Jared in Germany

Yodelayheeeehoooooo!

Hello everyone…I am now in Munich, Germany, and this will be short, because I have to catch a train to some medieval castles in 20 minutes, but I wanted to write and give a short update….

After my last note, I stayed in Venice for another day. What a beautiful city. I can’t say that enough. The canals, the facades of the buildings, the people, the stores, the air, the boats, the gondolas, and the unique way of life that exists nowhere else that I know of…incredible.

On my second to the last night there, I decided I wanted to do a little public playing, so I searched out the most beautiful bridge I could find, overlooking a canal that stretched down a medieval looking water alley. I stood on the bridge and began to sing softly. Immediately, a whole crowd of people gathered around me, and started requesting different songs. Pretty soon the whole bridge was full of people sitting down, talking amongst themselves, watching me play, listening intently. I went through my list of covers and some originals….and I put out my hat to see if I could make some money and within minutes it was nearly full…I made $10 in less than half an our….hello dinner! What a great experience!

The next night was the first night of Passover, and I was feeling bad that I didn’t have a seder to go to. I felt pretty disconnected. I am not a religious person, but it feels good for me to be a part of the Jewish holidays. As I was moping about it, I decided to walk to the train station to check the schedule for trains to Switzerland, my next destination. On the way to the station, I passed through the Jewish Ghetto section of Venice. That made me even more sad about not having a seder. But then, I crossed a bridge, and on the right I saw a whole crowd of people gathered around a table, wearing Yarmulkes, preparing for Passover. I thought to myself to go over to them, that I belonged with them, and that they would not turn me away.

So I did…I went up to one of the people bustling around getting ready, and I said to him in Hebrew, “Ani Yehudi, aval ein li shulchan Pesach” (“I am Jewish and I have no Passover Table”). Without any questions or hesitation, he said to me, “Here is your Pesach Table”. I almost cried. There were no seats left, and the whole place was completely full, but there was one empty seat being held by a woman who was waiting for her husband. She said I could sit there until he arrived. He never came. It´s like there was one seat left, just for me. There I was, in Venice, in the Medieval Jewish Ghetto, celebrating the Passover with Jews from Italy who didn´t know me from Adam, but accepted me without hesitation. What a beautiful tradition and common bond we all share.

The next day I took off for Switzerland where I met up with Elyse in the capitol city of Bern.  Not too much going on there, and the airport was basically a tent with a runway….but we met up without incident.Next day we went to Interlaken, the prime tourist spot in Switzerland….right in the middle of the alps. Pretty dramatic mountains. We had a serious view from the hotel window…unreal to think I was in the midst of such mountains…snow capped, jagged peaks with little guys blowing horns and shouting “Ricola!” We took a cable car to the top of a mountain and spent an hour just gazing at nature’s creations….

Next day we hopped a train to Munich, Germany, from where we will see some Castles and Medieval towns and stuff…and then Dachau…a concentration camp. Don´t know how I am gonna make it through that one…but I will do it…it´s my duty to see such a thing a remember and understand what happened. So that´s where I am now…tomorrow we head to Prague!

Will write more when I can, probably after May 1st I will do more writing….

Jared

Jared in Germany – Part Deux

Whoa…I have been a lightning streak all across this dang continent! Last I wrote to you, I was in Munich, Germany, getting ready to visit some castles and stuff, and I will tell ya all about it.

Right now I am in Prague! Elyse and I decided to make the trek out here…it was an eight hour ride from Munich and we had to switch trains twice…we passed a lot of freaky little towns with really old looking stations, and a lot of train tracks that were overgrown with grass. They brought images of cattle cars and deportation to mind.

For the entire time I was in Germany, I really could not help but be overshadowed by the fact that this is where the holocaust took place. I mean, I tried very hard to see it objectively, and it is very beautiful land – don’t get me wrong – some of the most beautiful landscape I have yet to see, but everywhere I turn, I can’t help but think about the enormity of what happened. In every town I see, I wonder about what may have occurred there…and every elderly person I see, I wonder what role they may have played in the holocaust. Some of you may say that I have allowed emotion to overtake me and ruin the German experience,  but to you, I say this, “Come to Germany and visit Dachau. It’s a concentration camp. Look at the ovens. Stand in the gas chambers. Touch the barbed wire. Then talk to me”.

