25 October 2009

Angels Unaware

From the Bodemuseum Basilica

I have a date every Sunday morning at 8:00 a.m., (soon to change to 9:00 a.m.) when I celebrate Mass in  Saint Mary's Chapel at Trinity Church.  It is always a small group of people, but it is satisfying.  There is always a sermon, that at times takes on the dimensionality of a discussion.  This morning it was Jeremiah talking about the messianic return of remnant Israel to Jerusalem, a remnant that included social misfits (the blind, the lame, those with child, and those in labor).  The Gospel, from Mark, is a healing story, with Jesus healing the blind Bartimaeus, thus literally ushering in the messianic age that Jeremiah comments on and dreams about.  So we discussed this, and the discussion centered on how difficult it is for some of us (mainly me) to deal with beggars and street people (this in spite of the excellent lesson given me by Fr. James Tramel in Berkeley).  The sermon ended, we confessed the Creed, and said the prayers - praying for ourselves to be more open to the suffering of our fellow human beings.  We shared the peace, and I went to the altar to prepare the gifts.

Ernst Barlach - Der schwebende Engel 

After preparing the gifts, I looked up, ready to intone: "The Lord be with you"...and there he was.  A black man, clothed all in black, with medallions from rosaries and other religious items arrayed on the blackness of his hat and his robe.  He sat in the back and was intense in his taking in the altar and the actions there.  "And also with you" came the reply, as we continued on with the eucharistic canon.  He was there through the whole action, sitting by himself, but not separate - a part - hovering - a bit like Barlach's angel.  It came time for the communion, and I invited him to come and share in the gifts.  He moved up to the altar and received the Body and the Blood, and then remained there for the final prayers.

After the dismissal, we all usually dissolve into banter and news sharing.  And so I introduced myself to this person from the street, who had graced us with his presence.  He smiled and shook my hand.  I asked him, "and what is your name?"  "Israel."  (I was dumstruck - was he the remnant?)  And then he thanked us and left.  As he floated through the door of the chapel, and back out onto the street, I turned to my friend, Michael, and said, "An angel!"  Michael agreed that we had both been given a gift.

William Blake - The Angel of Death

After my coffee at Peet's  (I'm grieving the loss of my Royal Grounds place, just down the street from Trinity), I walked back up the hill in my cassock with the New York Times under my arm, as I do every Sunday morning.  As I rounded the corner onto Gough Street, I caught sight of a great deal of activity in front of the gothic apartment building across the street.  A fire engine and ambulance both had lights flashing, and a small crowd was gathered around firemen kneeling on the ground.  It was then that I realized that they were hovering over a man who had fallen, and were administering CPR.  Five minutes went by, then ten, and then fifteen, and then the man was loaded onto a gurney, and taken away - with no sirens.

Part of me wanted to rush up and anoint - but life was more important, and the anointing of the fireman was more of a salvation at that point.  I stayed to the side, and prayed - for the unknown man, and for the team that was desperately trying to save him.  Soon they were picking up things, equipment, personal belongings, used items, and went away.  Two women remained behind, who did not know the man, but who happened to be there when another angel came to take him away.  Angels of presence, they stayed with him until the end.  I asked if I could help them in any way.  One said, "thank you" and got into her car and drove away, and the other and I looked at one another and began to cry.  

Another angel?  Yes, and more than one.  The firemen, the women, the ambulance staff - these were angels in deed.  I thanked God for them, that in his final moments, this man did not die alone.  And then the thought hit me, as I recalled the tears just recently shed with the blonde woman who had stayed to the end - I was an angel too.

Extraordinary gifts on a Sunday morning

10 October 2009

Thursday, 8 October 2009 - The Last Day

Today is a bit somber - for several reasons, not the least of which is that it is raining, and that today is our last day in Berlin.  The mood and the weather all make the choice of seeing the Memorial to the 6 Million Murdered Jews of Europe not only appropriate, but necessary.  The entrance is obvious, but not when you're approaching the memorial from Ehrman Straße, having just come from Unter dem Linden (now called Brandenburg Gate) SBahn Station.  It's interesting, Pariser Platz is all cleaned up from the celebrations of last weekend.  The anchor is gone, and all signs of celebration - clean - swept - leer.  So we have to wait in the rain to enter the museum, a large group waiting in front of us.  The line takes so long due to security below - sad.  We learn nothing, as evidenced by the dolt who serves as the president of Iran.

