Leoneda Inge – Berlin to Brussels 2014

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Art and Anticipation

Sunday we were off to see another part of Germany! The real test was packing, a real test for when it’s time to head back to the states. I left the larger portion of my rolling backpack at the Berlin hotel, delaying the inevitable. No money to pay for heavy luggage – something WILL go! That ugly grey suit I brought on this trip, lotions and powder – something will have to remain behind!

Mentor Hildegard Boucsein and Texas A&M University grad student Susan Stallings travel with RIAS to Dresden!

Mentor Hildegard Boucsein and Texas A&M University grad student Susan Stallings travel with RIAS to Dresden!


The good thing, the weight of our luggage doesn’t matter yet. We traveled in comfort, by bus, to the city of Dresden. Dresden sits in the “Free State of Saxony.” It is sort of a college-town, with manufacturing, a lot of history and a lot of ART! Kinda reminds me of the Triangle! The first piece of art that greeted this group of American journalists was just outside our hotel, representing the area’s famous Boys Choir.

Art celebrating St. Thomas Boys Choir, in front of our hotel in Dresden.

Art celebrating St. Thomas Boys Choir, in front of our hotel in Dresden.


The City of Dresden has undergone a major transformation since wartime and “wall” time. Rainer Hasters, our tour guide and Executive Director of the RIAS Berlin Kommission, our trip sponsor, told us, it used to be hard to get Western media signals in Dresden. It was called “Valley of the Uninformed.” Today, Dresden has rebuilt its population and its famous infrastructure. Carola Bernholz walked us around the city. One of the most well-known and tallest landmarks is the “Church of Our Lady.” For many years, there was only a pile of rubble at this site, leftovers from the bombing and fire during the war. Bernholz says the community treated the rubble as a “monument against war.” Dresden would eventually come together, raise money, mark every stone/brick, and rebuild the church (with the help of computer technology). It was completed in 2005.

The rebuilding of Church of Our Lady was finished in 2005.

The rebuilding of Church of Our Lady was finished in 2005.


Dresden rebuilt many old, ruined buildings. It is common to see an outer baroque facade and a modern facility on the inside.

There are many old churches in Dresden and there are also probably a lot of Fallen Angels!

There are many old churches in Dresden and there are also probably a lot of Fallen Angels!


We visited the Academy of Fine Arts, a high school and a college. I loved the room full of stone sculptures – some antiques, some reproductions. Bernholtz said, in the 19th century, it was as popular to have a “reproduction” as the real thing.

A room full of sculptures at the Academy of Fine Arts.  Which ones are originals?

A room full of sculptures at the Academy of Fine Arts. Which ones are originals?


One of the most well-known historic characters in Dresden time seems to be “Augustus II – ‘The Strong.” There’s a large and long mural made of porcelain tiles – “Procession of Princes” – that includes “The Strong” – something to see. “Augustus the Strong” was infamous for many reasons. I remember three things – he became Catholic so he could become the President of Poland, he loved the women and had at least 300 children, and one of his mistresses made him claim her on paper! She was later put in jail, but she was also infamous, her face is on bottles of wine and more!

Yummy potato dessert - that's applesauce!

Yummy potato dessert – that’s applesauce!


Our long walk ended with dinner at a well-known spot – “Sophienkeller.” The staff dressed in period costumes, serving a lot of beer, meat and potatoes! My dessert was even some sort of fried potato dumpling, with sugar on top, and apple sauce and cream on the side!

Prof. Georg Milbradt, former Minister President of the German State Saxony, was our guest – along with his wife. He told us about the years when Saxony, a main industrial center, was cut off from its Western market (across Europe and overseas). Today, he confirms the State is back, unemployment is low (about 7%), and exports are on the move. Milbradt says, the test is settling the banking problems of the south (like southern Germany and Italy, etc…) He says the “south” has to become more competitive to pay its debt.

