Saturday, September 13, 2008

Berlin so far

First day: well, you already know that story. Enough said. (It turns out that while one of Johanna's sons did call her, she actually got my number from my father. Not quite as exciting that way, though.)

Second day: After a simple breakfast, Johanna and I go into Berlin. She gives me a walking tour of all the major sights in the center of town (Mitte) and a lot of history. Berlin is an amazing contrast to Paris--you have never seen so much new construction in your life! It's vibrant.

Third day: I go into Berlin on my own (after Johanna drives me to the train station). On Johanna's advice, I check out the Babylon exhibit at the Pergamon Museum. Amazing. After, I head slightly north to see the "New" Synagogue. It was built at the end of the 1800's with a big gold dome. It was active until 1938, when it was shut down and taken over by the Nazis and used as a supply depot. It was bombed and mostly destroyed in the war but it was partially reconstructed after the fall of the Berlin wall. The small permanent history exhibit is interesting and it made me sad.

Next, I walked to the nearby Alexanderplatz just to take a look. From there, I took the S-Bahn to the vicinity of the Ka De We, a ginormous department store, where I ate (a late) lunch. It has sort of an ultra-food court, with very good food prepared in a variety of styles. And then a full food shop where you can buy most of the ingredients. One feature of the food shop: more chocolate than wine. It's not France. (At lunch, I sat next to a man reading the International Herald Tribune. I thought about talking to him but I didn't.)

After KDW, I tried for another museum, the Neue Nationalgalerie, but the permanent exhibit was closed and they wanted ten euros for the temporary exhibit. I said no thanks. Instead, I went to the nearby Musikinstrumenten-Museum (Musical Instrument Museum). Fascinating, but, unfortunately, all in German.

On my walk back to the train station I passed the "Memorial for the Murdered European Jews" (aka Holocaust Memorial). Johanna and I had walked by it on Wednesday, but this time, I wandered among the non-symbolic columns trying to make sense of it (as a memorial). Columns of different heights at different angles are placed evenly on rolling terrain. I visited the underground center, which has a decent exhibit about the Holocaust. I have read a lot on the topic, so I didn't learn anything new, but it was well-presented. Again, I was sad. Since I was also tired, I called it a day.

Fourth day: Johanna and I drove to nearby Pottsdam, the historical home of the Prussian kings (and etc.). We walked through the grounds of San Souci and I learned a lot about Fredrich the Great. I didn't know! Very pretty with a lot of nice landscaping. Apparently, all the buildings were left to rot when it was part of East Germany, but the grounds were mostly maintained. Since unification a lot of money has gone into restoring the place but they're still working on it.

We ate lunch in the town and briefly toured a few of the other estates. Somehow, the day left us both completely exhausted. After a light supper, we were both down for the count by 9:30pm.

Fifth day (today): I was well rested and woke early in order to set out for another day on my own in Berlin. This time I started at the Bode Museum--and I can recommend it whole-heartedly if you have any interested in antiquities or religious art. It's a very well curated and displayed. I am familiar with the kinds of things on display but I still enjoyed it. The space is very pleasant and it's easy to navigate.

I'll admit, though, that the high point of my visit may have been when I looked out the window to the Spree River and saw boat after boat of rowers pass by. They weren't in any kind of shell I'd ever seen before, but they were mostly definitely sculling (two oars person, backwards-facing, sliding-track rowing). The rowers all looked at least my age or older and they were clearly recreating (rather than racing)--and dressed just like rowers would be dressed in the US. The boats were wider than the ones I've rowed in and all made from wood, though the oars looked like "regular" sculling oars. The coxswains had quite a lot of room and sometimes even a seat back to lean on! Awesome! I wished I could have gone down and hopped in one of the boats.

After seeing what I wanted to see at the Bode, I walked down to the Jewish Museum. (I took some pictures along the way, but I probably have to wait until I get back to upload them). I spent much more time there than I'd expected to, since I actually really liked it. It wasn't a Holocaust Museum, but rather dealt with the history of the Jews in Europe. It could have been better, but it was interesting. What I found most fascinating were the parts dealing with the life of Jews in Germany (and elsewhere) after World War II. I could have used a lot more of those stories.

It was after 5pm when I left and I still hadn't managed to have a decent lunch (I picked up a bockwurst on the walk). I hopped on a bus to get back closer to the center and found myself near to the KaDeWe again (the bus took a somewhat unexpected route). I wasn't planning to go in and stopped for fries in the adjacent square instead. Then I thought I should get a bottle of wine for Johanna, so I ventured in. It was packed! Even so, I found what I needed and got out in about half an hour.

So far in Berlin I'd taken a bus, a tram and the S-Bahn (elevated train). It was time for the U-Banh. Who cares that I was only going one stop? I took the train with success to the Zoo station, where I changed to the regional train that goes to Johanna's town. Easy-peasy.

Tomorrow, we'll be sticking around this area (Falkensee). On Monday, I may go to Berlin again. Tuesday--it's off to Warsaw!

Grateful for: a gracious hostess and tour guide.

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