Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Coming Home Again

Home ends the journey.  We flew back to the USA on Monday, and arrived to an unkempt yard, cobwebs in the cupboards and an empty refrigerator.  This is the second early morning as we gradually transition to our home time zone.  I almost miss the daily push to write about the day, but yesterday was not worth it.  As with previous trips, I still have things to say.  In the coming month I will post about some of the thoughts and observations that have swirled in my mind during the trip.  I want to write about travel in Eastern Europe, about what makes a superb hotel, construction in Berlin, and transportation in a city.  As I settle in, I'm sure there will be other topics, but for now, I'm taking a rest from writing, taking some distance from the journey, putting my house in order.  Check in from time to time this next month, and you might find something new.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Cool Museum on a Hot Day

Yesterday was hot, and our pleasure at Potsdam was diminished by the effort it took to survive the heat. Today was forcast to be even hotter. In fact the temperature climbed to 95 F.  But we coped much better with the heat today 

After a sweaty night I rose early to walk Kate through deserted streets to catch the subway to her bus back to the Netherlands.

We took our time getting started this morning and realized that our priority was figuring how to get to Tegel Airport on Monday morning. It would have been easy because an express bus to the airport stops just across the street.  Unfortunately construction, which is omnipresent, has interrupted this service. Our information seemed to indicate that the express did leave from Zoologischer Garten, and the bus across the street did go there. So we packed a lunch and set out to verify the departures of this X bus.  

We hopped on Bus 100 which wound us past the Reichstag and through the Tiergarten, coming to a terminus at the Zoologischer  Garten.  We exited the bus and started looking around. After checking different corners we realized that there was actually a bus terminal with six or seven stations for different busses. And one of these spots was home to the Tegel Xpress bus.  All we have to do tomorrow is take the 200 bus to the ZG and pick up the Xpress to Tegel. We bought tickets already, so the ride will be a piece of cake. 

By the time all that was worked out we decided to head toward the Gemalde Galerie which was not too far away. We figured that some time in a cool art museum was the way to beat the heat. We boarded bus 200 which headed us east, and we got out at the closest stop to the museum.  Once again we were at the cool, shady edge of the Tirgarten. It was the perfect place to eat our sandwiches. We looked out over a bright, green algae carpet and enjoyed our last picnic of the trip. 

The museum was nearly across the street. I remembered the riches of this museum from forty years ago. But there was also an excellent special exhibit.
It was on the Golden Age of Spanish painting and began with El Greco and continued into the 17th century. It was extensive and very well presented. But I didn't want to miss the old masters, so I didn't linger. We worked our way through rooms of Durer, Cranach, Holbein, Brueghel, Hals, Rubens and more until we reached the Rembrandt.  There were almost two rooms full of Rembrandt paintings including the one we are using as a bulletin cover this fall at CTR.
The model Rembrandt used for the Head of Christ was Jewish. And a painting of the model hung next to the Christ.
Not only were there many Rembrandts, but also two of the extant Vermeers.  

When we were finally worn out, we felt like a cup of afternoon coffee. It had been too hot the other days for coffee. And today was even hotter, but we had spent it in a cool art museum. We even split a creamy chocolate cake for tea time. 

When we left the museum we headed east again on Bus 200.  Our last stop was a ride up the Fernsehturm.
There was no line so we boarded the elevator and headed for the observation deck. The decor was very retro and reflected the 60s when this tower was built. We had a good view of the Brandenburg Gate and could even identify the location of our apartment by the tall yellow crane outside our window. 

We found a restaurant close by and enjoyed our final beers of the trip.
Now it is time to pack and get ready to fly home. It has been a wonderful trip, but it will feel good to be back I. Our own bed again. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

To Potsdam and Sanssouci

IFor many years I have wants to visit Frederick the Great's famous palace named Sanssouci. I ink that part of the fascination is the name. What a choice for a summer home-"Not to Worry."  There are stories of the music played there, of Voltaire's visit, of Mendelsohn's friendship with Frederick.  All of these stories drew me here.  And to top it off, this place was inaccessible during the Cold War.  

Today the sun smiled on Sanssouci and we exhausted ourselves taking it all in. When we had dinner with Robert and Alex on Thursday evening, they offered to buy us tickets for Sanssouci when they went on Friday. Kate arrived on Friday afternoon so we planned to visit the palaces on Saturday. 

We took the S Bahn to Potsdam where we met Robert and Alex in the train station. They pointed us to the right bus and we were off. Our tickets to Sanssouci were at 2:20 so we started at the Neue Palais.
Sanssouci was where Frederick lived, and it did include some guest rooms, but he had so many visitors that he built this second palace as a guest house for all those friends. Later monarchs actually lived in this palace, and had parts of it modernized with bathrooms, electricity, and a tunnel to bring the food from the kitchens in a separate building on trolley carts instead of walking it on platters. 

The first room in this palace was the most stunning. It was called The Grotto, and was covered with shells and underwater designs.

