How do you act like a bunny playing the drums?

This morning started with a quick trip to the Hirshhorn Museum of Contemporary and Modern Art. Kris had really enjoyed this museum last summer and thought Justine would as well. The building itself is quite spectacular. It looks like an elevated open spacecraft on the National Mall…or a donut…Kris thinks it looks like a donut. Unfortunately the majority of the museum was closed. There were a couple of art installations to be seen. They left Justine a little confused but Kris loved trying to interpret their deeper meanings. The best part was the outdoor sculpture garden. Here we wandered amongst the art trying to interpret the large pieces and at one point whispering our wishes to the Whispering Tree.
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The next stop was the Freer Gallery of Art. This museum, along with the Sackler Gallery is the National Museum of Asian Art in the United States. The museum houses a large collection of art from Asia, the Islamic world and ancient Egypt. There were a number of neat objects seen on our quick whirlwind tour. The main reason for visiting the gallery was the Peacock Room. Kris had read about the magical spectacle that is the opening of the rooms’ shutters. Unfortunately the shutters did not open on our visit as we had originally planned. They don’t open every day at noon like Kris had read. Even without the spectacle, the Peacock Room was beautiful. The room has been restored to its original appearance from 1908 when the museum founder used it to display 250 ceramics he had collected throughout Asia. A mish-mash assortment of ceramics lined the walls in beautiful contrast to the peacock painted shutters.
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After having checked on its location earlier in the trip, we hopped into the growing line at the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence. Being in New York and then DC made Justine recall a large amount of facts from National Treasure much to Kris’ delight as she loves Nicholas Cage (except not actually, she DESPISES him to the point that caplocks are needed to express it). Seeing (and stealing) the historical document needed to be done. We waited in line, went through the expected security protocols and rushed to the rotunda. Here you’ll find the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. It was neat to see these historically important documents in their security/preservation cases. We had fun trying to read the lines and identify the signatures. Not wanting to be arrested, no real attempts were made to steal anything…although it was another fun topic of discussion.

For lunch we picked one of the large number of food trucks located on the Mall. Today it was Mexican. Kris had a steak quesadilla and Justine opted for the same but with chicken. We laid and relaxed in the shade a bit before tackling the next museum.

The Smithsonian for the afternoon was the National Museum of American History. The museum houses many exhibits and American treasures, but the most beloved would be the Star-Spangled Banner. This is the flag that flew during the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812. Seeing the flag during battle inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem “Defences of Fort McHenry” which later became the national anthem of the United States. We can imagine seeing the flag would be inspiring and promote national pride for all Americans but for us it was just a flag. A very large and very old flag, but still just a flag…with pieces missing…

Most of our time was spent in the America at War and Presidents exhibits. The first began way back with the War of Independence and continued on to present day. Justine learned a great deal about the Civil War while Kris fangirled over Lincoln. Lincoln was the original hunk. One of the most interesting areas was the section chronicling WWII. We visited a number of WWII sites and museums in Europe and the way the war is remembered is quite different on either side of the Atlantic. To the Americans, the war was a great success. They showed up at D-Day and won the war in Europe. They attacked back at Japan, stronger every day, and won the war in the Pacific. There was no mention of how the Americans pretended the war wasn’t happening for over 2 years, didn’t want to get involved and was going to let the Nazi’s rule Europe.
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The Presidents exhibit increased our growing knowledge from the Portrait Gallery. The Presidents are fascinating! A large section was devoted to those who’ve been assassinated (4 total!) or faced impeachment trials. We want to read more about some of these events. A large area of the museum was devoted to America on the Move. This chronicled the progression from horses and carriages to different automobiles and boats. Justine would like to return and read some more from this exhibit. The section on electricity was Kris’ favourite. On her trip last summer she thinks she spent up to 3 hours here (she’s a big fan of Edison!). Today’s visited was much quicker, we were getting tired of our day of museums. But Kris still took the time to point out the large number of fascinating motors and explain how the boilers work. The final exhibit houses a number of America’s greatest treasures. Highlights here included Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz, Miss Piggy from The Muppets and an original Apple computer.

Upon leaving we grabbed supper from another food truck. This time it was chicken pita wraps, very delicious. We then proceeded to lay on the ground in the shade for another while before our evening walking tour. We have learned on more than one occasion the importance of these breaks. Post-supper we wanted frozen yogurt but we were 2 minutes too late and the truck closed. The driver was still there but he was trying to get the trucks around him to move s he could leave. Feeling a little disappointed we grabbed an ice cream instead. Justine’s had lots of Oreo chunks (she’s an Oreo-a-holic) and Kris had hers coated in sprinkles. Because sprinkles = love, fun and all things good. Then as we walked away the Fro Yo guy opened again! Kris then started calling him the Frozen Yogurt Asshole. Not cool.
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To visit the monuments we hadn’t yet seen we spent the evening on yet another walking tour, this one focusing on the monuments of the National Mall. The first stop was the Washington Monument, dedicated to the first American president. When it was completed in 1884 it was the world’s tallest building. The monument is 555 ft and remains the tallest building in the city; there are strict laws that you can’t build higher than it. Washington will continue to reign supreme over his namesake city.
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The World War II memorial was completed in 2004 for the Americans who served in the armed forces and as civilians during WWII. The memorial consists of 56 pillars (one for each state and territory or US protectorate areas during the war) and a pair of triumphal arches (one for the war in the Pacific and the war in the Atlantic). The monument was very simple and classy; we both felt it represented WWII very well.

