Our big adventure was finally here! I can’t remember where I first learned about the online skating marathon in Berlin, but as soon as I did, I knew I had to do it. I recruited Rusty and Carlie and Dan and we spent the summer rollerblading up and down the trails in Erie. We were so wobbly and slow in the beginning. We made a lot of progress! We can even mostly stop now 😜. It’s so much fun to be on wheels!
After a bit of a hectic travel day—late plane—almost missing our connection in Zhurich—we were ready for some fun city exploring. We dropped off our luggage at the Leonardo hotel just north of Alexanderplatz and hit the town! Dan and Carlie knew amazing Mediterranean restaurant and we had huge sample platters of food. So yum. Carlie went to meet a friend and Rusty, Dan and I made our way to the best store in Germany—Decathlon. We got new day bags for all the kids and I found a rollerblade bag!
We were pretty spent by this time and friend to get some sleep. We slept pretty well for the first night in Europe. And Rusty, who usually sufferers from pretty extreme jet lag on the first day, said this was the best he’d ever felt.
The next morning started as all German mornings should. With hotel breakfast. Why has Germany figured this out so well? America needs to up the ante. Sausages, fresh, warm breads and pretzels, meats and cheeses, fruit, freshly ground nut butters and 3 kinds of honey. Heavenly.
Car and Dan missed their alarm and we weren’t even mad about it because that meant we had time for two plates of breakfast.
We rented a little zip car and headed to Sauchuenhausen Concentration camp. This was my 4th trip to Germany and I’ve never been to a concentration camp. It is quite the sobering experience. This camp was used for a lot of medical experimentation.
After that we were ready for a more lighthearted experience. Carlie told me that karaoke at Mauerpark would restore all faith in humanity. And she wasn’t wrong. It was AMAZING. We stopped for a quick lunch of Bratwurst from a street vendor and headed to the park.
We heard singers young and old, with perhaps our favorites being the young shy looking guy belting out “Creep” or the old German man singing the traditional song, “Heidi.” Or maybe it was the way this multinational crowd knew every word to “Despacito.” Or it could have been the dad who was pumping up the crowd behind his tween daughter while she sang. It was truly a delightful time.
We needed to stock up on tears for our roadtrip so we hit up Reve. I said as long as I had a steady stream of the Katjes Grün-ohr Hase, I would be a happy woman.
Dinner was Dönnera at Mufasa’s. Another home run. So tasty. We walked the streets by the Spree and found some gelato to round out the evening.
The next morning Dan and Car picked up the rental car, and after another huge breakfast we started our journey through the Hartz Mountain region. Schloss Sherwin was our first destination. Much to our sadness, it was closed on Monday! Closed on the day we chose to visit became a recurring theme of the trip.
But the grounds were beautiful and absolutely worth seeing. Rusty saw some little boats at a dock and we went to see if we could take one for a spin. I think at top speed they went about 10mph, but we had a blast cruising along the lake, getting castle views from the water, navigating little canals and seeing these adorable little lake houses.
Luneburg was next. We climbed the water tower and got our first view of those adorable German red roofs. There are 3 really cool churches in Lüneburg, but guess what? Also closed on Mondays. Sad.
This is one of the cutest little towns in existence. It looks like a gingerbread village. That might crumble at any moment. So many of the facades were crooked or sinking. Bricks bulged, and tops of roofs looked like they were melting. I’m sure glad it’s not my job to maintain those buildings, and I could just enjoy their quirky charm.
The doors on the houses were so much fun. Bold designs and colors and large, unique knockers.
We had dinner at a traditional German restaurant called Krone. It was quite tasty. Our meal took FOREVER to arrive, but that’s ok because we were enjoying some pretty great dinner conversation.
We stayed in a charming, albeit very hot little hotel where we had a little sloping attic room. Car and Dan had a room with two twin beds.
Tuesday morning we were off to Bremen. But first a stop at a Lüneburg Heide. In full bloom this is a purple wonderland. I think we missed the best of it, but it was still really fun to see. We wished we had a few hours to hike around and enjoy the beautiful nature.
Bremen felt so medieval. After the lightheartedness of Lüneburg it felt dark and imposing. But no less impressive. We explored the cathedral, which also has mummies. But guess what? Mummies were only on display W-Sun.
