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.

 

 

Bowie’s Schöneberg, Berlin

 

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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.

 

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Back to Berlin, Berliner Dom

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Its over two years since I lived in Berlin. I start the day catching my old favourite, the number 100 bus.  The European school holidays are over so its not as crammed as I remember. The bus passes familiar sites  of the Bauhaus Museum, the Tiergarten, the Bundestag and the Brandenburg Gate. I get off at the Berliner Dom, Berlin Cathedral.

I realise whilst I have walked past it many times, I have never been inside. There has been a church on this site since 1465. The cathedral is associated with the protestant Hohenzollerns. The architecture had several series of renovations, including work by noted architect, Schinkel in the early 1800’s. Wilhelm the 2nd had the site largely demolished and the rebuilt building we see today was completed in 1905. War damage left the site laid to waste until Germany’s reunification. The church reopened in 1993.

I tour through the interior, then head for the stairs to the top. All 270 of them. Unlike the near vertical stairs of Plzen’s cathedral I panted up, here wide stair cases lead on to annexes where you can take a break and see displays about the history and architecture.

The view from the top gives a great perspective on the building activity in Berlin. I watch a choreography of cranes working on the Berliner Schloss development. The palace is being completely rebuilt. There was not even a war damaged ruin to work back from as the DDR had detonated the remains to make way for a parade ground, much to the horror of the locals. I had viewed an empty site from the Humbolt box in 2013, now there are walls, a roof and a clear momentum.

Unlike my last time when I was living here on a sabbatical, time is not on my side, so I head quickly on to the nearby Deutsches Historisches Museum.

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Brandenburg Gate / Brandenburger Tor

I am at the end of my sabbatical here. After my last class at the Goethe Institut, I take a nostalgic stroll by this city emblem and theme image of this blog.

On the gate completed in 1789 by Carl Gotthard Langhans, sits the stunning Quadriga (Victory on her horse drawn chariot) by Schadow whom I have mentioned more than once.

In 1806 when Napoleon took Berlin, he removed the Quadriga, by now a national symbol, removing it to Paris, which was eventually won back and reinstalled in 1814.

Increasingly the gate was used to represent military might with parades through it, for example in 1933, when the National Socialists came to power.

Bitter fighting as the Soviets took this sector of Berlin near the end of the war in April 1945, saw the Quadriga almost completely destroyed.

In the 1950s, the Quadriga was restored in a brief East/West Germany cooperation which was short lived, with the installation of the Berlin wall in 1961 and the gate was lost to the East German zone.

With the fall of the Wall in November 1989, the gate and the Quadriga have resumed significance. In my short time here I have seen the gate set up to screen the football final, host President Obama’s drop in, and last weekend it was the venue for the Christopher Street party. Three more divergent uses you could not imagine.

I walk away more than a little sad, trying to dodge out of frame of the many, ‘I’ve been there’ photos being made in front of the gate, around me. I’ve been there too and its been totally amazing. Thank you Berlin. And thank you Goethe-Institut.

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Kennedy Museum Berlin

It’s 50 years this week since John F. Kennedy made his famous visit to Berlin. The newspapers here have referenced it almost every day so I check out the Berlin Kennedy Museum in the Mitte.

There is a terrific collection of photography and easy commentary charting the ascension of JFK, his marriage, his family life and his career, but the focus is of course on the 26 June 1963 visit to West Berlin.

Over one million West Berliners crowded the streets to see JFK, seated in an open car accompanied by the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt, drive past.

The route was 50 kilometres long and it was packed with well wishers, but for at the Brandenburger Tor. The East Germans had hung red curtains up so no one could see through to the Eastern sector and there was a note citing Soviet demands.

After viewing the impact of a divided city, Kennedy became more impassioned than planned in the delicate days of détente and went off script a bit, rewriting his speech notes. You can see footage of his speech and that of charismatic Willy Brandt made in Schoneberg in front of the city hall, at the museum. Both these men were at the top of their game as orators.

Also on display are personal belongings from the visit and Kennedy’s speech note card with ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ with phonetical reminders on how to pronounce this historic sentence. It’s interesting a Presidential visit of less than one day’s duration has left such an enduring legacy in Berlin and there’s still a Schöneberg platz named in his honour today.

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‘Stasiland’

Prompted by Anna Funder’s fascinating book, Stasiland, we make the trek out to a massive complex of buildings in former East Berlin that was the Stasi HQ and now a museum.

We learn staggering statistics on an organisation determined to protect its population from so called imperialism from the west at all costs with as many as 2000 spies in West Berlin alone. The Museum has the original offices of Eric Miekle, the Stasi boss, on view and all manner of Maxwell Smart style surveillance equipment on display.

Fear of the Stasi ruled East Germans lives from 1950 until the wall came down in late 1989. In that time, 200,000 prisoners were detained, most often their crime was simply wanting to leave the country. Intimidation ruled with a ‘disintegration programme’ for dissenters that psychologically isolated them.

Executions were practised until 1980, often, ironically, on former Stasi. Informers were groomed and present everywhere. The establishment was so paranoid prisoners were also invited to inform on their own guards.

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