It takes time for these things, and if we are to learn from the middle east - it takes centuries, millenia, and still we don't get it.  We descend down through the cenotaphs on the surface to see them as indentations in the ceiling above our heads.  This place, along with the program at Judisches Museum, have chosen to educate us one by one.  The Jewish Museum by giving the whole context of the diaspora (although it doesn't explore that completely enough to speak about the whys of the diaspora) and Christian persecution of Jews; and this museum by looking at individuals, their stories, their context, and their fates.  It is engaging and it is sobering.  As I leave the exhibition, I encounter a young German girl, collapsed in the arms of a friend, sobbing.  How much I wanted to sob at that point - I wanted to do something - to react in some kind of public way.  The sorrows of the heart are not all that convincing, the deeds of a life are a little more so.

We emerge from the Museum into a day that has gotten a bit of sun.  We walk over toward Friedrich Straße, exploring some places for lunch (Galeries Lafayette, 260, and Refugium) and finally decide on a place at the Concert Hall in Gendarmenmarkt.  There we talk about our experience at the museum, and the role the Church has played, and the predicament that Christians are in, given this experience.  It is clear that Germany shares this guilt with others France, Poland, Romania, the Netherlands, and others, and it shares its guilt with our own country, that turned its head at times.  A shame on all of us...

After lunch we walk toward St. Hedwig's, walking by the Nolde Museum, the Mendelsohn Haus, and other sights, and suddenly realize that we are at Schinkle's Friderichswerderkirche (Michaelkirche), now a museum to the architect.  It is a wonderful room, completely restored, with wonderful light oak woodwork, and a collection of statuary related to the architect.  I like the altar, a black marble slab with a golden cross - stunning.  I buy a couple of medals, and Arthur a book, and we walk on, past the Bibliotek, and then over the remains of the Palast der Republic. now a green lawn.  Next door they are conducting archaeological studies on the zerstört Schloß.  We walk up to Mariakirche, which is having extensive restorations done, and then over to the Nikolaivierteil which is not very convincing.  The church is closed, undergoing extensive renovations as well.

It's time for coffee and something else, so we walk over to Hackesshermarkt and into the Successonist courts.  We find an interesting company, Golem, who deals in tiles, and talk with them about Bauakademie tiles.  Not to be had apparently - but now something for us to solve.  Finally we have hot chocolate at the Amperman Restaurant, and then go on to look at the Neue Synagogue, somewhat reminiscent of the one in Budapest.

We wander now - getting purposefully lost, and see courtyards and façades that charm us so, until we realize we are in the neighborhood of Friday night's incredible dinner.  We opt for a small Italian restaurant, and then take the SBahn home.  It has been a wonderful vacation, with Arthur.

08 October 2009

Wednesday, 7 October 2009 - Sans Souci

Today we go to Potsdam, catching at Regio at Zooligischergarten and proceeding to Potsdam Hbf, and from there on Bus 695 to the Park.  On the bus a Berlin teacher with a group of students gives us an introduction to the park.  Very nice.  We buy our tickets and are in the palace within 15 minutes.  There is no longer a guided tour, but an audio-guide, which makes it a lot nicer.  So we amble our way through the rooms, gaining a new respect for the Rococo.  The commentary doesn't take too much time with the "childless marriage" and the separate living arrangements of our favorite homosexual king (or wait, does Ahketaten count?)  The rooms are lovely, especially the 3D room with all of the fruit.

We also go view the kitchens and wine cellar.  All very interesting.

Next we wander down the terrace and over to Friedenkirche, which is looking quite nice.  The Marley Garden is beautiful as well.  In spite of the threat of rain - the day and the park is beautiful.  We have lunch at the little restaurant at the end of Green Gate, and then go back in proceeding to the Chinese Tea House - it's open this time, and on to the Roman Baths, and then to Charlottenhof.  We are the only two to tour the little palace, which is almost charming in an italo-teutonic kind of way.  The copper prints of Rafael are interesting, and the Schinkel furniture is very nice.  

Our goal at this point is to go over to the Neues Palais.  Our good intentions soon give way to our backs, and after a brief rest (nap?) on a park bench, we dismiss the palais (our hotel-keeper Peter dismisses it as bourgeois) so I guess we've made a good decision.  Instead we cut by the Temple of Friendship, and the "Antique Temple" (itself a ruin, waiting to be restored) and go past the model fort and up the hill to the Drachonhaus where we have cake and coffee.

