Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Easter Berlin

As we returned from our seminar in London last Thursday, we faced a long Easter weekend.  Both Friday and Monday were official work holidays and many people are away.  So with that in mind, we were invited by another missionary couple to accompany them on a weekend trip to Berlin, Germany.  Knowing that things would be pretty quiet around the office and our apartment, we decided that this was a good time to make such a trip.  So we got home and worked in the office on Thursday afternoon and on Friday morning started on a new adventure.    What follows is the highlights of what we learned on our Easter Weekend in Berlin.

At Check Point Charlie in Berlin

The trip to Berlin is about 5 hours by car.  We went with Elder and Sister Matheson in their car.  They are Family Services missionaries and some of our closest friends in Frankfurt.  We are happy to say that our relationship has only improved after spending four days together and at least 12 hours in road trip mode.  Two other missionary couples also made the same trip in another car, Elders and Sisters Hawkins and Piepgrass.

Since this was Easter weekend, we decided to first stop at the largest Easter Egg tree that we were aware of.  It was in the city of Saalfeld which was about 45 minutes off the path on our trip.  This is the home of the Easter tree with thousands of eggs hanging from it.  This was maintained for the last many years by a family that started with a smaller number of eggs and added each year.  Last year they closed their exhibit with a tree of 10,000 eggs.  They donated the eggs to the city which continued the tradition with a tree in the middle of their park.  Debbie and I had tried to visit this tree a few weeks ago when we were in Erfurt, but arrived in the evening and the park was closed.   This time we arrived in the morning and were successful in our efforts.  All of the eggs on the tree are real eggshells with the inner egg removed and the outsides colored, painted, embroidered, etc.  The photos below attempt to give a little feel of the tree, although it does not show what we could see in person:

From a  short distance, it is hard to see the impact of the eggs, it could look like a tree that is in blossom.

As you get closer, you can see that there are eggs everywhere.

Some branches have a large number grouped together.

This has one of our favorites, the one with the face on it.

These are some with embroidered covers

Many more embroidered egg coverings.

Still before arriving in Berlin we stopped at the city of Potsdam, home of Sanssouci Park, an ensemble of palaces and garden complexes, which were built under Frederick the Great during the 18th century and were expanded under Frederick William IV in the 19th century.  Sanssouci Palace, the summer residence of Frederick the Great, is the main focus.  The palace only had 12 rooms, but they were very beautiful and filled with amazing art.  The weather was rainy and the gardens have not yet come into bloom, but it was still pretty impressive:

In front of an old Windmill.
Back entrance of the Palace

Middle front section of the Palace
We arrived at our inexpensive hotel in Berlin that evening.  The elevator didn't work and our rooms were on the fifth floor, but we managed to use the elevator of the neighboring building and it all worked out well.  We had a wonderful meal at a Italian restaurant close by.  The morning breakfast offered was excellent, we met with the other missionaries and then we took off for a day of adventure.  We started with a hop on hop off tour of the city of Berlin, which is the capital and the  largest city in Germany:

See Sister Rueckert on the second level of the double decker sight seeing bus.
View from the bus, with other missionaries in the seats ahead

After seeing an overview of the sites, we settled into Check Point Charlie and the museum around there for most of the afternoon:

Straddling the line of the Berlin wall, with our right feet in East Berlin and our left feet in West Berlin
The location of the wall is shown in cobblestone throughout the city

In between a remnant of the Berlin Wall near Check Point Charlie

Sign of entry as you passed from Check Point Charlie into East Berlin

We then spend several hours in the Check Point Charlie museum, which truly opened our eyes and understanding to the logistics and the impact of the Berlin Wall and the wall around all of East Germany.  We learned the history and efforts to escape East Berlin and East Germany.  In fact the Soviet occupation began at the end of the war in 1945 and 2.6 million people left East Germany before the Wall was constructed in 1961.  In fact we met a man from Utah who was in the museum.  His parents were some that had left East Berlin in secret in 1953, never again to return.  This man had served a mission in Berlin in 1975 and now was back with his son, learning more of their heritage and East Germany.  The museum highlighted many successful escape attempts over the years of 1961 to 1989.  Some of those are included in the photos below:

