Saturday, April 29, 2006

I hate Helga, I love Helga

Two days ago, we left Berlin to drive to Lübeck, the marzipan capital of the world. We rented a car that came with a navigational system. It was programed in English to get us smoothly from point to point. A lovely female voice came on to direct us out of Berlin. I named her 'Helga'.

Helga was amazing. I barely had to be concerned with where I was heading and could enjoy the thrill of driving the Audubon. I maxed at 160 kilometers per hour, due the presence of my interpreter and her white knuckles. Had I been alone, I would have cranked that Opel mini-van into the fast lane with the Mercedes and Audis. At 160 klm, they passed me as if I was standing still. I found it takes much concentration to drive on a road with no speed limit. The speck of a car in the rear view mirror can be on your ass in two breaths. There is no daydreaming on the Audubon.

Helga escorted us safely and flawlessly into Lübeck. It is a gorgeous, old German city. Medium size, but quaintly compact. Cobblestone streets, old churches, friendly people. Simply endearing and what one imagines Germany to be.

We walked directly to the Dreamland of sugar and almonds, Neideregger Marzipan store and restaurant. I heard a choir of angels in my head as we stepped into the store. We first had lunch and dessert upstairs. The selection of cakes and tortes was a scene out of my personal heaven. I settled on a slab of marzipan torte. Because, when in Rome...After lunch and pictures of the Pope reading the menu, we headed back downstairs and loaded up with confections to bring home. We strolled through the city and headed back to program Helga to get us to our next stop, Wobbenbüll, 2 hours north.

Helga got us easily to the Audubon again. But somewhere along the highway, Helga abandoned us. She simply went to sleep. When I heard the faint snoring, I knew something was amiss. Then suddenly we were speeding into the city of Hamburg. And Helga snored on.

Hamburg is an unfriendly place to drive if you know the language. If you don't know it, one is quickly reduced to a surge in blood pressure and language that becomes gutteral- whether or not you are traveling with the Pope. By dumb luck, or divine intervention on the Pope's part, we landed at a Eurocar rental station and had Helga slapped awake and reprogrammed. Then, even when I continued to take wrong turns, because every red light seemed to have 2 rights, Helga guided us back to the original point('make a U turn now').

So before it was completely dark, Helga had us safely parked in the driveway of cousin Johannes of Wobbenbüll. I hate Helga. I love Helga.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Berlin Wall

Yesteday,after much ado and endless walking to the very edge of our tourist map, my interpreter, the Pope and me came upon the largest remaining section of the Berlin Wall. It is covered with street-art and preserved as an art gallery. I wanted to see it, to touch it, to engage the concept of what this barrier was like. It is certainly tall. Perhaps 12 feet. Fascinating and repelling all at once. It is a true symbol of the human mind when it works against itself by engaging fear instead of love as a means of protection.

I wanted to see this example of the mind-gone-wrong to remind myself of how absurd it is to build walls in any aspect of my life. So little good comes from that fear-filled effort. I did the tourist-trap thing and bought a small chunk of the wall to hold in my hand the next time my mind insists I need to strengthen one of my personal walls against the world. I want to tell myself before a wall goes up or gets another layer how withering that decision will be. I want to remember the Berlin Wall and choose differently. Choose love instead of fear, choose to welcome people and opportunities instead of shutting them out.

I will post my digital journal of the wall upon my return home.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Queen of Berlin

Berlin is changing me. I am not yet clear as to how, but I trust it will be revealed as the days and weeks progress. Perhaps it has to do with being in a city once devastated and divided, that is now reinventing itself in earnest. It is a city of contrast: East Berlin is the stark masculine, West Berlin is the lush feminine. With the artificial barrier between the yin and yang removed, the city is a metaphor for all aspects of humanity seeking balance. It is not easy. It requires intense work, as seen in the massive construction surging in East Berlin. And it takes time.

The seat of knowledge and power is surely in the East-again, the masculine energy- as witnessed by the mind-blowing museums and the House of Parliament. The breath of creativity and welcoming is in the West- the feminine energy- as witnessed by the trees, the retail display art and the plethora of sidewalk cafes. Each end has so much to offer and each is necessary for wholeness, just as each human being requires both aspects within themselves to be whole and sane and divinely functional.

The Pope is giddy and his eyes are glazed. He finally met the Queen of Berlin, Nefertiti. It was a glorious moment for all, and miracle of miracles, I was able to capture the first meeting on my digital camera. To my utter shock, Berlin allows tourists to photograph anything in its museums, sans flash. My shutter was flying. The Egyptian Museum was crunk. ( Read:awesome)The German collection is undoubtedly the largest in existence outside of Egypt. Since it is unlikely I will ever venture to Egypt, this was IT for me. My brush with greatness.

My interpreter, the Pope, and me were out and about for 11 hours yesterday. I think we walked 45 thousand kilometers. Again, we had tea and torte at the proper time of 4pm. And we have adopted the lovely custom of eating our dinner in the middle of the day. It is glorious to be here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Food Lover's Paradise

Monday was an exceptional day. My interpreter, the Pope and me were out and about for 9 hours. We walked everywhere. We began at the infamous Kaufhaus des Westens, also known as Ka De We. (Pronounced kah-day-vay). This is a 7 story department store.

