Wednesday, September 29, 2010

In Germany

We departed Berlin this morning after four busy days. On Day One, we headed over to the Brandenberger Tor (Gate) which is truly amazing.  And just everything is so steeped in so many layers of history, it can be overwhelming. We were advised to stay away from the Reichstag as it is SO busy on Saturday, so we walked over to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  Yes, the Germans do not mince words. The memorial of dozens of concrete stelae in a grid but in random sizes and angles is a bit disconcerting. But the downstairs museum is the real draw.  It is extremely complete and personal.  It highlights letters and personal items of several people from the war years.  And somehow it doesn't get any easier to get to the end of each piece and see,  "was murdered at Auschwitz in 1944" or whatever.  One little girl wrote a note to her father, fully aware that she was going to die, noting how they throw the little children alive into the pits. It's really extraordinary that so much of this correspondance survived the war. 

After that, we went to the Kunstgewerbe Museum, trying to find a bit of cover from the rain in the Sony Center on the way.  We were soaked anyway.  That museum was just perfect for us.  Everything from Medieval items, to Meissen porcelain, silver work, modern and antique furniture, different types of glass, a special exhibit of pressed glass, jewelry and so much more. 

On Sunday, we started at the Berlin Wall and read about it and saw the stories of some of the people who died trying to escape. It hit me so hard, seeing what people would do just to be free. That was all they dreamed of.  Checkpoint Charlie and the museum is right there.  It was really interesting, showing how people escaped (or failed to), including a little hagiographic room dedicated to Ronald Reagan, playing in an endless loop: "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"  I'll post some pictures when I can.

If that wasn't sad enough, we walked down to the Topographie of Terrors, a fairly new museum on the spot where the SS and many other Nazi offices and secret prisons were.  It was a very detailed look at the rise of National Socialism, from the Reichstag fire til the end of the war.  It makes you understand, to the degree that that is possible, how the Nazis managed to do what they did.  It walked us through each year, all the critical events, and what happened in each country that Germany invaded.  I was not in very good shape after almost 3 hours there.  We skipped walking the grounds.

And to finish the day, we went to the Judisches Museum. The history of the Jews in Germany.  Short version: life sucks, it sucks even worse, then you get blamed for the Black Plague. Then you make some progress, contribute great things to your country, fight in a war, but they still hate you. Things get a little better again, then they wipe you off the map.  It was a good museum though, lots of interesting things, the story of the Mendelsson family and all aspects of Jewish life. 

Monday: I wanted to get out early to get to Potsdam. We got there--it's rained every day by the way--and the schloss are closed. Christ. They have one open for all us dopes who showed up, the Neues Palais. It was pretty underwhelming for a European castle, but had some neat features.  We walked up to the Orangerie, and to the nicer, closed palace Sans Souci, then took the bus back to town.  We did our first foray into the grocery store and found some vegan chick'n patties and bread and potato salad for lunch on the train back. So we figure we have time to go see the Bauhaus Archiv, we schlep down there and they won't take anything but cash. Mark goes running around trying to find a bank and can't.  He comes back over 30 minutes later, so dispirited.  I said, Forget it, the museum didn't look that great anyway; I peeked while I was waiting. We can't believe how hard it to find a bank to get money, and how hard it is to use credit cards because ours don't have the chips in them.

So we walked all the way back up to the Kulturforum and then took the train to the Reichstag, where we joined the queu. Ended up waiting about 45 minutes, which is pretty good, and chatting with some great Aussies in line.  The Reichstag is mindblowing. You walk up this ramp that spirals around the dome with this crazy mirrored column.  The views are beyond belief and they explain the history of the building and how they rebuilt it after the bombing.  They carefully note that the "sham government" of the National Socialists never met there. We couldn't help thinking how fabulous it would be on a pretty day.

Tuesday, Mark's laptop power pack died so we had to go to the store and get one along, with batteries for the camera. So that got us to the Pergamon a bit late, but we got right in. We were in a grumpy mood, but the Greek and Roman and Babylonian "ruins" that are reconstructed there are truly amazing.  Still, we were out in just over an hour, and the line outside was long at that point.  We walked around Museum Island a bit, saw the Berliner Dom and walked over to the Neue Synagogue built in 1865.  It was a stunning landmark building on Oranienburgerstrasse with a gold dome, showing the new confidence of the Jewish community. But the Allies bombed it, a concrete floor was poured on it to protect the lower level and in 1955, the Communists razed most of it.  Amazingly, parts of it were recovered buried in the concrete floor and the front and the dome have been reconstructed. It's the same heartbreaking thing though. So many of the people involved, including the first female Rabbi ever, have their bio ending with the phrase "murdered at Auschwitz."   I said to Mark,  "Where's your god now, Moses?"  a bit of black humor from the movie "The Ten Commandments."

Had a nice lunch at an Italian restaurant there.  Then we went up to Kurfurstendamm to see the Kaiser Wilhelm Church which was destroyed in 1945. The minister was outspoken against the Nazis. There is an exhibit in the shell that is left and new modern towers now serve as the church.  Then we walked around Ku'damm as it's called and we realized they rip on Americans for being fat, but we've got nothing on them as brazen consumerists. Nothing but stores, some American ones, and something you won't see in the US: a currywurst and other food shacks backing right up to the historic church. Amazing.

We were exhausted, so relaxed for a bit, then went back out to our vegan destination: Viasko. Of course, we got lost walking there from the Ubahn. But we did pass a nice bio and got some vegan goodies for the train.  And when we got there, YAY. Fantastic German potato soup. I had a huge Gyro with soy meat that was amazing. Mark had a nice tofu ragout and basil rice.  Tried to get to sleep early, but haven't had much luck with that.

Got on the train at 8:20 for Dresden, hoping for better weather. But no. We walked to our hotel in the rain, and left our luggage til check in.  We got lunch, saw the town a bit and did all of the museums in the Albertina which is like half a block from the hotel.  We are just around the corner from the landmark Frauenkirche, and we have this fabulous apartment which is important because veg food is not easy to find here.We have a little stock of food in the fridge and I got my favorite snack from Austria, Erdnuss Flips!! (a cheez doodle, except peanut butter flavored!) We are relaxing all spread out in our little home.  And that's where we are right now. Tomorrow, we hope to have nice weather.

I did not want this to be an all-Nazi vacation. It was hard to avoid in Berlin.  I think it's hard to avoid here as well.  I am very much looking forward to seeing our friends soon and except for some things in Munich, I hope to see other sides of Germany.