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Coming Full Circle

The RIAS Berlin fellows wrapped up a long week today. We put on our most comfortable attire and headed on a bus trip to Potsdam – the vacation home of “King Frederick the Great of Prussia.” Despite the beautiful gardens, lakes and castle-like homes, this was a political day trip. Our drive out of Berlin first took us past the SPD Headquarters – Social Democratic Party. They suffered a big loss in the last big election, getting only 25% of the vote. Chancellor Angela Merkel is leader of the CDU – Christian Democratic Union. She’s Germany’s leader because her party grabbed 40% of the vote.

Rainer Hasters, Execurive Director, RIAS Berlin Kommission, has been a thoughtful, energetic, amusing tour guide this week.

Rainer Hasters, Execurive Director, RIAS Berlin Kommission, has been a thoughtful, energetic, amusing tour guide this week.


Before hitting the “freeway,” we passed by “Adolf Hitler’s” airport and private landing strip (massive area in Berlin; ceased operation in 2008). The size of Tempelhof Airport, was said to be second in size to The Pentagon, according to our fellowship executive director, Rainer Hasters. That’s big! That would mean it is also becoming an eyesore. An article in The Atlantic is titled, “Hitler’s Airport: Berlin has buried every trace of the Third Reich – with one big exception,” explains why Tempelhof is still here, even though it housed the only concentration camp in Berlin.
Of course, Hitler shut down Tempelhof – cutting off supplies to West Berlin. The American military would eventually control the airport. Remember the “Berlin Airlift?” Remember the “Candy Bomber,” the American pilot who would drop sweets from little parachutes to kids in the neighborhood!

Katherine Perry, WATD-FM and Marilyn Geewax, NPR, and I thinking happier thoughts outside "Wannsee Conference" mansion.

Katherine Perry, WATD-FM and Marilyn Geewax, NPR, and I thinking happier thoughts outside “Wannsee Conference” mansion.


Our first stop was Wannsee – “The Villa Marlier.” In 1942, the highest of Reich officials met at this lush site to discuss the final intended deportation and murder of European Jews. It was called a meeting in “bourgeois ambience.” The museum sign outside the villa read, “Although an abundance of documents report in detail about the genocide…no further comparable proof of such an overall master plan (exists).” That’s the Wannsee Conference.

It’s hard to imagine living near this mansion – historical or otherwise. It’s surrounded by vacation homes, likely everyday, semi-wealthy people who want peace in the suburbs of Berlin. The tiny, winding road was full of tour buses, people visiting from around the world. Where is the peace in that!

Soviet, British and US leaders met in this room at Cecilienhof Palace in 1945.

Soviet, British and US leaders met in this room at Cecilienhof Palace in 1945.


From 1942 to 1945. My journalist friends and I would come to the “Cecilienhof Palace” in Potsdam. In the Summer of 1945 – The Potsdam Conference – would make history. The three leading powers after WWII would meet at the palace – British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, US President Harry S. Truman and Soviet President Joseph Stalin. History says leaders wanted the meeting in Berlin, but it was too “bombed out,” no suitable meeting place.

Red Geraniums were placed outside Cecilienhof Palace in 1945 and are here today.

Red Geraniums were placed outside Cecilienhof Palace in 1945 and are here today.


The room where the “Big Three” meeting took place to negotiate the terms for the end of WWII and what to do with Germany, looks like it did almost 70 years ago – large table, red velvet or velvet-like covering, red covered chairs and the flags of the “Big Three” nations on the walls and on the table. There was a museum fee to visit the palace and another fee to take pictures. I don’t remember paying that fee, but I did snap one photo (after seeing someone else do it)! The grounds were immaculate, like the grounds of a palace should look. Also, just as it was during these historic negotiations, is the star of red geraniums out front, also historically framed with blue hydrangeas, just for the conference.

The vacation home of King Frederick the Great of Prussia - "Sans Souci!"

The vacation home of King Frederick the Great of Prussia – “Sans Souci!”


