Pergamon Museum Berlin

If you ever angst about how short life is, then don’t go to the Pergamon Museum. Its exhibits, dating back 5000 years, will make you realise what a small inconsequential blip your life occupies in the continuum of time.

Pergamon Museum is the home of the Pergamon Altar and the Ishtar Gate for the processional way to Babylon. Currently there is an exhibition of Uruk, a 5000 year old city in southern Iraq. This exhibition has artefacts demonstrating an extremely sophisticated city with advanced administration and the first writing systems not only for pragmatic, but also literary reasons.

The Uruk exhibition celebrates 100 years since the German Archeological expedition there. Apparently the Kaiser was a fan of archeology, which explains the abundance of ancient booty unearthed and brought to Berlin in the early 1900s. Whether these foreign treasures should eventually be repatriated is a discussion for another day.

Regardless, the Pergamon Museum, with the Nefertiti exhibition next door in the Neues Museum, and three other fascinating museums in the Museum Insel precinct, comprise the most interesting collection of museums I have ever seen in any major city.


Run Susan Run

In my last days in Berlin, I am reminded of the Franka Potenta movie, in English it was called Run Lola Run, auf Deutsch, Lola rennt. I am often running now, trying to fit everything in. There is so much left to see and do. And of course there are my daily German language classes at the Goethe Institut, my primary objective.

I have absolutely loved the course. The teacher, Dieter, has a tireless, animated way of getting through to all of us. The context of the lessons are always set within interesting subjects, such as German arts, culture, film. And we are encouraged to work together in groups to problem solve our exercises.

Sometimes I don’t know where he gets his patience from. I am still grappling with the akkusativ, dativ cases etc. I have spent far more time in museums and been out late to concerts and performances, than staying in, working on my grammar.

I have been totally seduced by Berlin. Its a shame there is not a GI exam for Berlin arts and culture, as I have taken every opportunity to experience the richness of this utterly amazing city. And there is so much more I will just have to leave for a return visit, which I am already planning. Hopefully at a pace more relaxed than this has been.


Deutscher Bundestag/ German Parliament Building Berlin

I pass this imposing building every day travelling in to the city, so its time to investigate inside. As a politics and history nerd I am well rewarded.

In 1991 the decision was made to move the government of Germany from Bonn back to Berlin and in 1999 the Bundestag building opened after an extensive renovation designed by UK architect, Lord Norman Foster.

The Reichstag building dates from 1894 and it was from here in 1918 a Social Democratic Party politician announced the abdication of the Kaiser and birthed a republic.

As we know, it went a bit down hill from there. On the tour we are shown the tunnel likely used to sneak in and start the building fire in 1933 by one of Hitler’s National Socialists. The arson pinned on the Communist party, meant his opposition was expertly despatched just before the election and Hitler swept to power.

We tour the interior of today’s building with its clean modern lines, rich with fantastic contemporary art, but with interesting traces of the past in the preserved May 1945 Soviet soldiers graffiti scribbled on the walls as Berlin fell, on display.

The parliament chamber sits below a massive glass dome opening up to the sky, to symbolise transparency in all political under takings.

There is also an energy sustainability objective too. A mirror cone inside the dome funnels daylight into the chamber. Conversely a heat recovery system recycles heat rising from the chamber for heating the rest of the building. I cant help but chuckle over this, obviously politicians giving off hot air is universal the world over.


Bauhaus Museum Berlin

It’s a strange coincidence that I have a poster of the Bauhaus Archiv Berlin on my wall at home, because in this big city I have ended up living just 200 metres from this very museum.

I thought I knew a bit about the Bauhaus movement, but I now find I don’t. First this utopian collective of architects, designers, furniture makers, craftsmen and artists that flourished from 1919 to 1933 didn’t begin in Berlin, they ended up here.

