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While driving to Copenhagen we saw a sign for Gedenkstatte Bergen-Belsen. We decided that on our drive back we would stop and visit this notorious place.

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Bergen-Belsen epitomizes a very dark chapter in German history. We had briefly discussed the possibility of visiting a concentration camp when we first arrived in Germany but our children (then 5 and 8) seemed too young and most Holocaust museum and sites restrict access to children under the age of 10. Now, 3 years later, they were perhaps a little closer to being ready. I don’t think anyone is every truly prepared to deal with such horrors but since we would be leaving in a few months it seemed as good a time as any. Somehow leaving Europe without experiencing this chapter of history and paying our respects to those who had suffered seemed wrong.

Bergen-Belsen is probably best known as a concentration camp, and may be because one of the victims happened to be the writer of a very famous diary. However, she was only one of tens of thousands who suffered there. It was first a Prisoner of War camp; then it was converted to a concentration camp in 1943; after the war it served as a camp for displaced persons.

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When the camp was liberated many of the 60,000 prisoners were suffering horribly not just from hunger, inhumane conditions and overcrowding but also from vermin and disease. Most facilities were immediately destroyed to prevent further contamination or infection. As a result there aren’t any buildings to see. (This made the visit less difficult for all of us.) We were given a map and small markers indicated what various locations once were.

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The most shocking thing to see on the grounds were the mass graves. At the time of liberation there were 13,000 unburied corpses at the camp. Today there are memorial markers at the mass grave sites. This one reads, “Here lies 2500 dead. April 1945.”

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This memorial was dedicated in 1952. Every German student will visit a concentration camp before graduating from school. There was a group of students visiting when we were there.

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It wasn’t just Germans that were imprisoned here. The words on this memorial are written in many different languages recognizing all who suffered and died at Bergen-Belsen.

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It is a Jewish custom to place a stone atop a grave. These stones are said to show to others that a grave has been visited. The stones commemorate the deceased person and his burial.

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After seeing the grounds we walked through this corridor into the documentation center. Loudspeakers gave us an audible experience of the terrible suffering experienced by so many.

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The Documentation Center was our last stop. It contained artifacts, biographies, photographs and personal accounts of the Bergen-Belsen experience. This was the most interesting portion of the memorial but also the most graphic and difficult. We did not spend much time here because of the nature of the exhibit and the age of our children, but I could have spent hours.

There are many “Must-Sees” in Europe. As solemn as it is, I would put a visit to a concentration on the list. It is horrible and unforgettable…as it should be.

 

Before we travel I like to get out a map – a real map – and check out where we’re going (as opposed to just using a GPS.) When I realized just how close to Sweden we were going to be I thought “Why not!” I really wanted to go to Stockholm but it was a bit far so instead we went to Malmö.

We were going to Malmö basically blind. It wasn’t mentioned by Rick Steves, but I thought maybe an IKEA product was named Malmö. (Was it a desk? A vase? A Swedish grocery item? My search on IKEA.com turned up nothing.) I found very little on the major travel websites but since we got a decent price on a room at the Radisson Blu we decided we’d make the most of it. (Incidentally that was the last time that I would associate the term “decent price” with any consumer product in Sweden.)

I think the bridge over Lake Pontchartrain is longer.

We arrived in Malmo via a long (and expensive) bridge. I think the toll was around $50 which is about $10 per mile.

It is miraculous that we don't have more cavities.

Once we checked into our hotel we grabbed a map and began meandering around town. Our first stop was a candy store. We have some very sweet teeth in the family.

We could never do a year without sugar. We can't even do a day without sugar.

There were plenty of fruity chewy candies, but not one Swedish Fish! (Yes, that orangish thing in the front right of the bag is a fish, but it is not the Swedish Fish that are sold in the U.S.) I even asked the salesperson if she knew about Swedish Fish and she couldn’t help me. Shocking.

IKEA is cheaper. Much cheaper.

We did, however, find Swedish Meatballs, which are pretty much just like the ones from IKEA. They even come with lingonberry sauce.

Cue the flashbacks to my childhood...

I’ll get the rest of the Swedish stereotypes out of the way: There were plenty of Saab and Volvo automobiles and a Marimekko store. We passed an IKEA but did not stop in. We did not see a bikini team (but we also did not go near the beach.)

