Saturday, March 19, 2011

Weekend in Berlin

Bobby and I spent last weekend in the amazing city of Berlin. Our early Friday morning flight allowed us to get in a nearly full day of exploring. We started at the Brandenburg Gate. Constructed in 1788, the Brandenburg Gate was built as a symbol of peace by King Frederick II. This symbol of peace became a symbol of Nazism during WWII, then a symbol of the communist state of Eastern Germany. In fact, the Berlin Wall stood just behind the gate, separating East Berlin from West Berlin.

On the other side of the Brandenburg Gate, in what was West Berlin before 1989, stands the Reichstag building. Commissioned in 1871, the building housed the German Parliament. The building was greatly damaged by WWII. It ceased to be used from 1933 until German reunification in 1990.

Near the Reichstag building is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which consists of 2,711 concrete slabs covering an area of 19,000 sq. meters. Commissioned in 2003, there is also an underground 'Place of Information', which provides information of the number of people imprisoned and killed by Nazis. There were also many photographs, letters, and maps outlining the destruction of the Holocaust. Needless to say, it was incredibly moving and terribly sad.

We next headed to Gendarmenmarkt, where we saw the French Cathedral. Constructed in 1672 for the Huguenots (French Calvinists), the former church now houses the Huguenots Museum.

Across from the French Cathedral is Humboldt University, Berlin's oldest university. Famous alumni include Marx and Engels. Famous former faculty include the Brothers Grimm and Albert Einstein!

We concluded our evening with a little shopping. We happened across a music store, which had an entire floor dedicated to classical music! Bobby and I were in hog heaven. We nearly spent 500 euros of DVDs of the Ring Cycle and Bernstein and CDs of our favorite composers (there was an entire area dedicated to modern composers!!). We were somehow able to reign ourselves in and we left the store with only (haha) a DVD collection of Leonard Bernstein conducting all of the Mahler symphonies.

Saturday was museum day (luckily both Bobby and I love museums). There is an entire island in Berlin dedicated to museums. It is conveniently called Museumsinsel. Of the 5 museums on the island, we visited 3: Alte Nationalgalerie, Neues Museum, and Pergamonmuseum. The Alte Nationalgalerie, photoed here, houses a nice collection or 19th century European art.

One piece inside the Alte Nationalgalerie is a portrait of Wagner, photoed here with me.The Neues Museum houses a great collection of Egyptian works, including the famous bust of Nefertiti (sadly, no photos were allowed of Nefertiti, but trust me when I say she was beautiful).

Before heading to the third museum, we stopped for a quick bite to eat at a wurst (sausage/hotdog) stand. Invented in Berlin, Currywurst is the iconic fast-food of Berlin. It is a sausage covered with tomato sauce and curry powder. It was tasty, but not something I'd go out of my way to eat outside of Germany.

Filled with Currywurst, we headed to the Pergamonmuseum. The museum houses a truly incredible collection of classical antiquities. There were many HUGE pieces, including the Pergamon Altar (it was too big to capture our on camera, so check out the link), the Ishtar Gate (again, too big to capture, so check out the link), and the Market Gate of Miletus, which we were able to capture in this photo.

After many hours in the museums, we went to see a friend of our from UCSB. Tim is a composer and musician who lives in Berlin and is making a living busking (legally) in the subways. He has an amazing set-up: he plays accordion, drums, and sing all at the same time! As you can see in this photo, he gets quite a crowd. After hearing him play, we all went out to dinner, where Tim told us all about his life in Berlin.

On Sunday, we visited one of the few remaining sections of the Berlin Wall. Berlin has an incredible amount of history, both grand and tragic. It's amazing that nearly 180 people lost their lives trying to cross this wall to escape East Germany.

We also saw Checkpoint Charlie. Bobby's father crossed from East Berlin into West Berlin at this checkpoint when he was in the Air Force. Between 1961 and 1990, the checkpoint could only be used by Allies, non-Germans, and diplomats.

We were fortunate enough to see yet another friend from the States performing in Berlin, though the venue was a bit different from the subway. Concert organist Cherry Rhodes (who teaches at USC and is married to Ladd Thomas, who played the organ at our wedding) gave a fantastic organ concert at the Berlin Philharmonic Hall.

While the outside of the hall may not be much to look at, the inside was really quite beautiful. Cherry's gorgeous playing filled the hall. It was such a treat to hear her perform.

After Cherry's concert, we headed to the Musical Instrument Museum, which is next door to the Philharmonic hall. We were able to hear recording of many of the instruments. We heard recordings of a 16th century harpsichord, 17th century oboes, 18th century, violins, 19th century flutes, and 20th century Wurlitzer theater organ. There were also many unusual instruments, like the ones pictured.

While walking around the Scheunenviertel (literally the 'barn quarter'), we saw some buildings which were not restored after WWII. The building pictured has bullet holes and gashes from shrapnel. It is hard to imagine what Berlin looked like in the 1940s, but if you look hard, you can find bits of evidence of the damage the city suffered.

For our final meal in Berlin, we ate at a traditional corner restaurant. We shared an onion tart and Bobby had Schnitzel (sausage) with potato salad. I ordered one of my favorite German dishes, Schweinshaxe (pork knuckle). Accompanied by sauerkraut and boiled potatoes, and washed down with Riesling, it was a perfect end to a perfect weekend.

1 comment:

  1. Looks you both had an excellent time and wrote a very fine blog post. Thanks for the update. Berlin is again a very happening place, obviously.