Monthly Archives: December 2012

The riches of Potsdam

Marilyn and I met up with Paul near the Brandenburg Gate. Paul was the guide we had on a previous tour, and it was good to see he would be guiding us again on the “City of Emperors” – Potsdam tour. He is a thirtyish man, well studied on the history of Prussia and Germany and he is a good story teller.  He also has a way of entertaining the crowd with facts.

I have previously written about the Brandenburg Gate where tours begin, but thought it worthy to mention it again. It was  built in 1791, and one of 17 gates in the Berlin city wall, preserved from the beginning of its gateway into Prussia’s most important city. It was built with King Friedrich Wilhelm’s specification:  twenty reliefs. When in 1806, Napoleon marched into the city, he took off with the group of figures. A statue returned in 1814, and was transformed by famous architect Schinkel,  as the goddess of victory.

On the tour yesterday, we saw another gate, which is adorned with gold filagree.

One of seventeen gates to Prussia

It was a five hour, six mile tour, not counting up and down stairs that took us by tram, bus and train throughout the Potsdam region and where the history lesson we received began.

In the beginning of the tour, with a pain pill, I kept up with the crowd, but as time went on, my position was usually as the caboose. At various times throughout the tour, different people would walk with me, including a woman from Australia, two men from India, and another woman, also from India.

When we got to the King Friedrich II’s Scholoss Sansoucci Palace in Potsdam, built in 1747, Paul suggested that since there were no railings, he would be happy to lend him my arm to get me to the top of the one hundred steps. This is the second time in my life I had to walk those steps. However, the time before was several years ago and it was my nephew, Andy who assisted me, but that time it was down the stairs.

San Soucci from a distance. Vineyards are in front of the building.

Across from Sansoucci Palace is another palace we saw up close, and learned this one was built, also by King Frederich The Great – typically for most royalty in those years – to show his wealth.

Frederick the Great, built the palace 20 years later and the new palace was four times longer and three times that of Sanssouci. By the way, Sanssouci means ‘without worry’.

Frederick the Great's Palace across from San Soucci

The interesting thing about the palace is that it was never used. One of the young men from India and I were discussing what should have been done with such an expansive building. I suggested it could have been used as a hotel with the proceeds going to charity.

The young man is a master of business administration candidate from a school in Berlin, and thought my idea was a good one. The building has stood unused for years.

Marilyn reminded me of another unused building: the U.S. Embassy building nearby the embassy row of other embassies, including the new U.S Embassy.

While at Potsdam we came within view other palaces, a Chinese teahouse, a Dutch windmill, parks and lakes.

A lake in the historical Potsdam area

On the tour, and still in Potsdam we stopped and took a break within the Dutch area. With buildings of bell and stair-step facades, it was easy to see the Dutch influence.

Today is New Years Eve, and we’ll be back at the Brandenburg Gate, where it is said, all bedlam will break out. Stay tuned.

 

 

“Ich bin ein Berliner”….but not a jelly donut

President John F. Kennedy once coined the words, “Ich bin ein Berliner”, and I have seen that written in various places in Berlin. Sometimes, because I have been in so many places in Berlin, and because of the history lessons learned, and also because of the travel it has taken me to get to those places, I almost feel like I am a Berliner.

However, I just learned that when Kennedy said “Ich bin ein Berliner” he was stating that he is a jelly donut. That happened when he inserted the word ein. He meant to say he is a person from Berlin.

Berliners have shown me over and over that they friendly, and the city is welcoming, but it would take awhile longer to become a Berliner as there is a multitude of museums and cultural events to keep you busy for a lifetime.

A ten stringed orchestra playing romantic classical pieces was one of those cultural events that Marilyn and I enjoyed last night.

The concert was held in the stunning Berlin Cathedral which kept the eyes of the full house, including my eyes, looking up to the 70 meter dome and around to the magnificent and inspirational space.

“Oh, my gosh. This is beautiful.” I said this right when I first walked in, there are tiles in different shades of color, there are spaces filled with golden, glittered filigree, angels everywhere, and statues of religious personalities from throughout the generations.

You cannot help but feel the reverence inside.

