Posts Tagged With: Berlin Wall

A Proper Treatment For Lech Walesa, Anyone?

Lech Wałęsa

Lech Wałęsa

The Jasna Góra Monastery holds in almost equal proportion ancient treasures and treasured modern-era items. Its collection ranges from religious relics to pieces that tell Poland’s more recent history. Chief among the priceless items is the iconic Black Madonna of Częstochowa. To be sure, that Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus is the monastery’s top draw by far. After visitors have bowed and spent the proper amount of time on bent knees in reverence to her, they largely spend the rest of their time at the 631-year-old monastery exploring its riches housed throughout the grounds and in several wings. Once I was done trying to catch a glimpse of the Madonna, I headed over to the armory, which displays a variety of medieval weapons and suits of armor, in addition to more items that detail key events in Poland‘s recent history. As I looked at items enclosed in glass displays, I was very surprised to come across one particular item – Lech Walesa‘s 1983 Nobel Peace Prize. How could this be? Was it the real thing? At first there was some doubt because in my mind there was no way Walesa’s Nobel Peace Price be given such short shrift, such a careless treatment. The gold medal and accompanying certificate were in a glass case, and thank goodness for that, but displayed haphazardly, squeezed into a nondescript corner with a few other seemingly unrelated items. It was as if the award was meaningless; given less prominence than it deserved. I’ve seen high school trophies given better treatment than Walesa’s Nobel Peace Price.

So what is going on here? Is this how you treat the world’s grandest Peace Price earned by a native son and leader of the movement that toppled a repressive government and led to the collapse of other Communist governments across Central and Eastern Europe, like falling dominoes?

After shipyard workers in Gdansk challenged Poland’s Communist government and in essence the entire Soviet Bloc, the Berlin Wall fell and East Germany ceased to exist. But months before, Poland had been freed of tyranny, though most people erroneously point to Berlin as the beginning of the end of the Soviet Bloc and the Warsaw Pact.

Walesa’s Nobel Peace Price is something I would expect to see prominently displayed in a proper museum, alongside other items of the Solidarity movement. Instead, a visitor is surprised to find the actual Nobel Peace Price in the monastery, which Walesa – who is said to deeply value his Catholic upbringing – donated to the church. But do people around the world – for that matter, people in Poland – even know that the award is in the monastery? Perhaps the Catholic Church shouldn’t be in the museum business, if that’s not the case. And maybe I’m  making too much of this. Or maybe the church is making too little of it. Or maybe the church simply needs a proper curator.

I say, let’s give Walesa’s place in history its proper due and put that Nobel Peace Price somewhere center stage, handled in a proper exhibit, in a museum that is fitting of his achievement. How about it? Anyone?

A wing of the monastery, shot from the bell tower

A wing of the monastery I shot from the top of the bell tower

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If It’s Berlin, Then I’m In


Arrived Berlin. First full day in this historic, activist, amazing city with the good energy. Coffee time with Alisa and Louise.

I arrived in London and stayed long enough to make a bad decision.
Hungry and in a hurry, I bought a sugary, calorie-laden, chocolate-covered, chocolate-filled donut so pricey it made my jaw drop. Not that I eat donuts much. I don’t, but $4 for a donut and another $4 for a hot chocolate just seemed a bit overpriced, even if it was branded Krispy Kreme, the American donut chain with a cultish following of raving fans. Unbeknownst to me, Krispy Kreme has gone global.
I don’t know what possessed me to belly up to the counter at Krispy Kreme in of all places London Town. I had never ventured into a Krispy Kreme in the United States, ever, so why now in expensive London where I’d surely be paying three times as much?
With every bite, that donut oozed warm, liquid deep dark chocolate. I felt as if I was committing a sin – on several levels – and that everyone around was fixed with glaring eyes on the chocolate running down my fingers. I could hear the voice of a friend from a long time ago, Dennis Dean of Los Angeles, calling out from afar his signature admonishment: “What are you doing!?”
But eat and drink I did and I rather enjoyed the hot chocolate. I took the last bite and gulp when I noticed the time. I dashed off to my gate at Terminal 5 in Heathrow International Airport, excited about what was next: Berlin.
There was a time I wanted to live in London. But that idea has long lost luster. For my money, Berlin is the place to be.
I love Berlin. I really do. I want to experience Berlin as a local. I want to be a part of it. Live it and breathe it. A job in Berlin, anyone? 🙂
The first time I came to Berlin was as a fellow with the German Marshall Fund. Germany was in the middle of a historic election. By the end of the politically charged day, Angela Merkel had become Germany’s first woman chancellor. It was an election that understandably received great international coverage. That was almost seven years ago. The physical chemist is still chancellor.
On that first trip to Berlin, I was able to meet and interview many Germans on both sides of the divide known as the Berlin Wall. Largely removed after the fall of the Soviet Union, today sections of the wall have been left standing as a reminder of what was. In some areas where the wall stood, rusting steel bars have been placed to mark where the wall used to stand and as a memorial to the German lives lost trying to escape East Berlin. One section of the wall, known as the East Side Gallery, has been painted over with large murals by a variety of artists. And in some areas, there’s simply no wall, just the footprints.
As a lover of history, I immediately fell for Berlin. But more than that, there’s a certain vibe to the city that draws me here. Berlin is certainly not a very beautiful city in the caliber of Paris or Rome, but the people – artists, activists, all manner of bohemian – give the city a real edge that I – and thousands who flock here every year – like.
Only two cities in the world make me smile from ear to ear from the moment I land in them: New York and Berlin. I maintain that New York is the greatest city on Earth. It really is. Even Some Berliners who know both cities say that. But Berlin has that certain something. It’s also an inexpensive city compared to other German cities, such as Cologne or Munich.
Did I mention I want to live in Berlin? Angela, are you listening? 🙂
Still, there are many more places in the world yet to explore and likely have what Berlin has and more. That’s the beauty of travel. The possibilities. The promise. And yes, the wrong food decisions.

Waistful spending


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