The last time I took a train from Frankfurt to Berlin was in the late autumn of 1982. The cold war was not as hot as it had been but it was still smoldering. Because any train into West Berlin had to travel through the DDR and I had a security clearance, I had to travel on the US troop train.

We traveled slowly overnight, stopping along the way at these brightly lit ghost stations. No one got on or off, and the platforms were full of East German and Soviet soldiers at high alert. I remember sitting awake by the window around 2am. A full moon shone over empty landscape as we pulled into one of these stations. I inadvertently made eye contact with one of those soldiers – the “enemy”. He was just a kid. (From my 2018 vantage point so was I.) But he somehow seemed so young to me even then. I really understood in that moment that the iron curtain and the wall were there to keep them in – even more than to keep us out.

I arrived via train this afternoon into a long reunited Berlin. I don’t recognize much from the early 1980s West Berlin I knew. I traveled easily into the eastern part of the city where I had not been before.

I visited the remnants of the wall, now an internationally recognized art installation.

<—- East / West —->

I met the artist who created the entire installation and this particular mural, Kani Alavi

and visited his studio.

Tomorrow I’ll get a tour of an area of the city I had never heard of in 1982, Neuköln, from a Syrian refugee and have wonderful Syrian food for lunch. I’ll finish the day seeing a Bundesliga match at the Olympic Stadium.

I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around it all.

#RIASBerlin #RadioFreeBonnie


Day 2: Politico Europe & The European Commission

We began our day with a wonderful breakfast at the hotel. I adore European breakfasts. Eggs, slices meats and cheeses, crusty fresh breads, loads of fresh fruit, real tea. It’s a very civilized and delicious affair.

The first official stop of the day post breakfast was at Politico Europe offices. We met with David Herszenhorn, their Chief Brussels Correspondent. He formerly worked for The NY Times. Interesting introduction to what he described as a stateless news organization. It’s in English and primarily written for a European audience from a European perspective. Reporters and editors are from many countries and bring those perspectives and understanding to their reporting.

After that meeting we continued up the hill to the offices of the European Commission. We began by taking photos of the group and then went through the security scans.

We had a quick tour of the VIP grip and grin area in the “salle de presse” and then had a tour of the Commission’s own TV and radio studios. They are not a news organization but do provide studio space and satellite and internet feeds of EU Commission proceedings. Kind of like C-Span in the US, but not limited to one governmental body. Feeds are made available to anyone who wants them free of charge. It’s especially useful for smaller news organizations who don’t have a budget to keep staff in Brussels full time.

TV is their biggest medium.

But they do have radio facilities too. With Neumann microphones. I wanted to slide a few into my bag to bring back to Milwaukee but decided the international incident wasn’t worth it in the end.

After that tour, we were invited to the noon press briefing, where we were instructed to enjoy ourselves but that we were not to ask any questions.

Then we were given lunch vouchers for the in house cafeteria and it was wonderful. So many choices and all of it incredibly fresh.

Once we finished it was on to a full afternoons of briefings. First was an overview of the history, mission, and organization of the EU in general and the Commission in particular. Then, we had a briefing on the EU’s migrant policy. And we finished with a briefing on trade. The last two sessions were off the record so all I can say is that a lively discussion was had on both topics.

I ended the day with a walk and a Belgian waffle.

All in all a very full first official day. The next installment: NATO and getting to Köln (Cologne) when they cancel your train at the last minute.

Day 1: Brussels

A peloton rode by as I ate breakfast this morning. And then another. And another. The Grand Plaza was still cool at 8:30 although the sun was bright and the gold accents on all the buildings shone. The riders were in full cycling kit and had some pretty spectacular bikes but they weren’t professionals. Just regular Belgian folks out for a Sunday ride and a coffee and it was a wonderful introduction to Brussels.

I spent the day fighting jet lag (I seldom sleep on planes, alas) and wandering around central Brussels.

I had time to visit the palace museum that focused on Belgian history and the delightful Musical Instrument Museum. Seeing the art nouveau building the latter is housed in was worth it by itself.

There was also time for a Leffe, some mussels, and some chocolate with a couple of my fellowship colleagues before getting together for our initial briefing.

I’m typing this as I sit in the window of my hotel on a still dark city. In a little while I’ll head downstairs for breakfast. Today we visit the European Commission where we will get a number of off the record briefings. I hope to be able to get at least one of our speakers on the record for a short interview.

Liftoff minus 1

On Saturday, 15 September 2018, I depart for Brussels. It’s the first stop in a three and a half week journey made possible by the RIAS Berlin Commission and my Lake Effect colleagues at 89.7 WUWM, Milwaukee Public Radio, who will be adding my work to their own while I’m gone.

During my time in Brussels, Köln, Mainz, and Berlin, I will be briefed by EU and NATO policy makers and speak with German radio, television, and print journalists about their challenges in this politically contentious climate. I’ll also have the chance to interview German artists and authors, and share all of it with the 12 other American journalists making the trip with me. Some of it will be broadcast on Lake Effect while I’m away, as technology allows. It’s a brilliant opportunity to learn and for some outreach, connections, and fun. I’ll try to post here regularly.

When I’m through with work, I’ll be heading to Sofia, Bulgaria for a week to relax and visit with some foreign service friends stationed there. I’ll post from there too.

Thanks for joining me on this adventure.

Wemyss Bay Train Station-1
I took this in Scotland in 2001. It’s the Wemyss Bay train station.