It reminds me of a gingerbread house.

We pretty much just wandered around town and looked at the pretty buildings.

Just a building. No idea what is inside.

There is an interesting mix of old and new.

Where are we going? When are we going back to the hotel? My feet hurt. I 'm tired.

Somehow my children do not appreciate the joys of wandering without any real purpose or destination.

But they did not have the new style of Starbucks mug. Bummer.

This is the train station – and home to the local Starbucks. (Don’t judge – we were buying a Sweden mug for a friend. We actually got things to eat – but no photo – at the local coffee shop, Wayne’s Coffee.)

What is this? who knows.

More wandering.

See the Swedish flag? Same color scheme as IKEA.

This old building was in the center of town, near where we ate dinner.

Do Tell, how's the HoTell?

This was not our hotel but it is an interesting building.

Modern statues should show leaders in their cars.

Of course we saw more statues.

It was too far to walk there. I had a blister, remember?

The tall building in the distance is notable – it is called the Turning Torso and is an apartment building.

I'm cathedral-ed, castle-d, and fort-ed out.

We went to the fort in town and I was not disappointed that just like nearly every other business in town, it was closed after 6pm.

Torture or fun? You be the judge.

We looked for a playground but this is as close as we got.

At least he is smiling for the camera!

See how much fun they are having?

Interesting bike, eh?

After a sighting of this interesting bicycle we turned in for the night. Now we can say we’ve been to Sweden, but maybe not the best part.

Kastellet

The Danish Flag. Stylish yet understated.

There were many, many more things I would have liked to see in Copenhagen, but since we couldn’t stay another week we settled on just one more stop before departing: The Kastellet. I’ll admit, this was not my choice, but it was an interesting thing to see. I’m sure if I didn’t have a blister the size of a half-dollar on my heel (that was the result of our powerwalk through the city earlier) I would have enjoyed it even more.

that kid in front is dwarfed and camoflaged.

We also saw plenty of notable things on our walk from the Little Mermaid to the Kastellet entrance – like this statue/memorial/obelisk.

This king looks like a regular guy.

It seem to me that sculptors were quite busy once upon a time. There are so many sculptures in most European cities!

I really, really wanted to soak my aching feet in here.

This is the Gefion Fountain which depicts an interesting myth (read all about the iconography here.) It was a gift from the Carlsburg Foundation on the occasion of the brewery’s 50th anniversary in the early 20th century.

Nice hat. He's been working out. Crossfit maybe?

These guy were guarding the entrance to the Kastellet area. I thought they were Hermes and Neptune, but they could also be Mercury and Poseidon and probably have other names in Norse Mythology. Since one of the boys is a Percy Jackson fan and the other studied Greek mythology in school, they were all over these guys. (Not literally – the statues were about 20 feet in the air.)

I hope it is as pretty inside as outside

I thought this church was really beautiful. While I was admiring it and taking photos here is what the boys were doing:

They just LOVE climbing trees. Love it.

Thankfully no one fell in. That is always a fear of mine and thus far it has not come to fruition.

It is a pike, or whatever PIKE is in Danish.

Apparently up in that tree there is a better vantage point for looking for fish, another favorite pastime.

They were walking slowly because they were looking for fish.

This is a classic design for a fortress: surrounded by a moat!

Nice hat.

Kastellet actually means Citadel, not Castle. This memorial is a reminder that this is a military facility.

c'mon in! Everyone!

Unlike U.S. military installations, everyone is welcome here. There are no ID checks and no security guards.  Just walk in and check out the place!

Seriously. Where is the exchange??

This cool star-shape is what attracted us to the Kastellet. This map is a little vague though – where is the commissary? The bowling alley?

Modern yet classic.

There were a few more statues and memorials within the walls of the Kastellet.

How did we end up in Holland? we took a wrong turn at Albequerque.

There was a windmill in the middle of the Kastellet. I’m guessing it was so there was a source of food in the event of a siege, since it could be used as a flour mill. (I could be completely wrong though. It has happened before.)

Nice ship.We especially wanted to see the base chapel. This is the only photograph I took since right after taking it we saw a big sign that said, “No Photography.”