The 1st floor is make up and accessories. Since I wear almost none, the most intriguing aspect of this floor was the incredible artificial floral displays perched on top of jewelry cases. It turned out that the whole building is laden with sumptuous, yet simple display art.

The 2nd floor was amazing. The entire space was for men and it was a work of art. The colors were vivid, unexpected and almost edible. The presentation of dress shirts was breathtaking: sherbet colors of every imaginable hue in ultra neat rows of cases. I managed to sneak and illegal photo of the massive display of pink ties. Pink!

But the crowning glory of this establishment is the 6th floor. It is the quintessential food lover's paradise. The chocolate section alone makes death by chocolate sound appealing. We bought some reduced Easter candy on the cheap to gorge on at the hotel, as well as German brands we had yet to try. The meat department is unparalleled. There is 165 feet of curving glass cases filled only with sausages. This country is serious about it's lunch meat!

There is a marble-topped food bar at every department for dining. Wine and beer are served at each one. After much wandering, we settled down at the Gourmet potato Bar for the best fried potatoes on planet earth. Along with the taters came a plate of smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, the freshest salad and sliced pickles, all arranged as if meant for an art gallery display. The Pope had his picture taken with 2 of the potato chefs.

The Pope's favorite moment of the day, however, was meeting Rolf, the egg man. Rolf stands behind a display of eggs in baskets, where customers are invited to buy eggs one at a time. No racks of Styrofoam eggs cartons for the Germans. White and brown eggs are 25 cents each, while goose eggs run 3.50 Euros apiece. Yikes! Ostrich eggs were also available. To prevent fainting, we declined to ask the price of those. I think Rolf and the Pope will have the hands-down winner photo of the whole trip.

There was only one draw-back at Ka De We. Rounding the corner from the Thai bar, we encountered the most unpleasant smell. As we kept walking, the word 'stench' became appropriate. A cross between bad foot odor and a bathroom in need of arifreshener. The mystery was solved as the massive cheese department came into view. Although the wine and cheese bar in the department was theoretically appealing, the stench would have knocked me off the bar stool.

We strolled through the Berlin Zoo in the late afternoon in search of pandas and giraffes. Unfortunately, the zoo was full of contrast. The outdoors was filled with gorgeous trees and flowers, and an intimate heron rookery. The cat house, however, was antiquated, sterile and most unfair to it's occupants. The incessantly pacing black jaguar was too disturbing to watch. The panda did not have the royal accommodations I had envisioned.

Today is museum day. Guten Tag!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Pope is Pouting

Our dear Innocent the 3rd is pouting. It seems my interpreter and me screwed up on the Egyptian Museum visit for today. It is postponed until Tuesday, due to the unforseen fact that the silly museum was not where the guide books said it was. Hopefully our love-sick Pope will survive until then.

Today we sat atop a double decker bus and toured the diverse city of Berlin. It is a city in flux, moving forward and rebuilding itself. We learned that 75% of the city was reduced to rubble during WW2. The recovery seems amazing and still continues. Due to the clean-slate, this city is teeming with modern architecture. Some is fascinating, some leaves you with narry a warm fuzzy. But everything is interesting.

We saw what little remains of the Berlin Wall. It seems incredible it ever existed. The Eastern section is perhaps the most stark with a bit of a ways to go before it evokes beauty. As someone said today, Berlin is a city not content to just be, but to become.

On a mundane and happy note, our Hotel serves a buffet breakfast every morning. Wonderful breads and meats and Brie cheese. Soft boiled eggs and fresh fruit and cereals. Juices and pickles and yogurts. The most delightful aspect of the Frühstuck is the black tea served in white Rosenthal teacups from white Rosenthal teapots. No miniature, default metal teapots found in most American eateries. Here we have simple elegance. The way tea is meant to be served.

And by the way, Sponge Bob Square Pants speaks fluent German. :)

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Dateline: Berlin

My lovely interpreter, The Pope and me arrived in Berlin safely, after a long, cramped flight with bad movie. After a few mental adjustments( the 'lift' in the Hotel Kurfürst is the size of a telephone booth- bad for the claustrophobic- and we're staying on the 5th floor), and a small nap, we were out on the prowl in Berlin. Walking, walking, walking tree-lined avenues with swanky retail establishments-Chanel, Gucci, YSL, etc.

The Pope is having a smashing good time so far, getting his picture taken at every possible turn for a complete travel diary. He has quite the sense of humor and my interpreter and me agree, we should have packed 'Depends'.

We had tea and chocolate torte at a proper 4pm, purchased flowers for our hotel room, visited a WW2 bombed-out church and window shopped for outrageously priced shoes.

Like typical Americans, we were seen struggling down the Avenue carrying a case of bottled spring water before we retired for the day. And now we are ready to happily drop.

The most striking thing about our first glimpse of Berlin? How utterly clean it is. And even when Europeans are dressed down, they still look a cut above most Americans. There is a flare and subtle statement of character and pride, even if they are simply wearing jeans. Not a sweat pant to be seen. How damn refreshing.

