With Help From a Friend
04.03.2008 10 °C
The Victory Column, one icon of many in Berlin
Today we passed through the Czech Republic, sadly avoiding Prague in order to save the bother of another language and currency. Also, Prague is no longer cheap by any stretch. We decided on Dresden, closer to Berlin, our next stop. That may be important with the weather we've been driving through: swirling snows and a mercury dancing around the zero mark.
It's funny to cross an open border and then immediately see the difference. We giggled at the Eastern European tableau laid before us: Czech casinos, theme restaurants, "sexy shops," even a shooting range. We weren't in Austria anymore.
As we went on, though, we travelled through forests of barren birches and dark evergreens, and also through open fields where we easily spotted deer, large hares and pheasants, even at 120 kph.
Arriving in Dresden, we found our "Ibis" hotel. This is the first time in a month we've stayed in a hotel. Ibis is a non-descript chain of two-star hotels. Here there are three, all in a row, backing onto a Soviet-designed pedestrian thoroughfare. The Bloc-architecture has been dressed up a little and the pedestrian mall is really blooming. It's a neighborhood that looks brand-new but actually has an interesting cold-war history.
A new Dresden: march of the Ibises
Dresden, we hardly knew you! Our one full day here, and what did we do? Spent most of it in the "Deutsche Hygiene-Museum." That's because it was a really neat place with lots to do. Anica had the best science-health-philosophy field trip in the world. At first we thought "hygiene" museum? A novelty, perhaps? Something to look at to get out of the cold wind. This place, however, is nothing like its name implies. And it's been around since before World War I. It was started by a man who had made his fortune in mouthwash. The museum's own history is described inside, how they were a propaganda vehicle for Nazi "eugenics," then a propadanda vehicle for Communist public health dictates. Now? Lots of ways to examine aging, the senses, sexuality, and diseases. I particularly liked the temporary exhibition on "gluck" (happiness, but also luck). It used avant-garde multimedia art to illustrate the question "what is happiness?" In the beginning Philosophy course I teach, this would be a perfect fit. I wish I could bring the topic to life as well.
"I'm Looking Through You...Transperant "Man" in DHM, Dresden
When we finally emerged from our visit there, which included another surpisingly good cafeteria lunch, we took a quick walk through historic Dresden at sunset, until we were cold enough and hungry enough to eat dinner. Dinner was at a kind of "Saxon" theme restaurant which we all thought was fun. Again, though, the food was actually really good! We saw some of the architecture that make this a "Florence on the Elbe," mainly stemming from the period of Augustus the Strong, when Saxony was at its peak. World War II levelled Dresden, including it most important Protestant Church. They just completed the rebuilding of it in 2006, for the 800th anniversary of Dresden!
18th Century Saxony + 21st Century Streetcar = Dresden
A short, simple drive got us to Berlin today, where we were meeting Jenn's friend, Marny. She lives in Hanover, but said, why visit there? She could show us around Berlin, having been there a few times before. I think it's always the best way to see a place. It's a break for us in language, too, with Marny handling all the German-speaking.
We're staying at an Ibis, in the east end. We got right on the underground and emerged at Alexanderplatz, at the foot of the TV Tower, symbol of East Berlin. For dinner, Marny took us to a the oldest part of Berlin, and we ate at a pub in a 500-year old house.
Because we arrived on a Thursday, Marny suggested we take advantage of "Museum Night." All the museums on Berlin's "Museum Island" are free from 6-10. First, we went to the Pergamon museum. It's named for the "Pergamon Altar," a huge display from 2nd century BCE of Greek Gods fighting giants. Even more impressive was the Babylonian "Ishtar Gate," 6th century BCE, installed in this museum as it would have appeared in Babylon.
Ishtar Gate, Pergamon Museum, Berlin
They also have the ruins of a Jordanian desert castle walls (which was about the only thing we missed seeing in Jordan, but now we've seen it here!) It's a portal facade from Mshatta, from the 8th century.
In the last hour before closing, we headed over to the Egyptian Museum. The star of the show there is Nefertiti's bust. I'm sorry, did that sound rude? Anyway, this is the famous sculpture of her, with the left eye blank, unfinished. She really is beautiful.
For breakfast, we've found this Turkish coffee-shop just around the corner that seems quite nice. Berlin has about 200,000 Turkish residents, which I found surprising. Turkish coffee really gets you going in the morning!
