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Vacations in East Germany

Where on earth are we going to find this Brandenburg Gate?  Franziska and Katharina have found their ways through the tracks on the Cape Breton highlands, the floors of Inglis Street Elementary School, and the trails in Point Pleasant Park.  But Berlin gives them a really tough time.  OK, people put up signs on every corner in Berlin, but there are simply too many roads and corners in Berlin - even more than trails on the Cape Breton highlands.  This city is overwhelming.

The whole idea of traveling to Berlin was born in Canada.  The kids had a truly thrilling time there:  Great folks, wild animals - eagles, moose, and whales - pristine landscapes, and something new to discover around every other corner.  Couldn’t something similar be possible in good old Germany?  May be with a little touch of German history and culture?  Felix has an idea: ”Berlin is the place where the friendly people live,” referring to his best friend Jasper who moved to Berlin-Frohnau.  “Come on, Mom, let’s go there. Vacations are supposed to be good times.”

Mecki and Mike consider his suggestion.  They still remember that in Mecklenburg, 2 hours north of Berlin, they’d find everything the Heinzelmann family needs to spend the perfect vacations:  Quiet campgrounds, countless lakes, ospreys, and eagles.  Well then, let’s put the canoe onto the car and drive to Berlin and Mecklenburg, the home of nature, culture, and the friendly people.

The trip to Berlin, however, falls on Felix’s birthday - like last year when we arrived in Halifax on that day.  Spending the best part of your birthday in a car is not the nicest of things to do, but Jasper’s brother Linus knows what to do:  “Make sure you have a little present every 100 kilometres.”  Good advice.  Six little presents do not blow the trunk, but they do make a big difference on the back seats.  Mecki and Mike don’t trust their ears.  Instead of the usual heated disputes about where exactly whose part of the back seats begins or ends, all they hear are three content children playing with Lego and Playmobil.  Something wrong with the kids?  No, Mecki and Mike have just learned that - with the right tactics - birthdays can be surprisingly easy-going travel days.

From a campground at the shores of Lake Werbellin we discover Berlin and its surroundings.  We spend two demanding days exploring the ups and downs of German contemporary history:  Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag building, the former wall, the Holocaust Memorial, Potsdam Square, Gendarmenmarkt, and Alexander Square are all within walking distance, then by subway to Kreuzberg for the famous Turkish donairs and to the Western centre to check out the Kurfürstendamm and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.

In the surroundings of Berlin, we visit Chorin Abbey and the Niederfinow boat lift.  The latter destination leaves a stronger impression with the kids.  Finally something big and strong.  The huge steel construction is indeed most impressive.  It lifts ships in its 85 metre long trough from the Oder valley 36 metres upwards into the Oder-Havel Canal.

In contrast to that, the treats of Lake Werbellin are of a much smaller size: ladybugs!  The little beetles appeared in such numbers along the Baltic Sea this summer that they were considered a plague up there.  Further inland, they are still numerous enough to enrich the canoeing trips with countless rescue operations.

“Daddy, there’s a ladybug!  You must rescue the guy!”

“But we’ve already 20 of them on board.”

“This one is drowning! Hurry up, turn left!”

”OK, OK”,  mumble, mumble, ...

But Mike shouldn’t complain.  The rescue operations provide him with some advanced steering practice.  And back home at the campground they result in some important construction work, because the rescued ladybugs shall have a good time there.  Good reason for Franzsika, Felix, Katharina, Linus, and Jasper to build an impressive ladybug recreation home on the sandy beach of Lake Werbellin.

Our next 2 campgrounds are deep within the Mecklenburg Lake District, and the wildlife becomes even more spectacular than ladybugs, with harriers, ospreys, and eagles crossing the skies regularly.  Just the right place to enjoy nature and relax.  That, of course, means paddling.  Felix and Katharina know exactly what they like best in the canoe.  Nothing feels better on the lakes than lying down in the canoe, enjoying the sunshine and a little snack, and letting the canoe drift for a while.

And other than paddling? Swimming of course. Franziska and Mike practice free style swimming, Felix practices for the children’s bronze swimming badge, Katharina for the beginning swimmer’s badge.  And Mecki enjoys not only the crystal clear water, but even more so these all too rare moments when everyone in the family is occupied with something interesting.

On the way to the provincial capital of Schwerin is the town of Güstrow, famous for its brick Gothic cathedral and the sculptures of Ernst Barlach.  But not to everybody’s delight.  “Not again churches,” protests Katharina, but eventually she’s no other choice than following the rest of the family through the Cathedral and the St. Mary church.

The next destination, Schwerin, is just like tailor made for Mecki.  Schwerin hosts the 2009 German Horticultural Exhibition with more than 5 million square feet of flowers on the premises around the castle.  Mecki’s green thumbs suddenly become very very itchy.  But planting or digging out flowers are not the things to do on public exhibitions, which leaves us spending the day photographing and walking to and from the palace garden, castle garden, stables garden, kitchen garden, lakeside garden, nature garden, ....... well, in case more gardens than Mike will ever be able to memorize..

Last stop Bremen, where we meet our relatives from Osnabrück.  Felix is occupied with the important issues of the city, “Guess how many trading cards I have from Bremen’s soccer club, Daddy?,” but doesn’t receive a remotely useful answer.  Katharina seizes the visit of Bremen’s Gothic cathedral to bring some of her best considered arguments across, “Not again churches!”, but her thoughts already revolve around returning to the campground where she would play with her cousins Theresa and Philipp.  And that way three weeks of summer vacation end the way they started: with camping, barbecuing, and friendly people.  Vacations, after all, are supposed to be good times.

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