We took a walking tour of Bremen in the afternoon. Our tour guide was a crotchety little German lady with some very passive aggressive behavior. We found it to be quite amusing. she was passive aggressive toward everyone one the street. There were some street buskers and they had a dog with them. It was kind of windy and so she petted the dog and said, “ohhhh….poor doggie. It’s so windy and cold. And I bet you haven’t even had a snack.”
Then we passed them again later and she put a coin in their bucket and said, “kien vergessen the dog.” We were cracking up that she used both German and English and also was still being passive aggressive about the dog.
Then she asked another busker to stop playing so she could talk to us about the statue of the Musicians of Bremen from the Grimm Brother’s fairytales. We could have stood anywhere in the entire city square and still seen the statue. But she had to stand right next to him just to prove her superiority.
At the very end of the tour she showed us this clever little manhole. When money is dropped in the slot and animal sound of one of the musical animals from the fairytale. All the proceeds go to help find social programs in the city. She said we should only “drop one penny, or maybe two. NO MORE.” Can’t have people being too generous, now can we?
We explored the Schnoor district on our own, winding down the tiny little street and stumbling on the cutest little Christmas store in the world. Car and Dan got a few things, and I found a pyramid with Santa flying over an idyllic little German village that I just had to have. I’m so excited to set it out this Christmas! It did present quite a packing challenge when coming home. We padded it on all sides with bags and bags of gummies and hoped for the best.
We had dinner at a Spanish Tapas place, went to Lidl’s for some breakfast items, then came back to the Airbnb and watched Barbie. I think I enjoyed watching it my second time even more.
I loved our road trip! It left so much time for talking and listening to Dan’s specially crafted playlist. And lots of time for Rusty to nap. He was out light a light ever time we started driving. Goslar was next on the list. We only spent a couple hours here. We toured the palace and climbed up a church tower. So many adorable half-timbered houses to be seen!
On our way to Wernigerode we made a slight detour to see Stabkirche. An absolutely stunning little church made completely of wood both inside and out.
Wernigerode won my heart! It was just what I think of when picturing the idyllic German countryside. Of course, it also had a beautiful castle on the hillside. We toured in here and my favorite things were the ivy-covered courtyard, the wooden sculptures that adorned the stairs, and this picture of Donald Trump as a baby 😂
The town hall building was under construction, but it still ranks as one of the most impressive buildings we saw.
We had dinner at Löwenbräu, and it was one of my favorites of the trip. I had a big juicy pork knuckle with sauerkraut and warm potato salad. 10/10. We wandered around the city until it was too dark to see.
Thursday was our last day in the countryside. We got to visit this tiny house where ELEVEN people lived. I can’t even imagine.
We drove to Rodelbahn Harzbob. We bought 4 rides and had a great time racing each other down the mountain and trying to come up with the fairest ways to time ourselves. Rusty and Carlie were neck and neck, but Dan pulled out a smokin’ fast time on our last ride down for the win.
We walked to the gorge and Carlie told us the legend of the princess who was being forced to marry a giant. She stole his horse and tried to escape. She was being perused and legend tells that she jumped over the entire gorge and escaped.
This region also has a lot of witch lore and in 1598 133 suspected Witches were burned at the stake in Quedlinburg.
Next came Quedlinburg. I love how German villages are built around a big market square and always have at least one beautiful church. This has to be one of the quaintest, prettiest squares on earth.
There are two famous cheesecake spots in Quedlinburg and we had been looking forward to do a comparison tasting. But guess what? One of them is closed on Thursdays. We did try some very unique flavors like chocolate vanilla cheesecake with a pear topping and blackberry basil.
In our wanderings we came across what we dubbed the Rapunzel Tower. Access was granted by putting an Euro into a coin machine, which activated the gate to slip through. We then climbed some very sketchy stairs into the cutest tower of the whole trip. Look at those arches! It was so delightful.
We got half way back to the car and Rusty realized he left his sunglasses at the top. We scrounged up another Euro and he went back to grab them when the rest of us got the car.
Rusty wanted a chance to drive on the Autobahn, so he took the wheel. He had taken some bereavement days for this trip, honoring his mom by taking the trip, even though it wasn’t convenient. She always encouraged us to take the fun opportunities life threw our way. We’d stopped to enjoy wildflowers and sunflowers (her favorite) and taken time to contemplate how lucky we were to have her in our lives.
