Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Behind The Wall

Map picture

Yesterday our ship docked at the seaside resort of Warnemunde, which is itself a suburb of Rostock, Germany. Rostock is a quaint old German town which is home to around 200,000 people. It has the typical cobblestone narrow streets that are so common in this area. Ships come to this area not for the local scenery however, but as the stopping off port that allows easy access to Berlin. I would imagine that well over 2/3 of the ship’s passengers made the 12 hour round-trip into Berlin for the day, but having done that, we were looking for something different.

Before leaving home, I saw that the ship offered a full day private trip with a guide and a driver, and so I assumed there must be things to see in this area and signed up for that option. Shortly after joining the ship, the Shore Excursion Manager phoned to be sure we wanted to stay in the Rostock area and not drive into Berlin; apparently that was an unusual option. After confirming our desires, a day or two later we get another call advising that the local agent says there is just not that much to see in Rostock, and suggesting that we do a half day tour instead. OK, so we decide a half day it is. Meanwhile, I start looking at what material I have about the area, and I see that one tour the ship offered is a 5 hr. trip to visit the nearby Palace at Schwerin. I figure that with just the two of us and a private car, we could visit the castle and still have time left over to make a quick visit to Rostock, I advised the excursion office of my desire to visit Schwerin, too. Well, that became a big deal with the local tour office. They insisted that a local guide for Rostock would not be knowledgeable about Schwerin, and so they insisted that they obtain a special guide for the Palace. Fine – whatever! I told you this background in order that you will appreciate what actually happened on our tour.

Most tours left the ship very early, around 7am, but we had to wait until 9am for our “special guide” to arrive by train from Schwerin. At the appointed time, we duly met our guide and driver, and set off in a beautiful new Mercedes limo for the German high speed run to the city of Schwerin, which was about an hour inland. Once on the autobahn, where there are no speed limits, we buzzed along at around 160 kph, or roughly 100 mph. Even at that, cars were whizzing by us in a constant stream. As we settled in for our drive, our “guide” opened some material she had brought and started to read to us in a rapid non-stop monotone. It sounded like something out of a textbook, e.g. the area is so many hectares, it has a population density of…., the average rainfall is…. etc. She had photocopied many pages, and carefully highlighted certain items, and she was in full bore to read it all to us.

Thank goodness we finally arrived into the town of Schwerin where she finally got into a disagreement with our driver about where to park. She obviously did not know what she was talking about, and so he ignored her and went to park as close to the palace as he could. The day had dawned cloudy, cold, and very windy and it looked as if it would rain at any minute, so closer was indeed better. The palace was beautiful from the outside.

Schwerin, Germany It was described in a brochure as “architecturally one of the most important buildings of European history, having been built from 1845-1857. It has been owned by the State since 1918, and today houses the government of the State Parliament, however the original rooms of State within the Palace have been preserved in excellent condition.” According to our brochure, “the palace church is an architectural gem, not to be missed. It was built in 1560-1563.” It was then later incorporated into the Palace structure.

After obtaining our tickets, our “guide” was not sure which way to go to enter the exhibit. Finally, she finds some stairs and says that we need to climb three floors. When I asked if we could use the elevator, she told us that there was not one in the building, so we trudged up three flights of stairs. Once there, she could not find the exhibit, and so a guard came over to explain to her where to go, and finally we had arrived at the old State Rooms. I was disappointed that they would not allow photographs, because some of the rooms were absolutely beautiful. The Throne Room, in particular, was a sight to behold. Sadly also, our “guide” really did not know much about the Palace. We would enter a room and she would shuffle through a sheaf of papers pulled from a three ring binder until she found the one that seemed to match the room we had entered. Then she would start to read to us about the room. Finally I asked about the Palace Church. She told me that there was no Church in the Palace. I was sure I had read that somewhere I assured her, but she was adamant that no Church existed! To shorten a long story, it was very obvious that our “expert” was really not an expert at all. She was a recent college graduate working in journalism part time, and her only connection to the Palace Schwerin was that she lived in Schwerin!

