Ramble On

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Thanksgiving Day History Lesson

On Thanksgiving morning after breakfast and before the big meal at the Mimslyn Inn, I took Mary, Mom and Nancy around for a drive. Now, it's not quite the celebration of the first Thanksgiving meal, which is probably a tradition many others observe. And while we were visiting our destinations, we saw a lot of hunters out in blaze orange or camo ("Realtree" appears to be the preferred pattern in this part of Virginia), and plenty of pickup trucks parked along side woods and fields for a morning venison hunt.
Our drive took us by the River’s Bend Ranch – where Nancy likes to bring the family in the summer, by the little landing along US 240 between Newport and Stanley – the water was high from recent rains, and finally to Catherine Furnace – near Newport and a little town called Grove Hill.
The furnace is a 20x20 pyramid, rising 20 feet so that it is 10x10 at the top. It remains standing in remarkably good shape. From http://www.vagenweb.org/shenandoah/hom/S_catfur.html , we know it was built in about 1840, after a couple of years of scouting locations and acquiring the land grants needed to support it – these operations required more than 20,000 acres to supply wood for charcoal to conduct the furnace operations. There is a link here (http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=15892) to the image of the historical marker near the site, just visible to the right in this photo.

Also, I’ve been reading a book “The Undying Past of Shenandoah National Park” – there is an Amazon link below, which goes into a lot of detail about these historic mining and forge operations in the area. Like most early industrial age processes, the amount of human energy invested in the process is simply amazing.
Furnaces were located near good water sources – in these two photos there is a view of the little stream that runs alongside the furnace before joining Cub Run, which was the route the pig iron was hauled along on its way to the river and then onward to the industry at Harpers Ferry. Visible in the woods across the small stream are stone walls and earth works that supported the work - access ramps for hauling charcoal and other materials to the furnace.
With our nice historical perspectives tour all taken care off, we went back to the house for a few minutes before setting out for our meal at the Mimsyn. We all chose the “traditional” main course – ham AND turkey, green beans, dressing, and mashed potatoes. Seconds were available, but none of us took them. For desert, apple, pecan, or pumpkin pie – all varieties were sampled at our table. All in all, a nice Thanksgiving Day.

Friday, November 27, 2009

November 2009 Clarendon Construction Update

The buildings across the street from my office continue to progress. The larger one, across the block on Clarendon Boulevard, is topped out and they have taken down one of the cranes. The facade work continues.

The time between these two photos is about 10 days, the second one was just taken this week. They did a good job scheduling this project - now that winter weather is coming on a lot of work can go on in the shelter of the constructed building frame - a lot of conduit and infrastructure has already been delivered and is getting installed. Once the facade is complete, it will get harder to track progress.

As far as the mid-block project goes, once again I have two photos taken ten days apart, with the second of these taken earlier this week. This building is slated to be between six to eight storeys tall when it is completed - I will try and get a photo of the project bulletin board up here soon. As can be seen - the crew has progressed out of the ground now and it putting in the forms for the second floor most recently.

On Wednesday I walked by the buildings at ground level. I was near the area where the new pre-fab facade elements are delivered by truck. From here they are lifted off up to the floors where they will be installed.
Also, farther back, there is a truck hauling out scaffolding and framing elements. These were used to hold the forms for the concrete floors, and are removed as the cast concrete cures. This part of the process is pretty close to complete at this stage of the game.
Be sure to click the Clarendon Construction label on this post to see the history of these construction projects since I have been tracking it, beginning in January 2008.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Morning Routine Remembered

When I went out for the paper this morning I had a nice memory of Gracie. Sometimes she would get up a little early and come downstairs to wait for me, then go outside with me to get the paper.

When I would get to the living room I would get a flash of the border collie eye and then there was a ritual display of standing up, stretching, and smacking her mouth after a yawn. Then a little tail wag, which would happen just as I was turning the door knob.