OK, so Germany was very beautiful. After I left you last, we hopped a train to a town called Fussen, which is close to the Austrian border and the the end of a region called the Romantic Road, a stretch of Bavaria containing much beauty, many castles and medieval towns. Fussen itself wasn’t much to rave about, but it is the base from which to explore two pretty dramatic castles built by Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria in the 1800s.

The castle that we decided to visit was the Neuwenstein Castle, if I can spell that right…and it looks very much like Cinderella’s castle in Disneyworld…in fact, it was the inspiration for it. It’s nestled into the Bavarian hills, surrounded by mountains, valleys, a river, and a waterfall…very dramatic, yet packed with tourists. We had to climb for half an hour up hill to get to the castle, then wait two hours in line to get in. That was pretty frustrating, lemme tell you…no information…no one came out and said, “Hey guys, you will be waiting for a while, so you may want to consider whether or not you really wanna see this friggin castle”. But no, we stood, two hours, and every 1/2 hour the line would move maybe five feet. By the time I got into the castle, I was pretty jaded. It was an impressive, but short tour. King Ludwig was one crazy guy. Check out some pictures on the web.

Two hour train ride back to Munich…fun fun fun. I have been spending so much time on the train…the sight of climbing down from the train and seeing the platform, and walking towards the gate is becoming all too familiar. It’s like I keep re-living the same moment over and over.

Munich is a pretty nice town…most of it was destroyed in the war, so a lot of it looks new, but there are many old buildings that survived the war, giving the city a very authentic, Bavarian feel. The main center of the city is the Marianplatz, a giant church with an extremely ornate facade sporting gargoils and a spire with moving characters that dance several times a day.

We sat in the center of the plaza having coffee and enjoying the view of the church, listening to the many street musicians and watching the tourists pass. We wanted to have an authentic German dinner, so we picked what looked like a local restaurant, and sat down. They serve pretzels instead of bread! Most excellent…but I found out there was no chicken on the menu 🙁  So, I had a choice of pork Weiner Schnitzel, Fish, or Beef. I went with the beef even though I am not much of a slab eater….what I got was exactly that…a big, vein full, slab of beef with two heavy potato dumplings…yum yum…uhhh….yeah. That was the last of the German cuisine. Stuck with McDonald’s after that….no offense to you Germans out there…but…uhh…lighten up on the food.

The next day was perhaps one of the most profoundly saddening days of my life. It was the day we visited Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp, and model for some additional 3000 camps throughout the Reich. Dachau is a town located 1/2 an hour outside Munich that is reachable by train. It was most eerie for me to take a train and get off at the stop with a sign reading “Dachau” and hearing the conductor announce “Dachau.” I was overcome with emotion the whole way there.

I have to say, recently, the holocaust and the tumultous history of my people have been in the forefront of my conciousness, so the very thought of what happened was enough to bring me to tears. So, I could not hold them back when I arrived at the Dachau station. The town looked relatively normal, but what can I say? It was Dachau. I don’t know how people can live there.

We took a bus to the Concentration Camp, which is now a memorial with a museum exhibiting pictures and artifacts from the camp. On the way to the camp from the station, we passed many neighborhoods and houses that were just outside the fence of the camp. I wonder how people can open their windows and look out at such a place as that…does it phase them at all?

We got off the bus. We began to walk towards the camp, and the first thing I saw was the guard towers and barbed wire. Tears. Couldn’t hold them back. I was outside the barbed wire that held in over 200,000 “prisoners”, and I was looking in as a free man. They didn’t know if they would live through the day…if they would be shot by a Nazi guard on a whim, or because they went too close to the fence, or some soldiers felt like amusing themselves.

We entered the camp, passing through an opening in the the barbed wire. The whole area was open and covered with stones. In the center there were two barracks that housed the inmates….they were reconstructions….the originals were torn down, because they were so wraught with infestations due to the overcrowding (the barracks were constructed to hold 200 prisoners, but were forced to hold nearly 1600 each).