Catching the double-decker Bus 100, we scrambled upstairs for the coveted front-row seats. It's just a regular public transit route, but it might as well be a sightseeing bus. It's almost all tourists because of the route it takes. Starting from the TV Tower, you pass by some of the museums, Berlin Cathedral, Humboldt University, various embassies (including the American, with the road it's on permanently blocked off to cars), the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, Bellevue Place (the President's residence), the Victory Column (as in the 1870 victory against France), the Tiergarten, the Bauhaus Archive, and finally, the Berlin zoo.
Aside from just enjoying Bus 100, the zoo was our destination. We haven't overdosed on zoos on this trip, so Anica was really looking forward to the visit. It turned out to be almost a full day. One highlight was the seal, who threw up and caught a stick with his mouth. When another seal tried to take the stick, they fought. The growing crowd cheered when he got the stick back. This natural playing behaviour was every bit as fun as watching trained seals.
Catch That Stick!
Across from the zoo is the "Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church," which we also visited. It was bombed in World War II, and left unrepaired to show the damage. The spire is gone, so it looks like an overturned cone with the point broken off in jagged edges. Most of the nave is gone, too. Inside is an exhibition that shows before and after photos. Beautiful mosaics from the vestibule remain. At either end, modernist church buildings now stand, built in 1961. They're done in glass blocks, that are actually stained glass, an effect visible from the outside in the evening, as it was when we were leaving. Instead of rebuilding or replacing, these offer a provocative contrast.
We ate dinner at an Italian restaurant in the neighborhood of our hotel. We haven't seen prices as low as this anywhere in Europe, and it's sure not typical of Berlin. Pizzas and pastas for 2 Euros! In Rome and Florence we were happy to see anything under 10 Euros. And the food was quite good, with an atmosphere warm and welcoming.
Berlin is a cool city. Vienna has its old-world charm, but Berlin smothers its own old-world foundation with avant-garde sauciness. Then there's the compelling storyline of the Berlin Wall. Our first stop today was to the East Side gallery of the Berlin Wall. Here was the longest remaining stretch of the Wall. When the restrictions were lifted, artists came out to paint it. The West side already had that freedom, but the East side always have the "death strip." Wall-peckers and subsequent graffitti has worn away the art of 1989-90, but it's still colourful, and it's really interesting to walk beneath the wall. It's not that tall, but it's tall enough.
Start of the "East Side Gallery" of the Berlin Wall
Next we crossed town to see the Brandenburg Gate up close. Its original message was "peace," and so it is again. Napoleon and Hitler both defiled and subverted it, but when the Wall came down, people flocked to this symbol of their city, and it became a symbol, too, of freedom.
Right next to it is the new memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Memorials are in the works for other groups, like Roma and homosexuals. This one is very hard to figure out. It consists of about 3000 steles, lying flat like coffin slabs. No words, just a series of undulating rows. It's practically a maze. That makes it a little too much fun for kids, perhaps. We told Anica not to shout or climb on the blocks, but, like every kid there, she liked playing hide and seek in the "maze." It is disorienting and stark, but without visiting the information centre, reveals little and is TOO open to facile interpretation.
There's a store on the "main street" called the Berlin Story, which Marny took us to, not just for the great souvenirs, but for the video called about Berlin's history that they screen there free of charge. Another store nearby only sold souvenirs relating to the "Ampelman." These are the green and red East German traffic signal men. We first noticed them in Dresden, and in Berlin there's a whole industry of products devoted to them. A campaign was successfully fought to keep them. They're probably the only facet of life in Germany that was "cuter" under Communism.
Model of the Ampelmann
We also visited the German History Museum, which Marny had never been to. It had many good connections to the European history course I teach. We spent probably too long in the museum, and Anica was very patient, considering there wasn't much intrinsic interest or hands-on activity. It's new, superb, and yet somewhat staid. The view of German history, including the Nazi era, is very objective. When the museum closed, we finally had to leave!
Today's visit to the Jewish Museum was a much bigger hit with Anica. The museum deals with 2000 years of history, and while Anica did comment that "Wow, these Jews. They sure had their problems," it also celebrates achievements, religion and family life.
The building is very strange. Everything seems tilted and angled. The floorplan snakes. Marny felt dizzy, and I bumped into a couple of walls. There are deliberate "voids," dead spaces to represent the missing. Architecture doesn't get much starker. The outside is like sheet metal with scars for windows. I wondered if some of the older Jews saw it for the first time and said, "what is this? They give us this, now?" Especially the outside could be offputting to some.