Some days, she'd go down into the yard, but sometimes she'd just stand on the porch at the top of the stairs and watch. We have a lot of neighbors who are sometimes out on dog walks at that hour, so I figure that socializing was a part of Gracie's motivation for this.

I'll bet it was just as often that she slept late, like a rock.

Still, that was a nice thought to start the day.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Page County Ponzi Scheme?

The second item I saw in last week’s PN&C was an article about a Ponzi scheme that took place in Page County. This one involved the majority owner of a local coffee roaster, which was known as Bean East Corporation. In Luray, it was known as Kiariz – which has been renamed Callao Coffee, and the new owners are “looking to move ahead.”

(Author's Note: I misidentified the building in the photo in my original post. This building housed 58 West internet cafe. They sold Kiariz Coffee there, but were not otherwise associated with Kiariz. The post has been edited to correct the mis-id.)
Here's an old photo of 58 West internet cafe's downtown location, one location where Kiariz was sold. Both Chris and Mary liked this place very much – Chris raved about their lattes, and Mary would enjoy visiting and using the internet in the shop there. The cafe folded up about the same time that the Kiariz story was coming out. It was a disappointment for us all to see it go.

The Ponzi scheme worked by the majority owner promising investors very high rates of interest for loans. The interest rates were justified with bogus contracts for coffee supplies – he even invoked the name of a trusted US brand, Folgers. In a Ponzi scheme, the proceeds from new investor funds are used to pay the old investors, with the schemer taking a substantial amount for himself.

In this case, Moledina, the mastermind, was charged with taking $16-million from 26 people. He has pled guilty to the charges, which include charges of wire fraud and various forgeries. From the PN&C story, there is no suggestion of a Moledina connection with the minority owners or current owners as far as the Ponzi activities go.

It’s hard not to associate this event with the activities of the former Page County Sherriff Presgraves (I haven’t posted on developments in his case in some time, I’m due – check out the ‘Presgraves’ label on the right for past posts). I guess this is because the county has such a small population that these cases always emerge as high profile situations.

As far as an impact on the Page County Economy, Kiariz is gone but there are new owners - I was glad to learn that the business has survived. I’m sure there is a lot of hard work ahead for them to recover from this blow, but I’d like to think they’ll make it.

The bright spot in all of this, also as highlighted in this week’s PN&C…the Brick Oven Pizzeria, which was a landmark in Stanley, has relocated to the former 58 West location in Luray. It’s a bigger location for the pizzeria, and it will offer sit down service. I was very excited to see a local business have the good fortune of this significant opportunity for growth – Mary and I are looking forward to a lunch visit!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Page County Unemployment Rate through September

We take the Page News and Courier (PN&C) by mail. It usually arrives on Thursday afternoons, so we sometimes take the time to read it and get a preview of what’s happening in Page County over the weekend – this is especially important if we have in mind a festival or an auction. Due to my accident last week we did not get out to the Hawksbill Cabin, but there were two items of interest I’ll highlight in last week’s paper.

The first item is the slow turnaround in Page County’s unemployment rate. This is a topic the blog has touched on frequently in the past – check the “Page County Economy” label attached to this post or in the list in the column on the right. The high unemployment numbers that were reported last spring – 17.4 percent in February and 15.9 percent in March – were especially of interest, as these items seemed to be the motivation for a lot of economic development planning.

A front page article last week, written by Luther Johnson, reported that the September rate had fallen to 9.8 percent – below double digits for the first time since December 2008. Johnson’s analysis reports that the state-wide level is 3.1 percent lower, at 6.7 percent, but that Page County’s rate is the same as the national average rate. The graph below compares Page County’s unemployment for the first nine months of the year with the average Virginia rate for the same period.

As always there are caveats to the calculation of this rate. For example, the unemployment rate traditionally doesn’t count workers not actively seeking work, including those whose unemployment benefits have expired – an ironic effect from the long-term unemployed falling out of the count.

