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Germany 2009 Trip Blog

March 26, 2009
Berlin, Germany

Hello, friends,

Today we began our visit to Berlin with a stop at the New National Gallery, dedicated to 20th century art. It's housed in Mies Van der Rohe's recreation of the 1929 Barcelona Pavilion at the World's fair (if I'm remembering my architectural history right) - a vast, completely glazed pavilion, which means that you can't hang art in it. (It also has lovely Barcelona chairs that you can't get out of). So the entire collection is in the basement, and a more depressing take on the 20th century I have not seen. German Expressionism hits hard, and you wonder if the "degenerate art" that Hitler took such pains to eradicate was not simply the German response to the cultural upheaval and disjunctures of the 20th century. In a country where everything is so carefully ordered, and the rule of law so highly regarded, the pace of change represented by 20th century art must have been a lot to swallow, and there had to be a backlash. The kitsch of social realism is not covered in this museum, so the next thing you see after the 1920's is work from the postwar years - angst, dislocation and darkness; the emperor's new clothes stripped away for sure.

Then for something a little lighter we visited the Sony Center in the Potsdamer Platz. Once Berlin's hub of commerce and transportation, the Potsdamer Platz was bombed to smithereens in the war. It became a sort of no-man's land during the years of partition, an open field with bunnies running across it. Today it's an icon of the new, reunited Germany - and a temple of commercialism, of which the gadzooky, glass-umbrella-topped Sony Center is the centerpiece.

I had planned to NOT focus on the war years in this visit, but on the new life of the city since reunification. However, it's just not possible to separate Berln from its history. It seems like everything here looks backwards (at least) as much as forwards. Our hotel, in the old Eastern Block, is across the street from the "Deutscher Dom", a reconstruction (as most old-looking buildings here are) of an 18th century building. Inside there are 4 floors of the stormy history of Germany's road to democracy, including a feature-length film of the war years, not sparing any of the difficult details - ghettos and concentration camps as well as civilian preparations for the war and the bombing of Berlin. This is not so much for tourists (no translations), but for domestic edification. There was also a contemporary newsreel of a convention of Axis heads of state here in 1940, filmed by Leni Riefenstahl to a soundtrack using Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" - a stunning irony, I thought - a Jewish American composer's work used to showcase the Third Reich.

OK, next posting will be lighter, we promise...

best to all,
David & Eliza

March 28, 2009
The Reichstag

OK,

We promised something lighter today. But I'm afraid it isn't really light at all. It's a scale model of the Reichstag made out of chocolate, and it weights 480 kilos...you remember the Reichstag. It's the building Christo wrapped in fabric-backed aluminum foil in 1993. The actual building was pretty much destroyed in the last days of the war, but not before it was set on fire in 1933 by either the Nazis or the Communists (no one is sure which), thus propelling the Nazis into power. Since reunification, British architect Norman Foster won a competition to rebuild the dome, which now has a mirrored glass column inside. And now it's used by parliament again. We thought it was generous of them to hire a Brit.

Like everything here, though, this Reichstag betrays a certain ambivalence. It is made (of course!) of bitter chocolate.

Chocolate Reichstag

And here's an 8 ft. bunny in the same chocolate shop, made of tiny, foil-wrapped chocolate bunnies....

Chocolate Bunny

Hope these brighten your day!!

Eliza & David

March 30, 2009
Berlin & Beyond

Dear Friends,

Now that we are cruising down the river, we wanted to leave you with a few images of Berlin. First, some new architecture:

Berlin Civic Architecture

the new civic center across the Spree from the Reichstag, and

Berlin Civic Center

The Brandenburger Tor, with the four horses that Napoleon stole and sent to Paris, that Bismarck conquered back, and two more horses, native to Berlin. Oh, and...

Brandenburger Tor

Finding that the real estate bubble has burst here as at home, we picked up this little vacation spot for a song and are, as you can see, already starting to renovate!

Our New House

We're now docked outside of Wittenberg, in the Land of Luther. The river Elbe is very high, and rushes by our windows at great speed. But we are cozy in our cabin and getting to know an interesting variety of travel companions.

So far the trip has been very full, with excursions morning and afternoon. Of course they are all "optional", but you know us!

More next time

Peace
Eliza & David

April 4, 2009
Travel in East Germany

Dear Friends,

In the past few days we have seen a whole lot of the former GDR - some highlights:

We visited Wittenberg, where Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the main (and lovely) church. A charming town - sounds as though life among Luther and his crowd was not a lot unlike life at the GTU. Makes us look like a bunch of conservatives, though.

