30 November 2011

My Life!

Day 4 - 29 November 2011 - Berlin, Tiergarten

Yesterday, we walked from the KPM site to the Gropius site by way of the Tiergarten.  Today we're taking the S Bahn to Potsdamer Platz.  The goal is to see the cultural institutions in the Tiergarten that we have somehow avoided in past visits.  We're off to the Neue Nationalgalerie which is ensconsed in a wonderful building by Mies Van der Rohe.  There are two exhibitions that we want to see.  The first is called Der geteilte Himmel (A divided Heaven) a look at the painting of East and West Germany immediately following the war, and the decades following.  The second is "A Living Man Declared Dead and other Chapters" by Taryn Simon.

We start with the first, because we're not so certain that we want to see the second.  What a disturbing exhibition this is!

The eastern group seems to offer a dim vision, as Wilhelm Lachnit's Gleiderpuppe well shows.  People seem to be operating as automata as they relate to the things (the good things) of ordinary life.  A more direct view, and one that condemns is Werner Tübke's Lebenserinnerungen des Dr. jur. Schulze (III) (The Life Memories of Judge Schulze).

Here the artist places blame and demands answers from those in the position to have done better under the Third Reich.  In contrast, the material from the West is like a dream - a dream of denial.  There is no angst and there are no questions.  Everything seems to be pastel and promising.  From this point on, however, it was I who was in a bit of denial.  It came round to me with this painting by Victor Vasarely.

Did I like this at one time?   Did I think that Josef Alber's would grow into this, or that Chuck Close would benefit from it?  There were several artists represented who I really liked, Francis Bacon, Adolf Gottlieb, and others.  There was however, a lot of stuff that seemed vapid now.  One room was dominated by a screening of The Yellow Submarine by the Beatles.  I realized as I looked at all this stuff that this was my life.  This represented the decades of my living and breathing - and it didn't feel good.

A wonderful Loozy Kirsche Nektar cooled me down.

Upstairs, at Taryn Simon's photo essay, "A Living Man..." things were different.  Here were several chapters, each about an individual, pictured with his or her bloodline (I'm not counting the one about the rabbits), which document oddities, realities, and tragedies that surround all of us who live.  It really brought me back to earth.  Pictures, text, and further notes submerse the viewer into another life.  It is a view that serves as contrast to one's own, and gives a sense of balance (thank you Moholy-Nagy) in living.  

We then wandered over to the Gemäldegalerie right next door, sort of.  Here was everything that I sort of revel in, especially stuff like Jean Fouquet's "Estienne Chevalier with Saint Stephen".  

Ever since it graced the cover of a new translation of Jan Huizinga's The Waning of the Middle AgesI have admired this picture, and here it was.  The remainder, however, left me behind.  I was still in the funk of a "Divided Heaven".  I had to sit and think about it a bit.  Part of me was disappointed because I thought this gallery had a collection of Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, Georg Groß, and the like.  Not so.

Life comes rushing in as we make our way back to Sony Center.  And as if to top it with whipped cream with a cherry on top we go to KaDeWe where I buy a T Shirt, and we have dinner.  Back to reality.

Purity and Mammon

Day 3, 28 November 2011

There is the usual breakfast, and our destination is only a couple of blocks away.  A little explanation must be made.  We are going to see the Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur (KPM) in Berlin.  We first became aware of this institution when we saw some remarkable dishes in a now defunkt shop in San Francisco.  The design of the dishes was very simple with the exception of a bisque medallion of a classical theme.  The pieces were both stunning and excrutiatingly expensive.  That's the only reason we didn't buy any - then.  When I was in Berlin in 2004(?), I purchased a chocolate set for Arthur.

Now we wanted to see where this stuff had been made, and who had designed it.  We wandered through their galleries, which educated the visitor about how porcelain had come to Europe and the difficulty of its manufacture; along with the history of design.  Our pieces had been affixed to a pattern by Trudi Petri with medallions by Siegmund Schütz.  Several things came to mind as we looked at past and present work by KPM.  Many of the artists of the last century came to work for the concern around 1937, when their teaching posts were "terminated".  My mind quickly leapt to the Bauhaus dissolution, first in Dessau and then, finally in a converted warehouse in Berlin, where both students and teachers were arrested.