Our last stop in Potsdam was at the vacation home of King Frederick the Great of Prussia.” Rainer told us it used to be a “KGB Secret City!” The constant rain almost spoiled the stop, but it was worth seeing this level of opulence. Berlin’s “Where” Magazine calls the home, “the lakeside gem right on Berlin’s doorstep…a miniature Versailles.” At the top of the palace is the term “Sans Souci” – French for “no worries.” It was raining so hard at one point, me and Vivian Chakarian, a Program Coordinator at Voice of America, ducked into the gift shop! (They are smart, you did not have to buy a ticket to go INSIDE the castle, to get to the gift shop!) Vivian purchased a beautiful device that is used to slice boiled eggs! I really wanted one of those. I got a “royal kitchen” apron for my sister, Cassaundra the Chef! Again, all worth the adventure!


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The Great Compromise

I’m up early, again, on this Friday morning, in the land where all the taxi cabs are made by Mercedes Benz, many locals drive bicycles as fast as cars while smoking and without a helmet, and it’s normal to get a big scoop of mayo on top of your French Fries. Hey, at least it’s not hot anymore in Berlin, instead, rather chilly with light rain.

KTVZ News Reporter Alicia Inns and CNN's Ayesha Williams stay warm, dry and cute during our tour.

KTVZ News Reporter Alicia Inns and CNN’s Ayesha Williams stay warm, dry and cute during our tour.


My fellow journalists and I took the subway to the Berlin Wall Memorial – “Gedenkstatte Berliner Mauer.” The story our tour guide told us was quite gruesome. Miriamne Fields talked about the layered system designed to stop East Germans trying to get to West Berlin. The memorial is actually on a former border strip and runs right into the subway stop we arrived on. This transportation hub was closed down for years after 1961, prohibiting many from getting to work, school and from seeing family.
Our "Memorial Wall" tour guide often stopped to show us photos of what the site looked like over the past 50 years.

Our “Memorial Wall” tour guide often stopped to show us photos of what the site looked like over the past 50 years.


Today there is green grass on the border grounds. “That’s for the tourists,” said Fields. She says the “death strip” barrier area was once full of sand, making it hard to run or drive away. And if someone made it over a certain stretch of “the wall,” there would be the barrier area and then another wall. The memorial reads, “At least 136 people died at the Berlin Wall.” During the discussion and tour, all I could think about was in the United States, there are “walls” and “invisible fences” everywhere. There are some wealthy residents who choose to live in “gated communities,” to separate themselves from people who are not like them. There are poor Americans, many of color, who are bound by their neighborhood because they can’t afford to move outside of the gates. And when they do, their choices have been proven to be limited, with race being a factor.

Why all this separation and hate? Our tour guide reminded “us” Americans, that when President John F. Kennedy was called and informed about the barbed wire barriers and wall going up, he said, at least it’s not another war. So, “the wall” was a compromise.

Today, I was surprised to discover there is another “wall” memorial, walking distance from my hotel. No, I was shocked when I found out. Right around the corner used to be the main offices of the German Secret State Police – “Gestapo.” From 1939, the site was the headquarters of the Reich Security main office, headed by Heinrich Himmler. That means Nazi Leader Adolph Hitler’s office was also nearby. This Reich organized the persecution and mass murder of the Jews in Europe. And they built “the wall.” The building where all this “hate” was housed was destroyed but the stone rubble is used to decorate the landscape and the outdoor memorial exhibit – “Berlin 1933-1945, Between Propaganda and Terror.”

We had a beautiful lunch at "Hotel Adlon."  The Rolling Stones stayed there about a week ago and Michael Jackson also stayed there, and showed the world his baby from a balcony!

We had a beautiful lunch at “Hotel Adlon.” The Rolling Stones stayed there about a week ago and Michael Jackson also stayed there, and showed the world his baby from a balcony!


The German/American Journalists Exchange fellows (RIAS) had a lively discussion over lunch. Our guest, at the famous “Hotel Adlon” was Ali Aslan. He’s anchor of the TV program, “Quadriga,” on Deutsche Welle. The Turkish Journalist has also dabbled in politics and had a lot to say about German’s education system. There are three tiers of public education past age 10, and if you are not recommended or test high enough for the top tier, your level of success could be limited. Aslan spoke emphatically against this system, because many immigrants seem to be sent to the lowest tier schools. Of course, I told him I was “bored” with this topic and wondered why he was so shocked. “This is old news,” I said. I wanted to know what was being done to fix this, to “change” the system. Aslan could only answer, “Germans hate change.” Well, I guess that’s their compromise.

