Potsdam – Barberini Museum

Its four years since I visited Potsdam on the outskirts of Berlin. At the time, most of the historic buildings in the old market square area were ring-fenced by tall hoardings and crowned by a cluster of cranes. Heavy war damage and subsequent DDR disinterest meant it is only now, many years after the Wall came down, that the city’s important buildings are rehabilitated, some from the ground up.

Just opened in January is the Barberini Museum, built in the likeness of the palace built here by Frederick the Great the second in 1772. He was inspired in his palace design by the Barberini palazzo residence in Rome.

The building was bombed almost flat on April 14 1945 and the rubble cleared in 1948. It was eventually replaced with tasteless ‘tin can’ hall but it was torn down in favour of a return to the original design.

The building is stunning and the Alt Markt Square on this side is truly gorgeous. But enough of the location, the art inside the new gallery is also marvellous.

There are 10 of us on this visit to celebrate a birthday. I am with a cultured crew, and we make a serious effort to see everything in one afternoon.

The headline exhibition is from the Washington Phillips Collection called From  Hopper to Rothko. Its completely absorbing, if not a bit ironic to be looking at a Jackson Pollock in a corner of Brandenburg.

To get back on more of a German theme, I break off from the others and head for the DDR art section, having seen some amazing works in Dresden in the past.

I have huge respect for these artists, who walked a perilously fine line between self expression and political correctness. I enjoyed Wolfgang Mattheuer’s abstract work. But I particularly liked artist Rolf Händler, who didnt get caught up in this conundrum, he just kept to a regular output of self portraits.

Downstairs is some very fine Monets and sculptures by Rodin. But the river side cafe is where we re-group and sit panting under sun umbrellas in the 30 Celsius heat.



Bauhaus to Bach in Weimar

I wasnt going blog this stay in Berlin as I am supposed to be focussed on my documentary, but just one week here and its a holiday weekend already.  Time to get back on a train again.

I have been obsessed with the Bauhaus movement and was curious about its origins in Weimar. I take a couple of trains snaking my way south and arrive in a brewing thunderstorm.

A short walk into town watching the dark skies and on the square facing the famous statue of Goethe and Schiller, is the Bauhaus Museum. Quickly inside, I am bemused to find for the first time I can take photos with impunity. In Berlin’s Bauhaus Archive, this is verboten.

I make up for lost time and capture every sculpture, household item design, architectural model and painting. Which isnt a lot -as this is Bauhaus lite. Whilst housing an archive of 10,000 items there is only a space of about 200 -300 square metres given over to an exhibition. Never the less, its amazing to sight the originals of items I have only known in books. And many of my heroes’ work is here – Itten, Klee, Schlemmer.

I listen to the audio guide and learn of a remarkable movement that originally flourished here with a heyday in 1920 – 1925 supported by a relatively liberal state government, until the downward spiral of intolerance began and the school was closed in 1930.

The skies open and visitors crowd into the gallery for shelter rather than edification. I have an umbrella with me and take a dash out into the torrential rain.

I try to stalk a few of the Bauhaus artists, looking for their apartments on the Bauhaus sites map. Several of the street names have changed and when I arrive at Oskar Schlemmer’s flat at Prellerstrasse 14, the building looks almost brand new.

I do find Nietzsche’s house on a detour into an opulent suburb on the city’s fringe, but circle back for some shelter in the Deutsches Nationaltheater foyer where I end up being talked into buying a ticket to their Bach concert.

Image is Johannes Itten’s ‘Turm des Feuers’ 1920 Bauhaus  Museum Weimar.

A new larger Bauhaus museum is being built to open in 2019.

More images are on instagram – susangibsonpr



Back to Berlin – again

The holiday is almost at an end. I have 48 hours left in Europe so I bolt north on the ICE train for a quick visit to the Berliner Bear.

I am staying in the leafy suburb of Dahlem in an old, opulent apartment complete with parquet floors, french doors and high ceilings. Berlin’s Botanical Gardens and the Free University are just a short walk away.

Dinner is in Charlottenberg and most of the conversation is about art and politics. Later my host  takes me into the city for a drink at the famous Adlon Hotel on Pariser Platz facing the Brandenburg Gate.

I have a full commentary on his experiences growing up in a divided city whilst I down Bellinis. We talk so late we leave the hotel to find the Brandenburg Gate almost devoid of tourists.

Next morning I eat breakfast in a local cafe pouring over the Berliner MorgenPost reading of the recent election. There have been gains made by the far right party which is a little unsettling in what is normally a liberal city.

Its a glorious day so I eventually rouse myself to walk the length of the Unten den Linden towards the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral). I note many of the familiar old buildings are now draped in scaffolding for repairs.

I have just the afternoon free so choose one gallery to visit today, the Bauhaus Archiv.

It’s a good call. On display are some of the top items in the archive. I am back amongst work by Klee, Itten and Kandinsky and for the first time, I home in on Oskar Schlemmer. He has an incredible aluminium statue that looks like something out Fritz Lang’s Metropolis film. There are also examples of the Bauhaus ‘design for living’ furniture.  These 1930s prototypes are still part of many design houses even today.

The evening finds me supporting my host’s team in what we would call back home a ‘fun run’ in the Olympic Stadium which, if you know your history, was where Hitler staged his showcase 1936 Olympic Games.  Still standing are large statues that look haughtily down on us as the teams celebrate in hospitality tents on grounds where huge rallies were held in the 1930s.