The high whole dome is 70 meters tall, and surrounding the high dome are semi-circular and quarter-circular smaller domes, and equally magnificent.

Angels from above seemed to be looking down from the ceiling to the concert below, watching the conductors’ graceful hands as he directed the music. The music was soft, light and dreamy.

The cathedral was bombed during the war and restored and opened in 1999 representing the opulence as it was before being bombed.

A nice couple standing in the foray, were from a small town outside of Berlin, but said they come to the city for cultural events such as the concert. Both of them spoke fondly the cathedral. The woman rubbed her hand across the marble and proudly said marble was used throughout the building. Her husband said the cathedral was a gift from France to make up for that country’s past discretions.

Last night was a night I’ll remember for the music and the opulence; it was indeed a gift of a lifetime.

Tonight was a night of violence, with a message…, so the promos proclaim. After a delicious Asian dinner, where I had the Indonesian plate, we went to a movie where Tom Hanks and Halley Barry play the lead rolls in “Cloud Atlas”. I didn’t like the movie, in spite of the good reviews. It had a complicated story-line, and provided too much violence for my taste. I had to stop watching, at the point when a slave was ruthlessly whipped on his raw skin.

Aside from the stabbing, guns, suicide, blood and guts, the message was that life is all connected.

One humorous relief was the scene in the rest home with a ‘nurse Ratchet” type, who’s rules were to be honored, or else. A funny scene occurred when four of the seniors escaped and took off in a car.

I could relate to a desire to escape sometimes, after all that is a little bit of what put me on this journey. But, I am not a jelly donut.

 

Cross over with the green men

It’s funny how little things will capture my attention. And here’s an example of that: the green and red stop lights for pedestrians seem to tickle my fancy.

 

"Green Man!"

I call out, “Green Man” when the green light (a stick-figure man) gives us permission to cross the street. The red man doesn’t get my attention, for all he does is make us stand and wait.

 

I remember the last time I was here in Berlin and that green man stick figured caught my attention. Now I have discovered that I’m not the only one who likes the little green men. Marilyn and I found a complete store dedicated to the ‘green man’.  Not so much attention is given to the red man.

In the store there are bags, cups, purses, t-shirts, sweat shirts, shorts, and more more with the cute green man logo.

 

Green Man logo outside of the Green Man store

It was also a surprise to be sitting in the lobby and look at the Christmas decorations inside the moving door. There I found that the red and green stop light was used as decor, along with Santa Claus. So there!  I’m not the only person infatuated with the green man.

 

I won’t be coming back to the states with any souvenirs of green man, however I did take a photo of a stop light, and the green man logo at the front of the store.

While on the subject of observations, I have noticed that smokers are not aloud to smoke inside restaurants, but most have designated places out doors. Because it’s cold outside for those who want a smoke, many restaurants provide chairs with blankets. It’s not uncommon to see a cigar smoking man all bundled up with his cigar outside.

Blanket covered chairs for smoker's comfort in the cold air in front of a restaurant

Well, hello Dali, you’re lookin’ swell Dali.

“The difference between a mad man and me is that I’m not mad,” so states artist Salvador Dali on a sign near the way out of the Dali Gallery/Museum in the Potsdam area of Berlin.

Hello Dali

 

Marilyn and I had a day of art appreciation. We went first to the Guggenheim Museum for the ‘Visions of Modernity’ exhibit that featured the art of masters. My favorite was a Paul Cezanne still life, and one of the earlier works of Vincent Van Gogh.

You never know who you can meet in this world. I recognized a woman using a vehicle to tour the museum as a person I saw yesterday in another museum. When she got closer, I told her I had seen her before. I learned her and her husband had been in most of the Berlin Museums, and they are from Utrecht, Holland. I told her one of my favorite artists is Van Gogh.

“I am the last surviving relative of his. His father’s brother is my great grandfather.”

“What?” I almost shouted.

“Shhh,” she put her finger to her lips, as she didn’t want others to hear.

While it was exciting for me to meet a Van Gogh relative, it didn’t compare with the next large and surrealist painter’s, gallery, for Dali’s works seem to take you inside his brain, and that’s not speaking out of turn. A sign on the top of the gallery states, “Come with me inside my brain”.