I entered the barracks. I saw the beds that they were forced to sleep on…nothing more than wooden bunks in which four prisoners were crammed into the space of one twin bed. I took some pictures, in a state of shock. We walked around the perimeter of the barbed wire, passing some guard towers, to the memorial. There were several memorials there, some Christian, and some Jewish. We went to the Jewish one…very sobering. We put a stone on the memorial, a Jewish custom, shed a few tears for the victims and moved on.

Outside the immediate viscinity of the camp is the crematorium, a building housing the gas chambers and ovens. I entered on the left, stood in the gas chambers for a while, trying to imagine what it must have been like to be told you were about to take a shower, then enter a room, have the doors locked and sealed, and see the gas begin to come through the little holes in the ceiling. I imagined the panic that must have been felt, and the chaotic struggle for life that was fought and always lost to Xyklon B.

I passed out of the gas chambers and into the next room, which is where the ovens are contained. Once again, overcome, I stood and gazed at the ovens and wondered how many thousands of people were cremated here. I put my hand inside one of the ovens and felt a shiver as the ghosts of the place surrounded me from every direction. No words can really describe what it felt like to stand in the place where one of the worst crimes in history was committed.

We left the crematorium and made our way to the entrance of the camp where all inmates passed through upon arrival. The gate of the camp has a sign that says “Albeit Macht Frei” or “Work Makes One Free.” That’s what they saw as they entered the camp….and I think it was one of the biggest lies in all of history.

After many hours of roaming the camp and experiencing some of the most intensly emotional moments of my life, we left, taking the bus back to the station and the train to Munich. After such a sad afternoon, we decided we wanted to have a  positive Jewish experience and seek out a Synagogue and meet some local Jews who live in the country where millions of their people were murdered.

There are a few active synagogues, and we located one. It was a bland looking building with a very small sign. It appeared, when we arrived, that there was no one there, but I rang the bell and an Israeli man came to the door. It turns out they were about to hold evening services, and we were just in time to attend. He asked to see our passports and questioned us about our reasons for being there…standard Israeli security questions, and I am quite familiar with them…I said a few words in Hebrew, assuring him we were Jews and just wanted to meet some of our people in Germany.

The synagogue was orthodox so we sat separately. The service was chaotic, as most are, but it was very comforting to be there. It was soothing to hear the Hebrew prayers and feel the aura of the place…it was a statement that we are still alive…we go on…even after such a horrible thing as the holocaust, we are still here, and we persevere. I have never been so proud to be Jewish, to be alive, and to be free.

After the service, we spoke to an elderly man, via translator, who was a survivor of Aushwitz, the biggest extermination camp of them all. He was hesitant to talk about his experiences. I would have thought that survivors would want their stories to be known, but I realize now that what we hear about the holocaust, the horror stories and all the events of World War II, are all the story of his life. And if that were my life, I would want nothing more than to forget what happened and try my best to live normally. But to me, this man was a living memorial. After the war, he was a refugee, and no country would allow him in because he had typhoid. So, he was forced to remain in Germany. I couldn’t imagine being forced to live in the place where you were nearly the victim of genocide…every day, walking down the streets where Nazi soldiers once stormed about, dragging Jews from their homes. I am sure he could have given me a more interesting tour of the place.

Sorry if this has been a heavy chapter to read, but I had some heavy experiences, and they still weigh heavy on my heart. So, I am sharing them with you so you may know how it feels to see these things. May the world never forget what has happened here, and may the memory of those who perished live in our hearts for all time.

I am in Prague, though I have just arrived and seen nothing as of yet…so once I get some good stories, I will report back. Thanks for reading. Oh, by the way, I am sorry if I offended anyone in my previous chapter about my experiences at the Vatican. At times, I take it for granted that everyone shares my point of view on things, and I know that’s not necessarily true. I mean no offense.
Thanks,

Jared

Jared in Berlin

Guten Tag, can you please pass the Weinerschnitzel?

So, I spent another day in Prague after I last wrote. If I can encourage ya´ll to go to one place in Eastern Europe, I would say go to Prague! It is certainly one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen, and all the buildings are older than America…it´s all for real, right there for your gawking pleasure. Take the trip, you won’t regret it. No one paid me to say that.