While in the near term, Virginia expects employment to increase, and much of the rest of the country does too, Page County generally sees a seasonal decrease with the onset of winter. Much of the tourist trade falls off during this time and staffs are cut back at those businesses, and construction generally tapers off with the weather.

There’s a near term need to do something about job growth in the county. The Board of Supervisors have an updated 2008 plan – which I’ve also reviewed here on the blog – with a number of short- and long-term initiatives outlined for action. Seems it would be a good idea if the new board went back for a look at that plan and reprioritized their approach to dealing with Page County’s typical unemployment situation being worse than most other areas in the state.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Making the best of an inconvenience

On Thursday, my car was hit in an accident. Of the three drivers involved, nobody was seriously hurt, which was great. My car had some pretty significant damage as shown in photo 1, and it's been at the body shop since then.

Typical of this kind of experience, I have some vivid slow motion memories of what happened during impact, including thinking to myself, "Now I wonder why the airbag didn't go off?"
Since Mary drives to work a couple of days a week, and I am at Fort Belvoir a few times a week, we couldn't manage the inconvenience. I got a rental from Enterprise, which gave me a discount based on my State Farm claim.

They were going to put me in a Camry, which might have been okay (I've never driven one, and don't know how comfortable I would be in one).
I may not be reimbursed for this expense, somehow we dropped the rental coverage a few years ago. So I figured, with the holidays coming up, and family coming in, why not go a little extra - I picked out this Cadillac crossover for an extra $5 a day. I'm renting for two weeks; should be able to manage on one car after that.

Friday, November 20, 2009

G&H's AT Shake Down Hike - Part 3

Part 3 - Post-hike Report

After three days, completing a section hike of about 32 miles on the Appalachian Trail, Gary and Howard returned Tuesday night. From the main south bound AT route, Howard said they had made a few side trips to visit trail shelters, where they checked out the log books and signed in with their new “trail names,” which I won’t report here to protect their identities. As experienced hikers, they knew when they set out that anything could happen on the trail and they were ready to improvise if needed, but, as Howard says, “Everything went as close to plan as we could have hoped.”

As they shared their impressions of the route, I began to notice that their descriptions of the experience were similar to those I’ve read about in thru-hiking books such as “AWOL on the Appalachian Trail,” and “Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods.” One of the first things you notice on trail sections like the one they chose, is that even though the route follows a ridge and you wouldn’t expect major climbing, there is a cumulative effect from all the little “ups-and-downs” from short climbs and descents.

They took advantage of their freshness on the first day and did extra miles, so the second day was less difficult. Even so, the body rebels at the out-of-the-ordinary strain, stiffening at each break on the trail, or making it hard to get up in the morning. By the third day, they had begun to settle in to their pace, making the last day the easiest day on the trail for them.

When I asked them about what gear they found the handiest, they agreed that their water filters were the key items in the packs, with headlamps coming in second. Gary said that since the winter days are shorter, they often had to quicken their pace to reach the day’s designated camp site so they could set up before it was completely dark, which made the headlamps very important.

They had carried their water with them on this Spring’s overnight hike on the Massanutten Ridge, so the water filters allowed them to reduce some of the weight in their packs. Water was required for the dehydrated meals they carried – all samples from the selection in their stores – and they heated it on a Jet Boil stove. In fact, all of the gear they used on the hike is available at the stores.

Speaking of their stores, Appalachian Outdoor Adventures and Evergreen Outfitters, Gary and Howard have been planning to join forces for the last few months, and with this hiking adventure behind them, they are set to complete the merger by the end of the year. Gary said, “We had been sending customers back and forth to each other and now everything will be in one location,” so the merger is a natural progression. And both are looking forward to the opportunities to expand their services to potentially include guided hikes and tours.

Gary and Howard are planning overnighters in the Spring, but the next multi-day hike won’t be until next Summer or Fall. They choose routes in Shenandoah National Park along the AT but also adventure into the George Washington National Forest as well.