When looking at Dali’s sketches, paintings, sculptures and even some films he produced, you feel like you are experiencing his dreams and quite a few nightmares.

There are some patterns in his work. Take for instance the use of butterflies used in bizarre places.

Then there is his own look; startling rolling eyes, long handlebar mustache, black hair and an almost handsome look: if only he’d try.

The walls on two floors were full of his work, and it takes a lot of time to carefully see inside each picture, as there are pictures (obscured sketches)  inside many of his main pictures.

It was a great escape into the mind of a man who is mad, but not mad.

Heading to one of the museum’s lead us past the Soviet Embassy in Berlin that stretches nearly a whole block. During a tour, a bus guide joked about that when he said, “here is the Soviet Embassy, here is the Soviet Embassy, here is the Soviet Embassy” and on until the end of the block. Guess the Soviets want a large presence in Berlin.

Soviet Embassy

Not too far away the United States Embassy has an American flag on the side of a modest, clean lined building. That building is fairly new, and the old embassy building, now vacant, sits unused on another block nearby.

 

Before leaving the Potsdam area, we found an Asian restaurant. We were talking about asking for an English menu, when two lovely Australian women heard us and handed us their menus. We spoke a bit to them and learned that they both are on thresholds of change. One was a journalist and because of the changes she is experiencing with newspaper work, quit and looked for something a bit different. She said reporters were required to write lots of crime stories and gossip. She agreed with me that writing ‘copy’ for the advertising department was not right for a reporter to be asked to do. I added, “Yeah, especially when we do the work and don’t get the commission”.

The other lady was in the field of medicine and also looking for something different and even thinking about going back to school.

It was a nice day with clouds parting to expose lots of blue.

 

One of many modern buildings in the Potsdam area of Berlin

 

 

War museum and Christmas

War: I’m not crazy about dwelling in the history of war, memorials and artifacts about it; but what are you going to do, when from the beginning of recorded history, humans have been warring?

How would you like to walk around in this???

Marilyn and I weaved in and around the German Historical Museum, each of us caring a devise that interpreted, in English, painting, artifacts, philosophies, and changing times beginning in 100 BC and that continued until up to 1994. It was just before the exhibition of the war of WWII, when we  decided to take leave of the museum and go to dinner.

Dinner, by the way was at Einstein’ restaurant. Marilyn questioned if the restaurant chose that name for the genius, or did they just think their food is ‘genius’?

But back to the museum:

The early cultures beginning around 100 BC and up to the Middle Ages, Europe was reaching consolidation, with the emperor Charlemagne in the year 800. Onward, now, to the Thirty Years’ War.

It was during this time, we learned, through the paintings about the teachings of Luther, that the religious brought peace with the reformation, but differences and political conflicts, later, led to the war from 1618 until 1648.

Moving quickly from there, not to bore you with details, but there was the French Revolution and then the German Empire and then WWI.

One item I found most interesting was the portrait of a tall warrior, at six foot ten, he traveled Europe to find other soldiers just as tall as he to form a group of similar stature,

Imagine recruitment today based on the requirement that soldiers must be as tall as their leader.

Speaking of the differences between now and then, I took a photo of a pair of shoes worn by another warrior, complete with pointy toes and bows.

Gentlemen: aren't you happy that shoe fashions have changed?

The portrait of Napoleon really told of his conceit, when he liked his portrait so much that he had copies made and gifted them to special people.

The museum was beautifully arranged and the notes were easy to read. Both Marilyn and I wondered about the empty spaces where pictures were previously hanging, but taken down for some reason.

Today we noticed that there wasn’t a snowflake anywhere to be seen. The sidewalks and streets were dry, with a once in awhile, short shower. Aside from that, the air was brisk, but the sun shown through the clouds. Businesses were closed, making us wonder if Dec. 26 wasn’t part of the Christmas business holiday. However, restaurants and the Christmas markets were open and there were many people walking around.

A ferris wheel from the Christmas Market, the train traveling near the steeple. All in one day in Berlin

Last evening, which was Christmas Day, we went to the opera, “La Boheme”. The story was sung in Italian with German translation on a screen. Both of us knew the story so we could follow it, even in different languages, and then we could pay closer attention to the beautiful music.