So on to my current whereabouts…..I am in Berlin! Yet another city I never thought I would make it to on this trip, but you know how life has a funny way of taking you places you never would have expected. Elyse decided to extend her stay with me by one week, so we had some additional time to kill somewhere between Prague and Amsterdam, and we decided to go to Berlin! I mean, it is a pretty historically significant city and stuff, so I am glad that I made it up here.

We hopped on the train in Prague and six hours later we arrived back in Germany….and let me say a word or two about some of the trains here. The whole operation is RETARDED! We sat in first class, as our rail passes entitled us to do, and discovered that the smoking section and the non-smoking section are in the same freaking car! I mean, one row is smoking and the next row is non-smoking, and there are no dividers separating the two sections! So, the smoke floats right on over. How stupid. I asked the conductor who spoke a little English, “Uhh, why are the smoking and non-smoking sections in the same car?” He gave me some cock and bull story about how the air conditioning somehow keeps the smoke from circulating. I said, “That´s a bullshitta. Why then, do I see and smell smoke?” He then smiled blankly as if he did not understand, and moved along. And another thing…we had to move seats three times, because it turns out they were reserved by people who got on at different stops along the way….no one told us we were in reserved seats! Ugh!!!

OK, on to Berlin…I know you are all dying to hear about this place. We arrived in the early evening, before dark, and set out yet again on the arduous quest of finding a place to stay. This is something I am getting very sick of, and as we get more into the high season, it is becoming very difficult to just show up and find a place. So, we called each hotel listed in Let’s Go, but all of them were booked.

We were getting very worried that we would not be able to find a place…but finally we were referred to one hotel that had a room available, so we jumped on it. We had to take the train to the area, which turned out to be in the most extreme east section of Berlin, and as we got closer and closer, the area looked incrementally more sketchy….so when we arrived at the station, which looked like it was in post war Berlin, we said a fond “screw this” and got back on the train in the opposite direction, determined to find a place in west Berlin.

We headed for an area called Charlottenburg, which was supposed to have a lot of pensions. We called all the ones listed in the book in the area, but all were booked. What to do? Finally, we got lucky and found a decent place, but the woman who runs it is a nosey, blabbermouth who noticed my middle name was “Moshe” on my passport, obviously Jewish, and began asking a lot of probing questions about whether we eat pork or not, and then made a comment on how she is sure we will be wanting to find a CHEAP restaurant (cuz Jews are cheap, of course)….we ignored her as best we could and went to bed.

By the way, this is the second version of this update, because the first one was lost when the piece of CRAP computer in this overpriced Internet cafe CRASHED just as I attempted to send it. What a tragedy…really….I was crushed. Well, I will try to recreate as best I can.

OK, so a little bit about Berlin. As many of you may know, Berlin was once a divided city, East and West. After World War II, when the Soviets occupied East Germany, they divided Berlin and set up the infamous Berlin Wall. So, after the war, the city really became two separate cities, with two different centers. Now, after the fall of the Berlin wall, and the reunification of the city, there are efforts underway to create a more cohesive metropolis, but at the moment this place is rather chaotic.

First of all, the city is eight times the size of Paris, and nothing is in walking distance of anything else. You have to make use of the trains quite a bit. Second of all, I feel like the city is still under construction. There are cranes everywhere, littering the skyline, particularly in East Berlin. So as we walked around, I felt like I was walking around one giant construction site. The fact that there is so much building going on sort of takes away from any serenity factor that may have once existed, and provides a disorienting, chaotic feeling to the visitor.

As far as architectural beauty, there really isn’t that much happening here. I mean, there are several historical landmarks, and older buildings predating the war, but this city was, for the most part, destroyed by allied bombing. So 95% of the buildings here were constructed after the war, and while they are nice, they are not particularly interesting. The buildings in East Berlin are ugly-ass communist square block looking structures….I don’t know what they were thinking. I guess that’s what all the construction is about…to beautify and modernize the city in a unified way.

So, on our first full day in Berlin, we set out to explore as best we could. We decided to start in the West and make our way East. The western portion of the city is centered around a region called the Tiergarten, a giant, long park in the middle of the city, containing a zoo. I guess it´s the Central Park of Berlin, in a way.