But Eliza's real pilgrimage was to the Bauhaus in Dessau, which has been so beautifully restored that it looks as though it was built yesterday. We also visited the (Gropius-designed) homes of Kandinsky and Klee. Interestingly, houses of much more recent vintage in Dessau are much more conventional, old-fashioned. For an architectural movement that had so much influence worldwide, the Bauhaus seems to have had relatively little at home.

Wednesday night we docked in Dresden, sailing into the city to see it all lit up by night. It is a beautiful city of 500,000, and has many buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries, in spite of all that was one to it during the war. Eliza visited the Frauenkirche, destroyed during the war and only rebuilt in the last 5 years, after the fall of the Soviet Union and reunification. Arriving at the moment the noon service began, I went in and sat down in this fabulous wedding cake of a church. Pink, blue and gold, with boxes like an opera house. After a little organ music, a psalm, a reading and a short homily. Then I thought I'd sneak out to join David for lunch. But the usher stopped me at the door, saying, "You can stay for another ten minutes."

"Well," I thought, "the nerve!" But I was good and sat back down. Another prayer, a few minutes of silence, then the organ let loose with the most incredible Baroque fanfare, fugue and free-for-all. It filled the building, it resonated, it was magnificent! When I left, the usher murmured, "Now, wasn't that worth waiting for?"

Today we're in "Saxon Switzerland", not actually Switzerland, but a series of dramatic sandstone cliffs much favored by climbers. The weather is really lovely - that dreamy kind of spring weather that you only get in places where there is really winter.


Arriving Dresden at Night


Frauenkirche and Frauenkirche Dome


She's Not Having Any!

April 9, 2009
View from Prague

Dear Friends

A lot has happened since we last wrote! Tonight we went to the Greek Catholic Catholic Cathedral of St. Clement for a chamber concert. The concert was enjoyable, but I was reminded why "Chamber Music" is called "Chamber Music"! It is intended to be played and enjoyed in an intimate setting with ceilings lower than 60' and a reverb time shorter than 5 seconds! By the time we leave Prague, we will have attended 5 concerts in 6 days, somewhat of a record for us. Tomorrow night is Aida at the Prague State Opera. (Actually it is now Thursday evening, our last evening in Prague and we went to Aida last night - very enjoyable and followed by the best meal of the trip!)

We arrived in Prague on Sunday, April 5 and there were zillions of people here with us. Fortunately things thinned out on Monday.

Viking Cruises kept us walking from about 10 am till 4:30 pm. They wanted us off the boat so the cabins could be cleaned and until the hotel had cleaned to rooms of the next group to get on the boat. The crowds were compounded because Obama was in Prague and security was extra tight with many parts of the city closed off entirely. In addition, the European Volleyball Championship finals were happening between Greece and Italy. They were so loud and rowdy we thought it was a big soccer match.

STOP THE PRESSES!!!

On this last evening in Prague, we just returned from a show stopper. Both of us think we have just heard the most magnificent musical performance in many years. The Prague Symphony Orchestra and the Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno performed the Dvorak Requiem. Done to perfection! This was followed by a dinner of similar quality. The evening was so terrific that we have chosen to substitute it for the just so-so evening we had in San Miguel de Allende on our actual anniversary (January 7).

Back to the rest of our journey.

There are more castles in Prague than anywhere we have visited. We visited more castles than David ever ever hoped for! The most interesting was the Lobkovicz Castle.

The Lobkovicz Castle dates back to the 16th Century, but some parts of the castle were built as early as the 12th century. The audio tour was narrated by the current heir, who is an American. This added to the interest substantially, because he related stories he had grown up with.His great-great-great-great (etc.) grand father was the main patron to Beethoven. After Beethoven became disenchanted with Napoleon (when he named himself emperor) he re-dedicated his Third Symphony (Eroica) to this ancestor. The original manuscript for this Symphony, as well as for the Fifth Symphony, in Beethoven's own hand, are displayed in a case at the castle. This same ancestor played music with Beethoven and other composers of the time.

Prague is one of the most beautiful cities we have visited, but photos will have to wait until after our return as it is quite late and I still want to say more about the journey we have been on.

The day before we arrived in Prague we visited the concentration camp at Theresienstadt. Some of you may recall that this was the camp that was used for propaganda. For a while they had a symphony orchestra and sports teams and many other amenities so they could make a film to show the world how well they were treating their Jews.

It was all a lie. After the film was made and the Red Cross had been allowed in for an inspection, it all changed. Although it was never a "death camp" per se, thousands died there. It was the primary transfer point for the Jews from central Europe to Auschwitz an Dachau. It is one of those places we visit that is very hard to see! There are too many ghosts that remain.

I have just noticed that it is after midnight here and we get up at 6 in the morning to begin the arduous journey back to the realities of Aptos. So I will have to continue this narrative from the airports and the airplanes.

Peace and much love.
Eliza & David