So the Christmas holiday is over and we’re looking forward to New Years Eve at the Brandenburg Gate. Marilyn is still doing a great job as navigator getting us on trams, trains and buses.

 

The tram arrives

 

 

It’s Christmas Eve and we just came back from a tour of Berlin.

More tomorrow, meanwhile, have a wonderful Christmas Day.

 

Laureen

Eva’s Place and Angel Wings

The sidewalks were slippery with freshly frozen ice yesterday, so I walked slowly to the restaurant/mini market that Marilyn and I call, “Eva’s Place”.

That was yesterday, and I stayed close the hotel.  Marilyn went by train for a tour of the Sachsenhausen – a concentration camp – now turned memorial.

After writing the book, “Too Close to the Sun” a Dutch boy becomes a man during WWII, and receiving the first hand story of how the war destroyed lives, I couldn’t make myself go on that tour.

People keep saying, ‘we need to remember.’ Believe me, I cannot forget.

Marilyn and I dubbed the tiny Eva’s Place from the first time we stepped inside. A beautiful twenty-something woman, named Eva, waited on us.  Her smooth complexion was  as flawless as her English skill.

She is the daughter of the owners, and explained that her mother and father came from Russia twenty years ago.

“My mother is a great cook. She uses everything fresh, and can cook Russian food or anything you’d like.” She went further and told us if we ordered something ahead of time she would have it ready for us.

That never worked out because of the schedule we had, however, we did go back a few times and had her make breakfast for us.

We have not seen Eva since the first day, but it remains, “Eva’s Place”.

Yesterday, I went back alone, and found Eva’s fifteen year old sister there. She was the interpreter for her parents. I ordered an omelette, and talked a bit to the teenager.

On the way back I kept telling myself, “I will not fall”.  I walked wherever I saw snow, and others had found the same place; as footsteps marked the way, until…

There was only ice on the parking lot and it had a slight slope. How am I going to get down there to the sidewalk covered with snow without falling? I looked around and saw nothing to hold on to, and there was no other way but to head down the icy slope, so I began, one tiny step at a time. All of a sudden I found a huge, gloved hand reach toward me. I grabbed the hand, and looked up to see a man. He just came from nowhere and helped me down to the snow where I continued on back to the hotel.

I thanked him. He didn’t say anything. He just kept walking. Were those angel wings I saw on him or just my imagination?

 

Missing flea market and powerful women

Yesterday seems like a long time ago.

Marilyn and I were good tourists and covered a lot of ground in what is known as the Museum Island.

Today, we also covered some ground, but with a different mission, and one which got us lost. We’re back inside the hotel now and it is 9:20 p.m., past bedtime, but cannot hit the feather pillows until I write this blog.

So here is how we spent the day yesterday:

Museum Island in Berlin is listed in UNESCO of the World Heritage Sites and houses the Old Museum, The New Museum, the Old National Gallery, the Bode Museum and the Pergamon Museum.

We decided that in one day we would take least two of those on, and we chose the Old Museum with Greek and Roman artifacts and sculptures and the Old National Gallery that features art of the masters.

Marilyn, the navigator did the research to get us to the Old Museum, and with a little bit confusion, we found the Old National Gallery.

 

I am always amazed, when viewing the evidence of the Greeks early ingenuity, the creativity and the skill in the smoothly sculptured mythical figures and the busts of their statesmen and philosophers.

Just one of many sculptures in the Old Museum

They were far ahead of their time, and we, in our modern culture has them to thank. The Greeks lent their artistic talents to the Italians and gave us equal beauty from Rome.

In this museum we, not only enjoyed the sculptures but some of the artifacts in jewelry, tools and pottery from before the birth of Christ.

I liked the room that demonstrated the power given to women and Marilyn and I especially liked the sculpture of the “Wounded Amazon”. Power to the women!!

The Wounded Amazon

After we went through the Old Museum, and while trying to find the Old National Gallery, we stopped, regrouped and had a typical German snack – cake.