Tomorrow we're taking the Pope to the Egyptian Museum to meet the Queen of Berlin, Nefertiti. His palms are already sweaty...

Guten Nach!!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Pope Travels To Germany

Only twelve hours until I head out the door for my trip to Germany. Along with my interpreter, I'm also traveling with the Pope. Thank goodness he can fit in my purse, because the luggage is full to the lid. Lothar dei Conti of Segni, aka Pope Innocent the 3rd, will accompany me to Berlin and the northern regions of Germany. He is most excited about traveling the Audubon at top speed, visiting grand cathedrals, and gorging on his favorite confection, marzipan.

Rest assured, he has his wee passport hung carefully around his neck to insure a smooth entry into the Fatherland. Hopefully, he won't need the tiny air-sick bag I'm bringing just in case.

Auf Wiedersehen for now!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

We Are One

On Friday April 21st, I leave for Germany. My mother and me are taking a 2 week journey back to her homeland. We will begin in Berlin and end in her hometown of Husum, by the North Sea. I'm anxious to see the architecture and the art, the flowering trees and the sheep. But mostly I'm anxious to see the faces of the relatives I've met only a scant few times.

It won't matter that I haven't learned German by now, or they, English. Sign language and smiles, big gestures and laughs will bond us. And we will bond over the basic human desires that exist in each of us. The need for love, the need to matter, the need for compassion given and received, the need for kindness. The need to simply be accepted for who God made us to be.

We are all one at heart. In need of the very same things, even if we are numb to and in denial of those needs. Love, of course, is our greatest collective need, because love is our emotional oxygen. Along with my German dictionary, it will be the most important thing I pack for my journey.

Monday, April 10, 2006

3 Things

"I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These are your three greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world."


Friday, April 07, 2006

The Prayer Shawl

Every day we have a chance to minister unto each other, to support each other, to love each other.

Today I was extraordinarily moved by a friend at work, Lynn, who took the time to knit a prayer shawl for our mutual friend and co-worker, Margie. Margie's husband, David, has a rare form of cancer. He recently endured his first round of treatment. And Lynn, bless her heart, has given Margie's friends a way to actively participate in the healing.

Lynn folded the shawl into a cushiony square and tied it with a big ribbon. She typed up sample prayers and invited all who wished to, the opportunity to hold the shawl and instill thier energy of love and prayers into the yarn. She also had a greeting card for all to sign who prayed over the shawl, so Margie and David would know.

I was blessed to be the first to clutch the petal-soft shawl to my heart and ask for David's highest possible, best, mosting loving and healthiest good. Had I not been at work, I would have gushed tears. Lynn's energy was already strong in the fibers.

This is what Lynn wrote to accompany the shawl:

"This shawl has been knitted for Margie, David and Ashley as they go through a most difficult time in their lives. My prayer has been for healing and wholeness of their bodies, minds and spirits. I hope you will hold this gently and quietly and let your prayers enter into the fibers of the shawl, that when it is worn, they may feel the love and comfort of thier friends, and, especially their good and most gracious God."

This is so right. This is so right.

Prayer and love are profound. And this is such a beautiful, communal way to express it. Participating in this sacred gesture was for me, a moment of grace.

Blessings for Lynn and blessings for Margie, David and Ashley.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Face of God

Here is my morning prayer: ( especially if I am venturing out into the world...)

Everyone, everyone, everyone
is the face of God,
come to help me,
love me,
support me
and prosper me.

We are each here to love and support ourselves, and love and support each other.
When we declare that each human being we encounter is Divinely meant to uplift us, and we them, we have blissful encounters and all needs are met.

Try it next time you have to go the DMV, or have blood drawn, or start a new job, or end a relationship or put your pet to sleep. Protective forces will surround you and everyone will truly be revealed as the singular face of God.


Saturday, April 01, 2006

In Praise of Trees

Within nature lies the cure for everything~ be it mental, emotional, physical or spiritual.

The therapists, doctors and shamans of the natural world are surely the trees. If you need to be cured on any level, seek the trees. The older the tree, the better. There you will find a wealth of stored energy.

They speak to you. They have names and voices and wisdom. They have senses of humor. They are sentient. They are aware.

To hear the trees, to feel their ample healing energy, you must approach them with reverence and an open heart. If you lean against them and still your mind, you will feel the subtle, gentle energy seep into your body. You will feel an unmistakable calming. You will likely sigh with relief. If your heart is truly open, you will even feel an energy that is akin to acceptance, to love.

When we allow the energy of a tree to enter ourselves, our hearts become more receptive to the available healing energies of the Universe. We move forward in our quest to heal as if we have a nurturing presence at our sides for support. And we do.

Willows are wonderful for relieving depression. Hickory trees will precipitate healing on all levels, so be prepared for your world to tilt. Oak trees will give you strength to face what must be faced. Beech trees will bestow a sense of humor. Elder members of the evergreen family will impart a sense of deep calm.

Trees not only provide the refined air we breathe, they provide wellness and support to those who dare to believe. Maintain your sanity, hug a tree.