We walk down the allee that runs from the Orangerie to the Belvedere.  With the trees beginning to change it is really a lovely site.  At the Orangerie, which they actually use as such, we view the private rooms with a tour guide doing only German - she's really quite good, and then the Rafael rooms.  Having just seen many of the originals in Florence, these copies look flat, but they pleased the IVth.

There's a quick stop by the store, but nothing to by so we catch the bus and then the train.  Going back in we have seats.  We stop at Augsburgerplatz, and have dinner at a Turkish restaurant, which was very good, and then back to the hotel.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009 - Nefertiti und anderer Freunden

The goal for today is to see something again that has fascinated me since my childhood and to share it with Arthur.  I first saw Nefertiti out in Charlottenburg when she was housed in the Aegiptisches Museum there.  Now she has been moved, and I'm under the impression that she is at the Altes here in Berlin.  So we have breakfast and take the SBahn to Friedrichstraße and then walk over to Museum Island and go to the Altes.  But she's not at home - moving to the Neues and it's not ready yet.  This is a severe disappointment for me.  We make lemonade, however, by going to the Bodemuseum where we see their wonderful Byzantine Collection, along with a few Romanesque artifacts in a beautiful basement, and a load of medieval altar pieces.  We're very happy.

We have lunch in the Bode, and then go over to the Altenationalmuseum where I want to show Arthur one of my most favorite paintings, Totinsel, by Arnold Böcklin.

Ever since I read a book on symbolist painters (Dreamers of Decadence), I've been fascinated with this painting and wanted to share it with Arthur.  We find a great number of other paintings by Böcklin, along with Feuerbach, and Beckmann.  It was quite stimulating.  One interesting facet was a room in the galleries that was left, showing it's war damage.

We go into the Berlinerdom but decide not to stay, and have a coffee there instead.  The next door bookstore is a mere shadow of itself - nothing interesting.  So we take the train back and go to KaDeWe, and wander aimlessly, buy nothing, and have dinner in their huge cafeteria on the 7th floor.  By then were dead.  Time for the hotel.

07 October 2009

Monday, 5 October 2009 - Unsettling

One quick note about Berlin - it is a city of graffiti - some very interesting, most not.  It is everywhere, buildings, roads, private homes, public homes, churches, you name it.  I find it unattractive.  There is an abandoned building near our hotel - not built pre-war, not destroyed in the war, but rather recent - say the '80s. metalic panels, perhaps 10 stories - just sitting there and covered with graffiti.  I wonder what the story is.

The first job today is to get a replacement battery charger for my camera, due to the thief who relieved my luggage of a couple of electronic things somewhere between SFO and Firenze.  So where to go? - Sony Center, which soon relieved me of €65.  Now I can take pictures again.  Our original intent was to go to the Altes Museum on Museum Insel.  However, since we are so close, we decide to go to the Judaisches Museum instead to see the exhibition and Liebeskind's building as well.

It is an extraordinary building - with somewhat of a liturgical bent, in that some aspects of it force you to experience certain feelings, losses, difficulties, and disorientation.  I'm glad that we got that out of the way right away, because the exhibits are far more engaging, and the stories told by the pieces gathered in the exhibition engage in a way that the building can only attempt to do.  From Palestine to Hackeshesmarkt, we walk along with the Jews on their way to Germany.  It is not painted in broad strokes, but in the fine detail of individual lives and things.  For that reason it is quite telling.  We interrupt the day for some coffee and cookies, but the story is too compelling to leave it for long.

The Egyptian Museum will have to wait, because now it is late in the afternoon, and we have agreed to meet Günter and Franziska on Albrechtstraße at 16:00, so we rush up there from the museum, and join them in a small Italian Restaurant, where we share an antipasto, gnocchi with sage and butter, and spaghetti with white truffle.  Not bad.  They have a plane to catch at Schöneberg, so we say our goodbyes and we walk to the Reichstag and decide to forego a 45 minute wait to get up into the dome.  Instead we walk the length of the Tiergarten to get back to our hotel.

06 October 2009

Sunday, 4 October - Stealing?