As for the north district AT section hike, it served as an excellent shakedown for longer hikes in the future, with the added benefit of being able to test out some of the gear they sell. The credibility factor is important in their business, and these hikes serve to build it. That’s going to be an important asset as they complete the merger and continue to serve their customers.

This is the final post of a 3-part series on Gary and Howards section hike of the AT. The previous posts were on Wednesday and Thursday, the 18th and 19th of November.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

G&H's AT Shake Down Hike - Part 2

Part 2 – The Gear and Preparation

Earlier this year, Gary and Howard took an overnight hike along Saw Tooth Ridge and Kennedy Peak in the GWNF, but they have been thinking of doing the full AT section in Shenandoah National Park for some time. So this Fall hike covering the northern portion of the SNP AT is a warm-up for the longer section hike, which they hope to complete next summer.

In the past, Gary has posted helpful lists of gear on the Appalachian Outdoor Adventures Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/#/pages/Luray-VA/Appalachian-Outdoors-Adventures/97338336006?ref=mf), which I’ve referred to for hikes that require more than the usual preparation. So I asked Gary and Howard about their equipment preparation for this hike, and they described their choices of packs, tents and footwear.

For packs, Gary chose Osprey, while Howard used a North Face pack. Their tents were both North Face gear; footwear for Gary was from North Face, and Howard used a new pair of Vasque Breezes. They carry all of the gear they used on this AT section at both stores in Luray, and are planning to continue these lines after their merger next month.

Even the dogs are outfitted for the trip: Martha and Athena will be wearing Ruffwear dog backpacks, which Howard carries at Evergreen Outfitters. Lilly gets a break from carrying a pack – but even so, the dogs will probably do two to three times the amount of walking on this trips as the humans do – they may go as far as 90 miles while the humans walk 30 miles on the path!

Getting back to the motivation for this hike – Gary and Howard recognized that Page County is a hiking and camping destination for people from all over the world. The visitors aren’t just AT thru-hikers coming down into Luray for a “town day,” there are also people who come to sightsee at Luray Caverns or to visit the Shenandoah River. The pair wants to inspire local people to take advantage of the resources in the area. Gary keeps a list of their outings on the Facebook page – trips to GWNF and SNP are the most frequent destinations, and the SNP AT section thru-hike will be next year’s highlight.

We’ll conclude these posts with Part 3 tomorrow – featuring an "after-hike" update on the experience.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

G&H's AT Shake Down Hike - Part 1

Part 1 – The Plan and Some Activities

Luray is getting a reputation as a great Appalachian Trail “Trail Town,” and with miles of hiking trails and plenty of camp sites available in nearby Shenandoah National Park and the George Washington National Forest, it’s an emerging backpacking, hiking, and camping destination. Gary Drum and Howard Thompson, owners of two outfitters stores in Luray, decided to set out for a Fall section hike of the Appalachian Trail this week.

Their stores, Appalachian Outdoor Adventures and Evergreen Outfitters, are planning to merge this Winter, but over the last couple of years the two have built a friendship on their shared enthusiasm for all of the outdoor activities this area has to offer. With the number of adventure-seeking tourists in Luray increasing every year, whether they are AT thru-hikers or families heading for SNP campgrounds, Howard and Gary set a goal to hike the entire length of the AT as it passes through the Park, starting with a 30-mile “shake down” hike of the northern section this month.

Joining Gary and Howard on the trip were Luray friends Garrett Johnson and Alan Jones, and three adventure dogs, Lilly, Martha and Athena. The group has done a couple of similar hikes together in the past, and made the “natural choice” to hike from Front Royal to Thornton Gap on the AT (it’s natural because “it’s there,” according to Howard. The group planned to hike about 10 miles per day over this section’s moderate terrain, from Sunday to Tuesday, spending one night camping back country and a second night in one of the campgrounds.

Besides the camping, the group had planned for other activities on the trail. Their families were tentatively planning to meet them on the trail one day, but the rendezvous was nixed due to scheduling conflicts. They are also planning to “taste test” some of the dehydrated entrees and breakfasts that they carry in the shops so that they can rate them and make recommendations to shoppers.