They actually began in Weimar, Goethe’s stamping ground, and travelled north, first to Dessau in the mid 1920s, and then to Berlin. Regrettably their last years in Berlin were the most turbulent, and their cutting edge ideas and protoypes were declared ‘Un German’ by the National Socialists. Some of the Bauhaus members managed to escape, like Walter Gropius, the school’s former director, first to the UK, and then to the US where his influence on US architecture is undisputable.

Viewing the Bauhaus prototypes on display in the museum, you can see their influence in almost everything we use in modern life, from building design to lamps, sofas, chairs, tables, kitchen cabinetry and utensils.

There is a typographical exhibition on today, as some of the Bauhaus members sought to modernise fonts and one even dared to consider the possibility of dropping the use of capitals in sentences for simplicity. I wish that had caught on.

We are invited to tear off samples of our favourite fonts and Bauhaus quotes from thick wads of printed paper on hooks on the exhibition walls. We are a bit ill at ease at first, as rarely are you invited to remove items from a display. But in the end I return home across the road with an armload of paper that I will use to make my own personalised Bauhaus poster.


Berlin under construction

Almost everywhere you go in central Berlin there is construction. The sky is spiked with crains, huge trucks rumble by with chalky rubble from excavations, and the air is often full of fine dust.

Unter den Linden is ripped up at the Friedrich Strasse intersection, the closed up Staats Oper theatre is covered in hoardings although artfully painted to show what the end result will look like. Even crossing the bridge to the Museum Insel you can only admire the vista of the Berlin Dom through head height temporary security fencing.

Visitors to Berlin might also mistake the huge blue or pink pipe works above their head that lattice parts of the city as art installations but really they are there to drain away excess ground water from building projects.

In all, Berlin feels like a city that is still regenerating. In the narrative I read to most old museum or theatre buildings that I have visited, what surprises me most is how long its taken to repair such national treasures, either from war damage or DDR indifference. I think of Christchurch back home, flattened by a catastrophic earthquake just over two years ago, and what an enormous amount of patience it will require to recreate a city.


Berlin Zoo

Just as yesterday was wet and freezing, the weather turns 360 and today is hot and dry. We are with half of Berlin at the Zoo, the other half are at the Kreuzberg carnival.

The Zoo is in the suburbs and its an unusual sight to see exotic animals grazing in enclosures behind which are apartment blocks, and on the skyline there are office buildings displaying major German company logos, Bayer, Mercedes etc.

The cats interest us most and we dodge endless baby carriages to weave along the crowded paths in search of them.

One of the walkways we travel turns up a dusty sculpture by an artist from home of a kiwi bird. Its hidden behind some shrubs, possibly forgotten. Its inscribed as a gift by a New Zealand export company and our PM of the time.

We keep searching for the cats. We come across some amorous rhinos instead. We all gawp as the male mounts his mate. I ponder the tonnage involved whilst my companion gleefully uploads footage, the less I know about the hits he gets, the better.

We eventually find the cat enclosures. A male lion is flat on his back, torpid in the heat, a black panther is curled up almost like a domestic cat asleep, but a tiger gives us a wonderful show stretching on a log for a delighted crowd.


From Bode Museum to the Mitte

The GI’s fabulous Dr Fabritius has given up her Saturday of the Pfingsten long weekend holiday to guide us undergraduates in Berlin art, from one extreme to the other. We start at the Bode Museum which houses one of the world’s largest collections of old sculpture. As usual I am as taken as much by the architecture of the museum as much as its contents. The museum’s huge dome is truly amazing, and is to me the most beautiful building on the Unesco protected Museum Insel. Maybe Angela Merkel agrees as her apartment overlooks it.

In the afternoon we explore the flip side of the Berlin art scene, visiting a collection of contemporary independent galleries in the alleys of the Mitte. The spaces are scruffily chic, and the work is exciting, sometimes sombre and other times amusing. What isnt funny is the pouring rain and low temperatures. Berlin’s May weather see saws from stifling to freezing on alternate days and I am always a day behind in the correct clothing for the conditions. I am soaked at the end of the tour and sprint for a warm cafe and a hot chocolate.