The Daily Explorer

June 30, 2011

The Swiss Connection

Berlin: June 2011

MOZZIE BYTE (Editor): A warm welcome to all our Daily Explorer readers. For those of you who are joining us for the first time, Ray has been travelling and living nomadically for five and a half years since he left England in November 2005, visiting 20 different countries so far on his journey. We have been publishing exclusive news and stories about his experiences (you will find all of these in our Previous Issues archive). Our aim at The Daily Explorer is to create a great publication for you, so please keep sending us your comments and suggestions as to how we can improve what we are doing. You can use the comments box on this site, or email Ray (ray@thedailyexplorer.com), ‘Mozzie’ or any of our correspondents at mozzie@thedailyexplorer.com.

In this issue, we have an update from Berlin as our intrepid explorer takes a break from global travel for a few weeks to enjoy life in this fabulous city. And we accompany Ray as he visits his ex-wife Charlotte in Switzerland. If you want some great entertainment, there are also three video clips sent in by readers for you to enjoy.

In case you missed our last issue, Ray made the most of his return to London and organised a ‘mini-tour’ of Europe. He first visited Haarlem in the Netherlands, where he spent the weekend trekking and cycling, followed by a few days in the vibrant German capital city of Berlin. You can read it now at: Haarlem and Berlin Uncovered

Above: The Brandenburg Gate is one of Berlin’s most easily recognised landmarks. Our global traveller encountered the wonderful city of Berlin during his recent mini-tour of Europe. You can read all about it in: Haarlem and Berlin Uncovered

Having a basic daily routine is something that has been absent for our global traveller for a very long time. So it was not a huge surprise to hear from Ray that he was enjoying his three month stay in Berlin when I spoke to him recently. “You know Mozzie, I have loved and enjoyed my mobility over the last five and a half years, the spontaneity that is possible through being unencumbered by circumstances and the freedom of not having responsibility for looking after property or other people” he told me. “Yet in some ways, it has come at a price and every now and again, it is interesting to re-experience some aspects of the life I left behind when I started this great experiment in 2005. I sometimes miss having a place of my own, being able to plan my activities well in advance and getting to know people in one place. And having access to the kind of modern amenities that are not always available in third world countries” explained Ray.

“Although my reason for coming to Berlin is primarily to spend as much time as I can with Silky, it has given me a chance to meet some of these other needs. I am renting a lovely little apartment which is very cosy and right near the centre of the city. This gives me a feeling of being ‘at home’ whilst I am here – something I do not experience very much whilst travelling. Having a fixed base here has been important for me as I am preparing to move back into the coaching/business world when I return to Asia in the summer. Right now, I am spending more time studying documents and communicating with people over there and my set up here has made it very easy and enjoyable. Knowing I would be here for several weeks also made it possible for me to take on a gym membership so I can train regularly. Best of all, I am running three times a week again, taking advantage of the many parks, rivers and tracks the city has to offer. Global travel is absolutely amazing, and so is being able to take a break from it and stay here for a while in a slightly more conventional set up! Although there are still plenty of interesting things for me to do and see in this city before I leave” added Ray.

Above: Whilst in Berlin, our global traveller is renting a small apartment – “It is a lovely place” said Ray, “although it has required a bit of a change in me as I have to clean the place and do my own laundry and cooking – all of which are taken care of for me in Thailand” admitted Ray. “Every cloud has a silver lining though and I am making the most of having my own kitchen (right) to learn how to cook some new and different meals, with a great deal of help from Silky” he told me

Below: The apartment Ray is staying in has a beautiful garden – “Surprisingly, it has been a pleasure looking after the plants and cutting the grass – quite therapeutic” said our traveller

Above: When he is not in his apartment, Ray continues to explore Berlin and learn more about the history and culture of this amazing city. This is the Volksbühne Theatre, located in Mitte on Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz. Built during 1913-1914, it has its origin in an organization known as the “Freie Volksbühne” (“Free People’s Theatre”) which sketched out the vision for a theatre”of the people” in 1892. The goal of the organization was to promote the social-realist plays of the day at prices accessible to the common worker. The original slogan inscribed on the edifice was “Die Kunst dem Volke” (“Art to the People”). During World War II, the theatre was heavily damaged like much of the rest of Berlin. It was rebuilt from 1950-54