We walked around in the cold air, asking for information and while on the way to the National Gallery, we found a ticket kiosk where Marilyn purchased tickets to the opera, La Boheme for Christmas Day. She surprised me by telling me my ticket would be my Christmas present. What a friend.

My favorite painter Max Lieberman in the Old National Gallery

We also found the Old National Gallery with old master artists’ work plentiful and we spent lots of time marveling over what we saw and experienced. Marilyn, when I told her my favorite was the Dutch painter Max Lieberman, told me I was prejudiced. Sure, I am; but the Dutch are renowned artists and deserve the credit.

 

Today the air was even colder and snow fell softly down to fill the ground with about two inches of snow.

We were headed for the flea market but got lost, and therefore, we had lunch on the top floor of a department store in a different shopping center than where we have been previously. Getting lost gives you opportunity to see and learn more about the city and country, so I never mind that.

We found Santa in a department store dressed in blue and white

Then we decided to see a movie and headed on a bus and a tram, and got lost again, but finally found our way to the movie, Anna Karina. We both thought the movie was creative and compelling, and encourage you to see it.

On the way back to the hotel, since I haven’t done quite as much walking as previous days, I made a comment that three out of four of my usual pains are not painful. I still have a sore arm from carrying the suitcases up the staircase, and hope that by the time I leave, it will have improved.

An uplifting experience

It’s a day of rest; I needed a day away from walking to rest my legs and the painful arm that was wrenched when I yanked my suitcases up a very, very long stairway last week.

Marilyn and I are sitting inside the hotel coffee shop drinking cappuccino’s, catching up on Facebook and emails, and so I thought I’d write an ‘uplifting’ story today.

The story begins with an ‘up front’ purchase from a high end department store.

A portion of our getting acquainted with the business section of Berlin took us into the KaDeWe store. When I was here in Berlin, with my nieces and nephews a few years ago, one of the places they took me was inside the KaDeWe store and I always wanted to go back again.

So while Marilyn put up with me walking around in the store, as we gasped at the prices – three and four hundred euros for a purse, ridiculous amounts of money for cosmetics and so on, we did find some sales, but those were out of range for us, as well…until….and I’ll keep you ‘suspended’ here until I divulge the item.

We took a break and went upstairs to the fancy cafeteria. I got a ‘can’t turn down’ cake with berries, star fruit, kiwi, while she got something healthy.

At one point I decided to get a glass of just plain tap water, and I asked at the cashier station where I could get that, I was told water was to purchase by the bottle. When I tried to make the cashier understand that all I wanted was a drink of normal tap water, she told me tap water was only for those people who needed to take some medicine.

That comment was a bit of a ‘downer’.

I didn’t get the water, and that was okay. We went back down from the ‘top’ of the store to the women’s department, where I saw it.

“I cannot believe it. The sale price is so good, and I’m in need of one. I have been ‘hanging’ on to this for months and it is so worn out, it’s time to replace it and besides that, the purchase it would make me feel ‘so up’. I’m just going to ‘spring’ for this, without even trying it on. The size is right so here goes.”

“You’re right. The price is good, and now’s the time to buy it.” Marilyn was upright and forward thinking about purchasing the item.

So I took the bra off the rack and bought it.

It was an uplifting experience.

 

Bonus photo:  Skating in the Christmas market

Lunching with an old friend

About six months after I returned from Costa Rica, in 2005, and into my old job as reporter for the South County Newspapers, a young man was hired to report for the King City Rustler. I couldn’t have imagined then that Marc LeBlanc and I would be sitting in a restaurant in Berlin, enjoying German food, six years later.

But there I was and there he was sitting opposite me. His  assistant Natalie, sat next to him, and next to me, my friend, visiting me from Colorado was Marilyn gallery building from the 1880s has been restored  and right now is showing the work of Paul Cowan, Fergus Feehily, Hans-Jorg Mayer and Bernard Piffaretti.

It was a learning experience to hear the extent of work a gallery manager has to accomplish for a successful showing.

Marc left King City and attended an art college in San Francisco where he studied art gallery management, and later had an intern position in Japan.

Marc is practically fluent now in German and I must say he looked good and it was really fun to connect with him again.

 

Marc and his assistant Natalie in Berlin