How is it that this inveterate shopper never entered a store except to eat lunch and buy chocolate at KaDeWe, the largest department store in Berlin with an entire floor of food items? It makes Macy's and Harrod's food courts look like child's play! How is it this lover of art and galleries never stepped foot in one in the entire 8 days in this city? Read on!
For starters, Berlin itself is one big gallery, there for the viewing! Not necessarily art as we know it, but history at its best and worst.
|Return to Checkpoint Charlie in 2013|
Then 5 years ago I accompanied Jennifer to Berlin and for 5 years have wanted to take my husband. I knew that with his love and knowledge of history, especially Jewish history, this was a city he would totally immerse himself in. What I was unprepared for was how much I got out of this city after only a 5 year absence. Berliners have come to grips with their past and their treatment of its various inhabitants (Jews, gypsies and gays to name a few) during WWII. The literally hundreds of Jewish monuments from the smallest brass squares imbedded in the sidewalks designating the names of the Jewish inhabitants who lived there to some as large as the boxcar monument (see below) which many of you have heard me speak about, to say nothing of the Holocaust Monument and Jewish Museum.
The placement of the pillars was purposeful in that athletes are in front of the 1936 Olympic Stadium; actors and artists near theaters and museums, writers and journalists near libraries, etc. Both the concept and the implementation are brilliant and give one pause during a normal day or for tourists to appreciate these people who either emigrated or were murdered by the Nazis in the camps. It is necessary to give the Berliners a lot of credit for facing up to their past and creating ways to educate the younger population as well as the tourists.
We were surprised to learn of some of the names we read about on the pillars as we had no idea they were Berliners: Albert Einstein, Screenwriter Billy Wilder; Artist Lionel Fenninger (ne Lyonel Feininger); Actress Marlene Dietrich, to name but a few lucky ones. Then there was Cora Berliner, one of the first women professors of economics; Regina Jonas the first woman rabbi; two of the millions murdered for no good reason.
I highly recommend planning a trip to Berlin before the exhibition ends in November.
TOPOGRAPHY OF TERRORS
"This is the present day name of the site on which the important institutions of the Nazi apparatus ofterror and persecution were located between 1933 and 1945: the headquarters of the Secret State Police (Gestapo), the Reich SS Leadership and Security Service (SD) of the SS and, from 1939 on, the Reich Security Main Office." The exhibit is built along a portion of the Wall and extends for nearly a city block.
The exhibition is very difficult to view. The horrific ways in which the Nazis chose to murder the people who disagreed with their politics boggles the mind as does events like the Book Burning. The glee shown in some of the photos with which these so called humans participated in these deeds is unbelievable. (more photos below)
THE BERLIN PALACE OR SCHLOSS
|Only a portion of the size!|
The former American Ambassador to Germany, John Kornblum, asks, "Why rebuild an imperial
He presents many answers but I will just mention a couple: Other capitols have rebuilt historic sites which has given these cities and countries a sense of pride. The US kept the hope of liberation of East Germany and Eastern Europe alive and President Reagan ushered in the final collapse of the communist empire. The reconstruction of the BerlinerSchloss in the heart of Berlin would be the symbolic crowing of the 50 years the Americans spent supporting the reunification of Berlin, Germany and Europe.
THE NEUE OR NEW SYNAGOGUE
Constructed from 1859-1866 to hold over 3000 Jews, the synagogue was inaugurated with Otto von Bismarck, Minister President of Prussia in attendance. It was badly damaged before and during WW II tho it was one of the only synagogues to survive Kristallnacht in 1938. In 1940, a Nazi decree closed the synagogue and used it for storing uniforms. The remainder of the history is very complicated due to more than one section of the synagogue or another being demolished and/or rebuilt and to the rebuilding that took place after the Wall came down in 1989. December, 1935, Regina Jonas was ordained by the liberal Rabbi Max Dienemann in Offenbach who was the head of the Liberal Rabbis’ Association. She spent her short life as a chaplain and was ultimately sent to Theresienstadt where she was murdered at 42. It took until 1972 for the Reform and Reconstructionist movements in the US to ordain women rabbis. In 1995 Bea Wyler, who had studied at the JTS in New York, became the first woman rabbi in post war Germany at the Jewish community of Oldenburg. There is a small museum inside with some photos and religious objects as well as photos and a fascinating story of the first woman rabbi Regina Jonas.
The entire neighborhood surrounding the synagogue has had a resurgence with restaurants, boutiques and an increasingly bourgeois clientele, what we in the US would call gentrification. As of 2008, there were about 50,000 Jews in Berlin with 15,000 Israelis and many Russians.
THE HOLOCAUST MONUMENT
|Monument looking towards Hamburger Tor and Reichstag|
Perhaps one of the most moving memorials is Gleis or Track 17. Behind and alongside the Grunewald S-Bahn station, located on the western outskirts of Berlin, lie the remains of the track.
|Date, number, destination alongside tracks.|
A new memorial since I was last in Berlin is not to far from the Synagogue. It is entitled Trains to Life...Trains to Death and shows children with their suitcases going off to safety and those going off to the camps. Very moving.
