Friday, March 20, 2009

So built we the wall...

Just a little teaser for what will come in this post. Hope you're all ready for LOTS of photos. This was the day when I really went crazy. For those who are actually interested in ALL of my pictures, we'll have some serious hours to dedicate to the topics when I get home!

Day three I headed out of the house fairly early. The plan was that I'd do a palace, some more museums, and then meet up with Ben later in the afternoon for things that were free. I was quite proud of myself for being able to figure out the metro system of Berlin fairly easily. I guess if you know one metro system, you can figure out the others, but they all have their own little quirks, so it takes some doing. Still, I managed to do this one pretty well.
My first destination was Charlottenburg Schloss. This palace was built by one of the Friedrichs particularly for his wife Sophie Charlotte. The way I understand it, as long as she was alive she had the place pretty much to herself, but after her death, her husband started to hang out there. Interesting. I was given the free audio guide for this place, so I took advantage of it. Fortunately, you can skip ahead when you don't feel like listening to every detail, so I managed to get a lot of info, without taking 4 hours just to do the palace.

The lower part of the palace managed to survive the ravages of war, and remains as it originally was. The walls were all covered in soft velvety paper in deep colors. A lot of the furniture has been changed, but much of it was original as well. Ben had informed me of some of his favorite parts, so I made sure to take in what I could. The ceilings were particularly impressive, the paintings really drew me in. It would be nice to just sit there for hours, imagining yourself in the landscapes and otherworldly scenes portrayed there. Of course, the coolest room in the lower part has got to be the China room. Sophie was very fond of oriental design, and had all sorts of China pieces scattered throughout the house, but there was one room, I believe it was designed later by her husband, in which hundreds of these pieces were showcased on the walls. Now, we're not talking nice curio cabinets, or mantel pieces or shelves. No, nothing so commonplace as that. The dishes are actually mounted to the walls, surrounded by mirrors in such a way as to make them look like they go on forever. It's really hard to describe, and no photos were allowed here, but it was really amazing. Unfortunately, I didn't even manage to buy a post card here. I was thinking I'd have time later, but never managed.
Another fascinating feature of this room is on the ceiling. There is a stuffed dear that seems to be bursting through the roof. It was just so bizarre. I couldn't help but stare and laugh. Oddly enough, this little bit of artistic curiosity was not mentioned on the audio tour. I was really curious about the idea behind it, but was left just to mull it over on my own.
I also really liked the small marble statue, just outside the chapel, of a baby that represented the six month son of one monarch or another who died in infancy. There was something about it that was just so peaceful, so beautiful, that I wanted to touch the smooth baby cheek, run my finger over the delicately carved features. Naturally that was forbidden, so I continued along.
The upstairs portion was highly damaged during the war, and has been just repainted in plain colors, with lots of paintings on the walls to represent what once was there. There were some original pieces still in the back half, but it was much less impressive than the lower part.
From there I moved on to the newer section of the palace. There was one room there that really took my breath away. A long hall, painted in a sea foam sort of green, and covered in gilded figures. At one end, a fairy-like nymph blew flowers into the air. The flowers took root, and their vines twisted their way from one side of the massive room to the other, breaking out in leaf and flower as small animals played in their midst. I could have stayed in that room for ages, drinking in the jovial designs, the sprightly air. But, of course, I was on a mission to see as much as humanly possible, so I kept moving on.
I'd gotten a ticket that also included a couple buildings out in the gardens, so I continued along to check those out, and to get some more palace shots as well.

I hurried along to the Belvedere, originally built as a tearoom by the River Spree, just a short walk from the palace. It is now home to a large collection of porcelain dishes and figures. I wasn't too excited about it, although I could have imagined my roommate Naomi from last year spending ages looking at everything :) I did, however, enjoy the view back to the palace, and also took advantage of how cute the little three story Belvedere building was for a photo shoot :)