But like I said, the exhibits are very inventive. There's a 3D theatre, a pomegranate wish tree, a Moses Mendolsohn coin press (because his son made coins, I guess), a peddler's pack to try on, a write your name in Hebrew computer game... all sorts of things to keep Anica busily engaged. In terms of presentation style, it's probably the best museum I've ever seen. It's even possible to learn a few things there!
Hebrew Letter Puzzle in Jewish History Museum, Berlin
A short walk from there and we were at Checkpoint Charlie. It's not much to look at, but you can read signboards about the escape attempts while standing on the very spot where they took place. Anica wondered if we would have tried to escape. She hoped not because so many didn't make it and were killed. Jenn and I eventually just said no, we wouldn't risk your life, which is what she wanted to hear.
The final sightseeing stop in Berlin was to the Reichstag. Despite fire in 1933 (hmmm, who started that?) and damage through 1945, the parliament maintains its original appearance...with a twist. A huge twist. A twisting glass dome with a core of angled mirrors. We went up the circling pedestrian ramp and enjoyed views over the Tiergarten, Museum Island, and just about everywhere else we've visited in Berlin. Jenn and Marny sat and talked while Anica and I went up and down the 750 feet of ramps two more times! Anica said "we waited in line to get in, went through security and we're only going to do it once? No way!" That seemed logical to me, despite the fact that nobody else walked the ramps more than once. Like the saying goes, it's the journey, not the destination...
Looking down the Reichstag dome's interior column
Jenn said "I can't believe it's going to be April!" I agree; I thought it was still August...didn't we leave on this trip at the end of July? What do you mean 2008 is one-quarter gone?
Anyway, we said a sad goodbye to Marny - thanks again for showing us a great time in Berlin, Marny - and headed south. And a little west. Once we got off the big highway, we saw the quaint old Germany we really hadn't seen yet. Colourful houses, covered bridges, improbably shaped rocks lining a river-bed road...and signs directing us to Rothenberg.
Rothenberg's Town Hall
Rothenberg - what a place! So cute, but still, somehow, not overly touristy. Not this time of year, at least. We looked out from the town ramparts over the valley and there other than half a dozen cars and a mechanical crane, there was nothing obvious that couldn't have been there 400 years ago. We did a self-guided walking tour that featured all sorts of quirky architectural details.
Rothenberg gate, outside the walls
We've splurged on a guest house that's 600 years old. It was once the house of the famous mayor who saved the town with a prodigous feat of beer-drinking. It's true that that's the story they tell. It's just not a TRUE story. We ate dinner here, too; great country-cooking.
We're all really glad we got to come here, even if it was for just one day and night.
Rothenberg's Clock Tower
Today we left Vienna. The guys who own are apartment gave me a box of Milka, a bunny and a mix of chocolates. As we got in the Czech Republic we saw the tinyest border I'd ever seen in my life! A sign, a police man in a statin and ta da! The C.R.! We diden't stop in Prague because we couldn't find anything, so we booked a place in Dresden. A huge snow-storm made us think "Hmm, should we really go off to have lunch?" It might just get worse! So we ate pretzels and granola bars in the car. So much for the Esso on-the-go. You still have to get off the highway. The border to Germany was even smaller, JUST a sign. We arrived in Dresden, got lost for a bit, found our hotel, went out, had Pizza Hut, went back...G.N.!
Today we went to the Hygine Mueseum. It has exhibits and a Kinder Museum. In the first room you could see what parts were where, see parts of body, and play room-based computer games. My favorite room of those exhibits was the one with computers where you could see who ate the animals, email recipes, and see difrent peoples meals. We had lunch and moved on the Kinder museum. I touched a fake eye, climbed up a tower, went a qaurter way through a dark tunnel, smelled stuff, and just plainly, had fun! For dinner we went to a 1780s restraunt with the sort of swing thing at the amusement park but slower and I had Saxon potato soup with (according to them) fine slices of sausage. and stroodle. G.N.
