Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Quest for a VCR

Technology is such a fascinating thing. We were doing a lesson on Future perfect and future continuous (that would be progressive for those of the American school.) Anyhow, part of this lesson was for people to talk about things twenty years in the future and to speculate on whether they believe they will have changed or not. Some of them seemed to think that twenty years in the future is a relatively short period of time, and that things are not likely to really have changed a whole lot. They don't seem to realize that twenty years ago no one, except maybe really rich and famous types, had mobile phones. Nor did most private individuals even have computers. They did, however, have VCRs.
I remember when we got our first VCR. It must have been our second or third Christmas in Horse Creek, which would put me at about 5 or 6 years of age. I remember how exciting it was to be able to watch movies on TV when I was sick and had to stay home. I had two Little Golden Book videos that I watched over and over and over. One had animal stories and the other was Little Critter, who I still think is pretty marvelous. These days, however, the people who still are in possession of VCRs are few and far between. The only reason I still have one in the US is because it's attached to my TV. I still have a nice quantity of VHS videos as well, but when I've had the chance I've changed a lot of them over to DVD for a plethora of reasons, including better quality, longevity, and the fact that VCRs are pretty much obsolete at this point.
As I mentioned before, Sarah Vierra is doing research for her dissertation in Berlin. She found a video of an interview with an important Turk who died some years ago. The video was only available on VHS, and while she was able to obtain it from a museum, the museum did not have a player on which to view it. Consequently, she was feeling a bit stuck. After asking around her community of friends, she learned that the parents of one friend still had a VCR. It hadn't been used in a good ten years, but they believed it to be in working order. Therefore, on Wednesday of my Berlin trip, we went out to the German countryside in search of old technology.
Oranienburg is a small city about an hour outside of Berlin. It can be reached by the S-Bahn, an overground metro system that was extended to this area in the early 20th century. As the arms of the S-Bahn spread out into the country, little towns grew up around them. The ease of travel created finger-like suburbs around the main city of Berlin. It became popular to have a house outside of town, and so Oranienburg grew.
Originally the city had another name, but the marriage of some Prussian dignitary or another to a Dutch woman Louise Henriette Oranien led to the change in the towns name. She was a very popular Princess and has been preserved in statuesque form in the courtyard of her palace.

Andre, whose parents we were on the way to visit, was an excellent tour guide around the area. He grew up both here and in East Berlin, and was full of stories all day long. He also had some great smart remarks. I really must go back a moment to our ride out to the town. Besides the four of us, another girl, Laurie, who is also working on her dissertation, came along for the trip. We met up at Starbucks (!) and got drinks for the road. (Crystal, you'll be happy to know that I ordered a Caramel Macchiatto, since you say you like to make those.) After finishing the drinks Laurie began looking for opportunities to throw her cup away when we would stop for passengers to get on or off. The first place we noticed the bin was close enough, but after that they seemed to always be a long way from the doors and she feared she wouldn't have time to do her little Chinese Fire Drill garbage drop. I finished my drink a short time later, and we set to work looking for the opportune moment to sprint off the bus and make the drop.
Eventually we got to a station where our doors opened right by a bin, so we both scurried off and rushed to throw our cups away. Germans are big fans of recycling, so it was a bit of a struggle to make sure we put the cups in the proper receptacles before hurrying to get back on before the doors closed. We'd just sat down, happy with ourselves for doing so well, only be informed by Andre that we'd chosen wrong! GRRR!!! To make matters worse, the next stop was the one we were getting off at. As we exited the train and headed for the station Andre made us pause as he properly disposed of his trash and asked that we consider how satisfying it is to know that you've followed the rules and done things the German way. We all got a good laugh.
Now, back to the tour. We weren't able to go in the palace today, so we just walked around and saw it, and looked out at the drab looking gardens that are supposed to be part of a flower show in the spring. Too bad I won't get to see them then. Ah well, must make the best of my chances to travel when I can.
From the palace, we headed on along the Havel River. During the second world war this river was used extensively as a passage between Germany and Poland. I'm not as good as remembering all the explanations that Andre gave us as Ben was in his last newsletter, but suffice it to say that Oranienburg was also the sight of a vile concentration camp, and many of the prisoners there were forced to work on building a harbor on this river so that it could be used more effectively for the business of the Nazis.
We walked along the river for some time and paused for lunch in a little restaurant along the way. Here you see Andre posing with some friends before having lunch.

