April 2, 2000

Amsterdam is behind me, and what a beautiful town it was! I wish I had spent more time there, though I suspect that will be a recurring refrain throughout my trip.

I visited the Anne Frank House, and was deeply moved. I hadn't realized how much was preserved. For instance, her picture collage of movie stars is still on the wall, as was the map on the wall with pin holes marking the progress of the Allies. This was a thoroughly haunting experience, and I moved through it slowly, so as to take it all in and give proper repsect to the former occupents. All that aside, it was also a well done memorial which looked to the future, and to prevent similar atrocities world wide.

On a lighter note, I strolled through the town at night with Chris, and the canals are lit beautifully. After dinner we looked around for a jazz club, but ended up just wandering, since the good ones were standing room only, and we wanted to sit with our beer. This town is so vibrant! Even the street noise from outside our tiny hotel was of a lively, exciting town, and made me want to march right back outside and join the fun.

Amsterdam from our hostel
Outside our hostel

No, I didn't have pot in any of its forms, nor did I hit the red light district. Who needs that when there's swing dancing to be had? I joined Johnny and Sylvia's beginning class in their ninth week. The class ends at 9:30, but is in a bar which is closed on class night, so they can stay and dance as long as they want. We finally left at 12:30! The bar is decorated like a southern version of the Tractor Tavern complete with with car hoods and confederate flags. Yee-haw! They are just learning the Shim-Sham, and the students were anxious to see the second half of it, as well the jigwalk after I did it with one of them. (I've created a monster...) Rob & Diane are coming to to Amsterdam in May to do a weekend workshop, and I have an open invitation to return, since they need leads. I'm tempted...

I made it to Berlin Tuesday and again I wished I'd had more time. The theme of my visit was reunions, as I met up with an old friend from high school and college (naturally, we went swing dancing...).

Lothar's House
Lothar's House
I also located my father's old pen pal Lothar. Lothar has lived in Berlin all of his life, and started corresponding with my dad in 1948. I hadn't seen him since 1974 when he visited the States. Lothar took it upon himself to be my tour guide. The stories he told of living there during the war, the divided city, and now reunification were fascinating. He had photos from 1952 showing entire blocks of rubble that still had to be cleared!

Bullet Holes
Bullet Holes
Something I had not expected, was how much WWII is still very connected to day to day life for Berliners. There are bullet holes in most of the monuments, and some buildings in Eastern Berlin are only now being rebuilt, since the communists alternately could not or would not rebuild them. Most of the decay in Eastern Berlin is cleaned up, but what remains is very sobering. The city affected me far more deeply than I would have expected. It reminds me how isolated we really are in North America. Path of the Wall
Path of the Wall

Enough angst! The swing dance I found in Berlin was in a communist-built hall that was imposing, to say the least. Large gray columns with no detailing, a harsh neon sign with huge block letters on the roof, the whole cold, imposing motif. Inside was another story. While not baroque by any stretch, it was nicely detailed with recessed ceilings and decorative moldings. The Grüner Salon (the Roter Salon is on the other side of the building) was bathed in green light, naturally. There was a live band that was quite good. Any big band with the spunk to do the Muppet Show theme is OK in my book. Swing is still very new in Berlin, so there were not many advanced dancers, but my contact Birgit was a fun follow.

Lizst Ferencz Ter
Lizst Ferencz Ter
(Franz Lizst Square)
I'm now in Budapest by way of the Czech Republic, and am having a light day after the 12+ hour train ride. I have rejoined my friend Chris, and Trica will join us in a couple days. We are in an apartment owned by a local hostel, which is very nice. Heck, we even have limited cable TV! There is much decay here, as with all the ex-communist places I've seen, and I am excited by the photo ops. I had four rolls of film developed in Berlin, and am happy that things are turning out. Hostel Apartment in Budapest
Courtyard of our apartment

I feel that this letter has been long winded, and I've barely scratched the surface. When I'm back, ask me about the constantly befuddled Argentineans I met, shopping in Amsterdam, the great wildlife viewed from the trains and busses, my bus driver who got lost finding Berlin, etc., etc...