Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Berlin -- Day 2

We started off the day well. We woke up around 8:30, much to my surprise. I thought we were going to be up at some madly early time. The hotel was serving breakfast and it looked like a nice spread, so we had breakfast there. I got my first taste of quark, which is a mild spreadable cream cheese, and had a boiled egg, toast, some smoked salmon and other little things.

Then we took the S-Bahn to Hauptbahnhof and reserved our seats on the train. We've decided to go directly to Salzburg and we'll hit Munich on the way back. All good and well. After getting confused by the strange numbering system, we figured out how to take the U-Bahn to the Brandenburg Gate, which is a memorial of the division of East and West Berlin done in a neo-classical style. It's large and impressive, with golden statues annointing the top and freizes on the sides depicting various greek-heroic figures in struggle. There is a narrow brick outline on the ground on the west side of the gate that represents the previous location of the Berlin wall. People ride their bikes across it and otherwise pay it little mind while they pose for pictures with the gate itself. There were also several people on the west side of the gate dressed in the uniforms of British, American and German troops of the time.

We then turned to the west and set our sights on the Victory Tower, which is a huge memorial to the reunification that sits across the Tiergarden Park along the 'Strasse des 17th of June'. We decided to bravely stroll the perimeter and paths of the Tiergarden, which promised canopied walks, oak trees and statuary. All going good, so far. The walk was long, but we saw sculptures of Goethe and Wagner and Prince Wilhelm. 

   We then walked along the southern edge of the park and saw many of the global embassies. Particularly attractive was the new Turkish Embassy, and the Saudi Arabian building also impressed. After taking some photos of the enormous Victory tower, topped with the gold statue of the goddess Victoria, we hit our first snag of the day. The get-on-get-off tour bus we decided to use, though extremely popular with the tourists, has a small flaw -- there is no indication by the road where the bus is going to stop. And with a ring-road like the one surrounding the Victory Tower, trying to figure out how to get the drivers to stop to let you on is a challenge at best. 

   To cut the story short, after 3 busses passed us because we weren't standing in the right 5 feet of unmarked area, we decided to slough off the idea altogether and just take a city bus where we needed to go. We found a stop, located the line we needed, and promptly discovered that the line doesn't start operating until after 1:00 pm. It was 12:00. We weren't to wait that long. Father spotted a train going down a nearby cross street, so we decided to follow the beast to its lair. Eventually it took us to a U-Bahn station, but we would have to make 2 connections to get to our destionation. So be it. Oh. oops. No that wasn't the staircase we needed to go down. This staircase is for the train going to other way on this line. You need to go up the stairs, turn left, then go down another set of stairs to get to the train on that line leading east. Of course. Signs? Anyone? You put them on things and they help people know where to go.

   Connection made. Destination reached. Only about 2 hours later than we had initially expected, but there we were, the Jewish History Museum in Kreuzberg. Having walked quite a bit and consumed all my water by this point, we decided to stop in to the connected cafe for some jewish snacks. My father and I both had creme of zuchini soup, and i had a salad plate with olives, carrot salad, tomatoes, tuna caprese and so forth. I was pretty hungry, so I failed to take a picture of that one.  

     We then spent the next 2 or 3 hours wandering through the guided path of the Jewish Museum. The museum was constructed by architect Daniel Libeskind to be an unusually architectural space. Angles and lines do not line up properly, Corrodors shoot off with promise and end in nothing. There are sections of the floor that are designed at strange angles to give the onlooker and sense of disorientation. Within the museum space there are areas called "voids" that are purposefully empty spaces. One of the voids is walkable, but in order to enter it, you have to step through a sea of abstracted iron faces looking up at you.

The more traditional part of the museum is a maze of exhibits through which you follow a dotted line and use an ipod tuned to your language to find out information about certain exhibits. The whole museum talks about the jewish people from the very begginings,  focuses quite a lot on the time just before WWI and during WWII, and spends very little time talking about the actual atrocities of the holocost itself. The holocost exhibit is there, but it is more like an uncomfortable gap in a history lesson about the spirit of culture of the Ashkenazi. The museum is not small. The entrance building seems simple enough, but to reach the real museum, you have to tread down a dark flight of stairs into an underground passageway where the architect has created his "Arcs" piece. There are 3: The Arc of the Holocost, The Arc of Exile and the Arc of Unity. The Arc of Holocost leads to a dead end, and a heavy iron door. When you go into the room, it is a dark, unventilated stone tower, Triangular in form, with a single slit of light at the top as the only illumination. Very eerie.

The Arc of Exile leads the walker to the Garden of Exile, which is a series of columns filled with dirt and topped with chestnut trees. Observers are encouraged to walk between the tall towers and feel the disorientation and nausea of the space, walking at a slight sloped angle through perfectly symmetrical columns.

The arc of Unity brings you into the main exhibit hall, were one is innudated with thousands of artifacts, interactive installations, and datasheets talking about life in Judaism through the years.

It was an information overload for sure, and after our debaucle at the Victory Tower earlier, and the 3 hour walk through the museum, we had to take a break. We took a few exchanges on the U back to Alexanderplatz and went back to the hotel room for a powernap.

By the time we got up it was 6:30. Dinner was calling. I had found a place on the internet that people we saying good things about called Lebensmittel in Mitte. Indeed we had tried to go there the night before, but it was full so they couldn't take us. Today, we got in, and spent the first few minutes of our beer-drinking in the company a pair of italian cousins who were just back from a trip to Scandinavia. They loved it, said it was extremely expensive but beautiful and fun. She was a reporter, and he is a photographer, and they travel around for business and pleasure. I want that life.

They were finished their meal when we sat down, so quickly they said their goodbyes and another couple sat down next to us. What luck that we were getting people that spoke English so well. This couple was a fashion designer and her photographer boyfriend, and father talked and talked with them about just about everything. The differences between America and Germany from poitical, medical, cultural and social angles The lady, Paula, runs a fashion consulting company and travels a lot between New York and Berlin, so she gaves us a good comparative viewpoint. We talked for a little under 3 hours.

The food, which my father largely ignored for wont of conversation, was very nice. Done in a modern style. I had slices of venison with a red wine reduction and a mushroom ragout with oven baked dumplings, my father had pork cut from the shank with potatoes and kraut. He drank a Pilsner and I tried the heffeweissen.

I admit, we didn't get to see as much of Berlin's art museums as I had hoped to. There's a lot of good stuff here, but Berlin was never a priority city on this trip. It was an affordable access point to Germany, and another notch on the belt. But I do find Berlin to be fascinating. The people are young, they want their city to grow into something great and even though they've got some work to do, I have hope that they can pull it all together at the velocity they are going.

Tomorrow we have an early train (6:40) to Salzburg. First class tickets so hopefully that makes a difference. By coincidence, staying at *another* Holiday Inn there. It seemed like the nicest rooms for the best price. I wonder if the train will have wifi access....gotta have something to do besides look at the beautiful German countryside rolling by for 9 hours...or *do* I?

1 comment:

  1. Berlin sounds like a fascinating city, sorry I've missed it both times in Germany! Just hope they get their transportation signage straightened out by the time I go. Glad you boys are having a good time!