…tomorrow’s post will look at some of the gear Gary and Howard are using on the section hike.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Third Blackrock Hike in the Sun

Since discovering this hike back in September, it has really grown on me. And I've been wanting to take Mary out to it so she could experience the short but invigorating rock scramble here.
It also makes a nice juxtaposition to the scramble at Bearfence Mountain, which I posted about last week, a scramble that is similar to the longer and much more challenging one on Old Rag.

Here is a picture of Mary picking her way along the path that leads down from the summit of Blackrock. This trail winds down the hillsides in the back ground and can form a part of a longer hike that follows the ridge tops in this view.

Clicking on the photo will show the detail of the rock layer - metabasalt, in fact - that forms the top of much of the ridge in the Park, and of Old Rag. This layer is visible in the little peak directly ahead of Mary.
My Park geology books say that there are as many as five layers of this rock evident on the peaks, with intervening layers of sandstone and limestone varieties. In essence, there were successive volcanic periods and a time where the area was a sea bed, before the continental collisions occured that forced these layers up into the eastern range of mountains. As I learn more about this I will post some follow-ups.

In the meantime, here is Mary in the little gap in the rocks. The stone on Blackrock is quartzite, which is actually one of the sea bed layers, as opposed to the metabasalts of Bearfence and Old Rag. That's part of what makes this one interesting, I guess - that the scramble is over these sedimentary rocks as opposed to the metamorphic, previously igneous layers at the other hikes.

Here is a last parting view of the mountain as we began to head back to the car. This photo is taken from a little stretch of the AT, which hikers can follow down from the summit back to the parking lot. There is also a fire road through this area, so a loop can be stitched together, adding a little variety to the outing.

Monday, November 16, 2009

During and after the fog

The dregs of that hurricane finally cleared Friday afternoon, so we postponed the drive out to Luray until Saturday morning. While the weather continued to improve, all of the streams in the Valley were swollen from the rain, including our little Beaver Run.

On Sunday morning, Sofie and I went out for a little stroll around the yard around 8am. We were greeted by a very pleasant morning fog, and I snapped a few photos of the scene. Later on, around 10:30 or so, the fog had begun to burn off, so I took some more to compare.

It's interesting what the change in atmosphere can do for some things - I think the fog highlights the red on this shrub - the sun takes away from it.

On the other hand, the sun on the beaver pond highlights that part of the landscape. These two photos are meant to show that it is refilling and has nearly expanded to its old width.

The main purpose of these last two photos are to show how high the water has gotten in Beaver Run - easier to see in the fog. This is from the road looking north where the little stream runs across the front of our property.
When the stream is running this robustly, there is the happy sound of falling water from the dam and from some of the small rapids in the stream.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tech-watch geek: Outside Magazine's Survival Issue

Last month in Tech-watch geek I wrote about some hikers who had taken on a Grand Canyon hike that was over their heads with no more preparation than buying some gear, including one of those GPS beacons, like the Spot Messenger. The full post is here: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2009/10/tech-watch-geek-those-gps-trek-tools.html.