The Vietnam War Memorial was the first national war memorial in DC. The Memorial Wall is made up of two walls sunk into the ground with the names of every casualty from the war. The design allows for the reflection of visitors when they are facing the wall. This is meant to show that it could have been any one of us fighting in Vietnam; it brings the past and present together. The design of the monument is also supposed to evoke a feeling of healing, like a gash int he earth that is slowly healing.
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The Korean War memorial is composed of 19 larger than life-size stainless steel statues. The figures represent a squad on patrol in Korea. Each is dressed in full combat gear and appears to be emerging from granite and juniper bushes to represent the rugged terrain of Korea. Wherever you stand in the memorial one of the soldiers is meeting your gaze. Its so pointed seeing as the soldiers are on patrol and must be continuously on guard. The statues are represent the trials and hardships of war, they are extremely life-like and a little frightening. After the tour we returned to this memorial for a glimpse of it at night. Each statue was illuminated by a small light. It was effective and creepy, very representative of the war itself. You can imagine the soldiers as ghosts of the fallen trying to help us remember their sacrifice and how lucky we are to be free.
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The final stop was the Lincoln Memorial. The building is in the form of a Greek temple at contains a large seated sculpture of Abraham Lincoln. The statue stands 19 ft, if Lincoln was standing he would be 28 ft tall! The statue shows the two different sides of the president that were needed throughout his leadership during the Civil War. One side is relaxed and confident representing the President the Union needed while the other side is stern and ready for battle representing the image of the President to the Confederacy. A large amount of time was spent snapping photos with Lincoln. Kris loves him so much and wants to be able to remember being in this epic monument forever! At one point a sweaty young runner took a photo of the two of us. It was really nice of him, except her just took a photo of us…and didn’t include the 19ft statue we were standing in front of…it was weird. especially since he only took our photo..?
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The memorial was also the location of Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. At the top of the stairs there is a small plaque commemorating this event. We took a break nearby on the steps. The view of the Washington Monument reflecting in the appropriately named Reflecting pool was very cool to see. The walk home was far better tonight than the day before. Perhaps it was the many breaks we took during the day or maybe it was the power of Lincoln.
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– Arthur was a president…who knew?

Love, Luck & Lincoln,
Justine & Kris

In Honor & Remembrance

Today was a very sombering, very emotional day for us…pretty much the opposite of yesterdays Hofbraühaus experience. Breakfast was light though. We ate at the hostel with two new friends of ours. They were actually the two boys we watched play chess for over an hour in Salzburg…we didn’t know they were coming to Munich next too, but we all ended up at the same hostel. How serendipitous! But for our main activity of the day we joined a Sandemans New Europe (the company that does our fav free tours) paid tour to Dachau Concentration Camp.

Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp opened in Germany. It was opened in 1933, just 51 days after Hitler took power. It served as a prototype and model for the 1500 Nazi concentration camps that followed.

For the first years Dachau was used to hold political prisoners, German politicians (mostly Communists) who opposed the Third Reich. As the war began and the Nazis invaded neighboring countries the number of prisoners grew and conditions worsened. The prisoners now included criminals, the mentally ill, homosexuals, gypsies and Jews from throughout Europe. The Dachau administration recorded the intake of 206,206 prisoners and 31,951 deaths. Many of the deaths were the result of poor sanitation, malnutrition, deprivation of medical care, and beatings & shootings for infraction of rules, or at random. But despite the massive number of deaths, this camps primary aim was not extermination. Prisoners in weakened condition were transferred elsewhere to be executed in the gas chambers for their unfitness. The actual number of deaths at camp remains an estimate because of the use of the crematorium and the unknown number of Soviet prisoners of war who were executed without reason and without written record.

Together with the much larger Auschwitz, Dachau has come to symbolize the Nazi concentration camps to many people. It was the second camp to be liberated and one of the first places where the previously unknown Nazi practices were exposed to the Western world.

A visit to Dachau is hard to explain. We’ll start by saying we are glad we went as part of a tour group, as opposed to on our own. There are English explanations everywhere, but the tour guide was full of extra knowledge and stories that made everything so much more real…and that’s when the camp really hits you: when you wrap your head around that fact that this all really happened. Going and seeing the camp, with the halls & barracks & vast, barren center square, is surreal in itself. The idea of people living there at all is unplesant, and when you add the horrible conditions described to you it becomes completely horrible. Everything seems to be set up to break down the prisoners mentally…and physically too. The graphic videos, photos & stories of beatings, torture & starvation makes your stomach turn and your heart hurt, all at the same time. And this is all before you even start considering that you are standing on the sight of mass murder…a center of genocide.
We are not going to give you a bunch of photos or talk about details of what we saw today, it seems in bad taste, but we encourage anyone interested to learn more about WWII, the holocaust & internment camps. It may be difficult to see, hear and read…it may seem impossible to stomach…but it is so important that we know, understand and learn, lest we never let it happen again. As you leave Bunker X and the sight of the execution wall & gas chambers at Dachau there is a simple statue. It is an unassuming man in his prisoner garb, standing in a completely symbolic casual stance. He is the unknown prisoner and he stands as a memorial to the a least 32,000 (and possibly up to 65,000) men who died in this one of 1500 camps. At the base of the statue is a simple statement: To Honor the Dead, To Warn the Living.

