By: Donald Ofstedal
How does the decision to visit a particular destination come about for you? Are you motivated by wanting to explore something new or by wanting to re-visit a place where you might have some fond memories? This spring, after we talked about where we wanted to go next, my husband and I decided to do a combination of both. Our decision to re-visit Berlin, Germany was driven by a bit of nostalgia and we wanted to “mix it up” by exploring something new, with a visit to several small towns on Germany’s famous “Romantic Road.” This article is about the nostalgic part.
My husband was in the Army in Berlin in the 1970’s and wanted to pay a visit to his old army “stomping grounds.” We had been to Berlin briefly in December a few years back and, although we had a wonderful time, we decided it was time to return when the leaves on the trees were green. Thus, we chose to visit Berlin in mid-May this time, when the weather was warm and welcoming. Finding the old American Army Headquarters was not difficult, but once we arrived and discovered that the former Army buildings were being converted to housing, we decided to cut our visit to that area a little short. Although a look at that part of the city brought back Army memories, there wasn’t too much to be nostalgic about. So what do you do in Berlin, when the “nostalgia tour” doesn’t meet your expectations? You opt for an afternoon beer (or two) at a nearby beer garden followed by a peaceful, relaxing 2-hour cruise on Lake Wannsee.
Of course, Berlin is filled with hundreds of other things to do and see, so we wasted no time getting started. Collectively we wondered whether we should do “gay Berlin,” or if that distinction was even relevant anymore. We found that we didn’t need to do “gay Berlin” to feel totally comfortable in this welcoming city. As one Gay Berlin blog notes, “You cannot really talk about gay restaurants in a city where it doesn’t matter who your partner is.” As the late, great Aretha Franklin sang…R-E-S-P-E-C-T. We felt respected anywhere in Berlin. Whether we were at Zsa Zsa Burger at 28 Motzstrasse in the trendy (gay) Schoneberg area, at lovely Amici at 56 Jagerstrasse in Gendarmenmarkt or the stylish eatery Reinhard’s at 27 Kurfurstendam, we felt welcomed, comfortable and safe. During the next two days we exhausted ourselves by doing many things tourists do in Berlin; walking to and through the Brandenburg Gate, seeing the impressive Reichstag Building, visiting fashionable Gendarmenmarkt, seeing the beautiful Kaiser Wilhem Memorial Church and the ornate Charlottenburg Palace. One can never really see Berlin completely, after three days it was time to move on to another nostalgic destination.
Our next “nostalgic” stop was the lovely town of Wolfenbuttel in Lower Saxony, approx. 3 hours by train from Berlin. With a population of roughly 50,000, Wolfenbuttel is located in what was formerly West Germany. This charming city is known for having the largest concentration of timber-framed buildings in Germany. Knowing nothing about Wolfenbuttel, I thought our day there was going to be unexciting; instead, it was delightful! And why did we visit Wolfenbuttel, a place that almost no one from the United States has ever heard of? Again, it was for a bit of nostalgia. While stationed in Berlin in the early 1970’s, my husband Jerry spent a weekend there with some Army friends and he wanted to see what might have changed. As it turns out, not much has. The lively timber-framed pub, Alt-Wolfenbuttel “Theo”, where they drank beer and chatted with the locals, was still there serving beer to the friendly residents. OK. So the local male soccer team with the featured opera singing soccer player wasn’t around anymore, but you can’t expect everything to stay the same! But we did present a framed photo of the visiting Army group from the 1970’s to the bartender and trust that it is now hanging on the wall at Alt-Wolfenbuttel “Theo”. Of course, there is more to see and do in Wolfenbuttel than drinking beer at the local pub, but with beer prices almost as cheap as free water, how could we leave! Although Wolfenbuttel is not on the travel radar of most tourists, you would not regret paying a visit to this lovely town. It’s charming and picturesque and beer is the beverage of choice. That combination made for a very pleasant visit!