This was an escape for a girl that stayed inside of a speaker box while a successful singer crossed through Check Point Charlie

This was the hot air ballon that brought one family to safety over the wall.  A full length film was made about this family called "Night Crossing"
One of my favorite parts of the museum was an entire room dedicated to President Ronald Reagan.  We sat and listened again to the speech that he gave in Berlin in 1987 where he asked the Russian leader, Mikhail Gorbachev to take down the wall:

Part of the tribute to President Reagan

As we listened to these words on the live filming of the speech, chills ran up and down our spines.  This was a great U.S. President who truly made a difference.

The wall ran in front of the famous Brandenburg Gate.  In fact, President Reagan's talk was given in front of the wall, with the Gate in the background.  So the words "open this gate"  had very significant meaning.
With Elder and Sister Matheson in front of the Brandenburg Gate, originally built in 1791.  The wall was just in front of where we were standing.

This is from the East Berlin side of the Brandenburg Gate 
The total length of wall and fences was 1,391 kilometers, totally isolating East Germany from their western neighbors.  Of that, they have preserved about 1.3 kilometers as a memorial and asked 118 artists from 21 different countries to paint the sections of the wall.  It is now called the East Side Gallery. 

Part of the West side of the wall

More view from the west side of the wall

One of the paintings on the east side of the wall.  Each purple flower represents one of the 136 who died while trying to escape.

1989, the year the wall finally came down

On the other end of the 1.3 kilometers of existing wall
By the beautiful Oberbaumumbr├╝cke Bridge.  This double decker bridge led straight to the wall and was not functioning during all of the time that the wall was up.
Berliner Dom, incredibly large cathedral

While going to Church in a Berlin Ward on Sunday we met a friend of Ammon in our Sunday School class.  The world is small when we are members of the Church.  In Sacrament meeting a young girl gave a talk in Spanish but read quotations and scriptures in German.  We heard a beautiful rendition of "Hands" sung in English that touched our hearts with the true spirit of Easter.  It is wonderful to be fed spiritually wherever we go.  

Although fascinated with the history and beauty of this city, we were left to ponder the incredible costs that were exerted to limit the freedom of citizens, and the lack of concern for human rights.  It was sobering, but then it got more real.  On Sunday afternoon we chose to visit the Holocaust Memorial.  It is made up of 2,711 concrete blocks on an area of  19,000 square meters.  These blocks are the same length and width, but the height varies which according to Eisenmann evokes a sense of isolation and disorientation, symbolic of the events during the Holocaust.  

The monument has an underground "Place of Information" which makes a lot more sense of what it all means and holds names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims.  This sign as we entered into the "Place of Information"  tells a strong message of why we must remember what happened.

After identifying the terrible history of discrimination that turned to isolation which turned to cold blooded murder, the rooms below had a goal of helping you to recognize that the 6,000,000 individuals who were murdered were real people.  The first room showed messages from those who were led to their death, in small journals or notes or messages.  One of them below is shown as an example.

The next room highlighted 15 families who were victims from different countries throughout Europe.  The following are a few examples from one of the families from Austria:

Other rooms shared biographies of many of the victims, a new one every few minutes.  To share all, it would take over 6 years.  Finally it highlighted the death chambers, the concentration camps, the gas chambers, the shooting squads, etc.  As we left, we truly had a little bit more of an understanding of what had occurred in those dark days of World War II.  Millions of Jews (and others) were murdered from each of the countries that the Nazis took control of.

As we have pondered the inhumane conditions not only  to the Jews, but also to the Germans that were controlled by the Soviets for over 40 years, our hearts are heavy.  It was a sobering experience.  At the same time we were celebrating the resurrection and the atonement of our Savior during this Easter weekend.  What a contrast, but it all comes together with our Savior.  So many innocent individuals have suffered so much, but he has paid for the sufferings and sins of all, if we will only reach out to him.  Although suffering has occurred and is still occurring in our world, there is certainly hope for a better world.  

