Moselle Valley, Trier, Berlin

    October 1999


As we traveled from France to Germany on the train, we realized, once again, the advantages of public transportation. Instead of being isolated in a rental car, we were able to meet the local people. We sat in a compartment with two middle-aged men returning to Luxembourg from a trip to Switzerland. We had a hilarious conversation for a couple of hours. One man was from Italy and spoke only Italian and German, the other was from Luxembourg and spoke only German and French - with a tiny smattering of English. We were leaving France after two weeks, and trying to figure out some German from our phrase book. We would speak to the one man in a combination of English, rusty French and pathetic German, and he would translate to the other man, who would excitedly reply to us in Italian! Since our Lonely Planet phrase book for Central Europe also contained some Italian, we threw that around, too! Who knows what we said, but we all had a fine time!

On a ferry down the Mosel River a few days later, Joan spoke at length with a retired Indian Army officer and his family, and the next day we had a three-hour conversation on a train with a Pakistani businessman. They had very different points of view about Kashmir, that's for sure! The Pakistani believed that the Pakistani/U.S. support of Afghanistan was instrumental in destroying the Soviet Union, and that the U.S. has not been loyal to Pakistan since the collapse of the USSR in 1990. In defense of Pakistan's nuclear program, he believed that every nation has the right to ensure the security of its people. He saw issues as black or white, with no shades of gray. (For example, as a Muslim he believed that adulterers should be stoned to death.)

Public transportation, though more of a hassle, opens up the world. When we travel by car, it's like being in an isolation bubble: we're in a country physically, but out of contact with its people.


Trier is the German town that shook up our 40-year marriage. Up to this point, we'd managed to travel for four months quite harmoniously, but we hit a rough spot here. After settling into our hotel, we realized there wasn't enough time to see this small fascinating town, which has more Roman ruins than any north of the Alps. For the first time we were locked into a schedule by a nearing dinner date with Servas hosts in Berlin. (Below, Trier)

Lou was determined to "do" the town anyway, so we pulled ourselves out of bed at 6 a.m. and set off along the dark, rainy streets. We plodded along lost because people were hurrying to work and didn't speak enough English to give us adequate directions. We were cold and wet, and because it was too early we were unable to gain entry to the sites.  We did manage to "see" the ruins of the ancient Roman baths - by peering through locked gates. Joan began to complain about the idiocy of this kind of sightseeing. We stomped along in stony silence to several other ruins. Lou felt put-upon that Joan wasn't appreciating his valiant efforts to see and do every last thing. We finally made a deal, called "Roman Ruins Rights." Either of us can invoke these anytime he or she chooses not to accompany the other. (The next time would be when Joan refused to go into Laos with Lou - over a year later!)

The rest of the day was also pretty challenging. We spent nearly four hours in the train station, while Joan guarded the backpacks and Lou worked out a bus ride from Trier to Traben Bahnhof, a change of buses, a train to Bullay, another train to Cochem, a hotel room in Cochem, a train the next day to Moselkern, a 40 min. walk from Moselkern to the Burg Eltz castle, a guided tour in English at 9:30 a.m., a return walk to Moselkern and a train back to Cochem in time to pick up our backpacks at the hotel and board a ferry to Koblenz. WHEW! This is why people sign up for guided tours. Dealing with logistics makes independent travel a lot more work. (And a lot more rewarding.)

Late that afternoon we checked into our hotel in Cochem and went out to see the town. We trudged up a steep, steep hill in the mud (the others rode cable cars, but we were too proud) to a fantastic viewpoint. Below us was a scene out of a child's picture book: the red-roofed village, the Mosel River winding past and what looked like toy trains emerging every few minutes from the tunnel. Well, we made it through that day, despite about six hours of hard walking and too much time in the train station, but it was grim at times.

The next day, just to push our marital luck, we had more logistical pressure. We missed the train to Moselkern, because someone pointed us to the wrong track and we helplessly watched our train pull away from across the track divide. After catching the next train, we had exactly the 40 minutes the Lonely Planet guidebook said it would take to walk to the castle. HAH! This was almost the only time our guidebook failed us. We race-walked, jogged and huffed and puffed up the muddy hillside for 55 minutes. We arrived at the castle 15 minutes late - sweaty, red-faced and winded - only to learn that the English tour was non-existent! We toured the castle with a huge German group, following along as best we could from an English brochure. It was worth the effort to get here. Burg Eltz castle is a fantastic place, with wonderful furniture, armor, tapestries and primitive "water closets."  