Many say Germany, and the U.S., would be smart to better recognize and educate its newest citizens. Aslan says 20% of Germans are foreigners, or have a “migrant” background. Those numbers are growing, but the birthrate of your “white” German population is not. “Germany needs a workforce,” said Aslan. “We will soon have to beg people to come here.”


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The Media Mix

The temperature outside has tempered and cooled a bit in Berlin. A little rain did the trick. But the conversations were interesting and steamy today as fellows with the RTDNF German/American Journalists Exchange met with Thomas One and Thomas Two. Thomas Habicht is a former “radio man” who has now taken his expertise to newspaper as Berlin correspondent for “shz” media group. Habicht said no matter what some may think, no country is more important to Germany than the United States. And he says former President George H.W. Bush is a major reason why.

Thomas Habicht, "shz" Berlin correspondent, chats with CNN's Ayesha Williams.

Thomas Habicht, “shz” Berlin correspondent, chats with CNN’s Ayesha Williams.


He says Bush I (who turned 90-years-old Thursday) and the US, supported Germany’s reunification, when its neighbors, including France, did not. Habicht says today, polls continue to show more than 95% of German citizens support reunification as the country marches closer toward the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Well, who has benefitted the most from Germany’s reunification? Habicht says “old people” and “young people.” But those in the middle, including a lot of teachers have it hard – “Too young to retire and too old for a fresh start,” said Habicht. It reminds me a lot of North Carolina, which continues to try to transform its economy. There is a “former” middle class in North Carolina who lost their wealth when traditional manufacturing crumbled. When the East and West reunited here, many in East Berlin, who were less educated and had lower wage jobs suffered the most. I’m told the unemployment rate in the former East Berlin is twice as high as in the former West.

Graham Ulkins, WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge, LA, helps me understand the four sectors that made up Berlin - Soviet (East), French, British and American.

Graham Ulkins, WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge, LA, helps me understand the four sectors that made up Berlin – Soviet (East), French, British and American.


After a short visit to the Federal Foreign Ministry offices, we headed to ZDF television studios. Our walk reminded me of high-end Manhattan. With the large Russian Embassy in view, this section of former East Berlin was now the home to stores like Hugo Boss, Mont Blanc and a Westin Hotel. So you may be thinking, how did a “public television station” afford this address?

ZDF “Public” Television gets to play around with a budget of $2.2 billion a year! Each German household has to pay a monthly fee of about $20 (no T-shirt, no mug) to subsidize its public stations. The total pot is $8 billion – a big chunk goes to the “other” public television network and the rest to regional TV and Radio stations.

ZDF's Thomas Walde shows us around the Berlin studios.

ZDF’s Thomas Walde shows us around the Berlin studios.


“Thomas Two,” Thomas Walde is Senior Berlin Correspondent for ZDF, and he wears the part well. He says they have about 500 employees in Berlin and 7,000 or more around the world. Wherever Chancellor Angela Merkel goes, they go. But ZDF – which seems like a mix of the BBC, CNN and CBS – is more than politics and documentaries. It covers entertainment in a big way. I am watching the opening ceremony of the World Cup in Brazil and the game on ZDF. Yes, they beat out the commercial stations to co-carry the event with the other public network. I think I need a ZDF t-shirt!


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Life in the East

Our day started earlier than the day before. Our hosts assuming our bout with jet-lag is over. Not for me. But that was the only time the other visiting journalists and I could sit down and meet Erik Kirschbaum, Reuters Berlin Correspondent. He covers economic issues, including German’s thriving Renewable Energy industry. But most intriguing was his talk about who and what event “really” brought down the Berlin Wall. Well, in Erik’s book, “Rocking the Wall,” it seems Bruce Springsteen played a MAJOR role. Some 300,000 young people, screaming for change, packed his East Berlin concert, half of them didn’t even have a ticket!

Well, most of my fellowship, so far, has been spent in the former Communist East Germany. (My hotel is considered in the middle, walking distance from “Checkpoint Charlie.”) Much of today was spent in a hidden EAST neighborhood, home of the former Stasi Prison and a tour of the Hohenschonhausen Memorial.