Frederick's style was Roccoco, and he even had his own special version of that style. In the mid 18th century it was a bit old fashioned, and his successors chose the neoclassical style in their renovations, but compared to the profusion of Roccoco, those revisions were relatively minor. 

There were bedrooms, study rooms, a spectacular ballroom, music rooms, filled with porcelain, crystal, mirrors marble and gold.

After a good audio tour we started on a leisurely walk across the grounds to the Sanssouci palace.
On the way we stopped at the Chinese House, a relatively small, but extravagant spot where we found a shady bench for our picnic. The theme of the house was Chinese, but it reflected more fascination than knowledge of Asia, which was an exotic and far off place in 18th century Europe. 

As we finished our sandwiches, we were treated to an amazing improv moment. There is a low chain covered by vines that guards the gilded porch and statues.
As we watched, a laughing family group approached with cameras in hand. These folks were Mediterranean in language and temperament. They decided that this spot would be great for a group photo. No sooner had they spotted the location, than someone decided that they should step over the barrier and gather on the gilded steps. So they proceeded to gather. At first it was a small group, but gradually everyone took their place in a group photo in this off limits spot. More and more joined. There were children too, all laughing and having a wonderful time.  There must have been twenty people in the group.  We kept waiting for one of the German museum guards to notice and shoe them away, but no one came. They got bolder, and soon small groups were posing with their arms around the gilded statues, as if they were bronze figures intended for the purpose.

Still no guards came. Finally the jolly band departed and a Russian family posed, straight and formal in the same place. Finally a guard inside the house noticed and rapped on the window, but the anticipated chasing of the tourists never happened and we wished we had taken a few photos of those happy people ourselves. It was an unforgettable moment. 

From there we walked to the famous palace of Sanssouci. We approached from the fountain, climbing the cascading steps through terraced vineyards to the long yellow building with the green dome. We arrived a few minutes early,  

This was a smaller place and bore the stamp of Frederick's personality in every room.  He was a man who loved nature and music and books. The vines and flowers and animals depicted on the walls, in the furniture on the porcelain were omnipresent.

There were a number of portraits, and the chair where he died is displayed prominently. This was a place where Voltaire and other figures of the enlightenment visited, and where musicians played each evening.  

By the time the tour was over, however, we were hot and thirsty, so we headed to the nearby cafe for refreshment.

We took a look at the art gallery before we found the bus and S Bahn connection back to our apartment in Berlin. We dined at the welcoming Italian restaurant outside our building and walked the street with cones before turning in.  Finally I have seen Sanssouci Palace. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Back to the Kudamm

Today we set out to use our hop on bus again.  First I returned to the grocery store I had seen last night when we went to dinner. I added to our stash by buying milk, lunch meat, fruit and yogurt. And with these ingredients I made us sandwiches to take along. 

We wanted to pick up the hop on bus at the Kudamm, but as we crossed the street to go to the Friedrichstrasse station, along came Bus 100. That is the magic bus that takes you in all those places the rail lines do not go. We rode it until we were in the Tiergarten. Looking out the window Peter spied shady benches and dappled walkways. We grabbed our things, pressed the stop button and stepped down across from a beautiful spot. We crossed the street, walked a few feet, and we were in a cool paradise with a delicious lunch. 

After finishing our cookies and fruit we continued with Bus 100 until we saw the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedachtnis Kirche. Again we headed to the bus door. There we were at the head of the Kurf├╝rstendamm at the memorial church. It brought me back again to 1976 when this building was empty and sad. The church was bombed during World War II, but it was left in its ruined state as a remembrance.  I remember going there often and thinking, as I passed,  that this city would never be reunified. 

Today we saw that the interior of the old building had been partially restored. The modern remembrance church beside it has a meaning which was not apparent to me in 1976. The glass is the work of Gabriel Loire who did the window at Christ Church where we worshipped for so many years. Loire's workshop was at Chartres and reflects the colors in that beautiful medieval cathedral which we have visited so often with groups from Waring. It is a place of peace and meditation. 

After leaving the church we walked up the Kudamm in the direction of the hotel where I stayed in 1976.  We found a terrasse and cooled down with the Berlin equivalent of shandys. 
Thus fortified we found that yellow bus and rode for an hour or so. We had a great view of the new buildings that have sprung up around Potsdammer Platz. 

And finally we passed a section of the original Wall that divided this city for so long. It is a sad and impotent barrier. 
And then the bus turned down Friedrichstrasse, and we were face to face with Checkpoint Charlie. Peter and I remember well this place and the chilling sight of the barricaded, mined approach to the wall from the eastern side. We had come into the DDR for a day to visit the Pergamon Museum. Little did we imagine we would be staying in a gleaming apartment in what was then such a gray place just blocks from that museum. 

Forty years ago I applied for a one day pass to cross into the DDR to visit Potsdam and the Sansouci Palace. It was denied. Tomorrow we visit that Palace.