As he was diving down the Autobahn at top speed, “Memories” by Maroon 5 started playing. This has been a special song to us since Sharon died, and it felt like just a little slice of heaven had been granted to us for just a minute.
Rusty stopped to get gas and had to go inside to pay. We were at pump eleven. The attendant didn’t speak English and Rusty didn’t know how to say “eleven” in German. After gesturing back and forth for a bit Rusty finally said, “Ein, Ein???” That was enough for the attendant to understand. We were absolutely howling with laughter as he was telling us the story.
The last stop before we were back in Berlin was at a Baumkronenpfad. It is a beautiful elevated walkway in the dense forest. This one meanders though and old TB sanitarium as well. It was used as a field hospital dying WWII, and took extensive damage from bombs and fires.
We were all the way at the top, which is maybe 5 stories high. There are some metal tubes kids can climb in and Rusty wanted to give it a try. He was sliding through on his butt when we heard a clank. His unzipped picket had caught on the wires and we saw many Euros floating to the ground. And then an “uh oh….my wedding ring was in that pocket.” After he got out of the tunnel he checked and sure enough, that clank was his ring falling to the ground. This is where the 30x zoom on the Pixel really saved the day. There was a roof of a concession stand right below us. We were pretty sure the ring had fallen there. Using the camera, we scoured the roof and finally spotted the ring! I stayed above as a guide and the other three went down to see if they could somehow get on the roof. Luckily there was a groundskeeper nearby and he climbed up and retrieved the ring. Thank heaven! Can you spot the tiny ring in the pic?
We never did find the Euros….
Then it was a rush to get back to the marathon expo before it closed at 8. It was the coolest venue! Templehof is the very old Berlin airport that is still completely in tact. We asked through the terminals out onto the tarmac where the expo was being held. Race energy is so amazing. I forgot how much I love it. Everyone is so happy and the place is buzzing with excitement. We got our wrist bands, picked up our packets and hit a few expo stands before it closed. And the. The moment we’d all been dreaming of….Kaufland!! We stocked up on all the gummies and Christmas treats we thought our suitcases could fit.
We then went to our airbnb and dragged all our luggage up three flights of stairs. Over the last few days we had just been taking the necessities from the car into our hotels and leaving the majority of the luggage in the car. I had forgotten how much we actually had!
Friday morning Rusty and I went to breakfast while Dan and Carlie took a nice easy morning. And, in true Rusty fashion, he got a haircut. He loves getting haircuts on our travels. It’s so funny.
Then we went to the top if the famous TV tower. The most distinguishable part of the Berlin skyline. Car and Dan and never been to the top before.
It was fun to see Brandenburger Tor and imagine skating to the finish line the next day.
Along with getting haircuts, Rusty also loves to visit Google Offices on our travels. We went and had lunch at the Berlin office. It might be the least impressive yet (only around 100 people work there), but it was still fun to have lunch and stuff our pockets with Google snacks. Dan even got to meet a coworker in real life that he’s only ever met virtually before.
Carlie had been searching for Berlin sweaters for the kids and didn’t have any luck. At the marathon expo there had been a booth offering customization of clothing with some fun patches of the Berlin skyline. We went and grabbed s few blank kid sized sweaters at Primark and back to the expo we went. We had all planned on biking the runways at Temperhofferfeld (well…we actually wanted to rollerblade, but it had been rainy all day? Time was running short so Dan and Car went to take care of the shirts with Rusty and I rented bikes/scooters and cruised the runways. I think this was one of Rusty’s favorite things. He was having so much fun. His scooter ran out of batteries but luckily we found more bikes nearby. It was raining and so we practically had the place to ourselves!
Rusty had planned the day and he really wanted to go Swing dancing. We’d passed a place on the river the first night we were in Berlin that looked so fun. The offered beginner lessons at 5pm. We made our way there only to discover that it was cancelled due to the weather. We were bummed. We decided to go get Thai massages instead. That was quite the experience. We got stretched, walked on, knees and elbows in our backs and shoulders. For me and Carlie it was quite nice. They were a little harder on the boys. For about the first 15 min it sounded like Rusty was being slightly tortured. We all walked out a little more sore than relaxed😂. But my therapist gave my feet the greatest treatment ever. It was awesome.
