08 December 2011

Change and Decay

Day 12 - Tuesday, 6 December 2011, Berlin, München

It's time to leave Berlin.  We have breakfast and say good bye to the wonderful staff at Hansablick, especially Monica and Peter.  They are really kind and helpful.  We cab over to Tegel, and go to the Lounge to await our flight.  Loading is a bit of a madhouse - this is not true of all German airports, but does seem typical of Tegel.  The flight is uneventful, and we arrive in München in good time.  At first it appears that my luggage has been lost, but the efficient Lufthansa system quickly locates it at one carousel away.  We take the slower of the two S Bahn options into the city (1 hour) gat off at Marianplatz and walk to our hotel - one that we are unfamiliar with.  Hotel am Markt seems nice enough, small rooms, but clean and well furnished.  There's a bathtub and shower, but no shower curtain - so it will be baths for all.

We settle in and then go out for a walk.  It is bitter cold by the Markets make the evening festive.  In searching for a place to have dinner (and having no luck) we stumble into the neighborhood in which we usually stay and discover some change and decay.  First of all Bodo's, a wonderful Conditerei, is now something else.  The picture above shows my mother have a Bodo confection in 2008.  Walking further on we discover that our usual hotel, Herzog Wilhelm, has been sold and is being revamped under another name, and it's Restaurant, Tannenbaum, is being changed as well.  (No wonder they didn't return our calls or our email!)  Ah well, happy memories.

We go further on to the passage that leads to Asamskirche and have dinner at a small be rather good restaurant.  We are tired, however, after the dinner and beat a quick path back to the hotel.

Not finding, and then finding.

Day 11 - 5 December 2011, Spandau and Berlin

We have to keep remembering why we came here.  It was not for museums, churches, and public buildings (although we are always drawn to such venues) it was for the Weinachtsmarketen.  So, with that in mind, we go out to Spandau, and the suggestion of our waitress from last evening.  I've been out once before, when I went to see the Olympiastadion, which was all fenced off while they remodeled.  So I went on to Spandau, curious about the place where Speer and others spent a great deal of time thinking about things.

It is very cold when we get there, but the people on the street seem to be living in some other climate.  They seem to love it.  We, on the other hand, are constantly jumping into some place for hot chocolate or tea.  We wander all the markets, and they all seem the same: Glühwein, wurst, und holzwerk.  We investigate the Rathaus and wonder when it was built - it seems pre-war, but we're not too sure.  What is a delight, as we wander about looking for an Adventspyramid, is Saint Nicholas Church, a Lutheran church of the far end of town.

It's a medieval building, carefully restored after the war, and with some liturgical sensibility as well.  There is a chapel for the Krippe and the Virgin.

There is a wonderful medieval crucifix, and contemporary liturgical art as well, but what really captures my attention is a painting that stands near the prayer lights in the back of the church.  It seems to depict an archducal ceremony held at St. Nicholas in the 18th Century.  The (Lutheran) Bishop of Brandenburg is communing the Kurfurst with other members of the Court in attendance.  The bishop is wearing a cassock/robe(?) with a surplice and a cope.  In the foreground there is a deacon in dalmatic and a thurifer with his smoking thurible.  I want to find out more about this painting because it seems to document that Lutheran parishes maintained vestments and other practices well into the 18th or even 19th centuries before the forced union.

We're cold and disappointed in the quality of the markets, (and a very slow lunch) and head back to Berlin.  We plan to go hear an Advent concert at St. Norbert Church.  It's a student concert again, and this time it is choral, and choral direction students.  They do a good job and we are well satisfied.  Following the concert we train back to Tiergarten, and have dinner at Quelle again.  The family that invited us to share a table with them the other evening, now come in, and it is we who invite them to join us.  There is a long conversation about church, government, taste, vocations, growing up in the DDR, and universal brotherhood - all quite satisfying.  What wonderful people they are.  

Those Prussians!

Day 10 - Sunday, 4 December 2011 - Spree, Berliner Dom, und Gendarmenmarkt

The last time we were here we took a delightful cruise on the River Spree from near our hotel at Hansablick around the center part of Berlin.  We loved it and thought that we would try it again.  We were able to take the cruise, but a much shorter one.  We went from near the Berliner Dom to around the National Library, and then back to near the Chancellery, and then back - about an hour.  Not as fun, but pleasantly warm inside with a hot chocolate.

