Similar to Spencer’s birthday, we celebrated Meg’s birthday first at home, and then with friends. For her birthday dinner, she decided on French toast and fruit salad. To celebrate with friends, she picked a place in the Netherlands called Clip n Climb, which was the location for one of her friends’ parties last fall. This year she requested a galaxy cake. Two of her friends asked for the recipe, so it was definitely a hit. That’s another notch on Clare’s cake-making belt. Even though she claims to not be good at it, she has a track record of some pretty incredible cakes.
One of the climbing adventures was a timed one – Meg did it about 10 times in a row, getting faster each time. I think her first one was over 40 seconds, and she eventually got done to about 15 seconds!
This year we didn’t really celebrate Spencer’s birthday directly on his birthday, because his birthday was over Carnival weekend, and we instead went to Berlin for a long weekend. Instead we adjusted the schedule a bit, but kept some of the traditions. We had Spencer’s family birthday dinner of Schnitzel, Käsespätzle, Broccoli and ice cream cake with Dave and Ellen on the 18th. Then on Friday the 28th Spencer and most of his soccer team, plus his best friend from school Andre celebrated at the local laser tag place. It was legen — wait for it — dary!
Our last day in Berlin was probably my favorite – we took a tour of the Bundestag, including the dome. The Reichstag building was built in 1894 and housed the German parliament until 1933, when it was damaged by fire, and the Nazis dissolved parliament. The fire was an act of arson, which was blamed on a Dutch Communist, but was likely done by the Nazis themselves as an excuse to dissolve parliament. It wasn’t until 1999 that it began to house parliament again. Tours are free, but need to be booked well in advance, which Clare took care of. She was able to reserve a tour in English, which was helpful for her parents to understand what was going on. Some other interesting aspects of the restoration include leaving some of the graffiti left by Soviet soldiers after the end of World War II.
One of the benefits of the Welcome Berlin card we bought for the public transit was some discounts at some restaurants – we were able to take advantage of these several times. One of the options was at MacLaren’s Pub, a restaurant created after the pub of the same name from the tv show How I met your Mother. We had just recently finished watching the show together as a family, and the kids were very excited to go there. The 5 minute walk from the subway seemed longer in the wind and rain, but it was worth it. They had all sorts of cool memorabilia, and pretty good food and drinks too. Spencer and I wanted to suit up for the occasion, which meant that we both bought new ties at the mall of Berlin.
For our second full day in Berlin we first headed to the Berlin wall museum at Checkpoint Charlie. I think we all really enjoyed it. There is a huge amount of artifacts and information about the wall packed into a relatively small space. Other than the occasional piece of the wall here and there scattered about Berlin, it is nearly impossible to notice the differences between West and East anymore.
For our first full day in Berlin, we headed out to Potsdam to visit the famous palace of Sans Souci, which means “without worry” in French. Frederick the Great spent his summers there in the 18th century. The entire park houses several different palaces. Sans Souci was Frederick the Great’s favorite palace. It is actually not that big for a palace, with only about a dozen rooms. We took the train from Berlin out to the park. We arrived near the new palace, but had timed tickets for Sans Souci, which is on the other side of the park, so we had a pretty long walk to get there. Fortunately it wasn’t rainy.
After the tour of Sans Souci we had a little snack of leftover rolls from breakfast and some fruit, and then found a bus that took us back to the new palace for the tour there. We stopped at the museum shop there to get a cookbook that Meg liked, and then we got a tour of the new palace, which is much bigger than Sans Souci. Frederick the Great had it built to display the wealth and power of the kingdom of Prussia. Emperor Wilhelm the second spent much of the last several years of his reign during World War I here. One of the many interesting facts we learned was that Frederick the Great allowed common people to tour the palace even while he was in power, so long as they were dressed appropriately (which for women apparently meant wearing a dress 6 feet wide).
After the tours we had a tasty lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant in Potsdam, then made a brief stop at the Nauener gate before heading back to our aparment in Berlin near the Brandenburg gate.
We had to change trains from the S-Bahn to the U-Bahn at Zoologischer Garten, and I managed to drag everyone to the Kaiser Wilhelm remembrance church, which, while only a few blocks away, seemed long for tired legs. I think it was worth it though, to see the contrast of one mostly-destroyed church from WWII, and the new church right next to it, which is bathed in blue light from the stained glass windows.
The swim club has an internal swim meet every December. In January they present the awards. Meg was really excited for it. Last year she got 3rd place, and this year 2nd. Her times were: 56.40 50m freestyle, 1:10.22 50m breast, and 1:09.84 50m backstroke. This was Spencer’s first year, and he didn’t make it into the top three, mostly because he was just getting over from a nasty cold, but he still got a medal. His times were 47.78s 50m freestyle, 1:06.72, 50m breast, and 1:05.13 50m backstroke. We are very proud of both of our swimmers!