Part of Hohenschonhausen Memorial

Part of Hohenschonhausen Memorial


The Stasi Prison is where the Soviet Secret Police “banished” resistors and people trying to flee East Berlin. Many prisoners were kept in damp basement cells called the “submarine.” The rooms recalling this brutal history was made even more real with a photo exhibit of the prisoners.
This "Welcome to DDR-Land" sign is right outside Stasi Prison.

This “Welcome to DDR-Land” sign is right outside Stasi Prison.


We later met with Richard Meng, a spokesman for the Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, and Undersecretary and Speaker of the Senate of Berlin. He touted “tourism” as one of Berlin’s biggest economic sectors. And I see why. When we left the prison, I noticed a sign alongside the road – “Welcome to DDR-land.” DDR was the East’s ruling party, also known as GDR (German Democratic Republic.) So you can see, everybody is making money off Germany’s sordid history.
Leoneda along with famous "communist" kiss!

Leoneda along with famous “communist” kiss!


Before heading West, we jumped out of the van to see and touch the largest section of the Berlin Wall still standing. It’s more than a mile long. The “East Side Gallery” consists of more than 100 paintings and murals along the wall. Artists from around the world were invited to paint on the East Wall in 1990, a year after the Berlin Wall fell. One of the most famous paintings in/on the “East Side Gallery” is the famous communist kiss between Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker. Of course, the real “kiss” took place a decade before The Wall fell, and for a totally different reason. I thought I would throw them a kiss anyway!

The “East Side Gallery” project was initiated by Kani Alavi, a German-Iranian painter. (NOTE: My BLOG header is a photo I took of Alavi, as he gave us a tour of the wall and of his painting.) In 2009, artists came back to touch up their work. You know, when Berlin was divided, it was against the law to paint on the East side of the wall, you could be shot! Much of the beautiful artwork is tainted by graffiti. Alavi calls it down right vandalism and he hates it! Funny, foreigners like myself consider Germany synonymous with graffiti. It is EVERYWHERE, just like I suspected. Maybe it’s because of my age, and how I became an adult at the end of the Cold War, I consider it an acceptable form of expression in many parts of the world. But also because of my age, I would personally make sure someone who painted on my “house” in the US spent a lot of time in jail!

We are fast approaching the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall – it is an honor to be here.


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Welcome to Berlin!

Berlin is HOT! Literally. There is a heatwave blanketing the city, or it feels that way to me. I was born in the south and 90F is pretty damn hot. I am making the best of the weather and getting to meet the broadcast journalists on my adventure. The Berlin landscape is easy to identify – even on the side of cars!

Berlin landscape outside my hotel.

Berlin landscape outside my hotel.

There are 13 journalists in the Summer 2014 – RIAS Berlin Kommission program. The RTDNF German/American Journalists Exchange began in 1993 to bridge understanding of how each country runs, especially after the fall of the Berlin Wall. RIAS stands for “Radio in the American Sector.” It was the first American radio station founded in Berlin and serves as a public radio station today (NPR operated).

Two of the public radio journalists traveling with me are NPR’s Marilyn Geewax and Rob Schaefer. Thanks Rob for the baseball cap!

Our first full day of work included a visit and tour of the historic Reichstag Building, where parliament meets. It suffered heavy damage during Word War II bombings. The last of its renovations was completed in 1999. Loads of school children and tourists visit the site, especially the glass, rooftop terrace and dome.

New Friend, Yang, Yang, took this photo of me near famous Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

New Friend, Yang Yang, took this photo of me near famous Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

But even more dramatic was the walk to Reichstag. When you look up, there is no way to miss the mighty Brandenburg Gate! I was one of hundreds of people getting their picture taken! This huge landmark symbolizes the division of Germany and its reunification. It shut off access for East and West Germans. Ronald Reagan stood near the gate when he gave his famous “tear down this wall” speech.

I look forward to more adventures – Thanks to Rainer Hasters, Isabell Hoffmann and Lisa Ziss for organizing our adventure! Hope I get to see that David Bowie exhibit!