28 April 2013

Day Four (27 April) - Something old...something new

First it's breakfast at Hansablick, something that we always enjoy.  Their art collection seems to have grown.  I'll try and get some pictures later.  We walk down the Spree to the first bridge and get on board the Prinzessen, tow of only four passengers on board.  We've done this trip before, but it's a relaxing way in which to renew your relationship with the city.  What strikes us is the amount of construction that still continues in Berlin.  What also amazes me is the amount of work that still needs to be done on the east side of the city.  The trip takes you down the Spree River, through the locks and on to the Spree-Oder Waterway, and then cuts south and west onto the Landwehrkanal, which takes you through the city, almost under the U1 line, and then up through the Tiergarten right next to the Zoölogischergarten, and then back to the bridge.  It lasts a little over three hours, we have hot chocolate, several cups of black tea and at least two refills of water.

We've decided to go see Templehof Airport, but grab lunch first at an "Italian" restaurant, only open a month (not bad, really) but (from the menu: "Nachos Mexicano - hot tortilla chips", "Nachos California - hot tortilla chips with melted cheddar cheese", and finally, "Nachos Tifana (?) - hot tortilla chips with melted cheddar cheese and chicken."  We make our way the plaza that effectively hides the massive airport that Hitler had build here.  A memorial to the Luftbrücke that supplied Berlin during the blockade dominates the plaza more than I had imagined.


In the background you can see the entry court which belies the immensity of the terminal building that lies behind it.  I'm afraid that I like this architecture in spite of its provenance - same goes for Mussolini as well.  It's the use of mass and fenestration that I find attractive.  Some pictures:

The airport is no longer used, and was absent of any human beings (it seemed) excepting a lovely police woman who explained that if we come on Monday at 16:00, we could go in and see the interior spaces.  We thanked here and put it on our calendar.  It you look at the picture above and judge its gentle curve and then realize that it is only one part of a terminal building that extends for almost a full semi-circle, you can see the scale which we were observing.  

We train back up to Mitte, so that we can go to Dom Vesper at the Berlinerdom (the evangelisch cathedral in Berlin.)  It is a modest affair, mostly organ music played by a French organist, with selections from Franck and Widor.  Between these selections there is a psalm, a reading of the Gospel for Cantate, and a brief sermon on "ein neues Lied".  It seems to attract a combination of parishioners, tourists, and music lovers.  The organ is great for French music, but it doesn't fill the room to the extent that I expected.  

We walk over to Hackheschermarkt with its lovely Secession buildings and shops.  I get an Ampelmann hat - Arthur looks for an Ampelmann tie, but none is to be had.  Shops for tiles, hats, odd furniture, and odds 'n ends take up our time before dinner, and then back to the hotel.  Collapse again.

Day Three (26 April) - Through Places I've Heard About

It's a travel day.  I need to get from Munich up to Berlin, so I'm taking an ICE up - a relaxing way to spend the day.  I get up early, quickly pack, pay my bills and wend my way to the Bahnhof.  In my desire to be punctual, I now have over an hour on my hands.  There's a nice restaurant where I have a Farmer Frühstuck, and it is quite good - two eggs (yellow, yellow yokes) over easy with wonderful speck, delicious potatoes fried in butter with herbs, a roll and a chunk of butter and orange juice.  I slowly savor the meal...and find that I still have a great deal of time to wait.  

My ticket, which I purchased on-line and printed out on A2 paper, specifies not only time, wagon, and sea number, but gleis as well - 23.  Luckily I look at the board and find that the train is coming in at gleis 17.  The first leg is a quick jaunt to Nurnberg, where I have 9 minutes to run from gleis 7 to gleis 5, and make it with a minute to spare.  I can't find my wagen so I have to drag my baggage the full length of the train to find my seat.  From Nurnberg we go up to Erlangen (famous for its University, originally established in Bayreuth, and the Max Planck Institute).  Then to Bamberg, with its wonderful 11th Century Cathedral, and up past Coburg, and up into the mountains (perhaps too grand a phrase) that form the Saale River, which I was able to see form from streams into a rather sizable river.  Somewhere in there, I noticed a small town that announced Grenze! - a former boarder town on the East/West divide.  From there on it was quite interesting.  Heavily industrial, with large abandoned infrastructure.  We passed through Jena (also famous for its university) then up into Leipzig.  The last time I was in Leipzig they were working on a huge public works project, putting the trains underground before they reach the huge Hauptbahnhof - the largest in Europe.  And then there's Bach!

From Leipzig it's a straight shot up to Berlin after passing through Wittenburg - at which I look longingly as we speed by.  The trains dumps us off in the lowest levels of the Hauptbahnhof in Berlin (a marvelous thing, really).  One must make one's way up through five levels of trains, shops, tourists, natives, and ticket vending to reach the SBahn.  Finally at the last escalator, I notice that it's not working so I try one of the very slow, but stunningly beautiful elevators.  I catch the S75 to Tiergarten, jump off and painfully make my way the short distance to Hansablick on Flatowstraße.

I catch Arthur in the midst of a well-earned nap, having just flown in from SFO by way of Heathrow.  We go down to a rainy beer garden and have dinner, and then collapse.

