I haven’t spent many Christmases away from home. In fact, this may have been my first. Yet, even though I missed my family deeply, I felt really at home in Hamburg.
One of the highlights of my 8 days in Germany was the food, which was incredible, and Lina made sure that I tried it all: currywurst, brats, the best hamburger (from Hamburg) of my life, lots of döner mit alles, a traditional German Christmas dinner of raclette, sausages, caramelized potatoes, Grünkohl (cooked kale and pork), homemade German pastries, burnt sugar almonds (which I learned how to make!), German beer and Glühwein.
As a water lover, I’ve realized that since I set out I haven’t ventured more than a mile away from the sea. Lucky for me, Hamburg is Europe’s busiest and largest port. It was so interesting to watch the container ships come in and out of the harbor with up to 25,000 shipping containers on them!
I also loved visiting the beaches and watching little kids dressed in snowsuits play in the sand (not snow!) on Christmas Day. And of course, I felt lost in another world as I drank in the delicious sights, smells, and tastes of the many outdoor Christmas Markets!
One of the best views I had of the city was from the top of St. Michael’s Church.
While I did spend most of my time in Hamburg, we also took a day trip to Berlin a few days before Christmas.
Tiergarten park was one of my favorite historical landmarks. It sits in front of the German capital building as a tiny plot of land that holds both war and peace in its soil. Word War II began and ended here.
This is where the attack on Poland was announced in 1939, marking the start of World War II and where Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941. A few years later, the battle for the Reichstag, which was the final battle of World Word II, was fought here.
The soil of the Tiergarten was drenched in the blood of thousands of young German and Russian soldiers and it is said that the most devastating fights of the battle of Berlin took place here.
Years after the war, the garden became a place of peace, providing the people in post-war times food as they grew vegetables here. Additionally, during harsh winters, the park became a vital source of firewood for the freezing population.
Now, the trees surrounding many stone sculptures that stand for peace, spell the word, “Tote” which means “death” in German. This is quite fitting in light of the fact that 55,000 people were left dead, 8,000 of which were Germans, as a result of World War II.
No one person or place or thing was left unaffected. Ironically, this is what I loved about Berlin. Most of the buildings that were destroyed during the war have been intentionally left in ruin. Not many have been restored to their initial grandeur, not only because of the impossibility of doing this, but also because the destruction is a present-day tribute to Germany’s complicated history, to remind us of where they have been.
Of course, we paid a visit to the Berlin Wall, which stood for almost thirty years from 1961 to 1989. Lina and I celebrated the peace that comes from togetherness without walls.
Then there was the Holocaust Memorial which is a tribute to the 6 million murdered Jews of Europe. 2,711 stone blocks stand in their place.
Finally, we walked to The Brandenburg Gate, which became the symbol of Berlin, after it was completely inaccessible for 28 years as part of the prohibited zone or death strip, which was controlled by the GDR border guards.
In the end, the most memorable piece of Germany that I will take with me is the love and hospitality that Lina, her family and friends showed me while I was there. Thank you Lina, Corinna, Paula, Kai, Uli, Antje, Oma, Leni, Kim and Laura!