Arriving in Berlin at Tegel Airport is a quick “Welcome to Europe.” Passport control meets you at the gate. Truthfully, we were in Turkey before Germany, and admittedly so, we had to consult the map before declaring our arrival to a new continent. Where to draw the line? While visiting Cappadocia, Turkey our tour guide described Turkey’s historical borders and geopolitical landmarks and asked the group, “Do I look Asian or European?” We took into account that he spoke English, did not use chopsticks, and did not put curry in every dish. We asked, “With which do you identify yourself?” I think a western-style toilet in the house could be the deciding factor.

Nowhere are geopolitical lines more controversial than Israel, however, a discussion of annexed lands versus occupied territories belongs in our blog no more than we belong in Ramallah. A close second to Israel’s confusing paint-by-numbers and color-between-the-lines border wars is Berlin’s historical division. Much of the city was destroyed durning the Wars, but what remains tells a collective story of a formerly geopolitically divided city with both physical and cultural partitions.

Upon arrival we met my brother, Alex, and his fiancé, Marisa. Alex has been working in Vienna and Berlin, and finished his work tour with a vacation for him and his lady. To their credit, Berlin in February is not the ideal vacation but they seized the opportunity for the four of us to be together. Unfortunately, Loren fell ill with a flu-like-illness and had to take a sick day. Despite illness we still managed to have a wonderful dinner together and toured a significant amount of the city. We visited the famous Checkpoint Charlie, the Monument for the Murdered Jews of Europe, and the Jewish History Museum. The Jewish memorials were both carefully designed and crafted to elicit both physical and emotional feelings of uneasiness and vestibular disorientation. Pictures alone don’t do them justice. As Loren recovered in quarantine, the rest visited the top sites from the historic Brandenburg Gate and Victory Column to the architecturally fascinating Reichstag.

Our time together was short lived but quality. we got married in September and know what Alex and Marisa’s next several months will entail. We are excited for their wedding and the experience they’ll have to share with each other.

Inevitably, as Lo got better Nathalia got sick. We moved across town to Charlottenburg, and despite fevers, severe cough and congestion we toured the area on foot. We visited the Story of Berlin Museum, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, and the Helmut Newton Photography Foundation. The Story of Berlin was educational enough itself, but the highlight was the underground Cold War-era bunker designed to house 3,500 people for two weeks – likely under conditions only marginally better than the nuclear winter they would’ve emerged to find.

Brother-from-another-mother Dennis and his wife, Sezen, took the bus from Hamburg to meet us. We capitalized on the best brunch spots of the city and took things slow with a stop at an old-fashioned coffee and cake shop. No wifi there; just tea and coffee with sweets and maybe a glass of sherry. Our dinners varied from traditional and hardy German meat-and-potatoes to contemporary and exotic Thai noodles. We visited the Eastside Gallery and even travelled to the top of the 368 meter Television Tower. Our last day together was rainy and cold, however, at a moment’s notice Dennis was able to book a driving tour in the Magic Bus; a restored 1970s VW van with Jens, a cabbie and history enthusiast that completed our coverage of the city.

Our cousin Daniel has spent the last decade carving his niche in the Berlin theater and klezmer music scene. He showed us around town from the contemporary art museum to Virchow’s Anatomical museum. He invited us to a concert he had curated and we even got to see him perform. We got the locals’ food experience from a Turkish seafood restaurant under the tracks to Dan’s neighborhood hummus stop. We found the best coffee we’ve had in months at the Barn Roastery and the best sandwiches we’ve had at Mogg and Melzer. The flu really slowed us down but Dan and his girlfriend, Nora, were nice enough to meet us on our side of town at one of their favorite noodle shops. It was busy enough and, for their sake, we’ll keep the name unmentioned.

Through our journey around the world and despite the beautiful sights and exotic places the draw of family and friends beckons us home.

But not before our South American adventure. Next stop Rio! And Carnival!