Saturday morning finally arrived! Race day was here!! We all woke up feeling a little excited and a little nervous. We went to breakfast at a delicious little cafe and met up with Kalle and Jess, some of the
Schofield’s good friends. (Roy or has it that Gwen has quite the little crush on Charlie). It was a super fun way to spend the morning and we loved getting to know Kalle and Jess and the kids. We can see why the Schofield’s love hanging out with them!
We then went back to the apartment, hydrated, stretched, and got our bags ready to go. On our way back to the apartment we passed a STRAWBERRY STAND! German strawberries might be my favorite food on earth. I thought we would miss the season. Getting strawberries was the icing on the cake for this vacation. It is now perfect.
Then the adventure began! We took a train to the start line village right near the Reichstag. It was such a dream to see so many skaters gathered in one place. I think about 4,000 in total. We were there quite early, so we scouted it all out and then found a place to relax in the grass. The race started at 3:30. So about 3:00 we got our skates on, dropped off our bags and headed toward the start line. In what I can only assume was a mistake, our wave was taken down a GRAVEL path. For like a 10 min walk. Gravel and rollerblades do not mix. It was the hardest part of the whole race!
Beginners are required to start in the last heat, which was fine with us. We didn’t want to pressure of people zooming trying to pass us right away.
The announcer counted down, the gun and some fireworks went off and the race began!
Immediately out of the start you can see Sieguessaule (The Victory Column) It looked so majestic. As we arrived to the roundabout, you could pick which direction to go. Seeing skaters stream all the way around was a mesmerizing site. The roads were straight and smooth and Dan and Car were off like rockets. Rusty and I just chased them down the first few miles and we weaved in and out of the crowds.
We passed beautiful churches and went down lovely streets. We were soaking in the atmosphere and learning the rules of the road. We loved seeing the diversity of skaters—I would say the crowd skewed way older than we anticipated. Maybe because in-line asking was such a cool thing in the 90’s? Dan vowed to stay with us till mile 10. He did, and then dropped back a bit. I just wanted to keep up with Carlie as long as I could. And Rusty was right behind me drafting for like 15 miles of the race. At 20k came the hardest part of the course—the timing mat. It was rubbery, but not the super firm kind. Our stakes kind of sunk in and Rusty took a little spill. Luckily he was fine.
Getting water was also quite the challenge. There were two water stations on the course. We were skating at almost 12mph, so stopping to grab a cup wasn’t an option. We would slow down and the volunteers would run beside us as we grabbed the cup from their hand. I was 1/3 in my attempts. Sorry volunteers whom I sure were SOAKED from all the cup getting scooped unsuccessfully from their hands. We got to mile 20 and things started to feel harder. I could feel my form getting sloppy. It was harder to navigate the tram tracks, it was harder to make the turns on the road. But we knew we were close. There was a good downhill section from 21-23 miles that helped us get our wind back. Finally we turned the corner, and there in the sparkling golden twilight sun was Brandenburger Tor. We did it!!! I feel like my 19 year old self would be very proud of my (almost) 42 year old self for this accomplishment.
We got our medal, chugged a lot of water, snarfed some crackers, apples and bananas and tried not to fall over as we made our way back to our stuff. Backs, ankles, knees and feet were feeling it! Taking off the skates was the feeling of taking off ski boots X 10.
Dan crossed the finish line only about 10 min after we did, and we all made our way back to Brandenburger for some finisher pics.
We grabbed some more food from a truck at the finish line Village and then parted ways. Carlie and Dan were meeting up with some friends and we went home for a shower. After we were fresh and clean again we hit the streets in search of dinner. We ended up at Wen Chen’s hand pulled noodles. The queue was closed for getting a table so we ordered takeout. While we were waiting we walked to Hokey Pokey ice cream down the street and had our dessert first. Our noodles were very tasty, but probably a little rich and spicy for our marathon tummies. After taking a looong time to pack up and try and squeeze everything in our bags we cozied up in bed and watched another episode of “a small light” the story of the woman who helped the Frank family hide in Amsterdam.
Sunday morning we woke up and hit the airport. There was some luggage drama, as were were very overweight, but with a little repacking and a gate agent who let it slide (after threatening to leave a mark in our file…whatever that means) we got all squared away. Now we are somewhere over Greenland with some pretty puffy feet, excited for our sore and tired bodies to sleep in our own beds tonight!