The other aspect of being here was to be close to all the artists who had worked here.  Some 150,000 moulds and pieces are archived, representing the work of the firm for over 200 years.  All those people, and the delicacy of their work, not only produced everyday wear, but to some extent a history of the national time.  We would bump into some of them later.  Until then, however, we browsed the shops, still found everything too costly, and retreated to the Café where I had a wonderful hot chocolate that was not unlike the Spanish chocolate that those people dip their churros in.  

Our next goal was the Bauhaus Archiv, a museum, educational institution, and center for all things Bauhaus.  The building is based on plans by Walter Gropius, and the long walkway, which you see above, takes you from the far end of the site on Klingelhöferstaße, through the gardens, into the midst of the buildings, and then curves around into the court that allows you to enter a very simple entrance into the complex.  A sign explains that the journey is a "glimpse of eternity", the eternity that is known in an augenblick - a moment.  That sentiment has summed up the day, so far, as we journeyed from the luxurious and the historical, to the simple and influential.

There were two installations to be seen: 1) the collection of Bauhaus materials (of all sorts) and 2) a proposal by Gropius for a Stadtkrone an acropolis at the city of Halle.  The materials are stunning.  After a group of chairs and furniture that show the influence of the group (Tom Wolfe once said that any aspiring architect, designer, painter, printer, or sculptor longed to own at least one Wassily Chair.

I know, I bought one.  There was stuff their that I knew from living in an Eero Saarinen environment during my college days.  Most moving was a couple of samples from László Moholy-Nagy's "first course" that every student had to take.  Using basic materials: cardboard, wood, tin or brass, wire, string, and other basic materials, students were required to make something "elemental". I wondered, who starts at the very beginning any more?  Preachers can't read Greek or Hebrew, accountants know nothing of Babylonian records, and painters can't draw.  I wonder what it would be like if we all somehow got back to the basics?  Perhaps that is the Lutheran remaining in my soul.  Perhaps this longing is too naïve.

Konstruction - László Moholy-Nagy
This painting, Konstruction, seems to say it all.  The assemblage that bisects the field in both directions, seems balanced and satisfying.  However, floating near by, in a reflected manner, the whole composition drifts, mirrors the balance, but is something different.  It's almost Platonic in its meaning, and it seemed to symbolize for me the remainder of the collection.  A balance was being sought in the textiles, photography (which Nagy introduced into the curriculum), the metal and wood work, and above all the architectural work - from the Barcelona Pavilion to the Red House.  It seems to be a balance that today's architecture has difficulty in approaching, let alone achieving.  A good book, if you're interested, is Nicholas Fox Weber's The Bauhaus Group - Six Master's of Modernism.

Lunch and the Gropius, which was both forward looking, especially in comparison with the other submissions, and then a look at the shop.  I'm tired, so we go back for a bit of a nap, and then off to the Universität de Kunst for a trumpet concert by students.  Uneven, but pleasant.  Dinner at Faustus near Wittenberger Platz, and then home.

28 November 2011

Searching for Advent

Day 2 - Berlin, 27 November 2011

We get up later than we thought.  I had hoped we could somehow get out to Saint George's Church, somewhere in Charottenburg, but that was not to be.  There is breakfast in the breakfast room with all the usual characters.  I think that this is the first First Sunday in Advent that I will have missed either attending or celebrating the Liturgy in a long, long time.  God is merciful, however.  After the quiet breakfast we make our way down to Kurfurstendamm, and run into the Weinachtsmarkt at Kaiser Wilhelm Gedachtniskirche.  It is completely surrounded, and after spending a few moments in the church itself, found ourselves best by either Curry Wurst, or Trockene Früchte.  Mammon, we are here.

KaDaWe is righteously closed, so our visions of their food hall are quickly cooled.  Some orientation is needed.  We get on the S Bahn, and take the clock-wise circular route around the northern half of the city.  So much can be seen from this vantage point from the port facilities at Westhafen, to the abandoned buildings still in shell-shock after the war.  It shows another side of things, reminding us that things are still in transition.  We end up at Frankfurter Tor, and then train in to Alexander Platz.  Our goal is to be somewhere near Nikolaikirche for an Advent concert that late afternoon.  It is very cold, and all of the attention seems to be given to the Glühwein booths at the markets.  They are crowded, and the crowds are being regaled with Christmas music in English.  It's difficult to bear, so we make our way over to the Nikolaiviertel.  In search of lunch.  It is found in a small place, where tables are shared, and a good goulaschsuppe was to be had.