Our evening was subdued. When we returned to Munich, we gathered our bags from the hostel, ate a quick donair & fries supper at the rail station and boarded a train to Füssen. We got in at about 8 pm so we just went to the hostel and hung out there for the evening. Tomorrow will be a much perkier day…into a fairy tale from a nightmare. But even with calling it that, today was an incredible day, one we wouldn’t dream of trading or taking back, and one we won’t soon forget.

Love, Luck & Lasting Hope,

Shhh! Don’t let anyone know I made it…

Ah how nice it is to sleep in a real bed! We are not taking back our satisfaction of our last night train, but there is something to be said about begin an actual bed…even if it is a squeaky, old bunk bed. We woke up ready to rock & roll with a bit more Berlin viewing. After a hostel breakfast (with actual Peanut Butter!!!! Yum Yum Yum!) & stowing our bags at reception we hit the town.

We didn’t talk much yesterday about Berlin as a modern city. It’s become a reall awesome place. First there’s the surreal feeling of being at a location filled with so much history. It’s got a lot of sights & experiences. But outside of the tourist realm it’s still a great place. There is more graffiti here than anywhere else we have been so far. It’s also a bit dirty & gritty…but that might be it’s best feature. It feels so real. It is the kind of place you want to go back to for more than a couple of days. It’s somewhere you’d want to experience like a local would, because it seems like a great place to live… 30 years ago, who would have thought someone would think that?

We knew the sights we wanted to see today from yesterday’s touring. We started at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. This museum is located right beside the checkpoint and wall. It first opened as an exhibition in 1962, shortly after the wall was built. Today the museum contains numerous photos and displays showing the many ways people tried to escape East Germany. And boy were there some original ideas! Our favorite was a woman escaping on a train in 2 suitcases with the one side cut out so she could lay between them. The exhibit really succeeded in bringing this period to life and showing the desperation many had to escape to the West.
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This photo goes with yesterday’s story of the tanks faced off at Checkpoint Charlie. The black & white photo is of the Soviet tanks rolling in…the other is us on the same spot…

Our path followed the path of the wall to the still-standing section. It’s slightly unimpressive. You look at it and think “Yeah it’s pretty high” and “that’s a lot of concrete & rebar” but it’s only because you can’t get the full effect. It didn’t need to be any higher, as the tubing across the top (ironically bought from West Berlin) prevented people from getting a handhold to boost themselves up. It wasn’t very thick because people rarely actually reached the wall. There would be a perimeter of no-mans land around it that no one would step foot in (hence the name) for fear of soldiers, explosives and automated guns. We walked along the free-standing piece and tried to picture what it would be like to see something like this appear overnight. It’s not an easy image to conjure!

Right beside the wall is the Topography of Terror. Yesterday we told you how this was where the Nazi Gestapo and SS headquarters were. The ground is covered in small rocks that are all that remains of these buildings. The site will forever be this way, as a way to remember the horrible ostrasities planned here…lest we forget & history repeats itself. There is one building on the site though. It houses a exhibit walking you through Nazi Germany.
When this site was completely brought to rubble in 1987 they discovered the cellar and prison cells where many political prisoners were tortured and executed. These sites were excavated and have now been included in the memorial. Inspired by them a timeline of photos and documents were gathered. These depict the rise of Hitler, the terror of his rein and the treatment of both the people of Germany & occupied nations. The photos inside the museum were both interesting and horrifying. To see the faces of so many who died, or of their bodies laying dead from gunshot wounds or hanging. And to see the faces of those who caused that pain, in one photo stoic…the face of war…but then happy & laughing with the other Gestapo in the next picture (as if they had not just taken countless lives).

We used our last few hours in Berlin to walk around a bit more. We made our way to the Alexanderpatz square and then back to the restaurant infested center just off of museum island. Here we found a great pizza lunch deal. Because of our train schedule tonight this was to be our big meal of the day. We ended up each getting a pizza and a Berliner Weisse beer and the meal was still below €20. This time Justine go the red shot in her beer, which makes it pretty much the same as the original but with a slightly different taste…and it’s red…but inherently the same… Her pizza was pepperoni, salami, mushrooms & peppers. Kristin had a seafood & cherry tomato pizza.
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Say hi to Kristin’s new friend!

Tonight we head into central Germany. This post is going to leave off at about 6 pm because that’s what works best considering our travels. More stories tomorrow!

Love, Luck & Lots of Toast,