At the time, I had not seen a review in Outside magazine - there is an update in this month's issue, which carries the "Survival" theme. Outside confirms it is a fan, and highlights a "350 rescues in 51 countries" history, in a review of the second-gen tool. Improvements include a safety cover on the "get me outta here" button. (The image will take you to the Amazon page for the gen-one version, where the 80+ reviews of the product are mandatory reading if you are in the market for one of these).
There are two additional compelling articles in the magazine this month - the first, a case study, "Anatomy of a Rescue" tells of a snowshoe outing in the back country near Santa Fe, where an experienced social worker got lost on one of her favorite trails and wasn't found for three days. This article includes a lot of helpful tips - carrying a headlamp, for example (which Chris and I - and our other hiking friends who set out on the moderate day hikes with us - now require as part of our preparation); staying on known trails; and sending text messages on your cell phone, since less signal is required and the messages are more likely to transmit than calls.
A second item in the magazine is "The New Rules for Survival" - which talks about the trend for charging for rescues. States such as Oregon, California, Hawaii, Maine, Colorado, Idaho, Vermont and New Hampshire charge the rescued. The Outside article discusses an example in New Hampshire where the charge was $25K for a rescue - and that in that state, the amounts can be arbitrary, difficult to fight, and will hold up in court if there is any hint of "negligence" - and taking a short cut justifies this. Most of the other states have charges, such as Colorado's $300.
While the article concludes that knowing about these charges will mean that people are more afraid to call for help, so there is the risk of delayed rescue, more serious injury, and a more complicated rescue operation, the true moral of the story is that even in the Northern Virginia region we need to go out prepared for the adventure we've planned.
It's true that many times you can find cell coverage up in the Shenandoah National Park, but more often it is spotty. As they'll tell you on Old Rag Patrols (http://oldragpatrolsbyrsl-blook.blogspot.com/) even there, in sight of civilization, a rescue will generally take at least four hours (a special shout out to these volunteers, by the way, that is awesome work they are doing). So if you're doing anything more than the easiest of day hikes some minimal preparation will be required.
I can't put my hands on some advice resources about what to pack this morning, so I'll do some more research for a few recommendations. The easy ones that come to mind are a basic first aid kit, head lamps, and water to spare. And oh yeah, leaving your itinerary with someone, with expected ETAs. I'll get back to this topic over the next few weeks.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bearfence Mountain - an Easy SNP Day Hike

On Sunday we had one of those exceptional Indian Summer days in the Valley – the temperature rose to the mid-seventies, although it was probably a few degrees cooler up in Shenandoah National Park – so I decided to take in another one of the easy day hikes from my guide book. I chose Bearfence Mountain, which was my 21st of the 26 little hikes in the book.
I’ll refer to the Heatwole Guide for a description of this hike, and for the origin of its name:
“Bearfence Mountain, elevation 3,620 feet, reportedly got its name from the palisade-like rocks, resembling a fence, that surround its summit. From the summit you have a 360-degree view; this is one of only four or five places in the whole Park from which you can see all around you. The hike to the summit is fairly easy in that it's short, with less than 300 feet of climbing. It's difficult in that part of it is pure rock scramble for which you'll use both hands and perhaps from time to time the seat of your pants. But the climb is not dangerous if you observe a few simple precautions.”

I was excited about this hike because a couple of friends have endorsed it – Evan, who put together a book of wildlife photography in the Park (see the link in the right hand column) wrote about this hike a few times, and Park Ranger Sally, our neighbor, has told us about leading ranger programs up here. I heard “rock scramble” and pictured something like the Blackrock summit I’ve done a few times recently – this one is more like an abbreviated Old Rag hike.

The photos that accompany this post are of the view of the trailhead across Skyline Drive from the parking area, a very tame deer alongside the lowest part of the trail (it looked at me several times, not at all afraid of me, despite it being hunting season), a couple of the scramble portion itself, and then two from a section of the nearby AT – you can make a circuit hike out of this one and avoid scrambling back down the way you came up, or vice versa.

All of the guide books recommend good hiking boots, and not carrying small children up this one. On my day, it was a popular outing for young families – I got some good advice from kids on the way up about which direction to go so I didn’t make a wrong turn – also, dogs aren’t allowed on this trail. I’m not sure that I would try this one on a day where there was any kind of precipitation, or in fog.

The final two photos are the prize of the day. The summit is one of few places along Skyline Drive where you have a 360-degree view. Although I did not go all the way to the top of the rocks – there was a place where I decided against a chest-high climb without a partner – I found a great spot for a little picnic almost at the summit. These photos are the view I enjoyed on such a near-perfect Fall day.