When we made the obligatory "Grand Tour" of Europe in 1965 (11 countries in 10 weeks, driving a new-from-the-factory MGB and camping in a pup tent), we decided we did not like Germany. It may have been our visit to the concentration camp at Dachau, or the big black Mercedes cars that bore down the autobahn at 100 mph, horns blaring at our tiny sports car. At any rate, this trip we decided to spend a few days in the Mosel Valley, four more in Berlin and then leave immediately for Central Europe. Despite our misgivings about Germany, those four days in Berlin turned out to be delightful - thanks in large part to two Servas home-stays.

Our first hosts in Berlin were a woman who teaches English at a college and her psychologist husband, who is also a talented painter. Their co-op loft flat was up five long flights of stairs. We stayed in a tiny guest bedroom below the lobby, and trooped upstairs for meals and showers. The couple had remodeled their loft, which was generally very comfortable in a contemporary/rustic sort of way. But the bathroom was the strangest concept in home design we've ever seen. The kitchen, living room and dining area of the open floor plan formed an L-shape around the bathroom, which was glassed-in on two sides to let in the light. There were no curtains. We each went in to take a shower, and found ourselves valiantly trying to keep modestly covered as we climbed in and out of the shower. (Skinny-dipping in a mountain lake with other naked people is no problem, but undressing in a bathroom adjacent to rooms where clothed people are cooking or walking around is something else!) Our solution to the problem: we wore our underwear and took our towels into the shower with us. While we greatly enjoyed discussing teaching, art and life in Berlin with these interesting people, it's their weird bathroom that remains locked in our memories. (As we left their home after a two-day stay, our host gave us his business card: he specializes in sex therapy. Maybe that explains the bathroom!)

Our second Berlin hosts were a German psychiatrist and his Indian wife, and their two young children. Their elegant flat was filled with New Guinean art, primarily from the Sepik River area. Magnificent sculptures, masks and spears filled the walls of their living quarters and his counseling office. Most of his patients are East Germans - people who grew up under the Communist regime. Indeed, several had been taken from their parents while still infants and placed in a "communist person factory" where they were trained into "robots" to serve the state. His other patients, though not deprived of parental upbringing, nonetheless were provided for by the state throughout their lives until the Wall came down in 1989. As a consequence, most of his patients exhibit a deficit in self-esteem, resourcefulness and the ability to make decisions. What a sharp contrast with what happens in the West where we encourage individualism! As we travel, we realize again and again that we shouldn't take our freedoms and opportunities for granted.

We talked long into the night with each host family. During the days, we were on our own. We saw two great exhibitions of contemporary German art, and took what was easily the best tour we've ever taken - an excellent "City Walks" tour of the city with an inspired guide named Christopher.

One of the most amazing stops on the walking tour was at Babel Platz. Beneath our feet was a conceptual art installation located on the site of the Nazi book-burning. It's below ground level, with a heavy glass plate across its top - below is an all-white chamber lined with empty white bookshelves. A plaque in the ground reads: "Burning books leads to burning people."  Chilling.

We also visited the site of Hitler's bunker, Brandenburg Gate, a museum dedicated to the horrors of the Nazi regime and a section of the Berlin Wall. Christopher told us amazing stories of escapes across the Wall. We were especially fond of the elderly folks who dug their own tunnel to freedom after younger neighbors scoffed at their ability to do so. An 81-year-old member of the group was the look-out in the garden, in which he repeatedly planted the same sapling! We also liked the story of the man who made 400 trips to bring out 400 refugees in his little VW Bug, with a fake gas tank large enough to conceal one person. Another man hid his wife in two end-to-end suitcases. (Below, Christopher talks about a section of the Berlin Wall.)

Christopher's best story was of a young man who rented an Austin Healy Sprite and removed the windshield so the car was low enough to drive UNDER the barriers and through the S-shaped path at Checkpoint Charlie. Of course, his head could not protrude above the hood level, so he had to memorize the path and drive blind. With his wife prone behind the sports car seat and his mother-in-law hidden in the trunk, he gunned the throttle and somehow wove his way through the barricades!

Leaving Berlin with sober thoughts, we caught a train to the CZECH REPUBLIC



Films: Europa, Europa; The Nasty Girl; Schindler's List; Downfall

The Original Berlin Walks: berlinwalks@berlin.de  Ph: 301 9194 




Joan and Lou Rose     joanandlou@ramblingroses.net