Arthur wanted to go see the Berliner Dom, so we did.  When I was in England in March of 2010, I went to Windsor and as a part of my time there I went to see St. George's.  The quire there blew me away with all of its flags and heraldry.  One wondered where the Church was in the midst of all this.  The same is true at the Berliner Dom.  Built for the self-aggrandizement of the Hohenzollern family it (like the Kaisewilhemgedächniskirche is more about the Gospel of Prussian government than anything else.

As a piece of architecture it is overdone and overwrought.  As a church it is underdone in its ability to convey the Gospel.  I was reminded of the Medici chapel that is attached to St. Laurence in Florence, where huge statues of the Medici princes overwhelm the worship space below - well it was a funerary church after all.  The Hohenzollerns had the same plans for the Berliner Dom.  Along with Luther and Zwingli (oh, yeah, these are the guys that forced the union of the Lutheran and Reformed churches) there stand larger-than-life statues of their princes as well.  The original cathedral was planed as a three-stage operation.  A predigt church for Eucharist and Preaching, a taufkirche for baptisms and weddings, and a grabmalkirche, for the entombment of family members (an attempt to be like the Kapuzinerkirche in Wein, where all the Habsburgs are buried).  When the building was bombed in 1945, the Dom suffered damage but the funerary chapel was destroyed and not rebuilt.  The family was resettled in the crypt under the church.

We did climb up to the dome to experience some amazing views of the city, but then it started to rain, so we beat a hasty retreat.  There is an interesting museum containing all the architectural proposals for the Dom.  Unfortunately Schinkel's italianate proposal was not built.  If you visit the Friedenskirche at Potsdam, you get a small idea of what it would have been like.

Across the street, at the edge of the site of the Schloß (destroyed by the DDR in the 50s) sits the Humboldt Box, a temporary installation (although it looked pretty permanent to me) that is there to interpret the proposal to rebuild the Schloß.  There is a weird little cafe on the top, along with a terrace that overlooks the site where the Schloß and the Palast der Republic once stood.  After a quick lunch, we visited the exhibition downstairs and were entranced.  All of a sudden we understood the importance or at least the intention of Unter dem Linden, which was a path leading from the Schloß to the Brandenburg Gate and thence to the Tiergarten for hunting!  Who knew?

After this we went across from the Altes to a contemporary gallery, which was unfortunately closed.  So we beat a hasty retreat (it's cold outside) to the Altes Museum to spend some time with their collection of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman antiquities - quite a collection.  There were interpretive films, a small collection that explained the sexual aspects of several krator, and collection of Flavian and Julian busts.  I really found it all quite engaging.

There is an organ concert at St. Hedwig's, the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Berlin.  It was built when the Prussians "acquired" Silesia and suddenly had a Roman Catholic population.  The building was severely damaged in the Second World War, and the interior was completely rebuilt.  I rather like it, but traditionalists hate it.  

The organ is a Kleis.  Tonally it is wonderful, bright and full of zest, but without much umpf.  The all Bach program was well-placed, and I only fell asleep once in a Largo movement.

We have dinner again at Brecht's in their temporary pavilion at Gendarmenmarkt, and have a wonderful conversation wtih our waitress, who had lived in Canada and has traveled in the US.  She was delightful, and the chef spent some special effort on a desert for us.  People have been good to us here.  We trudge back to Friedrichstraße and take the S Bahn home.  A good day!

05 December 2011

A Nexus of Style

Day 9, Saturday, 3 December 2011 - Charlottenburg und Reich

The best laid plans...  Our intent was to go to the Museum Berggruen, but it is closed.  Luckily, right across the street (we're avoiding the Weinachtsmarkt at the Schloß) is the Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg.  The Berggreun would have given us Picasso, et. al., but this collection will move us into the symbolists, whom I spoke of in connection with Arnold Böcklin on Wednesday.

But we need a quick tangent.  The building in which this collection is exhibited used to house the Egyptian Collection now housed at the Neues.  It is here that I first saw it, so I startled a bit when as we entered the Collection I saw to my right the Entrance to the Temple at Kalabshas.  I turned to Arthur and said, "I think they forgot something!"  Indeed they had, there are also several sets of columns now standing in the Collection's theatre.  How odd, it seems to me, to not keep the collection together.  With that bubbling in our minds we turned to the actual items on exhibition.

As I entered the first salon I saw many of the prints from Max Klinger's Ein Handschuh (A glove) a fantasy on an ordinary glove that I first became acquainted with in Dreamers of Decadence.  There was more.  Wonderful prints and drawings by Goya, Piranesi, Dali, Klee, Ernst, and Dubuffet, and sculpture by Lipchitz and Ernst. Of special interest to me was one painting by Gustav Moreau, and several pieces by Odile Redon.

