Long ago (in blogging time: i.e. three months), I promised a post on the trip KT, NP, and I took to Berlin. Due to various time constraints, I kept putting this off, but I’m now finally getting to it, better late than never. This one’s for you MB……
I first visited Berlin in 2001 and I should admit up front that I love the city: it’s an exciting mix of old and new, ever expanding and fascinating architectural gems, a wealth of cultural sites and museums, clean, easy to navigate, and (as big cities go) very affordable. When I visited the first time, it was for a friend’s wedding. This time, KT, NP, and I were visiting for the annual networking meeting of the foundation that provided my fellowship. We had a full three days of travel, sightseeing activities, dinners, talks, and more travel planned, and the foundation advertised that there would be child care programmes. It was a promising layout.
Given the hassle and expense of flying (not to mention the environmental impact), we decided to make our way from Heidelberg to Berlin by high-speed train, which is about a six hour journey each way. We booked well in advance and paid the little bit extra to have a seat booked also for NP, which gave us a much appreciated cushion with space. As we set out NP was quite willing to sit quietly with her bear and read – she was even interested in the train magazine:
This quietude, and the equivalent calm created by the novelty of looking out the window, lasted for approximately 30 minutes. With five and a half hours to go to Berlin, we realized suddenly that long-distance train travel with a walking 16-month old is not for the fainthearted. Unfortunately, we also realized at that moment that we were fainthearted. The remainder of the journey consisted of KT and I taking turns walking NP from one end of the train to the other – some grandmothers managed to smile at NP even on the 48th pass down the aisle, while most younger observers of our peregrinations developed a frown after just the 4th pass, which deepened each time we forced them to draw in their extended (and in many cases still growing) feet from the corridor and remove their eyes from the movie they were watching on their youth-distraction-device.
Before you could read War and Peace twice in Russian, we’d arrived in Berlin and were headed off to the hotel, not far from the central train station, to get settled. The hotel was very close to the Zoologischer Garten and was very attractively equipped with a modern style. The foundation had organized things well and we were soon settled in our room and thinking of exploring Berlin a bit.
The first activity on our plate was a trip to the Schloss Bellvue, the residence of the German President, where we were treated to a reception and speech by the President. The Schloss has exceptionally gorgeous grounds and the foundation had organized activities for the older children. KT and I realized at this point that we would not have the freedom we’d expected by the advertised child-care, as the activities provided were not suitable for kids under 4. NP nonetheless got into the spirit of things and insisted on doing all the things she was too small to do. I helped her along the large red balloon snake of death:
We were fortunate to have a nice day (if a little hot) for the event, and NP (at least in our unbiased opinion as her parents) looked exceptionally cute in her flower-patterned dress. Having climbed the red balloon monster, NP then set off to explore the less populated areas of the garden reception:
It was at about this point that the German President emerged to give his speech. This was quite difficult to hear with the wind and speaker system that projected only so far. NP therefore decided that she would focus her attention instead on the drinks tent. To be more specific, she attempted repeatedly to pull out the tent pegs – KT and I were happy that these had been pounded in sufficiently that even a grown 125-kilo man couldn’t have removed them, not that we didn’t hold some suspicion that the 10-kilo NP might just find a way to get them out anyway. Fortunately, I only had to imagine and not actually live out the scene in which KT and I apologize profusely for the fact that our child knocked down a tent on hundreds of international scholars as a leading political figure gave a speech. Of course, having missed this opportunity, I have no doubt that NP is already plotting another such attempt for the future!
The next day, we found time amidst the busy schedule to take NP to the Berlin Aquarium, a visit which she (and we) enjoyed immensely. She could run around and look at the fish without much fear of getting into trouble and she was, I think, amazed by the colours and variety of the fish. Reading the descriptions of the fish also gave NP a chance to work on her Latin:
She was particularly taken with the fish who were bigger than her, an interest, I assume, that comes from her recent fascination with Melville’s Moby Dick (Toddler Quarterly has recently accepted her research paper on the topic, entitled ‘Wale, Big, Stinky…Woah’):
After the zoo, we were quickly back to the hotel and then off for a day of activities with the foundation, which included a boat cruise (with lunch) around the city. Seeing Berlin by boat is fascinating, as you pass along part of the historic division between East and West and see even familiar elements of the rapidly expanding city from a different perspective. Unfortunately, it was raining quite hard on the day, so we weren’t able to go up on the deck but had to watch from inside the boat. This became rather torturous with NP, as the inside of the boat became incredibly hot and noisy, with the windows closed and everyone talking. To make matters worse, a guide with a microphone tried to talk over the babble of the crowd and countless children screamed. By the time we got back to the hotel that night, we could barely move from fatigue. I somehow managed to pick myself up enough to do a quick tempo-run in the nearby park, but we all had an early night.
The next morning we had breakfast in the Canadian embassy with other Canadian scholars, thanks to a generous and kind invitation of the ambassador, and then it was time to make our way to the train station for the journey home. The trip home, I’ll admit, was a bit rough – NP wanted to walk from the outset, and the energy we had on the outbound trip wasn’t there to buoy us through the first few hours – throughout those six hours I kept praying that a Mary-Poppins-like nanny would swoop down and do a bit of the walking with NP (a bit of dancing with animated figures too and perhaps the odd walk on the ceiling, I presume). But then time, even excruciating time, has a habit of passing quickly and we were home before we knew it. Overall the trip was an eventful and interesting one and Berlin remains one of my favourite cities in the world.
Back to the present, more on half-marathon training soon……