Remember when you’d return to school, and teachers would have you write a page about your summer vacation?
Although a month overdue, I thought it might be cathartic to put my summer vacation in writing. I’m still trying to make sense of it since it turned out to be the kind of vacation in which I needed a vacation from my vacation when I returned home. Have you ever had one of those?
It’s never been on my bucket list to visit Germany. However, when my son and I were planning a summer trip this past Spring, there were so many Covid travel protocols still in place that when his college classmate and friend invited us to visit and stay with her in Berlin, it turned out to be the easiest travel solution at the time. Besides, we both loved her and looked forward to spending time with her as she was my son’s close friend and she had taken to calling me her American mom.
If I was to be completely honest, I was not truly looking forward to visiting Germany.
Call it collective Jewish trauma, when we landed in Berlin and got on a train to take us into the city, the first thought I had while looking out the window was, “Oh, this was the landscape that the Jews being taken to the death camps saw peering out of the box cars.”
And there I was, off and running. Not even one day in Berlin. Not even one hour.
At that point I wasn’t sure this vacation was really going to be a vacation after all. Turns out I was right.
Day 2: A Parisian college friend of my son joins the trip and all-of-a-sudden everything turns into planning a weekend of going to a Rave, without me of course. So here I am in Berlin with three, twenty-something-year-olds and I am being left in an apartment to watch episodes of Ted Lasso on my computer. While my son promised me he wouldn’t be home too late, the young women were planning to stay out from Saturday night until Monday. Going to a rave is not just going out dancing apparently. Suffice it to say, two hours later as I sat there alone in an apt. in Berlin laptop in hand, I realized this was not the vacation I planned on.
As I sat in bed watching episode 8 of Ted Lasso, my friend Andrea in NYC started texting me asking if I was enjoying Berlin, which of course I was not at that point. When I told her what was going on, she intelligently suggested I pivot and go online and google Meet Ups in Berlin. A great suggestion. I went into Plan B mode. I didn’t come all the way to Berlin to sit and pout after all.
Day 4. By now, our young Parisian friend returned to Paris and our German hostess was sleeping off the Rave and due to other personal things happening in her life was apparently not available as promised to spend time with us, which quite honestly was the main reason we came to Berlin in the first place. It was a good thing my son and I had each other as well as other friends passing through Berlin during our time there, which made making alternative plans a bit easier.
Day 5. My efforts to be social at a local café took a turn to middle age hell. When I overheard a table of three adults next to us speaking in English about film, I eagerly made conversation with them, as I love film and told them so. We quickly all got to talking. The Iranian man was a Professor from Brown University, one of the women was a filmmaker from Beirut, and the other woman was an actress from Paris. Within minutes, when I mentioned something political about the USA, the Professor arrogantly stops me in mid-sentence and says, “I’m not interested in what You have to say. YOU’RE OLD. I want to hear what your son has to say.” The other women and I looked at him in disbelief. It took a lot for me to not let him have it. Internally it took a lot to not let his comment ruin my day. The only good thing that came from that encounter was I ended up befriending the woman filmmaker from Beirut who ending up sending me her film to watch and we met up for coffee later in the week.
Day 7. My son Garrett had a great idea to contact a modeling agency and see if we could do a shoot since we work together as a fashion photography/styling team. The agency loved our work and set up a shoot for us. At least this gave us a focus and something fun to look forward to during our stay.
Day 8 – 14. We went to museums and other sites. I went out on my own to an English-speaking comedy club and to flea markets. We ate a lot of delicious meals. While we tried our best to make the most of it, ultimately, it was a trying trip, with our hostess out of pocket and being in a city inundated with dark history.
For me, as a Jew, the dark history that permeates Berlin was the hardest thing to get past. Besides the history of The Wall running across the city and policeman stationed in front of Synagogues, the hardest acknowledgments of the country’s dark past lie in the ground at our feet. Throughout the city, embedded in the pavement are brass tiles. The tiles serve as memorials in front of apartment buildings where Jewish families once lived and were taken away by the Nazis and murdered in Auschwitz. I would stop, read the tiles, look up at the apartment building and imagine the innocent people taken from their homes, thinking that could have been me and my family, and/or every single Jewish person I know.
While Berlin is a thriving, bustling artistic modern city, its dark history still runs like a vein throughout the cobblestone streets and serves as a profound reminder of the senseless evil and cruelty humans are capable of.
While the city held a meaningful message of Never Forget, I came home exhausted mentally.
I came home needing a vacation and yearning for the ocean and some quiet rejuvenating days.
Instead, I got Covid.