I testify that Jesus is our Savior, that he did pay for our sins and our sufferings and that he arose on the third day.  There are many things that I do not understand, but I know that God is just and that his judgements are just.  I know that when we arrive in His presence, we will understand all of this and we will feel of his everlasting love, not restricted by mortal experience and pain.  I know that he has known and understood all of the pain of the world and that He will make it right for each of us.

As we left Berlin on Monday morning, we met this incredible musician, playing his music on the street.  He plays by rubbing the tips of many glasses that are filled with variable levels of water.  It was fascinating to watch him and heavenly to hear.  Please take time to listen to the video below, which just captured 30 seconds of his music.  It will uplift you!

Click on the link below to hear 30 seconds of heavenly music from this man

Musical Water Glasses - Sergey Karamyshev Glasharfe

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Lessons learned in London

Sister Rueckert In front of Westminster Abbey, while a double decker bus went by with the banner I Love Mormon.  How fitting to summarize our wonderful few days in London

We just finished a wonderful few days in London, England with our Self-Reliance Managers and Full-time missionaries that are serving in the British Isles.  I want you to know that I have learned to be politically correct with my description above.  The following is how we appropriately describe the different geographic identities in the British Isles:

England is a Country
England plus Wales = Britain
Britain plus Scotland = Great Britain
Great Britain plus Northern Ireland = United Kingdom
United Kingdom plus Republic of Ireland = British Isles

I hope all that read this blog will know how to appropriately identify the different geographic identities in this part of the world.  It can keep you out of hot water in your conversations with those who really understand.  The people in our seminar were from all different parts of these geographies.

The occasion of our visit was to participate in a seminar put on by our SRS managers for all of the full-time missionary couples in the British Isles.  We arrived on Monday, the seminar was held on Tuesday and Wednesday and we came back home to Frankfurt, Germany, today, Thursday.

We stayed in a hotel about one mile from the Hyde Park Chapel, where the seminar was held.  We had the opportunity to walk back and forth each day through the streets of London., which included going through a district of amazing museums.   The following are some of our views during that walk each day:   
Elder and Sister Rueckert on the North End of the Museum of Natural History
Debbie in front of the Museum of Natural History
Across the street from the museum, with double decker buses and one of the many taxis.
Much of the walk was along Cromwell Road.  Very Royal!

In the evening we were privileged to see a full moon with the planet Venus in full view.  I have added the fun photo that we were able to get of this beautiful sight:

We spent two days with our mangers and missionaries.  We were able to learn from each other and most importantly to get to know each other better.  It is a great privilege to serve with such wonderful and inspiring missionaries.  Each have their own challenges and have met them with faith.  In just the past month that has included a death of a grandchild and for another the loss of sight in one eye (hopefully temporary).  However, they don't let any of that interfere with their missionary service.  Three of these couples have recently started their service, but already are moving forward with faith.  The following photo was taken outside of the Hyde Park Chapel in London during one of our lunch breaks:

Self-Reliance Missionary couples currently serving in London, Birmingham and Manchester, England  and in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland.  Also included are Elder & Sister Rueckert and our two SRS managers.
In the evening of the last day of the seminar we were privileged to receive a tour inside the Palace of Westminster, which houses the Parliament of the United Kingdom.  This included going into the House of Commons, House of Lords, Westminster Hall and the Cathedral of St. Mary's.  We couldn't take pictures of much that we were able to see inside, but it was a wonderful experience and one that helped us to have much more respect for the great history and current roles of the British Parliament.   The following photos were taken outside and inside, where allowed:

One end of Westminster is the buildings above the House of the Lords
This portion is over the Westminster Hall, which connects the House of the Lords with the House of the Commons

Big Ben rises above the Hall of the Commons below
Underneath, in the Westminster Hall, first built in the 1100s.
Many Kings, Queens  and Prime Ministers have laid in state in the Westminster Hall
In front of the Westminster Palace and Big Ben with the  London Eye lit up in the colors of Belgium, due to the terrorist attack that occurred during our visit
The end of our seminar with the entire group under Big Ben, in the grounds of the Westminster Palace

Besides all of this wonderful experience, Sister Rueckert was also able to remain healthy, much different than our last trip to London last year.  In fact, her health has continued to be excellent since we began our official time as missionaries.