don’t get.

Touring with local friend, Sibonie.

Homegrown veggie picnic. Literally farm to table.

Mirah tried out her first swing–at Sibonie’s. At first, not sure.

At Sibonie’s country retreat.

It’s a go!

Never too young to visit the dramatic Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.

And important to revisit, when in Berlin.

A Berlin Captol Bear sculpture

Hotel pool time. The lighting changes colors for atmosphere.

Museum Island (lots of construction) in Berlin.

A little evening conversation after Mirah had had her “house white.”

Just before saying goodbye. We should all look this good for a 6:45 am hotel departure.

Gee, Nainai, let’s figure out when we’re going to see each other again.

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