Nice boats

After our little tour of the Kastellet we walked along the harbor a bit more on our way to the car.

I am sure they are looking at a fish.

And once again, looked for fish. Plenty of fish – no fishing poles. Tragic.

 

Her Again

[The HER I'm referring to isn't actually ME, although it could be. After more than 2 weeks virtually without  internet - oh, the horror! - I'm back online, albeit on a geriatric laptop that is so quirky that I think its end is near. I'm also back in America, though my brain - and this blog - are decidedly still on the European continent. More on our return to the USA whenever I get caught up with the last of our European adventures.]

A tragic figure, really. Poor girl.

After our serendipitous adventure in Copenhagen, I paused for a moment to let my heart rate and blood pressure return to its normal resting rate.

Then it was time to fight the crowds for a good picture of the Little Mermaid. We’d seen her backside from a tour boat, but now we were up close and personal.

TOURISTS. everywhere! Oh wait, I'm one of them.

Well, maybe not personal – she always attracts a crowd. And not really up close either – she’s on a rock, surrounded by water.

But we did pay her a visit, and we did get a couple of photos. Spoiler alert: She looks nothing like Ariel.

Serendipity

Just like Soulard Market!

After our journey to the top of Rundetaarn we had a little logistical discussion. We had an hour left before we had to move our car from the primo parking spot at our rental apartment, but there was more that we wanted to see in Copenhagen. Our discussion was interrupted by several repeated request for mini-donuts and finally we decided on this plan: Jeremy would head back to check out of the apartment and get the car, and then he would use the GPS to guide him to a parking lot near the Little Mermaid. The boys and I would get a second breakfast and then walk to our rendezvous point. We’d finish seeing a few things and then we’d head out of town.

The snack of choice was right before our eyes: A mini-donut stand was just being set up (we noticed that many Danish are not early risers) and said it would be maybe 10 or 15 minutes before the donuts were ready. No problem: for donuts we could wait.

Ipad cameras. They crack me up.

While we were waiting this tour group walked by. I had heard about this tour guide who dresses up like Hans Christian Anderson and gives tours of the city, and had considered taking his tour. I thought it was pretty cool that we got to see him anyhow. That’s a little bit of serendipity.

Just like Homer Price but no one lost jewelry

Ten minutes of waiting became fifteen; fifteen became twenty. Apparently the key to a good donut is the temperature of the oil and that was not rising quickly. I debated ditching the donuts – I didn’t want Jeremy to be waiting at the Little Mermaid, wondering and worrying about us – but the boys were pretty determined to get donuts. Besides, we’d invested this much time…surely it wouldn’t be too much longer!

I should explain one point that is critical to the story: Yes, we do have cell phones. And if we were delayed meeting up with someone while in Germany (or in America) we’d do the logical thing and call or text. (I’ve been known to call Jeremy when I couldn’t find him in Wal-Mart for pete’s sake.) However, roaming charges are ridiculous so while travelling so we usually avoid making calls.

They really, really, really love donuts.

Waiting for the donuts wasn’t unpleasant. The donut guy was quite friendly. He chatted with the boys and explained that he was an Albanian, currently living in Sweden but working in Denmark. We discussed the great donuts of the world – of course he had heard of Dunkin’ Donuts but had never heard of either Krispy Kreme or Tim Horton’s. I tried to explain the old Dunkin’ Donuts catchphrase, “It’s time to make the donuts…I made the donuts” and I’m pretty sure that reference was completely lost on him (though I did tell him he should check youtube.) The boys debated and discussed what topping they would get on their donuts (the final decision was half chocolate, half strawberry) and in the back of my mind I imagined Jeremy standing by the water, wondering what had happened to his family.

Finally (I didn’t check my watch, but it was definitely more than 15 minutes) we had donuts in hand (and even got some extras for free since we waited so long – which Andrew thought was the coolest thing) and were on our way. I explained to the boys that we were on a mission – we HAD to get to the Little Mermaid as quickly as possible so GO.

They must shop at the same place the British guards shop.

We were powerwalking through the streets of Copenhagen when suddenly these guys walked right in front of us. They were on a mission too: on their way to the changing of the guard. If we’d left the donut man any earlier (or later) we would have missed them. Serendipity!