In the theatre they play a series of films, including La chien andalu, which we needed to see.  It's a very interesting collection. I wish more people would go and see it.

Here there is a troubling message as well.  A great deal of the collection, once wrested back from the Nazi's ended up in Russia and is now being displayed in a museum there.  Here, as in the notices at the Neues, the notices comment on the illegality of the Russian acquisitions - a difficult topic, here in Germany.

Afterward we go to a museum we have visited before, the Bröhan Museum, which documents the Jugendstil, and subsequent movements in the arts and crafts.  The relationships between the symbolists across the street and the collection at the Bröhan make the appreciation of both deeper and more interesting.  The second floor exhibition of paintings under the general description of "Berlin Life" is a bit jarring, since the lives depicted seem strained, mundane, and droll.  It's an odd contrast to the luxury of items on the other floors.

We have coffee on our way home, and then take a nap at the hotel.  We are scheduled for a dinner at 20:00 at the Reichstag.  We get there on time to go through passport control (yes) and all the other stuff once only known to airports.  Once through the gauntlet, we are ushered into dinner at Käfir, a truly wonderful experience.  We begin with some small delights - a parsnip soup, a geleé that includes smoked salmon, and a shot glass filled with a piece of venison with a sparkling foam on cranberry.  Next is a soup of chestnuts, with something floating in it - the nature of which we couldn't determine.  The main was wild hare with spätzle, potato, grünkohl, and a reduction of red wine.  Finally there was a dessert of celery creme brûlée, a passion fruit sorbet, and nougat.  

What is truly wonderful, is that by the time we leave, very few people are in the restaurant, and the dome is still open to us.  So we get to wander freely and slowly, soaking in the sights.  Food, images, and monumentality have done us in.  Time to go back to the hotel.

Museums and Public Dialogue

Day 8 - Neues Museum - Friday, 2 December 2011

I have been looking forward to sharing this with Arthur since I first visited here in 2004.  In 2009, when we were last in Berlin, we went to see the collection, which was opening up two days later, one day later than we were going to be here.  What a disappointment.  So now, to right all wrongs, our intention is to spend the entire day at the Neues Museum.  Arthur, as am I, is entranced with the whole complex which includes the Altes Nationalgalerie.  It is here that you can see extensive war damage, and the Neues is largely a new building because of it.  The Altes had been worked on right after the reunification, and the Neues is the last to be finished...sort of.  This is a project (the whole of Museuminsul) which is going to take decades to rectify.

The problem is not the buildings but the collections.  They are truly wonderful, but the Egyptian Collection seemed to present several problems.  Some of this is due to the fact that the Neues contains other collections as well, which are well marked, and some of which are still in study, as they admitted.  In the midst of a court largely dominated by Egyptian stone tombs there were two Christian sarcophogai and a chist tomb.  The explanation was that these monuments were provided for contrast, and to make a broader statement about how cultures have expressed life after death.  Lame - they just didn't be long there.  

The Egyptian holdings are stunning:

As a young boy I read a book about the "heretic king" Ahketaten, and was fascinated by him.  The collection has a great deal of Amarna, his new capital on the Nile.  So I enjoyed that very much.  It was delightful to swim in all of the examples of a culture that had been cultivated for so many centuries, and to see its twists and turns as well.

The audio guides were very helpful, but the signage was minimal at best - nothing like the information lavished upon the visitor to the British Museum.  The beauty and the history made you want to know more.  There are other collections at the Neues, such as a papyrus collection (some of which is accessible to the public through a unique storage system), a small collection of Roman and Greek artifacts (most notable are the findings of Schliemann at Troy - more about this later), along with some medieval materials.  There is a prehistory section, some of which is still in study.

There is another message, however, at the Neues, and one squarely confronts it upon opening the front door.  The museum's other message is about the building itself, and David Chipperfield's reconstruction of the building.  Unlike the Altes Nationalgalerie, where one has to search for evidence of the war (it's in a side gallery on the second floor), here the evidence is everywhere.  The main staircase was not restored, nor were many of the rooms.  Bits of plaster and decoration survive in small and in larger instances, but one is certain that the building underwent serious damage.  One wonders to whom the message is directed.  Is it a constant reminder to the German people about consequences, or is a message to the Allies?  Perhaps it is both.  