We began at the western section and walked down the main boulevard cutting through the park. In the center is a structure called the Victory Tower, erected in the late 1800s as a memorial of Germany’s humiliating defeat of France. It´s about half the size of the Statue of Liberty (I have to draw some comparisons for you New Yorkers) and has a golden angelic figure perched on top. We decided to make the climb to its tower and check out the panoramic view of Berlin.

We made our way up the narrow spiral staircase, amidst a wave of BO infested tourists. It was quite hot and the inside of the tower was graffitied all the way with stupid things like, “I love the Back street Boys”. Coming out on top, we entered a crowded platform and could barely move around. From what I could see of the city, it wasn’t very impressive at all. There are some notable buildings, but I mostly saw the park and cranes all over the place. Like I said, it feels like it´s still under construction.

We left the tower and continued through the Tiergarten to the east end, where the Brandenburg Gate it located. This structure was symbol of division between the east and west for a very long time, because the Wall ran along its eastern edge. In 1989, when the wall came down, East and West Berliners danced together on top of this gate. Now, it´s surrounded by construction sites and cars passing through it without reservation.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan stood in front of this gate and in a speech to the crowd, addressed Gorbechev and said, “Mr. Gorbechev, open this gate”. Two years later, the people themselves tore the wall down and embraced each other. OK, so I read the sign at the gate and that´s how I know all this. I am giving you a little history here!  The Brandenburg Gate can be likened as the Arc De Triumph of Berlin, standing at the end of the long boulevard through the Tiergarten, where Nazi marchers once took place. It is made of Roman looking columns with a big statue on top….

Next we went to the Reichstag, very near the gate. The Reichstag is the former parliamentary building used by the early German governments and served at the seat of the Nazi Reich. In front of the Reichstag, there is a plaza, currently full of cranes and feverish building, but once served as the place for Nazi rallies. Eerie. The Reichstag is a mammoth building of Roman type with ornamental facades on all sides, home to statues of soldiers in their glory.  It´s an impressive building outright, but compared too much of what I have seen on this trip, it isn’t very notable. It’s the history of the building that is more impressive….to know that it is where Hitler ran the war from, and all his evil doings were conceived of there.

There was a surprising lack of stores and street vendors near these very important sites…and that was too bad for us, because we were very hungry but couldn’t find a place to eat! You would think they’d want to cash in on all the tourist flow at these places, but nooooo. Where is the McDonald’s when ya need one?

We walked around the old Jewish quarter after that and visited a rebuilt synagogue which was wrecked by the Nazis. We walked all around the same streets that notable Jews, such as Albert Einstein and Menachem Schneerson, once walked. There were 160,000 Jews in Berlin before the war, and only 7,000 afterward. Horrible to know that they were all sent to the camps.

The evening was spent in the Ku´damm, the main boulevard going through west Berlin with all kinds of shops and restaurants…sort of the Park Avenue of Berlin….another comparison for you New Yorkers. We spent some time calling Amsterdam and trying to reserve a hotel. Good thing we called ahead, because most things were already booked! We found a place, but for $80 a night! Guess you have to pay premium prices to pah-tay legally…..but me, I am just interested in the canals….ahem.

Thanks for reading….any questions, fire them my way. I’d like to hear from all of you, so please send me email! On to Amsterdam tomorrow!

Jared

Jared in Berlin and Amsterdam

Hi all….I have been in Berlin havin’ a blast. Actually…not quite true. I should say I have been in Berlin, held up in my hotel room, clinging to a bucket for three days. I got a little sick, shall we say….I guess I had something bad to eat somewhere along the line….I think it was this chicken sandwich, called a Doner Kebab…in Berlin. There are all kinds of stands that sell these things…they look pretty good (a huge spit of chicken meat, piled on top of more chicken meat, roasting upright in front of a flame…) and I have eaten them before….but I guess my number was up to get a bad apple….I’ll get to all of that.

But First!