In Berlin, there is a neighborhood memorial by the German sculptor Karl Biedermann. It consists of a bronze desk, a bronze chair, and a discarded toppled chair. All of them are larger than life-size. The sculpture sits in a park; a park in which people play and relax; a park surrounded by all the life in apartment buildings in Berlin. And in this park filled with life surrounded by apartments filled with the living, this German sculptor made absence present in emptiness, memorializing the Jewish people in a sculpture entitled, "The Abandoned Room."
The SS knocked on the door at 5:00 or so in the morning. The Jews had to go, with no time to put life and home in order or to pack, and in life hastily discarded a chair topples and remains there on the floor in The Abandoned Room never to be set upright. This memorial is the room and life abandoned by the Jews who lived in those apartments and played in the park where now sits their abandoned room.
THE JEWISH MUSEUM
Designed by Daniel Liebeskind who also designed the San Francisco Jewish
Sorry to disappoint everyone who was waiting for a first hand report about the exhibit A Jew in the Box, but we had no idea it was only for two hours on certain days. Thus you will have to settle for the only Jew we could find, invited in by the guard. Furthermore, no one asked him any questions! The guard encouraged us to return but we just didn't have time. (more photos of the museum below)
"While young people from all over the world were gathering to compete in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, just a few kilometers to the north of the German capital prisoners were being forced to erect what SS chief Heinrich Himmler called a 'thoroughly modern concentration camp'..." Sachenhausen
|Jewish area where barracks stood; 2 remaining|
To me, the most amazing thing about the camp is its location adjacent to the nice little town of Oranienburg. The inhabitants had to have known something was going on between the arrivals and the stench of burning bodies. Our guide, Gabe, told us several fascinating personal stories he has collected through research and contacting living relatives of prior inmates.
From 1945-1950 the camp served as a Soviet camp for special prisoners. From 1961 -1990 it was a National Memorial and in 1993, Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum came into existence.
A visit to the Reichstag is a real treat and should include a reservation for lunch (or dinner if you prefer a night tour). Aside from its fascinating past, the walk up the ramp in the dome has spectacular views. What we learned is that the Bundestag is the government and the Reichstag is the building where the government meets. Lord Norman Foster managed "to preserve the historic shell of the building and create the interior space for a modern, outward-looking Parliament." From the top of the dome, we are told by audio that there is an opening on top for air that filters down into the plenary chamber and that in certain light one can see down from the top ramp. Had I made reservations earlier, we might have been able to visit a plenary session. Advance reservations are required for all visits either on line or by phone or hotel.
|Merkel's office upper left rounded|
THE STASI MUSEUM
Perhaps the strangest piece of information gathering tho is that based on the principle that everyone has a distinctive odor, the Stasi would break into people's apartments and take "odor samples" from towels, seats, couches and clothes, archive these in jars with names on them and when necessary call out the dogs to sniff the perps out!
|Vans to take neighbors away without suspicion!|
"Considering itself the "shield and sword of the party" it was from this compound that the Stasi conducted its nearly 40-year-long fight against the so called enemies of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) - against those who refused to follow the guidelines of the regime, against those who did not conform to its ideas of a human being."
What the authorities found so amazing was that a communist dictatorship left such "fabulously narrative physical artifacts behind." The museum is located in the original Stasi headquarters and exists because the East German political opposition stormed the building and occupied it permanently in January 1990. They found everything in offices, garages and cellars.
The minister's office known as the Mielke suite, the actual rooms with the original furniture belonging to the head of the Stasi, are on view. Although a very bad man, he had good taste!
THE BERGGRUEN MUSEUM
Heinz was born in Berlin to a Jewish family and fled Nazi Germany in 1936. By 1939, he was working at SF Museum of Art (now SFMOMA) and had attended UC Berkeley. After the war, he opened a gallery in Paris where he solidified his relationships with the artists who became the heart of his collection. He closed Paris in 1980, moved back to Berlin in 1996 bringing his art collection with him. In 2000 when the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, encompassing Berlin’s state-run museums and other cultural entities bought the priceless collection for the “symbolic” sum of 130 million euros, Berggruen had come full circle. The NY Times in his obituary called his return of the collection to his place of birth a "powerful gesture of reconciliation" As were his wishes, he is buried in Berlin.
Notice the X on the pillar. There are artists bios of those who either escaped or were executed.
The Museum recently reopened after a major renovation where it now encompasses an adjacent building that has been connected to the original by a steel and glass pergola with a view of the gardens and better shows off its magnificent collection.
The State Museum for Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Functionalism (1889-1939) is situated next to the Berggruen Gallery which is how we happened in. I was familiar with the work of Eva Zeis but not the other two. As is true of the other buildings we visited, this one too is quite lovely and functional . The work of the three ceramists was shown in curved cases in a well lit room. The permanent collection has some real gems for Art Nouveau and Art Deco lovers!
EAST SIDE GALLERY
The gallery is located along the banks of the river Spree on what is the longest segment of the Berlin
I had wanted to see this approximately 3/4 mile long wall, the largest outdoor gallery ever, to add to my collection of photos of street art in numerous different cities. However, when we arrived, I was dismayed to see how much graffiti had been painted over much of the wonderful art.