Leaving the palace, we walked a little around the grounds, but it was chilly (around 50 degrees), very windy, and a wet mist was in the air. Finally arriving back where our car was parked, I headed towards the car, but our guide said that we should follow her. I was getting a little tired of her, but she insisted that we must stroll through the old town on our way to the church and anyway, our car was not meeting us there. Funny, because I could have sworn I saw it parked where we left it. Assuring us that it was a quick walk to the church, we set out on our stroll of the old town. I am going to guess that we “strolled” about 30 minutes uphill in the wind and rain to the point that I could no longer feel my nose from the cold and wind. Poor Lisa’s face was beet red, and sweat was pouring from her forehead. Occasionally our guide would stop in front of some building or another and pull out a sheet of paper and start to read to us about the building – at this point I got a little pushy about our moving along to the church.

Schwerin, GermanyFinally, we arrived at the church – frozen and tired. It was a pretty church – built around 1200, and very pretty with an organ housing over 6,000 pipes.

Schwerin, GermanyUnfortunately, as was becoming the norm, our “guide” did not know anything about the church, so after sitting awhile, she said we would walk back to the car! Wait a minute – “do we really have to walk all the way back there? Can’t the car come and pick us up here?” She tells me that no, because cars are not allowed to drive in the old city. Horse hocky- right out front of the church, cars were buzzing along in a steady stream. And so, I dug in my heels, and suggested she phone the driver to see if he could come pick us up. Looking flustered, she said that she had to step outside because she had no phone signal in the church, and she would be back in a few minutes. What she did not have was the driver’s phone number, not a lack of a phone signal. We sat in the cold church interior for almost 40 minutes before she arrived back, and said to follow her. Now when we left the church, all the traffic had stopped. It seems that the Chancellor of Germany was to give a speech nearby, and they had just closed the streets in preparation for that event, but our driver had managed to come up a back street and was just a block away.

On our drive back, I pretty much blew the guide off as useless. I sat up front with the driver, while she sat in the back with Lisa and proceeded to eat twinkies and drink some juice she had brought with her. Before we got back to the ship however, she got car sick, so in spite of the driving rain, we opened the windows to get her some air.

Enough about the “guide” already; I quickly learned that our driver spoke fluent English, in fact, better than the guide. He was about our age, and was a fascinating person to talk with. In his real life, he had been a manager for a well-known rock band and as such, had travelled all over the US and Europe. In fact, he had even spent two days in Kansas City and remembered it well. We got into some really good discussions, and then it hit me ----- we were behind the Berlin Wall! As he talked, I came to realize that he had grown up under communist rule, and that the area in which we were travelling was formerly East German Territory. I can’t believe I missed that fact. So, I bluntly asked him what it was like to have lived behind the Wall. He smiled and explained that life was actually pretty good. He said that people lived normal lives, had parties, started families, etc. In fact, they could travel to Prague and Bucharest, but not of course to the US, but he admitted that you can’t miss what you did not know. He admitted that it was a crazy system. For example, let’s say he needed toilet paper. He might go to the store to buy some and they would not have toilet paper, but they had toothpaste. They would have toilet paper next week, but next week they would have no toothpaste. He told me that knowing what he does now, he never wants to return to the old regime or to see the wall rebuilt, but there are those who do. That shocked me.

Well, he pointed out that many old people today are scared and long for the good old days. He told me about his parents. Think about it he suggested. They grew up under the Nazis, and when that government fell, they lost everything. Then came the communists, and they had everything provided by the State. They did not have to worry about retirement or medical care, or where or how they would live. Now that is all gone, and they have nothing! Most elderly rely on their children, or they try to keep working as long as they can, but it is very hard in the new economy.

On our way back to the ship, he detoured to the town of Rostock to show us the old city and some of the magnificent churches. However, it started to pour down rain. He ignored our guide, having obviously figured out she was useless, and in spite of the rain, gave us a wonderful driving tour of the city. I could not get any pictures, but sometimes you have to take memories home and not pictures.

I am sorry this is so long, but it was an interesting day. Today I figured we would just have a day at leisure, but we are going through the Kiel Canal and a great deal is going on – I think that is the subject of another missive. So, I hope everyone is well, and I hope to get caught up on pictures later today if I can.


PS Just to update you on the “guide” situation, I told the Shore Excursion Manager of our experience and she was very upset that the local service had pulled this stunt. She found us at dinner and let us know that the fee for our trip had been cut by 1/3, which seemed fair.

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