Below: Founded around 1200, the Nikolaiviertel (Nikolai Quarter) is the reconstructed historical heart of the German capital. It is also in the Mitte locality – “I was told that it is sometimes used as a location shoot for period movies and it is easy to see why” observed Ray

Above: Ray and Silky enjoy a coffee in Prenzlauer Berg – “Silky has really helped me to get set up here and I am very much enjoying the change to a chic, cosmopolitan lifestyle while I am here” said Ray

Below: Although Berlin has many attractions for visitors, our global nomad has definitely been drawn to the story and history of the Berlin Wall and it’s significance in today’s world – “It is very hard to get your head around” said Ray. “Up until 1989, in the middle of Europe, there were still people whose basic freedom to come and go as they please was totally denied” he recalled. “I have to be honest and admit that I never really connected with any of this at the time – it is only since meeting Silky, who is from East Germany, and hearing her stories about what life was really like that has made it real for me and helped me to appreciate what a truly awesome and powerful event the collapse of the wall must have been for the people on both sides”. Although there is virtually nothing left of the wall today, the largest preserved section is in East Berlin and is about 0.62 miles long. To the right (out of view) is the Spree River which divided the two parts of the city. The grassy area in between was known as “No Man’s Land” and was heavily patrolled to prevent people escaping

Above: A satellite image of Berlin, with the former wall’s location marked in yellow (Source: Wikipedia)

Talking to Ray, I could tell he was fascinated by his visit to the ‘East Side Gallery‘ (as the preserved section of the wall is known). “The gallery consists of approximately 100 paintings by artists from all over the world, painted in 1990 on the east side of the former Berlin Wall” Ray told me. “It is possibly the largest and longest-lasting open air gallery in the world” he added. In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the “Fall of the Wall”, the East Side Gallery was restored in November 2009 at a cost of about one million Euro.

For those readers who are interested in statistics, when the wall was in operation (from August 1961 until November 1989), the total border length around West  Berlin was 96 miles (155 kilometres). Of that, about 23 miles (37 kilometres) went through residential areas in Berlin. Each concrete wall segment is 11.81 feet high (3.6 metres). There were 302 watch towers along the wall and 192 people were killed trying to escape, with a further 200 injured by shooting. Around 5,000 people managed to successfully defect to the West before the wall collapsed.

Above: (Left) In 2006, a 40 metre section of the wall was moved so that people could access the O2 Centre directly from the Spree River. Silky (right) and her friend Hedda take a closer look as Ray begins his own examination of the concrete slabs that still stand today at the East Side Gallery (right)

Above and below: The paintings at the East Side Gallery document the time of change and express the euphoria and great hopes for a better and free future for all people of the world

Above and below: Further examples of the stunning paintings by over 100 artists from all around the world – “I quite liked the painting of the Trabant crashing through the wall” noted Ray (below left)

Above: The image of Leonid Brezhnev (Russia) and Erich Honecker (East Germany) kissing, depicted in painting No. 25 by Dimitri Vrubel entitled “My God, help me to survive this deadly love” is perhaps one of the most iconic at the East Side Gallery

Below: A bleak reminder of how things looked back in 1961. The date on which the Wall fell is considered to have been 9 November 1989. Starting that evening and in the days and weeks that followed, people came to the wall with sledgehammers and chisels to chip off souvenirs, demolishing lengthy parts of it in the process and creating several unofficial border crossings. Crowds on both sides waited there for hours, cheering at the bulldozers which took parts of the Wall away to reinstate old roads. New border crossings continued to be opened through the middle of 1990, including the Brandenburg Gate on 22 December 1989. On 1 July 1990, the day East Germany adopted the West German currency, all de jure border controls ceased, although the inter-German border had become meaningless for some time before that. The dismantling continued to be carried out by military units (after unification under the Bundeswehr) and lasted until November 1991