Now there is an even bigger threat that has hit the news. A developer who met with strong opposition from the citizenry went in under cover of night and dismantled part of the wall. He had the legal right but the local politicians will try to find a way to preserve the rest of it. I had noticed 1990 and 2009 on some of the works and discovered that many of them were restored in 2009.
It would certainly be a shame to dismantle the rest as it remains a sign that Berlin has a lively, vibrant community of artists who, among other reasons, find this a way to pay tribute to the people who died trying to flee to the West as well as to the restoration of democracy. (more photos below)
THE WANNSEE CONFERENCE
It is very strange to look out at the beautiful scenery and think about what went on in this building! Just down the street is the home of the late artist Max Liebermann. We were only able to see the garden through the fence where volunteers were working on the day the home is closed.
The Potsdam Conference was held from July 16 to August 2, 1945. It is considered to be the last of the WWII conferences with the Big Three in attendance. Truman replaced Roosevelt and Clement Atlee replaced Churchill part way through due to Churchill's defeat as Prime Minister. Stalin was at all three conferences: Yalta, Tehran and Potsdam.
The meeting was to decide how to administer punishment to the defeated Nazi Germany which unconditionally surrendered on May 8 (VE Day). The goals also included the establishment of post-war order, peace treaties issues and countering the effects of the war.
Once again, as in Wannsee, the conference was held in a beautiful building in a lovely setting.See below for the meaning of the Red Star.
BERLIN AND CULTURE ARE SYNONYMOUS!
We also got tickets for the main hall to hear one entire program of one piece by one German composer, Walter Braunfels 'Grosse Messe op.37'. We were in line for tickets and the young woman in front told us to get tickets for that night as the composition is spectacular. She was correct and we purchased the CD. Orchestral music at its best even tho it was not the Philharmonic. And we got to see the main hall.
A last moment attempt to get into the dinner concert at the Charlottenburg Palace/Schloss resulted in a harried ride with our guide for the day Thorsten (our guide five years ago) to get the last two tickets and arrive as the first course was being served. We did not tour the Palace but enjoyed a lovely dinner served by waiters in Baroque costumes and a concert by professional musicians also in period clothing playing 17th and 18th century Baroque music. The dining room is located in the Grosse Orangerie and has a view of the garden, beautiful even at night. We were seated at a table for two as were many other couples and there were a few larger groups. I would say the room could hold several hundred people. Frederick III built the castle in the 17th century for his wife Sophie Charlotte and it remains the largest palace in Berlin. It was heavily damaged during WWII and rebuilt in the 1950s.
We also got last minute tickets to the Konzerthaus Berlin, a beautiful old building originally built as a theatre in 1821, changed to a concert hall after WWII. There, too, we got the last two seats, on the ground floor, where we could bask in the beauty of the hall. It had been severely damaged by Allied bombing and the Battle of Berlin but when it was rebuilt the exterior remained as the original architect had designed while the interior was adapted to meet the conditions of a concert hall in a Neoclassical style. Acoustically, the hall is considered to be amongst the five best concert venues in the world for music and/or opera.
What an unexpected treat we had there. The audience would not stop applauding the young Japanese conductor Kazuki Yamada conducting the Rundfunk (Radio) Sinfonieorchester Berlin and a young Austrian pianist Ingolf Wunder. Wunder won second place at the International Chopin Competition in 2010 as well as several special prizes at the same competition. After playing a very long Chopin piece, he returned to play Rachmaninoff sans orchestra. It was a magnificent concert.
It seemed as if we didn't even visit that many museums as the list is endless. But that is really because
MUSEUM OTTO WEIDT'S WORKSHOP FOR THE BLIND
To end on a humorous note, the man who has run the museum for many years has an award winning mustache, even better than the ones we saw in India!
BACK FROM BERLIN
We have done so many interesting things since arriving back from Berlin that I will write about soon. However I thought at least some of you might be interested in hearing about and seeing this amazing city. Don't go for less than a week as there are many more things to see than we could cover in our eight days!
|Trains to Life...Trains to Death|
|Small bronze plaques in front of homes.|
|Book booth Track 17|
|Landing at Clarchens Ballhaus|
|Ballroom dancing at Clarchens Ballhaus|
|L'Orangerie at Charlottenburg Schloss (dinner concert)|
MORE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE EASTSIDE GALLERY
|Across river from Eastside Gallery by Italian artist Blu|
|Jewish Museum Old and New|
|Jewish Museum view from Old to New|
|Sign for Jew in the Box|
|Konzerthaus by day|
|Famous photo "79 Honecker & Brezhnev, painting '90|
|Hamburger Banhof train station into contemporary art gallery|
|George Widener, US born savant|
|Looking down in the Reichstag|
|Dome at top of Reichstag|
|Inside the Dome|
LEST YOU THINK ALL OF BERLIN IS ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST WITH NO GOOD LAUGHS LOOK BELOW!!!! THERE ARE LOTS MORE TOO!