After a quick peek into the Mausoleum, I crossed the street from the palace and took in three more art museums. They had some interesting pieces in them, but I didn't take any pictures, and by this point, I don't really have much more to say about art, except that Picasso painted some really strange things, and I thought Paul Klee did some interesting pieces. Also, art deco furniture is interesting. There you have my profound thoughts on all that art. Hope it wasn't too much to take in. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy art, I just don't have a great vocabulary for describing it, and since I spend an average of 5 seconds on each picture, unless it really captures my attention, there isn't a whole lot to really share.
By the time I managed to get all of this done I was pretty much starving, so I headed to the bakery where Ben and I had lunch my first day in Berlin, and got a bite to eat while I waited for him to join me. I must admit that the pastries here were constantly a temptation. After a weak attempt to resist, I decided I really must try the famous "Berliner." While they have a different name in Berlin, which is Pfankuchen, most parts of the country call these jelly filled donuts Berliner's. Therefore, the great joke that when JFK said "Ich bin ein Berliner," meaning that he was a citizen of Berlin, to most of the country he was calling himself a jelly donut. While the girl working in the bakery got all weird and asked me not to take photos, I did manage to get one of my own food before she went all mental.

The next stop on our tour was the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche. This church was once a massive cathedral, but was heavily bombed during WWII. As I mentioned before, Berlin is such a fascinating city because there are so many side notes to the past everywhere. I don't know how you could possibly live there and not be continually aware of the history all around you. Each era has left such an obvious mark, and it has been preserved that people might not forget the ability of man to be so cruel...
All that remains of the original church is the entry section and empty bell tower. On one side, a memorial tower has been built, and on the other a new sanctuary.

My internet decided to quit working, but I'm going to just keep typing, and hopefully it'll come back online so I can add the pictures and actually post what I've been working so long on. (sigh) The joys of being tied to technology.
Ben had never actually been inside the church, so it was a great experience for both of us. Once again, we were overwhelmed by the differences between a nation where Church and State are so totally connected, and our own American way of doing things. On the ceiling there was a lovely mosaic of a stately Jesus, looking down on the people passing in to worship. In contrast, on the wall there was a massive mosaic that showed the coronation of one monarch or another. I mean, can you imagine if we had churches with massive mosaics of George Washington? Or perhaps the Inauguration of Barak Obama Cathedral? I mean, seriously?

After walking around the church for a while we made our way to the new sanctuary. Julie had talked to me about her memories of this place when she was here 18 and 19 years ago. I could imagine the sun shining through the blue stained glass that surrounds the huge round room, as a golden figure of Jesus looks down, arms outstretched, inviting the displaced and abused to accept his sacrifice. It really was an impressive sight, and I thought of my sister, then only 17 or 18, standing in awe in this very place. It was pretty incredible.

This day, not wanting any moment to be anything less than enormous, took me next to the East Side Gallery. It was nice having Ben as a tour guide because it made it a lot easier and less stressful to get from one place to the next. The East Side Gallery transports visitors from the WWII focus, to a reminder of the oppression of communism. Just imagine, a people worn out from the struggle against the insanity of the Nazis, being immediately plunged into the extreme spy inducing over control of the Soviets. Out of the frying pan and into the fire for sure. When I read about how the wall sprung up basically over night, I just can't even imagine how it must have been to be suddenly so cut off from half of my city, not to mention the people I knew to be so near by, yet now completely unreachable.
How must it have been to realize that, were your house built just a few feet in a different direction, everything in your world would be different. They likely had no real concept of just how different the two sides would be, but I imagine it became obvious quickly.
I was in awe once again as I stood before this dilapidated stretch of the once mighty and seemingly insurmountable wall. Der Mauer. A symbol of total separation between East and West. A short time after the fall of the wall in 1989, artists from around the world came to paint the wall with symbols of peace, unity, and memorials to that which had now been torn away. Unfortunately, those beastly incomprehensible idiots, who feel it is their life's goal to destroy whatever they find in front of them, have done considerable damage to the art, but it is currently being repaired, and many of the original artists are coming back to freshen things up. I'm not sure how they intend to protect it in the future, but hopefully it will work this time.
I really got snap happy here, but I was just so taken with what I saw. Some of these pictures are very famous, and can be found on everything from handbags to coffee cups, key chains to postcards. So here are some glimpses into the art of the wall.

This last picture is of a squatters house, once built up against the wall, now a free standing sprawl of a place. While they didn't kick the people out of the building after the wall was gone, they did inform them that they couldn't make the house take up any more space, so they built onto the top instead. Can't say I'd want to live here, but it was interesting to see.

And so I close another day. I really saw so much history today. It's hard to sum all that up in a few lines, but I hope you're able to get some feel for what this experience was like.

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