There is another quite poignant message, as well, and there is no mistaking the recipient.  Several notations were made about articles that were taken by the Red Army, most especially the "Trojan gold" which was specifically targeted by the Red Army, and is now in display in the Pushkin Museum.  I've seen similar notices in my travels (in Prague about the armies of Gustavus Adolphus, in London in defense of the Elgin Marbles, and others).  This wouldn't be the last experience that we would have here in this regard.

We are tired after all of that.  It is more than the mind can take in.  We go to the S Bahn and take our usual ride to Tiergarten.  The little restaurant under the tracks, Tiergarten Quelle, looks like a dive, but our hotel hostess recommends it to us.  Once inside we notice that it is very busy, and their are no tables. A fellow guest at the hotel notices and motions that we should join them, which we do.  They are involved in a family dinner, so there is no cross talk, but how nice.  

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.


Day 6 - Wednesday, 30 November 2011 - Tiergarten und Museum Insel

I don't know which surprises me most.  Is it the fact that there is a tractor parked in front of our hotel in the Hansaviertel?  Or is it that the tractor was built by Porsche?  Both are intriguing.

Arthur got up very early to catch a train to Köln, where he visited our last trip here, and wanted to go back for more.  Who can blame him - it's a delightful place.  I image that he'll especially go to the Kolumba, a very unusual museum there that seems to delight the both of us.  My plans were to go to Leipzig, however a long date with Mr. Sandman seems to have ruled that out, so I will do something else.  I go back to Kulturforum next to Potsdamer Platz, and on the way look to see if I can find the restaurant there that I went to with Günter and Franziska.  It was in an older building (something quite unusual for Potsdamer Platz) however I couldn't find it, although I did find a fine older building wrapped up protectively by newer stuff.

Moving through the Weinachtsmarkt, I make my way over to the Gamäldegalerie, which we visited yesterday.  I had an early lunch and then went over to the Kunstgewerbemuseum, to see their collection. It wasn't what I thought it would be, but it is a very fine collection of decorative arts.  There is a film on cabinets that are part automata, and part desks - it was fascinating.  There were secret doors, organs, theatre sets, doors within doors, all very inventive.  

What I began to wonder was, and I began this wondering at the GemäldegalerieI, where did all of this stuff come from?  With the division of the city at the end of World War II, all of the interesting collections were on the Russian side, the East.  Where did the West Berlin collections come from, as they struggled to build a cultural life in their island city during the cold war?  This I shall have spend some time researching.

Since we went together in 2009, and I didn't think that Arthur was ripe for another visit, I returned to the Alte Nationalgalerie.  It is like coming home for me, visiting old friends - friends that I didn't meet there but in books and encyclopaedias.  I started out by having coffee in the Café, and having a delightful conversation with a native of Berlin.  She wondered why I spoke German, and why I liked coming to Germany.  We talked of my parents, and their upbringing in Kansas and Colorado where German was the house-language, and how that was abandoned in the mid '20s.  She wondered why, and I responded that it was for "political" reasons.  We each had a glance of understanding - over, I think, a deep deep gulf that still exists.  Then we went on to talk about two of my favorite painters, Feuerbach and Böcklin. I ran into her later in the upper floors of the museum, and wished that we could have talked more.

Arnold Böcklin has been a favorite of mine since I read about him in a book called Dreamers of Decadence in the '70s.  It was filled with a number of symbolist painters, and he among a few others stood out for me.  There are several works by him there, but the Toteninsul - "Isle of the Dead" is the piece that has captured my imagination.

There are several versions of the painting, and there is another version that I like more.  This one, however, I could see in the canvas and oil.  It appeals to the introvert that I think I really am (in spite of my ENFP Myers-Briggs Type).  The quiet, the calm, and the stand of evergreen trees in the midst of the collection of graben speak to me in a very fundamental way.

His friend, Anselm Feuerbach, is also in evidence in the museum.  They share a corner of the gallery with a few others.  Feuerbach is not as dark as is Böcklin, but they all share classical qualities that I find quite handsome.  I wonder if I could have lived in their world?  Or was it a world of privilege that would have not been available, either materially or intellectually.  How stimulating it is, however, to look back and admire.

It is a short distance over to Hackescher Markt, so I go their and find a nice little Italian restaurant (I have had my fill of schnitzel) so some vitello tonnato does quite nicely.  On my way back, I stop off at the Hauptbahnhof and buy a ticket for Leipzig.  I do this at a kiosk, which asks me all kinds of questions: when am I traveling, when do I want to depart, when do I want to return, if I stay over in Lutherstadt - Wittenburg how long will I be there?  When I finally print the ticket, it is generic - good until 2013!

All of this stuff!  Time for bed.