I recently stumbled upon this photo I made at the Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) in 2003 warning passengers about the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic.
According to Wikipedia, over “8,000 people from 29 different countries and territories were infected, and at least 774 died worldwide. The major part of the outbreak lasted about 8 months, since the World Health Organization declared SARS contained on 5 July 2003. However, several SARS cases were reported until May 2004.”
Wikipedia adds that COVID-19 is closely related to SARS. In retrospect, the impact in 2003 was minor — although it did not feel like that at the time.
The Memorial honors Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II and the 34th President of the United States.
The Memorial is across the street from the National Air and Space Museum and is surrounded by the U.S. Department of Education, the Federal Aviation Administration, Voice of America, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Southwest Washington.
Architect Frank Gehry designed the Memorial. Gehry was born in Toronto in 1929 as Frank Owen Goldberg. His father was born in Brooklyn to Russian Jewish parents, and his mother was a Polish Jewish immigrant.
Gehry’s design features three bronze statues of Eisenhower by the Russian-born sculptor Sergey Eylanbekov , one featuring General Eisenhower with troops from the 101st Airborne the day before the invasion of Normandy, another sculpture depicting President Eisenhower in the White House surrounded by civilian and military advisors, and a third portraying “Little Ike” in his boyhood.
The Memorial highlights passages from notable Eisenhower addresses. Framing the entire memorial is a stainless steel woven tapestry by artist Tomas Osinski , who was born in Poland. The tapestry depicts the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc on the Normandy coastline. Pointe du Hoc was the highest point between the American sector landings at Utah Beach to the west and Omaha Beach to the east. On D-Day, the United States Army Ranger Assault Group attacked and captured Pointe du Hoc after scaling the cliffs.
In 2013, Congress passed legislation authorizing the National Museum of the American Indian to create a National Native American Veterans Memorial to give “all Americans the opportunity to learn of the proud and courageous tradition of service of Native Americans in the Armed Forces of the United States.”
The Memorial opened on November 11, 2020 on the grounds of the National Museum of the American Indian. Kevin Gover, the Museum’s director, explained in The Washington Post that the “memorial brings long overdue recognition to the tens of thousands of American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians who have served in peace and war for two and a half centuries.”
The Memorial was designed by Harvey Pratt, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma and a Southern Cheyenne Peace Chief. Pratt is an artist, Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, and retired forensic artist. Pratt designed the memorial in partnership with award-winning architectural firm Butzer Architects and Urbanism.
Travel with Rick Steves is a weekly one hour podcast with guest experts and callers about travel, cultures and people. This is my favorite travel podcast.
Steves is well-traveled, bright, articulate, positive and most of all curious to learn about the world and the people who inhabit it. Although Steves’s guidebooks and organized tours focus on Europe, the podcast covers the world.
Guests include authors and professional guides Steves uses for his tours and guidebooks. The information he provides is timely and accurate. Steves has interviewed great authors including Paul Theroux and David McCullough.
After listening to the interview of David McCullough, I was really charged up to get out and explore the world, in part because McCullough started his life and explorations in my hometown — Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. McCullough has written extensively about the United States starting near home with the The Johnstown Flood. He’s also a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
Downie likes to walk. His book is divided into “Paris People”, “Paris Places” and “Paris Phenomena.” It is the places that interested me the most. For example, Downie describes a long walk along the Seine that I decided to replicate. It transformed my view of Paris because I learned how much of the city revolves around the river. I also learned just how small the city is geographically and how it seems that almost every centimeter of the city has been lovingly cultivated.
The walk begins at France’s gigantic national library — Bibliothèque nationale de France. This is the largest library I have ever seen; it houses more than 15 million books and journals. It is located near the Métro station Bibliothèque François Mitterrand right along the Seine. But not much else is nearby. The location feels desolate, modern and suburban, although the library remains within Paris’s Périphérique or beltway.
However, it was unclear to me from reading the book where the walk ended so I emailed the author who cheerfully responded with the details and even suggested a nice, reasonably priced restaurant for lunch right along the walk. The restaurant is La Fregate and is at the only spot on the walk where you have to go up to the sidewalk from the river.
I watched the city transform from stark, modern suburbs and eventually came upon Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower and on to its terminus at the Pont Mirabeau. I will never forget Le Pont Mirabeau after reading Guillaume Apollinaire’s poem in high school breathing life and love into the bridge. Seeing Le Pont Mirabeau at the end of this day-long walk was special.
The entire walk was about 10 km or 6.2 miles. The transformations within that short distance speak volumes about Paris.
At Downie’s suggestion, I also visited Buttes-Chaumont park which is even more impressive than Mr. Downie describes. He knows Place des Voges like the back of his hand so that chapter is exceptional.
On top of the wonderful details that make Paris come to life, Downie’s prose shows a love and mastery of the English language that I appreciate. This gem of a book will teach you so much about Paris and make you want to return again and again or just to go to Paris and remain as Downie has.
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Berlin twice. The first time was in the early 1980s and the second time in 2018. The transformation was dramatic.
Berlin Before the Fall of the Wall
I visited Berlin in the early 1980s. Berlin was then a divided city. I stayed in the Western zone near the Kurfurstendamm, which at the time was the heart of Berlin. I took a one day bus tour to the East. We crossed through Checkpoint Charlie. The bus was thoroughly searched by East German border guards. In contrast, the American military just let us pass freely.
The West was vibrant with shops, restaurants and people everywhere, In contrast, buildings in the East still showed signs of the bombing it received in the war. There were Soviet style memorials throughout East Berlin.