While the fall of the Berlin Wall was a significant event in world history in the last 25 years, the tiny village of Steckborn in Switzerland, on the shore of Lake Constance was the unlikely location for a significant event in Ray’s own recent personal history. “Some of our readers know that one of the catalysts for the start of my nomadic journey in 2005 was the end of my marriage to (my ex-wife) Charlotte” explained Ray. “When our divorce was finalised in 2004, we separated everything we shared, except for our collection of personal photographs, as it just felt too emotionally raw for us to do it at the time. Back then, we talked about it and decided we would leave that particular job for five or six years, assuming that by then, our divorce would be old news and we would both have found happiness in our ‘new’ lives. I am happy to say that in hindsight, it was a great decision and we have remained the closest of friends ever since that time. Not only was my visit to Europe a great opportunity to finally get together and divide up our pictures, it meant we could actually enjoy reminiscing for a little while as we paid tribute to the best parts of our shared history” explained Ray.

You will see from the map below that Lake Constance divides Germany, Switzerland and Austria. When Silky heard that Ray was going to visit Steckborn, which is located on the Swiss side (see map), she decided to go with him. “When I mentioned to her that I was going to Steckborn for a couple of days, I found out that she had once lived in the tiny village of Gaienhofen which is directly opposite Steckborn (on the German side) just minutes away by car or boat. This was both a shock and a surprise! She explained how it had been her home for four years when she left East Germany in 1986. By coming with me, it was a great opportunity for her to experience re-connecting with a part of her own past, especially as she still has friends and family who live there. And a chance for me to introduce Silky to Charlotte so they could find out a little bit about each other” explained Ray. “It is always amazing to me how these things happen” reflected Ray. “If you had said to me ten years ago, that I would get divorced, travel the world and live as a nomad, then meet someone in Asia who had been living just across the way from where my ex-wife now lives, I would have said you were crazy, but such is life!” he mused.

Above: Map showing the location of Steckborn, on the Swiss side of Lake Constance, with Gaienhofen just to the north on the German side (both circled in red). To get to Gaienhofen by car requires crossing the bridge in the tiny, picturesque village of Stein am Rhine (circled in green) and takes about 20 minutes

Below: The view from the jetty at Gaienhofen – Steckborn can be seen in the distance on the opposite bank of the lake

Above: Charlotte’s home in the village of Steckborn – “I can honestly say that I am delighted she is happily married to husband Patrick and they have two lovely children” said Ray

Below: Charlotte with daughter Lola (left) – “We talk on the phone fairly regularly but I hardly ever get to see here thesedays, so this weekend was a blessing” said Ray, who also spent some time getting to know her son Joey (right)

Above: Ray impressed Charlotte’s children, Lola and Joey, with his ‘Four Kings’ magic card trick – “I actually learned it last year to show to the kids at the orphanage in Nepal who I support through my “Calling All Angels” Foundation. It came in very handy and provided some great entertainment” he recalled

Below: Charlotte (left) with Joey (centre) and Silky (right) – “I was very happy that Silky was able to meet Charlotte” Ray told me. “One of the things that I am most proud of in my life (so far) is the wonderful relationship I have with Charlotte, especially after everything we went through. It provides me with living proof that unconditional love can transform any relationship and the effort made to understand the other person’s needs is always worth it” said Ray. “Silky has entered my life recently and is someone I am very close to” added Ray.”By coming here with me, she got to see a little window into my past and establish a connection with Charlotte. Of course, they both can speak fluent German!” he laughed