If you are up for a leg stretcher with a bit of a challenge, this hike is a great choice. I am looking forward to getting back out there with Mary or Chris sometime soon.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Short Veterans Day Post

Just a moment to pause and reflect in honor of those serving now and those who answered the highest call in the past. And a note of recognition to the Cold War veterans I served with.

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. -John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Anniversary of The Fall of the Berlin Wall - part 5

Since the Wall fell I’ve been lucky enough to get back to Berlin twice – I mentioned the four-day stopover in 1995 on the way to Kiev. I stayed in Kruezberg at a little hotel near where some friends had lived, not too far away from Tempelhof Airport where I had lived. In the ’95 trip I spent most of my time walking around the city and checking out old haunts, including visiting some favorite night spots.

Here are two photos of the Reichstag, one from my ’95 trip, and the second from the trip Mary and I made in 2001. In the 1995 photo, renovations had yet to begin; in fact, I learned that the Christo project that wrapped the building in fabric had just been taken down the previous month. Obviously, in 2001, not only had the building become the home of the German Parliament, but the new Dome was a major attraction in the city. I went up twice during the visit, the first just for the experience, the second to get last views of some of the sights on the horizon from up there – the radome at Tempelhof, and the silhouetted Teufelsberg site up on the hill.

In 2001, Mary and I made our way around the city from our hotel, which was located near Potsdamer Platz (and thankfully near a Tchibb coffee shop). We were directly across the street from Martin Gropius Bau, which was on a street where the Wall had run. After a day or two of walking around the neighborhood, I realized that I had done an early training run through here as I prepared for the 1983 Berlin Marathon – Shybuck and I followed the Wall from there to the Reichstag.
These photos are from a little side street near the hotel - a couple of derelect pieces of the Wall were there, including this demolished guard tower and a slab with some new paintings.

The line of the Wall was marked with cobblestones in the streets and sidewalks, but everywhere, new buildings had gone up as this was now an emerging commercial district, with the Daimler Platz and Sony Centers not far away, and the new groundbreaking for the new American Embassy not too far in the future.

We were also only a half mile from Checkpoint Charlie, which we made a point of visiting. On the short walk, we discovered a stretch of the Wall that had been maintained - here I am near it, disguised as a German tourist.
Interestingly, a series of underground rooms had been discovered here directly under the Wall – these were part of a State Police jail during the Nazi days and had a sinister history.

After proceeding through Checkpoint Charlie and visiting the museum there, where Mary endured my stories of going through the Checkpoint and frenzied shopping tours in the East, we circled back to Unter den Linden, where we enjoyed a very civilized lunch at a café.
It was a very nostalgic visit for me, one with a lot of mixed feelings about personal history that was now long gone. But also, it was hard to miss the impact of the renewal that had gone on since the Wall came down. There are stories about hardships in the East, where some of the towns have struggled to integrate into the new economy. But I hope that everyone is on the road to better off than they had been.

Reading the reminisces of my friends who were in Berlin when I was there, and especially those who were there the night came down – these have been a great experience the last few days. Getting caught up in all of that during those days, it was hard to realize that this really was history - it’s quite a thing to have been a part of.

This is the final post in this series, for now - when I manage to make it to the Wall display at the Newseum, I will post about that. I want to close out with a little anecdote my friend Chris K. wrote about his activities on the day the Wall came down - cobbled together from a series of posts he put up on Facebook yesterday:

"For my Family and FB friends who didn't spend time with me in Berlin, it was 20 years ago today that the Berlin Wall came down. A lot of my friends and coworkers were released from duty and joined the festivities. Michele and I worked a mid shift and as soon as we got home from work we changed, filled a backpack with some Heinekins, grabbed a hammer and screwdriver and headed for the Wall.

"We spent a good part of that morning/day walking along the Wall and chipping pieces from it. I kept a few pieces but most of them we handed out to the Berliners who were stopping to watch. Some even came up to us and asked if we could chip off a piece for them.
"I remember two elderly ladies, who approached but were reluctant to say anything, I asked if they would like a couple of pieces and they nodded. One of them broke into tears when I gave her a fairly large chunk. I couldn't imagine the emotion that she had bottled up inside.