25 April 2013

Day Two (25 April) - MUC to Neuschwanstein

Up early because I'm taking a tour of Neuschwanstein, long a goal of mine.  I hike down to the Hauptbahnhof, and it's farther than I remember.  Dragging luggage down their tomorrow morning is out of the question.  It will have to be a taxi.  At the train station the first need is something to eat - so I buy one of those ubiquitous sandwiches that one finds in European train stations.  Gerne.  That and some juice seems fine, also some water for the trip.  There are two groups in our tour - those who speak Spanish and those who speak English.  We board a regional train to Füssen, and it takes us an ambling two hours to get there.  I continue to be amazed at the Bavarian countryside - so green and so clean.  All the little towns that we passed through were stereotypically clean and orderly.

I had always imagined that Neuschwanstein was in a rural area - well, it is, but now surrounded by way too many souvenir shops, hotels, and snack shops.  I didn't pay attention until I turnaround and saw the castle surmounting that retail village below.  Our tour group is made up of several Australians, and Arab family of five, a woman and her daughter from Rhode Island, and a Russian man and his boyfriend - most of which were very interesting.  The tour guide is from the UK, but he has lived in Munich for about ten years.  


Höhenschwangau hovers over the Alpsee - a big yellow vision.  We walk down the hill to see the castle at a distance.  It is one of four that Ludwig built - Höhenschwangau, Herrenchiemsee, Linderhof, and Neuschwanstein.  None, excepting Linderhof, were completed during Ludwig's lifetime, and only Linderhof was used extensively.  Of the two that I have seen, Linderhof and Neuschwanstein, neither has any real artistic merit.  Arthur would be proud of me as I and a few others didn't take the horse-drawn carriage, nor the bus, but walked up to the castle.  On the way up the Russian man came up to me.  "How old are you?" he asked.  I replied, "Sixty-seven."  "I'm sixty-four," he said, "I can't take this any more."  The hike took us up to Marienbrücke, with a spectacular view of the gorge and the castle hovering over the northeastern side of the gorge.

Neuschwanstein actually had no architect associated with its design - the concepts largely coming from a set designer in Munich.  This fact was announced to us by the castle tour guide (the tour is a whole thirty minutes long) who informed us of the fact with a slight smirk on her face.  There was an excellent film that gave the history of the building and virtually presented those parts that were never built.  No pictures were allowed.  

I find it amazing as to what kind of information tour guides give, and what it is that elicits "Oh" and "Ah" by the appreciative audience.  It is usually something like this:  "This floor has two million tesserae in it", or "this chandelier weighs one ton."  Not one word of historical interest or consequence fell from her mouth.  Nor was there an understanding of the iconography that surrounded us.  No mention of the Wagner figures in the entrance hall, or of the historical types that Ludwig choose to underscore his kingship.  What can you expect for €12, and thirty minutes?  

We rush down the hillside so as not to miss either bus or train, and amble our way back into Munich.  I talk with the tour guide.  He also gives a "Third Reich Tour" in Munich.  So we talk about the Haus der Kunst. and the Ehrenhoffe near the Glyptotek in Munich.  It was an interesting conversation.  He had all kinds of questions about the Episcopal Church in the US. - was surprised the presiding bishop and primate was a woman.

In making my climb, I have stressed my knee, so a limp-a-bit to dinner: Warm Asparagus Salad with Tomato, Egg, and Rocket, followed by a Goulash with Potatoes.  Delicious.  Now to bed.

24 April 2013

Day One (23/24 April) - SFO to MUC

Rush, Rush, Rush, try to sleep.

Like usual, only more so, the day was filled with quick errands, like getting a gift for Maria, and making a quick visit to Walgreens.  Since the flight left at 21:05, I was able to do a bunch of stuff before the flight left: laundry, changing the bed, reading, talking with Anna, and more.  Arthur picked me up at home, and ran me down to SFO, three hours early.  Luckily the sequester didn’t make things difficult, and flights were leaving on time.  A quick dinner at Andalé and then waiting at gate 99.

An uneventful flight, excepting for the seatmate – a cute German man, dark hair, buzz cut, incipient beard, and more than his share of arrogance. One quality that he did have (and you learn to fear this when you are in a window seat) is that he had a bladder of steel.  Not once did he get up to go to the bathroom.  You wait for these opportunities so that you can go.  I had to disturb him three times.  I have never felt so old in my life, as when he explained how to use the controls in the arm of the seat, and then advised me that using the earphones and listening to the movie was much better.  How was he to know that I sometimes just watch?  Skyfall was much better that way.  BTW, the food on Lufthansa is slipping. 

We got into Munich a few minutes early, although I caught the wrong Schnellbahn (S1) instead of S8, and spent a great deal of time visiting the suburbs of Munich.  The Marienplatz escalators were all out of service – such fun.  After check-in at the hotel, and so on, I went out to see a few sights.  There is lots of building going on, especially in the center of the city.  I do like it here – it seems like home to me.  I think that it has to do with the use of brick and stone.  Everything seems monumental and substantial – I suspect that attitude comes from living in San Francisco, the city of stucco and wood.

It is also nice being in a city where catholic Christianity is on display and not in a shameful way.  I know that European Christianity is having its problems, but here it is so much of the context as to be comforting.  Dinner at the Viktualienmarkt – It’s Spargelzeit and this evening it was spargel with Weiner schnitzel, parsleyed potatoes and some stilles wasser.  Wonderful.