It's Sunday morning and I'm going to skip church.  I checked to see if there was a Anglican congregation in town, but it's way out near Olympiastadion, and then some blocks.  Too far!  So we take the UBahn to Hackesherplatz and walk over to Museuminsel via the bridge by the Berliner Dom and the Altes National Museum.  I had forgotten, we actually have to walk across the island and over the river on the other side and then come back onto the island at Pergamom.  Arthur and I visited Pergamom in Turkey in 1999, and now it is his chance to see what the Germans excavated there - a fine Hellenistic altar.

We make our museum agreement - we'll meet back at the altar at 14:00 - giving us three hours to "look around".  Arthur goes in the direction of an exhibition on Dionysius and upstairs one on a series of sculptures that were lost (taken to Russia) after the war, and recently returned and displayed again.  I go off to visit the gate at Miletus, the Ishtar gate (my favorite) and look at pre-Assyrian and Assyrian artifacts.  Then I go to look at the Dionysian things - and soon it is 2:00, and I go to meet Arthur.  He however, didn't have time to see Ishtar, et. al., so I quickly show him what he missed.

Time for lunch at the museum, nothing special, and we don't buy books at the store.  We are meeting Günter and Franziska at our hotel at 19:00 or 19:30 - we can't remember which.  So we go back to our hotel and get ready to meet them.  They arrive promptly, and as we walk to the SBahn, the heavens suddenly open up and we are drenched as we make it into Tiergarten Station.  We take the train to Nollendorferplatz, and then walk up the street to Luchner Restaurant on Lützowplatz.  The chef's brother is an associate of Günter's and Franziska's, and so he greets us warmly as we enter the room.  We are seated and menus are handed to us, but are quickly taken away by Andreas, and by his wife Gerlinde.  "I am going to surprise you," he says, and so a wonderful evening of gastronomy begins.

1.   A nice sekt with an amuse bouche of a creme puff filled with an olive foam filling and garnishes.
2.   A wild rabbit and venison terrine filet with orange-vanilla sauce and a salad of field lettuces.  (Bckenauer Riesling, 2007)
3.   A soup of pumpkin, carrots, and ginger with a scallop.
4.   A barley risoto with pumpkin, pork trotter and lobster.
5.  A piece of roasted Zander (Perch) served on a potato-apple gratin with a piece of Blutwurst.
5.  A house-made wild boar sausage, served with a wild boar ragout and speck, and three beans. (Cuvée Guillaume, 2006) 
6.  A saddle of venison, with cabbage and Johannes beeren with a balsamic reduction and dumplings (Spitz Buben) (Spätburgunder, 2007)
7.  White chocolate mousse with a papaya gelee, and raspberries, and a passion fruit ice cream. (Farmersheimer Hornberg Mario Muskat, 2008)
8.  Prunewein and Espresso.

We talk and eat and drink.  Günter thinks that we ought to meet in a different place each year to eat and drink and talk.  It sounds good.  But this evening is now late, and they grab a cab, and we the S und UBahn.

05 October 2009

Saturday, 3 October - Water

Today, we have decided to take a boat tour on the Spree River.  The dock is just a few meters away from our hotel, and so we walk over in the morning and get on board.  The first time I came to Berlin, I couldn't believe how much water there was here: rivers, canals, lakes, streams, ponds, harbors - you name it.  This, then, was a real treat.  We left from near Hansaplatz, and took the Spree in a clockwise fashion.  It was a bit cold out, so sitting in the underdeck and drinking Schoko was wonderful.

It was Unification Day - so crowds were out and rejoicing as we rounded the bend by the goverment buildings that surround the Reichstag.  It was wonderful to see and hear people rejoicing so much in their country.  Huge puppets were used, and one was emerging out the Spreewasser to the delight of the crowd.

We continued on past Museum Insel, and the Nikolai Vierteil, moving into the east where there were lots of commerical buildings being put to new use, or ones that had been abandoned.  You can see the revitalization of the east end from the river.  Turning the corner into the Landwertskanal we say example after example of Secessionist homes - utterly beautiful.  This was a great way to become acquainted with Berlin differently.

After our boat trip, we went to KuDam,  and had lunch in Wittenberger Platz - nothing unusual, but I was able to show Arthur the hotel I stayed at in 2004.  We walked to Nollendorferplatz and got on the UBahn to Potsdammerplatz where we emerged to look at Sony Center, and then wandered up toward the Brandenburg Gate only to bump into an exhibition of all things Nazi in this part of Berlin.  It was a very interesting discussion of the bunkers, the archeology of the Second World War, and the complicity of industry and the Berlin Municipal Government.  Fascinating.

