02 December 2011


Day 7 - Thursday, 1 December 2011 - Berlin to Leipzig and back

God, I love European trains.  They are quiet, efficient, and ubiquitous.  I get up early and have a quick breakfast at the hotel to catch my train for Leipzig at 7:51.  It breezes into the Hauptbahnhof on time to carry me away.  Traveling south, it follows the new tracks put underground to Potsdamer Platz, tracks that I saw being laid in 2004.  It was sort of fun to use something that one saw being built.  The last Berlin station is Südbrucke, and it is interesting to see how Berlin, on the former east side changes as you leave the center: new construction, abandoned DDR complexes with broken windows, strip malls.

Once into the contryside, we are on an almost magical trip.  The sun is low in the sky behind a rather thick cloud cover.  There, stretched out before me, are some incredible forests, and long, long meadows with a hint of green underneath the hoarfrost.  It is as if someone had painted the whole scene in pastels.  I am entranced with this vision, and stare out the window for the entire trip.  We make a stop at Lutherstadt-Wittenberg, but I decide to go later in the afternoon, if at all.  We continue down to Leipzig, with very few villages and towns in between.  As we approach Leipzig, it becomes clear that a huge public works project is in progress, a "city tunnel" that will underground the trains coming into the Hauptbahnhof, the largest in Germany.  It is huge, and now more of a shopping mall cum travel center.

It is about 9:00, and too early for cultural institutions to be open.  So I walk around a bit.  I find example after example of the incorporation of sculpture into commercial buildings.  It is all so satisfying, and something that we don't see much of in American cities.  I make my way around corners and through passages that thrust through the middle of buildings (good when it's cold) and bump into Café Riquet, which I discover later in guidebooks "is a must".  A little pastry, a little coffee and some kirschenektar picks me up for the rest of the day - which is largely spent between two churches.

I go to Nickolaikirche first, because I know where it is and that it will be open at 10:00.  I am not prepared for what I am about to see.  I grew up thinking that Nikolaikirche was the poor cousin to Thomaskirche, Bach's other church here.  Thomaskirche had a choir school and so the liturgy was sung in Latin using Luther's Formula missae et communionis.  Nikolai had no such arrangement.  What a surprise to walk into its classical nave with columns headed with palm leaves and other plants - lovely.  There was a place for prayer in the middle aisle, where people could light candles and pray.  I bought a candle and lit it for St. Mark's Church - appropriate I thought to do in Bach's church.

I sit in a pew for sometime and just watch people interact with that tree of lights, some curious, some stopping to by a light and leaving it behind, other dismissive, and some lighting and then pausing to pray.  One group had an extended conversation about it - and I didn't eavesdrop, but I did wonder what the discussion was all about.  There was a book store, and I couldn't resist an addition to my collection of Evangelische Gesangbücher.  

It is time for lunch, and here I learn an interesting thing.  Limonade auf Deutsch, does not necessarily mean "lemonade", but rather any fruit augmented with sparkling water.  So when I ordered a kirschenlimonade here, expecting to get a cherry flavored lemonade, I got a glass full of sour cherries (yum) and sparkling water.  I added the sugar.  To order this again, I would have to think twice.

It has turned cold with a little rain, so I do not look forward to finding Thomaskirche, but there it is, beyond the old Borse, and the Rathaus, just beyond the ubiquitous Weinachtsmarkt.  I wander around the building trying to find the way in.  I'm one of those who thinks that the only proper entrance is through the main doors - but that is not to be had here.  The place is awash with tourists and one group.  People, however are being respectful, and here too, candles are being lit.

The altar piece, formerly at Pauluskirche, is very handsome.  There is an advent wreath and an advent star, and the choir walls are filled with portraits of former Superintendenten, all looking very stern in black and ruff or beffchen.  Again, people are being very respectful, some in prayer.  Finally someone fires up the newer organ (there are two) which sits in the Gospel side gallery.  He (or she - I couldn't see them) doesn't play Bach, but something else, really quite boring.  At least, though, I could hear the organ.

It is late, and I need to catch my train back.  I take a more direct route back to the station, passing through an area of East German urban housing, all stuck together with paint and plaster, and all thoroughly boring.  I am reminded that all is not done here, and that Leipzig suffered economically under the old regime.  It shows in the faces of its people and the kinds of popular culture that it, or they, have attracted - quick and flashy.  It's a little unsettling, and makes me a bit anxious for them.  Perhaps their "city tunnel" will help.  Very likely, Bach will help.  He always does.

On the way back we pass again through Lutherstadt-Wittenberg.  I see in the distance the towers of the Castle Church and St. Mary's.  These are really foundational for me, and I am passing them by.  I wonder why.

Back to Berlin, and waiting for Arthur at Hauptbahnhof.  He arrives right on time (20 seconds late) bright and shiny from his time in Köln.  We take the S Bahn over to Friedrichstraße and then walk over to Gendarmenmarkt to see their Weinachtsmarkt.  Very uppity.  It cost one euro just to get in, and is worthy every penny.  Lots of Glühwein, and I wonder to Arthur if this isn't one of the largest pickup bars in Europe.  Several established restaurants have a presence there with heated tents.  We choose Brechts, which is based on the Spree River just down from Friedrichstraße.  It was good, and by the time we were finished we were ready for bed.  So there is a pleasant walk through Bebelplatz and back up Unter dem Linden.

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