Streets of Berlin

Reichstag DE

In late September I joined forty-four thousand fellow visitors for a tour of central Berlin.

As participants in the Berlin Marathon, we circled the inner city clockwise and, over the course of a few hours, passed several historic landmarks spanning centuries.

The race starts in Tiergarten, a central park much like New York City’s. After World War II, residents of Berlin planted potatoes in the park in an effort to stave off starvation.

Their dire situation was caused by both the devastation of war and the Soviet blockade of West Berlin. The hunger was somewhat abated by the Berlin Airlift from 1948 to 1949.

Altes Museum DE
Altes Museum

In response to the Soviet siege, the Allies launched hundreds of thousands of flights into the city to deliver food, medicine, and fuel.

At the rescue mission’s peak, planes were taking off and landing every ninety seconds. Some of the pilots dropped chocolates to Berlin’s children.

The airlift was based at Tempelhof Airport. Now out of service, the airport was put to use as the venue for the marathon expo. To pick up my race bib, I walked through the deserted terminal, past ghostly check-in desks, empty baggage carousels, and blank departure boards.

Next to the expo, a Douglas C-47 transport plane was parked on the tarmac, a reminder of the airlift.

Douglas C-47 DE
Berlin Airlift plane at Tempelhof

A couple of days later, I lined up at the start with runners from 150 countries. The sky was overcast and threatened rain, but the participants were anxious to begin.

Berlin’s course is flat and record-eligible. In 2018 Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge ran the fastest ratified marathon ever run in a time of 2:01:39.

I just wanted to finish.

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A ramble through Dingle

Dingle Walk IE

The rain was steady, as I strained to see the next waymark on the climb up Mount Brandon.

The black marker posts did not identify an obvious footpath, but instead indicated the general direction—uphill through a marshy field of rubble.

The markers stood every hundred yards or so, but were sometimes too far ahead to be seen.

I had been climbing for about two hours. The footing was difficult. Rivulets of rainwater ran down the mountainside through channels that had to be circumvented. A vertical swamp. Each step, I slipped on a rock or plunged into an ankle-deep puddle. My shoes were soaked. 

Looking up, I could not measure my progress toward the shoulder of the mountain. Dark rain clouds obscured Brandon’s summit. Once inside the cloud bank, I could see only the dim shapes of boulders and scrubby trees. The markers faded from view.

I wasn’t exactly lost, but I was stranded. Somewhere ahead was a trail that would lead me down the other side of the mountain, but in the fog I couldn’t find it.

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Coasting through Croatia

Dubrovnik HR

(I’m touring Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. To read about Slovenia and Bosnia, please see the previous posts, “Breaking free and Building bridges.”)

To sleep in the hill town of Motovun, Croatia, a steep hike is necessary, either a short one from the car park at the halfway point or a long one from the bottom of the hill. The long one of over one thousand steps passes the quaint boyhood home of Mario Andretti.

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Building bridges

Mostar BH

(I’m touring Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Slovenia. To read about Slovenia, please see the previous post, “Breaking free.”)

The region now known as Bosnia-Herzegovina is a melting pot that never melted.

The country has three major ethnic groups, three self-governing territories and two alphabets.

Its schools are segregated.

Bosna i Hercegovina is the country’s official name. It is also spelled Bosnia-Herzegovina and sometimes abbreviated to BiH, B-H or B&H. For the sake of convenience, I’ll refer to it as Bosnia.

The country is the size of West Virginia with a population of nearly four million. It is bordered by Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro. Sarajevo is its capital.

Bosnia’s currency is the convertible mark, but most Bosnian businesses accept euros and Croatian kuna as well. Bosnians joke they are the only predominantly Muslim country in the world with no oil.

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Breaking free

Town Hall, Ljubljana SL
City Hall

The Slovenian city of Ljubljana (yoob yee AH nah) spent most of World War II in solitary confinement.

In 1942 Fascist Italy imprisoned the city, encircling it with nineteen miles of barbed wire.

On the perimeter, 206 watchtowers and bunkers were built. Land mines were set. Nearby homes were razed. Twenty-five hundred guards patrolled the wire.

For over three years, Ljubljana was cut off from the rest of the world. The city’s residents struggled to stay alive, as their conditions worsened.

Italy’s intention was to stop the city’s support for Yugoslavia’s anti-Fascist forces. The plan didn’t work.

Throughout the war, the underground movement in Ljubljana succeeded in sneaking people, supplies, and information through secret passages under the wire.

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High old time (Part 2)

Machu Picchu PE
Machu Picchu

I’m in Peru, preparing to hike the Inca Quarry Trail and visit Machu Picchu. To read “High old time (Part 1),” please see the previous post.

After breakfast, our group of nine turned in our packed duffels and left Cusco in the rain. The day cleared as our van headed toward the Sacred Valley, an area that has supported farming for centuries. Both sides of the Urubamba River are terraced for growing crops. The van turned onto a dirt road and climbed through adobe villages into the mountains. Election signs were painted boldly in black and red on whitewashed stone walls. Twice we were stopped by herds of sheep in the road.

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High old time (Part 1)

Qorqor PE

A few days before arriving in Peru, I began taking acetazolamide pills as a precaution against altitude sickness.

Some people are not affected by high altitude, but I didn’t want to risk enjoying my trek to Machu Picchu in order to find out if I was one of them.

Other measures that were suggested to me included acclimating over several days, staying hydrated, taking ibuprofen tablets, drinking the local coca tea, and chewing coca leaves. I followed all recommendations.

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