We then wandered about and around Unter dem Linden, having a coffee and cake at the Westin, looking at the buildings in Gendarmenmarkt, and finally walking through the memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe on our way to Potsdammerplatz, where we have a very mediocre meal.  

The skies are dancing with searchlights celebrating German Unity.

02 October 2009

Friday, 2 October 2009 - Wandering

After breakfast Arthur and I walk down 17 June to the Brandenburg Gate.  All along the way, people are preparing for tomorrow's holiday - the reunification of Germany.  The air is full of buzz, and the lawns of the park are lined with Prussian soldaten.  We walk up Unter dem Linden and peer in at KPM and other stores, have a coffee at Einstein, and move up the street to Bebel Platz (where I remember all the books that were consigned to a Nazi fire, and meet a huge sleeping puppet soon to join another in a walk across Berlin in celebration of the holiday) and cross over to St. Hedwig's Cathedral.  Totally gutted in the war, the church is quite attractive, surrounding a crypt staircase which is presided over by the high altar, and below by the altar with Tablernacle.  There is an organ concert on Sunday night, and perhaps we'll go.  Oddly enough an organist is playing some variations of "Ein feste Burg".

We continue our walk up and over Museum Island, past the Dom and site of the Schloß, where we meet a boat and wind and wave being pulled down UdL, again a part of the holiday celebrations.  Then up to Alexanderplatz where we have lunch (unremarkable).  Then we get on the Sbahn and take the ring around the city, just to get a grip on the size and layout of things.  We get off at Tiergarten and walk over to Friederichs Gedechtnis Kirche in the Tiergarten, but they are filming there, so we can't go inside.  St. Ansgar Kirche across the street is open, however, where we see a very unsual stations of the cross.

After resting at the hotel a bit, we take the Sbahn over to Auguststraße to meet up with Günter and Franziska, with whom we have a most delightful evening at Rutz, a winebar and restaurant.  http://www.info@weinbar-rutz.de.  The meal went something like this:

1.  A tray with a warm potato-mushroom soup, a potato canape topped with smoked fish, and a potato herb pasta (Sekt)
2.  An onion tart that is served with a white wine (Riesling)
3.  Lamb chop roasted, with lamb shoulder - slow roasted, with potato cubes cooked rösti-style, topped with a chevré dumpling, fennel purée, a mince of cucumber, and a pimento jus. (Italian Red from Alba)
4.  Cheese tray (8 slections) with drei-kornen and frucht brot. (aus lese white wine)
5.  Desert degustation (roasted pineapple with quark), wineshaum eis with pepper/sugar croquant, and a warm chocolate torte (espresso)
6.  Four spoons (kiwi candied with coconut and pistachio, white chocolate praline filled with sour cherry/pepper center, pastry shell with passion fruit mousse and raspberry, and a spice cake.  (A very dry riesling)

We had a wonderful conversation, and since it was so late, and the SBahn had stopped running we cabbed home.

01 October 2009

Thursday, 1 October 2009 - Transition

I forgot to mention something about last evening.  It can be summed up by a comment made by a woman  as she rounded the corner from Via de Martelli onto Via de Cerratani, where one is suddenly confronted by the bulk of the Duomo, "Oh, my God...Holy Shit!" was her comment.  And that pretty much sums it up.  Last evening I walked around the cathedral - it exudes such power.  I think that is in part do to its sheer size and the fact that it is so hemmed in by the density that surrounds it.

So this morning, I got up, showered, had some breakfast, packed my bags, checked out, and left my luggage at the desk, and when to the cathedral.  I had mightily resisted going back in because there was so much else that I wanted to do.  This morning I could no longer resist.  If there is a simplicity at Santa Maria Novella it is even more so at Santa Maria della Fiori.  It is stunning in its mass (no pun intended) and in the space that it creates.  I'm glad I took the time to walk around.  I also went downstairs to look at the remains of the ancient church St. Reparata.

Then it was back to the hotel, get in a cab and get to the airport.  Uneventful flight, right over Meiringen, Switzerland again - great memories.  No troubles at Frankfurt and into Berlin.  Cab to the hotel - and there's Arthur.  We have a drink and then go to Giraffe for schnitzle-like things.  Arthur's pooped, and so am I.