"At one point, a photographer came up and said he had snapped our picture and wanted permission to publish it in the Stars&Stripes. We were afraid to give our names because the Commander had ordered us (sort of) not to join in the chipping. So, the next day, there we were on the front page. Thought I was busted, literally, but nothing happened."

Monday, November 9, 2009

My suitcase in Berlin

In trying to find some appropriate words today about the Fall of the Berlin Wall, I came across this Marlene Dietrich quotation, "Ich hab noch einen Koffer in Berlin." It means I have a suitcase in Berlin.

I do love that city, and I know that most of my friends who shared the experience of being there do too - so much so that they extended their tours there or have gone back for a visit for one reason or the other after all this time.

So far I have forgotten to mention a couple of artifacts that I have from those days - this post doesn't quite fit in with the others about the fall of the Berlin Wall so it's an extra. Among the things that I can look at or hold to remind me of my time there, of the history I got to be part of, of all the life-long friendships that were made - are these:

  • My Elvis Costello poster taken down from the venue on the night of a performance in 1983
  • A photo of a Wall mural
  • A Berlin beer stein marked with the city's bear mascot (and the other side reflects a Cold War organization responsible for managing air traffic to the Walled City)
  • Two chunks of the Wall - one sent by my sister Nancy who was in Berlin when the Wall came down, and another from my friend Brian, who collected it shortly after the Wall fell.

Anniversary of The Fall of the Berlin Wall - part 4

During my “Two Germanies” class in 1987, I gave a little talk organized around the Berlin Wall murals I posted last week. I certainly don’t claim to be any kind of socio-political expert – anyone who meets me and asks about my time in Berlin will definitely not come away with the impression that I understand the full context of the Cold War, even though I served in a small part of it. Still, I finished the little talk in the class with the prediction that one day the Berlin Wall would come down, and the two Germanies would be reunified, but I had no idea that it could happen in just two years.

The photos accompanying today’s post were sent to me by my friend Brian, who happened to be visiting friends in Berlin in November 1989 shortly after the Wall was opened. Brian was stationed in England at the time. The inscriptions on the back of the scene at the Wall opening identify it as Bernauer Strasse – and the card that Brian is holding in the last one was meant as a holiday greeting (in Brian speak, “M.C.” = Merry Christmas).

A number of my friends from the service were actually in Berlin for this event. I love hearing their tales of the experience, and I have spent some time on YouTube viewing the preserved telecasts of that evening in November 1989 when the Wall finally gave way. After reading about the rising tensions around the situation with so many East Germans exiting in Czechoslovakia and Hungary, when it seemed that something big was finally going to happen, I went to Stan and Beate’s house in Melbourne, Florida, where we lived, to watch the news.

Seeing it on TV made it surreal for me, it was simply hard to believe my eyes. A couple of the things on my mind at the time included:

  • So many times walking down a street in Berlin, to encounter the Wall there, having to make a several blocks detour to find a new path to where I was headed

  • Knowing that the Wall was built to keep the East Berliners in, to keep them from the temptations of exposure and experience in the West

  • The awkward checkpoints between West and East that one had to go through in trips within Berlin or out to West Germany

All these things were part of history now. In a few years I would find myself working with a firm that was under contract to help build the government organizations and capacities that were needed in the formerly communist countries. That gave me the opportunity to go to Kiev, Ukraine (with a four-day stopover vacation in Berlin en route), Almaty, Kazakhstan, and even Moscow during that time.

There was something fresh and exciting in those places as they emerged from the time before the Wall. And for me, the introspective thoughts about what we were doing in Berlin in those days, and how it might have contributed to what all these people were experiencing, those were memories to hold close and treasure.

As far as the Two Germanies class went, my little extra credit presentation about the Berlin Wall pulled my “D” up to a “B+.” I guess that’s another thing that Berlin gave to me, besides being my second home town.