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.


Gemäldegalerie Berlin/ Botticelli, Caravaggio

I did think of rushing off to Florence for a weekend and joining the tourist hordes to view some favourite Renaissance art including Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. Instead in an empty Berlin gallery I view another Venus by Botticelli, a painting made in the same series, no lines, no noise, no tour groups.

Gemäldegalerie houses an outstanding collection of European works from the 1200s to 1700s. The Italian section is particularly impressive housing several Botticellis, Filippo Lippi, Raffael, Titian works with also a rather wicked Caravaggio, painted of a cupid, purported to be a likeness of his lover at the time.

There is also a huge Flemish collection, with several Rembrandt masterpieces which are absolutely stunning. Also van Eyck, Bruegel and Dürer paintings. The list goes on. Trust me, just go visit this gallery.

On a less high brow note, I notice the Sommerkino, outdoor movies, are shown in front of the museum in the Kulturforum. We return to watch James Bond Sky Fall auf Deutsch that night, in the 10 PM dusk.


Filmpark Babelsberg Berlin

I am glad I make this trip with a few weeks Goethe Institut lessons under my belt, as this park is very much oriented to German speaking families.

I take the tour as it traverses the studios next door, which are of my greatest interest. The studios are 100 years old and ooze film industry heritage, even Hitchcock worked here for a time.

We see where a favourite German soap is filmed, and then are allowed onto a sound stage, which was used for the Kate Winslet film The Reader. What we dont see is the permanent full scale Berlin street set used in the Bourne films for example, built at great expense for the film Sonnenallee. I probe the tour guide over the George Clooney film being made here, and what film stage its being shot on, but she keeps stumm. I ponder making a Bourne like dash for where her eyes went when I asked, but decide against it.

We return to watch an entertaining stunt show, then I check out a hall displaying the crafts involved in film making. By the costume and make up section, I find a full scale Lord of the Rings Orc, made back home, and inquire of its origin. I am told its left over from an exhibition.

I wander back out into the heat. I think over the snippy Trip Advisor comments by English speakers about the park, that it lacks the adrenaline buzz of Universal Studios, yes sure, but as a film buff I’m just happy to have visited the place where so much German film history originated.


Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin

This is the last of the five museums on the UNESCO protected Museum Insel, museum island, I was yet to explore.

The gallery building, another by the prolific architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, houses works from the late 1700s through to the 1900s. What I enjoyed was some of the royal scandals behind the works displayed.

For example, the stunning double statue of two young women by sculptor Schadow, of Luise and Friederike, whom in 1793 were married off to the Crown Prince of Prussia and his younger brother respectively.

One princess had 8 children and died at 34 a paragon of virtue. Unlike her sister, whom after losing her husband within a year to diphtheria, took to being a bit too much of a merry widow.

I loved the subtle subversiveness of many of the palace’s artists too. Franz Krüger for example, made what should have been a picture of an early 1800s royal mounted parade, not about the Kaiser, but instead stuck him over to the side, whilst in the foreground detailed were Berlin people in the street.

There are three storeys of German works, all amazing, and also some fabulous French impressionist works Max Liebermann had the foresight to purchase in France for the Berlin Gallery. The collection includes Manet, Monet, Renoir and Rodin.


Filmhaus Museum Berlin mit Marlene Dietrich

I am always drawn back to Potsdamer Platz to the massive Sony Centre Cinema Complex. It’s where the annual Berlin Film Festival is held each February and where red carpet international movie premieres take place. It’s a tourist destination in its own right due to its towering futuristic dome and atrium.

The Filmhaus Museum there has a huge collection of German film and TV memorabilia, from movie sets, scripts, props and costumes, dating from early last century to today. Even if you don’t know your Fritz Lang from your Werner Herzog, it’s still fascinating and a good portion of the permanent display is dedicated to the diva, Marlene Dietrich.

You can see original footage of her first major film ‘Der Blaue Engel’ the blue angel, hear her songs, see costumes worn in her German and later Hollywood films.

Some of her most intimate belongings are on display including her make up box, love letters, home movies, and the black top hat too. Plus, her American army uniform she wore when she entertained the troops in unoccupied Europe and Africa. (She became an American citizen in 1939). Looking at how tiny waisted her costumes are, she must have been very svelte and watching her in post war Billy Wilder’s ‘A Foreign Affair’ she definitely improved with age.

No wonder she chewed through so many Hollywood A listers from Jimmy Stewart to John Wayne, but the only man who totally captivated her was Jean Gabin, a French actor. They lived together in Los Angeles and post war Paris, where he apparently was the first man to ever leave her.

Underneath the Filmhaus is the cinema Arsenal, where you can watch many old German classics regularly screening like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis through to Q and A’s with Directors.


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.


Another chip out of the wall

I have a postcard in my hand. It has a chip of the Berlin wall captured in a plastic bubble stuck on the front of it. That, with thousands of cards like it, if they are real, are about all thats left of the ‘mauer.’

There’s little left to physically see of the wall now. Much of it I am told, was broken down into chips for parking lots. There is supposedly a section of the wall in the CIA headquarters as a triumphant reminder of the restoration of democracy, and a number of international cities also appropriated a display piece.

You can trace the footprint of it though in the pavement from Potsdamer Platz. There is a Watch Tower still standing just around the corner. You can follow it right through into Friedrich Strasse where the daily Check Point Charlie circus plays out with faux American soldiers posing with tourists for 10 Euros a time.

They stand only a few hundred metres from where real American soldiers witnessed a young East German man bleed out in no mans land, shot trying to scramble over the wall to the west by a GDR border guard. His name was Peter Fechter and he was 18 years old.