Let me tell you about my second full day in Berlin. Lemme see, since I was in a delirious feverish state for most of that time, but I shall try to recall. I think at that point I was getting bummed out by Berlin…I wasn’t very into it to be honest. This has nothing to do with any of my crazy emotions….I just wasn’t very into the city itself, its layout, or the architecture…remember I said it felt like it was under construction….well, I think that fact, plus the fact that there really is no central area, made me feel like it was difficult to get a lay of the land and get to know that city systematically.  But I think in the end, I can point to most of the significant things on a map of Berlin. Let’s hope all my mental maps don’t merge, and I start confusing cities!

So, for some reason that I can’t recall, we got a pretty late start in the day and decided we wanted to see one thing specifically, a place called Check Point Charlie. This was a border check point located at a point along the infamous Berlin Wall, which, to East Germans, symbolized the daily plight of their occupation. Cars passing through this checkpoint were searched thoroughly for stowaways trying to escape East Berlin and defect to the west. It has become a tourist attraction, since the fall of the wall, so being the tourists we are, we had to go.

At the site of Check Point Charlie, there is a brick path laid into the road showing where the Berlin Wall once stood. I had to do a little East/West jumping back and forth, just to be cool and stuff….just how much cooler could one get? Once I had passed back and forth from east to west a bunch of times, I noticed that there were some police pulling cars over and searching them right near the checkpoint site. I was confused. Was the checkpoint still in operation? There is no wall. There is no war. What gives?

Turns out that day was May Day, not sure what it’s all about, but apparently there was going to be some demonstrations in the area between Neo Nazis and Anti-Fascists, and the cops were vigorously searching cars for bombs and weapons. I didn’t feel so bad about the searches after I found that out. Someone actually warned us not to go a few streets over, because we might get caught in the action…we took the hint and stayed away.

Later we learned there was violence in that area and clashes between these two groups….lucky us to avoid it. Anyway, it was interesting to see such an inspection by the police at Checkpoint Charlie, because that’s probably what it used to be like. Near the site is a museum about the checkpoint and about the Berlin Wall and what it was like to live in such a division. I perused around there for a bit, saw some pieces of the wall, and a lot of pictures of Berlin before it came down. It was interesting to see the Reichstag and the Brandenburg gate with the wall running in front of them, in contrast to its current, open state. The pieces of the wall are remarkable, because they have beautiful paintings on them. Most of the wall was painted by people on both sides, visions of peace and reunion, brotherhood, as well as hatred, slogans of nationalism, who is right, who is wrong.

After the museum, we walked to nearby Bebelplatz, the square where the infamous Nazi book burning rallies took place. It is a wide open plaza surrounded by ornate, pre-war Roman buildings and a domed church. In the center of the square is a plaque embedded into the ground with a quote by an author whose name escapes me, “Where they begin burning books, soon they will be burning people”. It was from the 1800s, this quote. An eerie prophecy.

We decided that ice cream was needed, as well as a place to chill for a bit, because I was feeling strangely tired. We walked around for a bit and found a place that sold gelato with tables outside….ordered up the goods and parked it for a whole hour. As we sat, I began to feel more tired and wondered why. I had a full night’s sleep…I had eaten…we hadn’t walked all that much….hmmmm. When we got up to go, I felt a wave of dizziness overcome me. Sat down……got up again and turned my head, felt it again. I knew something was up. The last time I felt that way, I ended up having Mono, sick in bed for a whole month.

I said to Elyse, “I think we had better head back to the hotel…I’m not feeling well”.  The sky was gray for a storm, and it began to rain heavily, as a fever descended on me which would set us back three whole days and keep us in Berlin far longer than we intended to be there. Oh well, guess it’s all part of the adventure, eh?

By the time we got back to the hotel, I was feeling miserable and needed to just sleep, so I crashed. I woke up in the middle of the night sweating with chills….I knew I was deep in a fever. Why does this have to happen to me now, I thought. I knew it would get worse before it got better. And it did….I will spare you the details, but allow your imagination to run wild concerning food poisoning and what affect it may have on your digestive system. I’ll leave it at that. We were supposed to go to Amsterdam the next day, but we ended up staying an additional three days. We had to switch hotels, but before we did, we had a run in with the owner again, the one I mentioned in my previous email about being nosey and a blabbermouth.