It's still not anywhere near 16:00, so we do some more walking, noting to historic plaques documenting anti-Jewish pograms in the 16th Century.  They are very difficult to read or to understand.  We find a little tea shop and have a Johannisbeerkuchen, and then go stand in line at Nikolaikirche.

Destroyed in the second world war, and now a part of the Berlin Museum, this old church has a remarkable acoustic, and a wonderful altar area in which the baroque elements are hung about where the altar was and is no more.  This is where I hope to find Advent.  We purchase tickets and sit under the pulpit in the nave.  The singers file in and begin with Conditor alme siderum.  I think of my dad, and tear up a bit - he would have loved this.

Twenty-five percent of the program is Advent hymns, with the remaining parts organ works (Reger and Bach) and Christmas fare.  At the end, however, the conductor invites us all to sing with the chorus in the Advent hymn Macht hoch die Tor.  It is here that Advent happened, at least for me, as I heard the entire audience with out the benefit of a hymnbook, belt out this wonderful hymn - three verses from memory.  When Jesus comes again in glory, the faithful may have some difficulty in remembering him.  They will however remember the hymns that served as the core (bad pun: chor) of their faith.

Dinner at Giraffe in the Hansaviertel near our Hotel (Rote grütze mit Vanilliensause).  Now I can rest.

27 November 2011

Germany in Winter - 2011

Day 1 – 25 November 2011

We’re in Austin, finishing up a delightful visit with Arthur’s family.  There have been dinners with Patty and Dan, with Big Art and Marji, along with Arthur’s brother, Tim.  The children have all grown up and are either in their last years of high school, or are almost completing college.  Relating to them is new and different, and quite satisfying. 

Our time here has been in awe of what has happened because of the drought in the area, with vast areas of the lake dry, and cliffs suddenly rearing their stone walls over a smaller lake.  Yet, the night sky is still lovely, with a desert quiet, and the almost iridescent blues and purples of a late evening sky.

On Friday morning, at 6:00, Patty drives us to the airport, where we worry about making it back to SFO for a 2:30 flight to Frankfurt, Germany.  She gets us there swiftly and safely.  The actual flight is a fog of sleep and breakfast, and soon, we are home to change luggage and refresh ourselves a bit.

I use “Taxi Magic” (taximagic.com) to summon a new cab, and soon we’re off to SFO for our flight to Frankfurt.  We check in quickly, and go through security, and have lunch in the Terminal, spend some time in the lounge (which we find disappointing), and soon we’re on the flight, playing with our chairs, the visual system, and the other oddities of the plane.  There is dinner and then sleep. (The chair moves to lie flat so that there can indeed be genuine sleep.) Oblivion.

Day 2 – 26 November 2011

I wake up over the Hebrides, but there is heavy cloud cover, so there is nothing to be seen other than white as we passover Amsterdam and Köln.  There are bits of green down there, but you can tell it will be cold.  There is a nice breakfast, efficiently served, and then we are quick to land at Frankfurt, one of the most improved airports I’ve ever experienced.  No, really!

We have three hours to kill, so we go to the lounge, and catch up electronically with the world left behind.  The fellow travelers are as diverse as ever, and capture our imaginations as they pass through and go on.  We attempt shopping, but there’s not much happening around us, so we go to our gate and wait.  The trip is short, and the cloud cover is still with us.  Landing at Tegel, one has no idea of the size of the city that lies to the southeast of the airport.  The baggage comes later than I thought it would, however at least it is there.  We taxi to Hotel Hansablik, and immediately enjoy our small room overlooking the Spree River.

We take an S Bahn over to Hackesche Höfe, and are immediately surrounded by one of the Weinachtsmarkt, that we have come to see.  We wander through the booths, guided only by our hunger and the cold.  Soon we have dinner (I thought the waitress said Gänse (Goose), but it was actually ganze (whole, entire, as in fish).  It was very good, but not what I was expecting.  S Bahn back, and then to sleep.