For readers considering travelling in the region, Lake Constance has a circumference of some 273 kilometres, of which the southern 72 kilometres belong to Switzerland, the eastern 28 kilometres to Austria and the remaining northern and western 173 kilometres to Germany (including a little strip in Bavaria). The lake measures 14 kilometres at its widest point and is up to 250 metres deep. Sometimes called the ‘Swabian Sea’, this giant bulge in the sinewy course of the Rhine offers a choice of relaxation, cultural pursuits, hiking, cycling and water sports. During stormy weather, Lake Constance can get quite dangerous, with huge waves crashing onto the shoreline. Visibility is especially good when the Föhn – a warm dry wind that’s common in March, April and October – is blowing northward from the Alps. If you’re on the German shore, you can sometimes enjoy the awesome sight of a row of breathtaking snow-capped Swiss peaks. April and May are among the best times to visit because that’s when the fruit trees are flowering. Summers are humid but at least the lake is warm enough for swimming (around 20° to 23°C). The autumn wine harvest is also a pleasant time to go. Winters are often foggy, or misty at best. The area gets extremely crowded in July and August, when it may be hard to find a room for the night and the roads are constantly choked.

Above: About 3-4 kilometres from Charlotte’s house is the “Viewpoint” where passers-by on the road can stop and take a look out over the lake

Below: Silky identifies Gaienhofen on the map (left) – “When I offered to take her there in the car, she was really thrilled” said Ray. “She had not been there for about twenty years and was very happy to connect with the people she knows” (right)

Above: Gaienhofen re-visited. Silky takes a walk on the newly constructed jetty

Below: To reach Gaienhofen by car, you have to cross a narrow road bridge in Stein am Rhine – “For our English readers, think of a Swiss-German version of Henley-on-Thames and you will get a good sense of what the place is like” said Ray

Above: The monastery of St. Georgen is one of the many preserved buildings in the compact medieval town of Stein am Rhine (left). Seven years after their divorce, Ray and Charlotte (right) are still very close friends – “She is very special to me” said Ray. “The period of time we spent together was one of the most enjoyable and creative periods of my life. I have known her for twenty five years and we were friends for six years before we even thought of the idea of being a couple! When we talk, she always makes the time to really listen and understand me – something which I greatly appreciate. I am truly happy that things are working well for her and that she has created the family life she envisioned” he told me. “We have honourably completed everything now, including the final step of sharing our photographs. It feels good to have arrived at the point where we can simply enjoy being friends in the present moment without the need to reference our past” said our appreciative traveller

Below: Stein am Rhein received the first Wakker Prize for the preservation of its architectural heritage in 1972. The award noted that Stein am Rhein was unique in Switzerland and rare in all of Europe for the number of notable buildings in a compact space. It also noted the excellent care with which the city was preserved (left). Our global traveller was quite impressed by it all (right)

Above and below: The colourful centre of the old medieval town of Stein am Rhine

Above: Ray and Silky enjoy the discovery of their historical ‘connection’ with Lake Constance and their weekend in the Swiss sunshine before heading back to Berlin

Editors Note: What a lovely story! Our global traveller has informed me that he will be remaining in Berlin until the middle of August when he will be returning to Asia. We will be closing the offices of The Daily Explorer for our summer break and will most likely be back online with our next issue sometime in September. In the meantime, if you would like to get in touch, then please email me (mozzie@thedailyexplorer.com) or Ray (ray@thedailyexplorer.com) at the office. Our aim at The Daily Explorer is to create a great publication for you, so please keep sending us your comments and suggestions as to how we can improve what we are doing.

That’s about it for now! We will be back online with the next issue of The Daily Explorer after our summer break in September. We will keep you posted!

MOZZIE BYTE

Above: Our thanks to Rosemary Bolivar and the Wild Rose Global Family for this picture!

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2 Comments »

  1. Hi Ray, I know you are there and this makes me very happy! I loved this issue of the Daily Explorer, especially the virtual choir video which was moving, moving, moving. Glad to read as always sbout your blossoming relationship. See you soon – love as aways. Anthony.

    Comment by Anthony Guyon — July 1, 2011 @ 5:23 am

  2. Hi Ray, this leg of your journey really warmed my heart. There is so much contentment, appreciation and a sense of infinite possiblilty coming through the words and through the video about the choir. Much love to you. Anne-Marie

    Comment by Anne-Marie Costa — July 3, 2011 @ 4:30 pm


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