The Berlin Wall

This morning I ran across this interesting article about a previously undiscovered section of the Berlin Wall that was recently found by locals out on a walking tour.

Here’s how CNN reported it:

The Berlin Wall came down in 1989. But it seems that its story still hasn’t been fully told.
A previously unknown section of the wall was discovered in summer 2018 in a residential section of northwest Berlin.
Several locals on a walking tour came upon a 20-meter (66-foot) section of crumbling wall, covered in graffiti, in June. The wall had been covered by overgrown bushes, which is how it had escaped discovery for so long.
This week marks the anniversary of the start of construction on the wall in 1961. A few years back I read a fascinating account of the events that led up it in a book titled Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth, by Frederick Kempe. Here’s part of the description from Amazon:

Much has been written about the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later, but the Berlin Crisis of 1961 was more decisive in shaping the Cold War-and more perilous. It was in that hot summer that the Berlin Wall was constructed, which would divide the world for another twenty-eight years. Then two months later, and for the first time in history, American and Soviet fighting men and tanks stood arrayed against each other, only yards apart. One mistake, one nervous soldier, one overzealous commander-and the tripwire would be sprung for a war that could go nuclear in a heartbeat.

On one side was a young, untested U.S. president still reeling from the Bay of Pigs disaster and a humiliating summit meeting that left him grasping for ways to respond. It would add up to be one of the worst first-year foreign policy performances of any modern president. On the other side, a Soviet premier hemmed in by the Chinese, East Germans, and hardliners in his own government. With an all-important Party Congress approaching, he knew Berlin meant the difference not only for the Kremlin’s hold on its empire-but for his own hold on the Kremlin.

Neither man really understood the other, both tried cynically to manipulate events. And so, week by week, they crept closer to the brink.

Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth

It’s a fascinating read.

In all my travels I never made it behind The Iron Curtain, so I never saw the Berlin Wall. However, while on a visit to Iceland a few years back, I did see a piece of it standing outside the historic Hofdi House in Reykjavik. Hofdi House is where President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Michael Gorbachev held a summit in 1986 that set the stage for the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the end of the Cold War. To commemorate that summit and what it led to, a piece of the wall stands on the grounds of the House.

By the way, an excellent book about the summit, written by one of Reagan’s aides is Reagan at Reykjavik: Forty-Eight Hours That Ended the Cold War, by Kenneth Adelman.

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Iceland in Winter

Iceland in Winter

When I woke up on Tuesday morning, my first thought was “I dreamed a friend and I went to Iceland for 5 days.” Then I remembered that we had actually done the trip; it was not a dream, but a dream come true.

The dream actually started more than a year ago when we had seen an Icelandair ad for some low-cost package tours to Iceland to see the northern lights. We weren’t able to get in on the action last year, but when the deal popped up again this year, we decided to go for it!

Here are a few random observations and photos from the trip:

1. I will (hopefully) no longer fuss about the short days in Minnesota during the winter. In Reykjavik in December, the sun rises around 11:15 and sets around 3:15. The twilights preceding those two events, however, are long (and gorgeous), which meant we had a little more than 6 hours of daylight in which to do our sightseeing. It did make for some great lighting, however.

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2.  There are no words to describe the beauty of the northern lights, and photographing them is extremely difficult. This is especially true if you are on the deck of a moving boat. It’s blurry, I know, but here’s proof that we saw them.

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3.  Our trip to the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa was on a cold evening, so we floated and bobbed around in a thick cloud of steam. I’m sure the water was blue, but we had no way of seeing that. Watching heads emerging and disappearing in the steam made me think we were on the set of Gorillas in the Mist.

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4.  If you love trees, you might find Iceland hard to appreciate. My mom is a tree-lover, and all she could say when I was telling her about the trip was “No trees? How can a place with no trees be beautiful?” Trust me; it is!

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5.  In a city known for its hard-partying and world-class drinking, here’s what our night out on the town looked like:

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6.  How’s this for the perfect rental car?

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7.  There is something mildly appealing about a country that doesn’t have Starbucks and MacDonald’s.

8.  In 2008, the economy of Iceland, which was based on financial services, collapsed. They are rebuilding it on tourism. I say “hat’s off” to the Iceland Tourism Bureau, because in the middle of December there were tourists everywhere. And from everywhere. In fact, at each place we visited, we stumbled across a bus load of tourists from China!

And finally, here are a couple more of my favorite photos:

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Go here to see more photos on my Flickr page.

And I was right about one thing this might do — whet my appetite for a longer visit. In the summer.

Iceland Reading

When I travel, especially to new places, I like to read up on the places I am visiting. Since I’m headed to Iceland today for a short visit (IcelandAir had a package deal that was too good to pass up), here’s whats on my kindle for the trip:

Iceland, Defrosted, by Edward Hancox

Iceland, Defrosted

The Little Book of the Icelanders: 50 miniature essays on the quirks and foibles of the Icelandic people, by Alda Sigmundsdottir

The Little Book of the Icelanders: 50 miniature essays on the quirks and foibles of the Icelandic people

A Girl’s Ride in Iceland, by Mrs. (Ethel) Alec-Tweedie

A Girl's Ride in Iceland

Watch this space for my own stories and photos.

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Four Days, Four Books

Road Trip Reading