Today we went to Berlin. It was supossed to be a 2 hour drive but it was more like one and a half. As soon as we started seeing exits for Berlin I went "we are going to meet Marny!" Then we had McD for lunch where I got Katie. She's a stuffed animal toy from my Happy Meal. She barks. Before meeting Marny (we had already found our hotel), we went to Toys R Us. We liked giggleing over how they put Snape - so unreal! Also, had a huge sectin of Playmobil (had all stuff I did except the little family) and Barbie. We met Marny and she is very nice. We went on the metro to the stop where we transferred from the U7 to U8 at Hermanplatz. Got off at Alexanderplaz and saw a huge TV tower. You can actually climb up it. We diden't go, though. We went to a small bar which was full of locals drinking beer and eating. I had sausiges and potato salad. We crossed the river and went to a museum. Till ten o clock all the museums in Berlin were free! This one had: Umayyed art, Assyrian and Fatimad art and just lots of intresting pictures and stuff. One of the favrites is the Babylon gate. Blue and covered with animals (fake), Babylon gate was a five star gate. We moved on to the Greek, Roman and Egyptian Museum where we saw all the neat stuff quickly. Such as the beatiful (except for only having one eye) Nefertiti, and the unwrapped mummys and colurful death masks. We went on a exicting ride back and...G.N.!
"At a Zoo! 4 Hours! Yay!"
Today we went to the zoo. We took the metro from Grenzalle to Hermanplaz to Alexanderplaz. Got on bus 100 to the zoo and got top front seats. We arrived at the zoo and saw the Alpaccas. Weird sort of lama-like. After a mixture of funny beaver guys, monkeys and birds, we went to the Aquarium. So many different kinds of fish! Over 1 hundred! 14, 039 animals, 1, 1434 species, 203 mammels specis, 439 bird species, 78 reptile specie, 46 amphibian and 239 invertbrates species. Saw elephants, seals doing marvellis tricks WITHOUT a zoo-keeper, and lions awake. Had lunch and went to the childrens zoo, feed and pet animals, went to a huge big playground - as big as High Park's! Saw more animals, saw a bombed church, went home, had dinner, G.N.
"Mazes, gates, shops, and Museums"
Today we did lots of stuff. We started out the day by going to the Berlin Wall, Brandenburg gate and a Jewish Memorial. The Brandenburg gate was huge! At that time you coulden't cross through it! A wall, a dead end! The Jewish memorial to the murded Jews of Europe was like a maze. First it's easy then it gets harder. We also went to a shop where we watched a movie and I bought a pen and a pencil with the street guys on them. The cross-walk guys are so funny. Go is a man walking with a hat on his head and stop is a man with his arms stuck out! We had lunch and went to the German History Museum. It was o.k., I guess, but any not-lover-of-musuem-kid would be bored. about fifty sections! The Jewish Museum the next day was more kid-friendly. Went home on the bus, had dinner, G.N.
"A Jewish and German mix. We came to the Reichstag, stood in a lineup. Were not going to go up it just once!"
Today we went on the metro past Hermanplatz. We instead went to a statin where we could transfer to the U6 and go to the Jewish Museum and Checkpoint Charlie. Like I said in my diary from March 29, this museum was much beter and kid-friendly. the one yesterday was also hard to go through. At this one you could go on computers where you would have to pack the right 8 items in a travelers back-pack. It included cell-phone and bunny! I went "funny" and put those in her suitcase and it went "two items you put in Gliki's bag are wrong. The cellphone woulden't be invented for another 300 years and the bunny would wat Giki's spices" Ha-ha! We saw lots more stuff before going to Check-point Charlie. It was a intresting checkpoint by the Berlin wall. We walked down to Alexanderplaz and took the bus to the Reichstag. We stood in a line-up with a robot guy going around! We went up the huge circular dome and I went "again!" "No." said Daddy. Me: "We came, stood in a line-up - were not just going up it once." Dad: "Ok." We went up it two more times, went home, had dinner with Marny at a yummy Italian place called Mona Mia, fineshed, G.N.!
"A Hotel that used to be a Mayors House"
Today we went to Rothenburg. The drive was 4 or something hours. We diden't get lost (lucikly). We took a pretty fast highway and when we got there checked in. Beatifull, huge room wth cosy double beds. We went on a intresting Rick Steves guided, perfectly great, tour. 1 hour, but intresting. Had lovely dinner of (for me, since I can only remember mine) dumplings with gravy and apple juice and apple sauce for dessert. That was a kid's meal. Creaky stairs. Went back. G.N. P.S. There were the guys that drink beer every hour (the guys were fake) up in the clock. G.N.!