Christian is a very popular name

We did stop a few times: once for the restroom (of course) and a couple of brief pauses so I could get some photos.

Fred's church

I was happy to get a close- up look at this church since we’d seen it from the boat tour and at Legoland. Again a brief stop to take a photo and then we powered on.

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Here is where those guys in the funny hats were headed: Amalienborg Slot, the site of the changing of the guard. We caught just a bit of the action as we walked by. Serendipity.

It is the heart that I think is adorable.

By this time my little donut-eaters were tired. And thirsty. And tired. We were almost there, and I really, really hoped Jeremy wasn’t concerned about us.

I wonder if he is higher or lower rank than the puffy hat guys.

We took another 10 second pause to take a photograph of this guy and we raced on.

Look at those goofy tourists in the boat!

At last we reached the Little Mermaid…and Jeremy was no where to be found. I thought maybe he had gone looking for us and wondered how we’d find him. We sat down on the grass to rest our weary feet (our dogs were barking!) and I figured now was a good time to use a cell phone, regardless of the cost.  I opened my purse and saw…the GPS navigation system.

Gulp. A bit of panic set in. How was Jeremy supposed to get to our rendezvous point without a GPS? Did he even have a map? Is he lost somewhere in Copenhagen? How annoyed would he be when he realized that I hadn’t left the GPS in the car?

I tried to call him but there was no answer. I started to strategize just what we should do next when I heard a familiar voice say, “Were you worried about me?”

He had just arrived, moments after we had. He had no trouble getting back to the car, or getting to the rendezvous point or finding a parking spot. (He did have a map and can navigate very well without either the GPS voice or his wife telling him where to turn.) It took him just as long to get there as it took us, and the whole time he was worrying that we would be worrying about him.

We had a good laugh.

Some would call it serendipity. But as a Pastor I know would say, “That is just the way our God works.”

 

I ♥ Denmark

If there is ever a competition for cutest currency, I’d nominate Denmark.

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Seriously. Isn’t this 5 Kroner coin adorable? I think it’s the hearts.

Rundetaarn

This might not be the church. I can't remember.

There were tons of things that I still wanted to see in Copenhagen, but on our last day I decided to follow my inner geek and we opted to see the Rundetaarn  – the Round Tower.

This was the entrance. And the exit.

It was built between 1637 and 1642 by King Christian IV and was part of the Trinity Complex, three facilities for scholarly study. The Round Tower had an astronomical observatory on the top.

we couldn't find this rebus at first. Duh.

Copenhagen was quite the haven for science scholars back in the 16th and 17th centuries. The most famous astronomer was probably Tycho Brahe, but he ditched the Danish to head to Prague to hang out with Johannes Kepler. This tower was built after Brahe’s death for the new astronomer in town – Christian Longomontanus. Christian IV put his mark on the tower with this rebus on the facade. The message is this: Guide God, proper learning, and justice into the heart of the crowned Chrisian IV, 1642.

that shadow in the lower right corner is my kid

The path to the top is a ramp which circles around the tower 7 1/2 times. Apparently horses, cars and bicycles have been to the top. We just walked.

The only thing I can read is the numerals.

There are a few notable things to see along the way.

Hey there, what's your sign?

I don’t know how old this constellation map is but it was beautiful.

yup, my annoying 35mm lens strikes again for a weirdly angled photo Although the tower is no longer used for astronomical studies (too much light pollution and not enough room for fancy equipment) there is still a telescope that is open to the public for star gazing. Unfortunately we could only see one star when we were there. That star sets too late (9:52pm) and rises too early (4:37 am) in the summer to get a chance to see much else.

All that hard work to get to the top (not really – only the kids were complaining) and we were rewarded with a great view.
Can you see the cruise ship??

There were plenty of spires along the skyline. We could even see the coast.

I've been there. and there. And there.

In addition to the fantastic view at the top, we could see the beautiful wroght-iron lattice fence and could even do a little shopping in a very small gift shop. (What a job for someone – a long commute to work, a miserably cramped work environment, but a great view.)

I could take sanctuary here.

The Rundetaarn was actually attached to a church, which could be entered via the tower.

I spared everyone the photo of the famous toilet - the first septic system!

What goes up must come down, so soon enough we were back on ground level, ready for a snack.

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