And then its pumpkin hour. I am driven to Tegel Airport for the last Air Berlin flight to Frankfurt and my arduous 26 hour journey back to the end of the world in the morning.

Thanks for taking this journey with me. Vielen danke für alles to my friends, old and new, across Europe. I look forward to seeing you again soon.


Auf wiedersehen

auf w

Back at the hotel I cull the accummulated travel detritus of the past weeks to compress my belongings into one bag for the Air Berlin flight to London. The next day is my 26 hour journey back down to Das Hobbit-Land. (New Zealand).

I hate throwing out all the scribbled on visitor maps, museum brochures and train tickets that document my journey. I jettison some well travelled-in clothes instead.

I find a generic key card from some hotel I stayed in (oops) and think about the variety of places I have laid my head on this journey.

From a monastic room in a 17th Century pension building complete with bat (not a typo) –  one really did fly in for a while one night. To a cheap hotel where I was issued with a set of ear plugs due to major road works outside my window and finally my budget blow-out night in a former palace.

Its been a great adventure. Thanks to those who joined me on it. I appreciate you following me as I braved London’s crowded tourist attractions, then went on to the European Cultural Capital Festival in Plzen, Czech Republic.  I just hope the Pilsner Urquell beer profits didn’t plummet too dramatically after my departure.

Until finally I was in Germany, my original destination. Images of Dresden’s beautiful buildings with sooty traces in their brick work as a reminder of the city’s near destruction, will remain with me for a long time.

Lastly, the return to Berlin. Rehaunting old haunts. It was not the same of course. But special in its own way and I am absolutely certain I will be back.

dresdn board





Bowie’s Schöneberg, Berlin



I have one last day in Berlin and my own bit of Deutschland back home has me on an errand to Schöneberg. He wants me to bring home some lederhosen for him to wear to a Oktoberfest event. I google the specialist shop and set off on foot.

I note the late hour of the shop opening so park myself in a corner cafe until it opens. I down a series of rare one euro coffees as I wait. Finally the store opens. One side of the shop is classic lederhosen but upon examining the other side of the shop, I notice numerous modern leather outfits that are, shall we say, rather niche.

I make my purchase, thinking I am a long way from Kansas, I wander through streets where I am most definitely the odd woman out. Somehow my thoughts segue to a documentary I had seen on David Bowie’s stint in Berlin including his mesmerising music video performance in svelte leather of ‘Heroes.’

He lived with Iggy Pop in Schöneberg in the 1970’s and co-wrote ‘Heroes’ with Brian Eno, ostensibly referencing the Berlin wall, but with other nuances. A quick google comes up with an address of 155 Hauptstrasse. The GPS says I have a 20 minute walk. Any quest has its challenges and I seem to be following the blue dots in ever decreasing circles, until finally hot and sweaty, I am on the Hauptstrasse.

I walk up the street with great anticipation looking for an uber cool, probably shabby chic alt bau, but find a bland utilitarian block of flats at this address. I am at the right place though, as some joker has spray painted ‘David Bowie was here,’ on the wall. I take a couple of photos up and down this very ordinary Berlin street and head for the U Bahn station.

Update. RIP David Bowie. Your style and talent will be missed. There is talk of this street where you lived being re-named for you. I hope it does happen, it surely could do with some added star dust.


bowie blog

Treasure from Troy, Neues Museum Berlin


neues boardThis is another quick reconnaissance visit to a favourite museum. I had watched a German TV show a while back on Heinrich Schliemann who was a bit of a 19th century Indiana Jones who believed Troy was real.

A businessman and self taught archeologist, he used Homer’s Iliad references to Troy, treating them as actual historical events which guided him to Hissarlik near the Dardanelles. He worked on what is called a ‘Tell’ which is an artificial hill, often with multiple layers of civilisation.

He returned with pottery and jewellery now displayed in the Neues Museum. Whether their origin is truly Troy, the women’s golden head dresses and ear rings are exquisite.imageUpstairs I have to stop by Nefertiti once again. In the room housing the famous bust of the queen of the Armana period, I chuckle at a security guard for the 1000th time telling a visitor photos are verboten. I’ve been told off there too. Elsewhere in the museum the guards are very liberal about photos, so  if you want a picture of Nerfertiti’s likeness there are several other versions nearby.

In the basement are mummies galore and unlike the British Museum no scrum to see them.neues_3836


Deutsches Historisches Museum, German History Museum Berlin

deutches board

Originally known as the Zeughaus or armory, this beautiful Baroque building on Unten den Linden houses the national history museum. I have visited a few times as its almost impossible to cover in a day and always has interesting temporary exhibitions.

The museum is organised across the centuries up to the time of reunification. I drift by familiar exhibits which include a display case with Napoleon’s hat, sabre and spurs which Prussian soldiers found left behind after his defeat at the battle of Waterloo. I also for some reason am drawn back to the ghoulish exhibit of Emporer Wilhelm the first’s blood stained tunic post an unsuccessful assassination attempt.

Today I frame my visit around the current Zeit Schicten, Layers of Time, perspective. Throughout the museum are stations where you can look through little light boxes at the same space you are standing in, but as it was seen in past eras.

In the adjoining building, I tour the ‘1945’ exhibition covering the fates of the nations and their people’s movements post May 1945. The exhibition includes Britain, France, Germany, Scandinavia, Czechoslovakia and Poland recounting staggering statistics distilled down to a personal level with a representative 30 biographies detailed.