Earlier this month, Lisa and I went to Berlin. Here are few notes from my journal and some photographs, too.
10 October 2014 — We’re having a pretty relaxed time here in Berlin so far. Berlin is interesting . . . in a mixed kind of way. I’m doing my best to look beyond it as a city with a past—National Socialism, the Wall, and reunification—but it’s there in so many things. The city is so new, and it’s hard to forget why. (It’s very vibrant, though.)
We went to the Brandenburger Tor, the Reichstag, and Holocaust Memorial. We also stood in line for 1-1/2 hours to go to the Riechstag’s dome tomorrow. The rest of the weekend will be more typical fare once we’ve gotten some sleep. We’re running on fumes now.
12 October 2014 — We’re having a splendid time in Berlin. Since our sleepy Friday, we have done much without feeling rushed. Before going to the Reichstag in the late afternoon on Saturday, we walked through the rain to and from Potsdamer Platz and Gemäldegalerie. I loved the paintings—especially the Vermeers, Rembrandts, van Eycks, Titians, and Bruyghels—although it did become a bit overwhelming. (It’s the kind of place to visit over and over again. As Lisa said, their collection of (mostly) religious and history paintings “isn’t very broad, but it is very deep.”) It was wonderful to see Vermeer’s “The Glass of Wine” and “Woman with a Pearl Necklace.” I’ve seen so many of his works online that I wonder whether I’ve seen them before “in the paint” (as it were) but I know from how much I saw in “Woman with a Pearl Necklace” that it was my first time.
After some lunch and a quick return through the gallery’s temporary exhibits, we went through security at the Reichstag and spent almost as much time touring it as we did waiting for tickets. It was gray and the view was obscured, but the building was neat. Afterward, we walked to the Hauptbahnhof, rode the S-Bahn to the west end of the Tiergarten, walked to the Siegeßäule, and hoofed it the rest of the way to the Pariser Platz and back to the hotel (about 2-1/2 to 3 miles). At the Pariser Platz, we watched a light show projected onto the Brandenburg Gate, as part of the Festival of Lights. (We saw more tonight in our neighborhood . . . Gendamenmarkt, Humboldt University, Staatsoper, Hotel de Rome. We even saw the lights on the TV tower in Alexanderplatz.)
I ran this morning along the Spree and through the Tiergarten. It was quiet, owing to the early hour I left (6:20) and the darkness of the park. I like running on vacation; it’s a good way to see a place. After breakie, we happened upon Checkpoint Charlie, where we read about GDR/FDR politics, Cold War hostilities, and how that played out in Berlin. It was a nice reminder about what the “canvas” of the East Side Gallery paintings/graffiti represented. The painted wall was a mixed experience: Some of the iconic paintings were there and well-maintained, but others were so covered in spurious tagging that it was impossible to appreciate the “original work.” It made Lisa a little sad. We talked about street art vs. “high art” and impermanence, and I totally get where she’s coming from, because she saw them almost 25 years ago when the wall was newly down, and it really meant something to all of our generation. And now it’s just another “me, too!” thing to do (tagging a part of a tourist attraction).
(I felt similarly when we saw youths running through the very moving Holocaust Memorial. I hope one day they can appreciate the gravity of the what and why beneath where they are. BTW, at first I wasn’t impressed, but when you get into the depths of it . . . Wow! Very moving.)
We had an unexpected, unplanned lunch at a falafel place in Friedrichshain because my blood sugar tanked. It was delicious. (I have to say, I was disappointed with the currywurst we had on Friday, though.) Berlin—as we’ve experienced it—isn’t the best for casual eating. Although, we’ve had good ice cream the last few days. We’ll probably have more tomorrow. We returned to Mitte via Alexanderplatz, the Berliner Dom, and Museum Insel. The church wasn’t as ornate as the French churches we know and love, but it did have charm. (It’s hard to know what was almost or completely destroyed during WWII, and the Germans are extremely vague and circumspect about “National Socialism Germany” and anything that isn’t now.) The view from the dome was fantastic! Today was a beautiful, mostly sunny day, and we could see the whole city. We took it easy after the church (and ice cream) and tomorrow looks to be full of laid-back excitement, too.
13 October 2014 — Lisa described today as “breakfast, church, shopping, lunch, shopping, dinner, and church.” That’s pretty accurate. The Berliners aren’t so good with French pastries [tant pis, yet not unexpected] but the laugen-ecke is very tasty. The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche is a remarkable and sad memorial to what so many in Germany (and Berlin in particular) lost to World War II. [There's a photo in the museum of parishioners holding services in the bombed out church that just broke my heart.] And the new church is a triumph of simplicity, infusing a space with light.
KaDeWe was a bit overwhelming, and we were tempted by many nice things. We did buy delicious food. We did not buy a 150€ Kosën plush of a fox/huntsman. We probably should have. [It was so adorable.] We most certainly should not have bought the 2,700€ suit ensemble, the 7,000€ wristwatch, or the 31,500€ attaché case. (We didn’t.) We did buy a porcelain pot at a dealer near our hotel. The rest of the day was pretty relaxed, with more of the Festival of Lights® after dinner. It’s one of those random, spontaneous things I love about traveling.
Tomorrow, we go home.
14 October 2014 — The cheese did not make it. The couple bites I had of the Napfkäse were good, but it was past its prime, perhaps having traveled too much yesterday and today at room temperature. The truffles we got from Fassbender & Rausch were so delicious! The filings had a velvety texture, and the chocolate quality is impeccable. The other food we bought at KaDeWe was great, too: a chocolate éclair, strawberry tortalette, and an almond croissant. Lisa and I ate some of these in the shadow of the Gedächtniskirche as the bells tolled the one o’clock hour. It was beautiful! And not in a melodic way. No, in an atonal, “ring all the bells to a different theme/variation and slowly peel that back to reveal structure” kind of way. Tintinnabuli at its finest. It might be my favorite moment of the trip, similar to when we stumbled upon Vivaldi at the St. Pi church in Barcelona a couple years ago.