"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Travelogue 1: Berlin


from How German Is It
by Walter Abish
What is a thing? he asked rhetorically. Brumhold, it must be pointed out, was not referring to a particular thing. He was not, for instance, referring to a modern apartment house, or a metal frame window, or an English lesson, but the thingliness that is intrinsic to all things, regardless of their merit, their usefulness, and the degree of their perfection. The reference to perfection, however antithetical and invidious it might appear to be to the thinking of Brumhold, was made because the mind is so created that it habitually sets up standards of perfection for everything: for marriage and for driving, for love affairs and for garden furniture, for table tennis and for gas ovens, for faces and for something as petty as the weather. And then, having established these standards, it sets up other standards of comparison, which serve, if nothing else, to confirm in the minds of most people that a great many things are less than perfect. (19 - 20)

In Bavaria as in the rest of Germany everyone is passionately in love with the outdoors, in love with what they refer to as Natur, and the splendid weather is an added inducement for the people to put on their Lederhosen and spend several hours serenely tramping through the woods, studiously looking at trees and birds, haphazardly selecting one path, then another, without exactly knowing where the path might lead. The splendid weather is also an inducement for everyone to breath deeply, to fill their lungs with the fresh country air. Ahhh. It is an inducement as well for many to open wide the windows of their apartments. Everywhere one looks one can see the open windows of Wurtenburg and, walking down one of the narrow and deserted side streets, one can overhear snatches of conversation of people who are preparing to go out for a walk or a drive in the country, or about to receive a visitor, or about to make love, their voices -- their lazy voices, their melodious voices, their shrill impatient voices expressing sentiments, feelings that can e said to t\match the warm summer day. And then, to boot, accompanying the snatches of conversation are the old popular tunes that surprisingly are still performed on the radio, because there still appears to be a great demand for old tunes, old marches . . . military bands, anything that will keep the past, the glorious German past, from being effaced forever' (26)


Gerry at the Pergamon Museum, 2003

Eleven years ago (May 2003), Gerry and I found ourselves in Berlin for a few days. Our trip to Berlin was good, though way too short to do justice to such a wonderfully hopeful and optimistic place. I must say that it was easy to imagine myself living there, something I've never felt in London or Paris. The city resonates with positive energy, and is filled an inspiring juxtaposition of the very old / the brand new / and the rebuilt . . . plus dozens of incredible museums. We didn't make it to the Judisches Museum or Agyptisches Museum (to see the bust of Nefertiti), but we did see all the Greek & Roman antiquities at the Pergamon Museum -- which you may have heard of, though I must confess that I hadn't. For me, the most amazing thing there was the huge Gate of Ishtar and the Babylonian Processional Street, reconstructed from the days of Nebuchadnezzar (605 - 562 BC). No photograph or post card could possibly do it justice (check out the web for many good views)! You just have to stand there in awe, surrounded on both sides by towering walls of brilliant blue & gold glazed tile, decorated with an ongoing parade of sphinx-like lions and dragons. Astounding! High upon the walls in a neighboring room are huge oil paintings showing what the Persian desert looked like when these ruins were discovered (1899 - 1914) -- "Nothing beside remains. Round the decay / Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away":

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
Then hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 - 1822)

The incredible thing is that this wonder of the world was there, buried under all that sand! After seeing the Ishtar Gate, we went to see remnants of the Berlin Wall and spent a couple of hours at the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, very sobering to read all the testimonials of so much despair. Another somber exhibit of human suffering is the Kathe-Kollwitz Museum, which was just a few doors down from our hotel, the Kempinski Bristol, on Fasenenstrasse. Also on this block is the charming Literaturhaus and Wintergarten outdoor cafe, where we stopped for an afternoon Kartoffelsuppe break.

The gala dinner for Gerry's conference was held at the Museum fur Kommunikation, where we got to descend into the dimly lit archives and see the famous Blue Mauritius stamp (again, great pictures can be found on the web if you want to see). Just for the novelty of it, we also stopped by the Musikinstrumenten Museum when we were in the area of the Philharmonic, just across from the very recently reconstructed Potsdamer Platz. From the outside we saw the Reichstag (didn't go up in the dome) and the Brandenburg Tor and the Martin Gropius Bau, which has fabulous exterior detailing.

In Berlin with my Panama Bag, 2003

Coincidentally, a few months before our trip, Sam's 4th grade class was assigned a travel project, in which math and geography joined hands, as he planned and budgeted the perfect vacation! Conveniently for us, Sam picked Berlin for his research topic! He was very busy using Yahoo and Expedia.com to search out tourist attractions, convenient hotel locations, reasonable airline fares, seasonable family entertainment, and available restaurant choices. We couldn't resist trying out some of the restaurants he had tracked down on the web -- the Dressler Restaurant, for dessert on our first evening in town, and Reinhard's, on our final evening, for a delicious dinner --complete with Berliner Weisse mit Schuss, rot for Gerry and grun pour moi! Gerry indulged in a big plate of German sausages and pork chops and black pudding, while I opted for one of the seasonal white asparagus specials. Yum!

Both places were on Kurfurstendamm, just within a few blocks of our hotel, even though Sam had no way of knowing that at the time of his research! In fact, he had picked an entirely different hotel for his fantasy trip, and our first activity upon arrival was to take a long walk up to the grounds of Schloss Charlottenburg and locate Sam's nearby hotel, the Econtel . . . which appeared very trendy indeed from where we were standing . . . and just happened to be across the street from a Sports Club and a vivid green soccer pitch! The perfect location for Sam! Now, how did he know that?!

I hope that before too many years pass, Sam -- and Ben as well -- will be able to see all of these sights for himself. I can see now that Sam was right -- Berlin is a great and nearly inexhaustible location for a family vacation. Next time, I'd love to stay over long enough for a day trip to Potsdam and Park Sanssouci and Pfaueninsel (all recommended by Sam in his report). Also, Berlin appears to be a wonderful city for students, so who knows, maybe one day when Ben and Sam are in college . . . . I think that covers the highlights of our brief stay -- not forgetting, of course, Gerry's Friday morning presentation, which was well attended despite the early hour of 7:30! We had only a few moments for shopping, but we used them wisely by rushing out to the nearest candy counter to stock up on Ritter Sport chocolate bars, a treat we grew to love back in the years when Peg lived in Frankfurt / Heidelburg and kept us supplied! The only stressful part of the trip was just the routine travelers' exhaustion which seemed to overtake us on the flight home to Philadelphia. But we're over that now and ready to go back again!

One last thing --
the cars there follow all the traffic lights
and yield to bikers and pedestrians . . .
that alone made it seem like heaven!

Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, June 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

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