Thursday, June 9, 2011

Berlin Museums

Saturday, June 4, 2011
It's hot in Berlin today, and humid. Too hot for this time of year Sandra tells us. But the apartment is cool with breezes flowing in through the windows. When all are ready, we head a few blocks to Atlantic Café for breakfast of omelets and other good stuff and conversation.

Dave and I decide to take the U-Bahn (subway) to MuseumInsel (museum island) for the afternoon. We agree to meet at 8 for dinner at Felix Austria. The subway is 3 blocks away from the apartment, in a bit tattered station, but easy to use and the cars are clean and comfortable. A one way ticket costs 2 Euros 30. We figure out the machine (you can choose English) and head to the museum stop which is 500 m from the island where all the museums are.

We stand in line for tickets to the Neues Museum first because they give you an entrance time. However, we get right in. This museum was badly damaged in WWII and was stabilized shortly after the war, but only restored after the wall came down and only opened about a year ago. The museum houses the Egyptian, Greek and Roman parts of the collection but the building itself is as worthy of study as the collections.

An English architect, David Chipperfield, was responsible for the restoration and his approach was (in my mind) brilliant. He kept what was possible and made no attempt to make modern parts look like they are old. Instead, he chose simple, plain concrete that matched the feeling of the space. The museum feels of a whole but at the same time shows it's checkered history. Where decoration remained, it was kept. One Egyptian room in particular had been redone before the war with a dropped ceiling. The paintings on the walls above the dropped ceiling were never touched, but the walls below had been overpainted and so the original paintings were already lost before the war. Now the room is opened up and you can see the ceiling and the very top of the walls that were above the dropped ceiling. And they're amazing.

The scale of this museum is also worth noting. The grand central hall with its massive columns and door remains while the original décor is gone and we see brick walls and where the grand staircase had been totally lost, we see a cement staircase on the same scale and same location as the original would have been.

We spend several hours looking in this museum and then head for the Pergamen. We had seen this museum 35 years ago when it was on the East German side of the wall. I have always remembered it because its exhibitions were on such a grand scale. They display major parts of ancient buildings - a Greek temple, city gates from ??, the ceramic tile entry wall of the palace in Babylon. The museum doesn't disappoint. While Dave wanders the huge displays, I stitch on the steps of the Greek temple. We leave at 6 when the museum closes.

On the way back to the U-Bahn, we stop at a biergarten for refreshments. I order an ice cream with hot raspberry sauce and a coke. The coke and water come with ice cubes. Dave orders beer. It's shaded and quiet in this courtyard even though it's under the train tracks. A group of 15 men come in to order beer. Several small groups are eating dinner. Dave and I both have this strange epiphany as we watch these people. They are our people. They look like our aunts and uncles, cousins. They are our family. These people could be sitting in any bar in Appleton or Cumberland. It's not a feeling we ever had in France. There's an inescapable culture in your genes that you are not really ever aware of.

It's especially strange because these people know immediately that we are not from here, we're strangers. We are not part of them, but they are part of us. In restaurants, waitresses always offer us English menus without even needing to ask. We refuse because we can read the German menus and we know what the foods are in German. We don't always know what the food is when we see an English translation because these cannot capture the style of the food and that is often more important than if it is baked or what kind of meat it is.

Feeling somewhat refreshed, we take the U-Bahn back to where we will meet for dinner. The cafes are now full of people and I watch at the market hall where there are lines of people getting ice cream. It must be a good place as there is always a line in the 45 minutes I am watching. (And doing needlework with a glass of rosé wine at the next café while I wait for everyone to gather at our restaurant.) There are all sorts of children and families pushing strollers and buggies. The streets are lively with people.

At 8 we all meet at Felix Austria for the biggest kalb (veal) schnitzel I've ever seen. It's delicious. And served with cucumber salad which I had forgotten how much I like. It's just sliced cucumbers dressed in a light vinegar dressing that is just a bit sweet, with fresh dill. We eat with Sandra and Wiley and their friend Benny. Again, we have good conversation on all sorts of subjects from art to skiing.

Sandra and Wiley rent a movie which we watch on their "big screen" TV - they've hooked up a projector to their sound system and show the movie on the white wall of their bedroom. Brilliant. The movie lasts a long time and is pretty depressing. Biutiful by director Inarritu. It's set in Barcelona (but not the parts the tourist would see) and deals with all sorts of immigration issues as well as death from cancer. It's well done and we don't fall asleep in the film, but it's not a happy ending.

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