We had a nice lunch here. The people running the restaurant were an adorable little old German couple. They kept coming and making sure that we were enjoying the food. It was really quite adorable as they asked if it was "Schmekt" which means something to the effect of "tasty."
I ordered something that was supposed to be for people with a "small hunger," but I found it to be quite large and heavy. There was a piece of toast with some Wiener Schnitzel, cheese, and sliced sausage on top. It was really tasty, but definitely more than filling!

After lunch we continued along by the river. While we saw evidence of wild boars in the area (they're quite fond of rooting around in the moss and needles on the forest floor) and a sign warning of otters in the area, we didn't see any wildlife beyond occasional birds.

Laurie really liked the otter sign :)
As I looked around the forest I was really curious about what looked like ditches or some sort of strange sinking ground everywhere. Ben, the nature guy, was also curious and was kind enough to ask Andre about it so I'd get to know what it was all about as well. It turns out that, seeing as how this was a rather strategic position for the Germans, they'd built these holes in order to hide men and machines as the Soviets wre approaching. It really brings history to the forefront of your mind when you're walking in places and can actually see the scars or war upon the ground. Really makes a person stop and think...

We continued on and crossed over a train bridge that is no longer in use. We wandered to around to another small lake before circling back on the other side and heading toward where Andre's parents live.

I don't know what it is about random bits of rubbish that tends to fascinate me, but when I saw this shoe I just couldn't resist taking a photo. Maybe there's something about it that speaks to me of the person from whom it has long been separated. I begin to wonder who the person was, and how their shoe came to be in this place. Having grown up in a pretty damp climate, I realize that the fate that has befallen this particular shoe might not take as long as it appears, but I'm still guessing it had been there for a while.
As we circled back we also passed again by the harbor I'd mentioned. You can't really see the monuments very well, but there have been some skeletal figures placed by the edge of the water as a reminder of the horrors inflicted here. It is just so difficult to fathom the terrible things people can do to others. I cannot begin to imagine...

As we continued along, however, we were also reminded of the beauty of God's creation. Just take a moment to really look at the patterns in this ice. It was so incredible. And then there is the scene of the sun setting on the water with the tall grasses standing by. I was so transfixed by the wonder of it all. I really could have stood and stared for ages, watching the fading light blend into night.

We did eventually make it to the home of Andre's parents. They were really sweet people who served tea to those who wanted. Not being a tea drinker, I stuck with water. It ended up being of the sparkling variety which is really not my favorite, but I smiled and drank it all the same. I was feeling pretty tired by this point. After a week of being super sick, this week of traipsing all over the place was about enough to wipe me out. While Sarah watched her ten minute video twice, Andre supplied us with some reading material. Ben, Laurie and I looked through a massive book of birds which was rather entertaining and at least kept me from falling asleep.
We headed back to Berlin after the video watching was over. We were all ready for dinner by then, so we headed to the Oranienburg section of Berlin. Laurie lives in the area, and new of a great Asian restaurant. On the way, Andre made sure I viewed the massive Jewish temple in the area. It is the only temple that was spared on the night the SS went on their rampage of destruction. Andre explained to me how a group of firefighters stood guard over the temple, explaining to the Nazis that burning it would cause the entire block to go up in flames. It was truly a sight to behold.

We finished the day off with another excellent meal. They even had pretty decent chopsticks there, so that was fun. I still find it next to impossible to eat Asian food without them. So here you can see my "long life" noodles and Ben and Sarah with their tasty dishes.

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