Her name is Rita Neilsen. What a character. I don’t know if I have ever met anyone quite like her. She was a raving anti-Semite, and that is not a statement made from paranoia. Once she found out we were Jewish, this became the basis on which she dealt with us for the duration of our stay at her hotel. Every comment or remark was underlined with Jewish references. When she found out I was sick, she suggested I leave the hotel and go to the hospital. When I said I preferred to stay she said, “Why, are you afraid of the German doctors? You think they are going to torture you? You Jews are all the same. You come here hating all the Germans, and you think the Germans are the ones who hate, but you are the one who is on a hate tour!” She constantly made references like this and our identity proceeded any reference she would make about us… “The Jews in room 9…..”  “I told those Jews they should go to the hospital….” “Why do you Jews have to be so stubborn?” I felt it very abrasive and difficult to deal with, but she was helpful at times any way, and recommended doctors and other hotels. If you come to Berlin, don’t stay at Hotel Funkturm in Charlottenburg, lest you encounter Rita and her ravings.

So aside from Rita Neilsen, my three extra days in Berlin consisted of sleeping, drinking, taking Tylenol, and various other “details” you may not wish to here and I will therefore omit. Elyse was wonderful and took care of my every need. Thankfully, she extended her trip and was able to be there. Regrettably, her extension was spent running around for me. Worked out well, because I would have been screwed if I were alone. So a big shout of THANKS goes to Elyse, what would I have done without you?

Friday we left for Amsterdam, where I now am.

Ahhhhh, Amsterdam. Let me just say this:  EVERYTHING YOU HAVE HEARD IS TRUE.  From its sordid drug/sex culture to its beautiful facades and canals, Amsterdam is a city of contrasts.

History and Dutch cultures fly in the face of legalized drugs and prostitution, and every hedonistic indulgence known to man. The center of the city is full of streets lined with a myriad of “coffee shops” and Hemp stores, as well as sex shops selling all kinds of crazy things. The coffee shops are really drug dealing establishments where you can purchase anything on the gambit of substance. People are sitting around smoking marijuana everywhere. There are just tons of people sitting around drinking and taking drugs. It’s pretty surreal.

There is an area called the Red Light District where the sex shops and legal prostitution reign even freer. If anyone has ever heard the song “Roxanne” by the Police, you’ll know why it reminds me of this city. “Roxanne, you don’t have to put on a red light, walk the streets for money, you don’t have to sell your body to the night.”  In the Red Light District, up and down the streets, there are windows with these neon red lights above them. In the windows, stand “call girls” on display for potential customers. The women are scantily clad and beckon to passersbys to come on in and have a little fun. In addition to the “displays”, there are also theatres where you can go view a live sex show. Just to stress here folks, I am merely reporting to you what I have seen. I would never partake in this horrid, filthy lifestyle, and I can only say to those who do, “Flee this evil place! Thou art the devil!” (Of course, hissing and spitting is involved.)

But besides all the naughty goings on here in Amsterdam, it is a very beautiful city. Its center is U-shaped, coming out of the central station. There are a lot of shops and restaurants, as well as historical points of interest. For instance, the Anne Frank House. This is perhaps one of the biggest attractions here for those interested in the city and not the drugs and sex. Anne Frank lived in Amsterdam, went into hiding with her family here, wrote her diary and was eventually deported from Amsterdam.

You can go see the warehouse run by her father, Otto Frank, where their family, along with some others, hid from the Nazis for two years. I read her diary as a child, so it was especially fascinating for me to see the “Secret Annex” where they hid. This was a hidden apartment in the back of the building, sealed off from the rest of it. You have to pass through an opening behind a bookcase to get in. It’s very small, and you can see Anne Frank’s room and even the decorations she put on her wall.

We passed through the house and made our way around the connecting museum. I am glad such a place exists where people can go and see the face of a young girl who suffered. Anne Frank has become the face of holocaust suffering, I think, and people need a face to connect to.

So, I am going to end it now. Elyse went home this morning, so I am back on my own. I think tomorrow I will head out to somewhere in France….any suggestions? I really don’t know where to go next, so if I get some good votes, I will go where you want me to 🙂

Feelin’ fine and ready to forge ahead,

Jared