Our East German guide was openly dispirited and seemed to be reciting a script he was told to speak, especially when he spoke of “warm relations” with the then Soviet Union. At the end of the day, I was glad to be back in the West where I felt free and comfortable
Berlin in 2018
In 2018, I went back to Berlin to see an undivided, transformed and reinvented Berlin. The German capital is still under construction 73 years after the end of WWII. I stayed near the Kurfurstendamm so I could compare my experience today with the early 1980s. My hotel — Pension Peters — is a small owner-managed hotel, where I felt more like a temporary resident in a nice Berlin neighborhood rather than a tourist.
I saw the transformation of Berlin immediately. The Kurfurstendamm is no longer the center of town. The heart of Berlin today is in the former East, which was a shambles when I was last there. The Kurfurstendamm is now a nice shopping street in lovely Berlin neighborhood called City West but is no longer the heart of the capital.
The Heart of Berlin
Checkpoint Charlie is now nothing more than a tourist attraction with actor guards who, for a few Euros, will pose with you for a nice picture. There’s even a “Checkpoint Charlie” McDonald’s across the street. It certainly no longer inspires fear.
The heart of Berlin is dominated by the Brandenburg Gate and government buildings, including the embassies of the four former occupying powers: the United States, Great Britain, France and Russia.
Berlin is no longer occupied but the former occupiers are nearby as if to say: “We are watching.” Each of the four embassies has a rich history.
The Soviet Union was first of the four major occupiers to move into a post-War embassy in Berlin. The Russian Embassy in Berlin was closed in 1941 when the two countries went to war. Its reconstruction was the first project of the post-war years in the East Berlin. The embassy’s official grand opening was held on the national holiday of the former USSR, on November 7, 1951. It’s Europe’s largest embassy which sends a message all by itself. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, it became the Russian Embassy. ( See also Rick Steves Berlin (p. 105). Avalon Publishing. Kindle Edition. )
France occupied its new embassy in October 2002. However, France formally opened it on January 23, 2003. That date was chosen as it was the 40th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty between Germany and France, declaring friendship between France and the former West Germany. French President Jacques Chirac presided. Marking the occasion, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and President Chirac issued a declaration affirming Franco-German friendship and their joint determination to “re-found Europe”.
The United States was the last of the four major occupiers to move into a post-War embassy in Berlin. The history of the U.S. Embassy in Berlin is especially complicated. During WWII, the U.S. Embassy in Berlin was severely damaged by Allied bombing. After the war, the embassy ended up just barely inside East Berlin in divided Berlin’s Soviet zone, straddling the demarcation between the Soviet and American sectors.
The Berlin Wall made the site of the former U.S. Embassy, still owned by the U.S. government, an inaccessible vacant lot. It was part of the security zone separating east and west Berliners. In 1967, the East German government demolished the ruins of the US Embassy building. However, the site became accessible after the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989. Even so, it remained a vacant lot until the 2004 groundbreaking for construction of a brand new U.S. Embassy. The newly constructed embassy opened on July 4, 2008.
The Brandenburg Gate is nearby. This is the center of Berlin. Since the 18th Century, the Brandenburg Gate has been a site for major historical events and today is an important symbol of the history of Europe and Germany.
Also nearby — and not to be missed — is Germany’s parliament — the Reichstag — which was opened in 1894 and remained in service until 1933, when it was severely damaged after being set on fire. The Reichstag fire occurred one month after Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany. After World War II, the building fell into disuse; the parliament of the German Democratic Republic (the Volkskammer) met in the Palast der Republik in East Berlin, while the parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany (the Bundestag) met in the Bundeshaus in Bonn.
The building was not properly restored until after German reunification on October 3, 1990. And what a glorious restoration it was. The German government chose British architect Norman Foster to lead the effort. Foster constructed is a large glass dome atop the Reichstag with a 360 degree view of the surrounding Berlin cityscape. The debating chamber of the Bundestag, the German parliament, can be seen below. A mirrored cone in the center of the dome directs sunlight into the building, and so that visitors can see the working of the chamber. The dome is open to the public and can be reached by climbing two steel, spiraling ramps that are reminiscent of a double helix. The Dome sends a message that the people are above the government, as was not the case during the Nazi era. After its completion in 1999, it once again became the meeting place of the German parliament: the modern Bundestag. The views are impressive. Entry is free but advance registration is required
Other Berlin Sites
I also enjoyed visiting:
Hitler’s Bunker ( Führerbunker), where Adolf Hitler committed suicide at the end of the war. It’s now an ordinary parking lot. Germany doe not want to create a shrine out the place where Hitler perished.
Topography of Terror (Nazi Forced Labour Documentation Centre) has interesting exhibits documenting Nazi crimes. During the Nazi era, the headquarters of the Secret State Police, the SS and the Reich Security Main Office were located at the site.
Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial, the site of the main political prison of the former East German Communist Ministry of State Security, the Stasi. I found the visit informative and chilling. East Germany went from one form of oppression to another form of oppression. It’s sad, terrifying and once again demonstrates what unchecked power
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Holocaust Memorial) has almost 3,000 symbolic pillars next to the U.S. Embassy in the heart of Berlin. It was designed by New York architect Peter Eisenman, who is Jewish. It opened in 2005. Eisenman explains that the “project manifests the instability inherent in what seems to be a system, here a rational grid, and its potential for dissolution in time.” The Memorial brings home the magnitude of the Holocaust.
Germany is creatively and thoughtfully reinventing its capital city. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and hope to return to see more of Berlin and how it evolves once I can safely return.
I don’t have any photos of my visit before the Berlin Wall fell. However, my 2018 photos are on Flickr.