Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘Berlin 2012’ Category

Alte Nationalgalerie and Neues Museum, Berlin

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 5, 2012

After a cafe lunch we’d best forget, we plodded on to the Alte Nationalgalerie which is a collection of Neoclassical, Romantic, and Impressionist artworks.  I’m not sure whether it was we were becoming a bit footsore or if perhaps it was indigestion, but the artworks here did not take my fancy the way they did in the other museums and I took hardly any pictures.

The bust of Goethe will interest my bookish friends, (and I’m pleased to say that I have finally read something by this author: you can read my review of The Sorrows of Young Werther over on my ANZ LitLovers blog). There were some lovely sculptures of the sort that people had in their formal gardens, but they seemed similar to ones I’ve seen elsewhere so I didn’t photograph them.  And the Impressionists were quite disappointing.  There weren’t very many of them, and the ones they had weren’t especially fine.  I thought that some of them might be in need of restoration because the colours seemed a bit dull, or maybe they’ve overdone it with the special lighting to protect the artworks, at the expense of being able to see them properly?

But the painting that intrigued me was this one: for some reason, some of the figures have been blanked out.  Who were they, and why was this done?  Did some nut-case do it, or was it some sort of vandalistic political correctness?  A couple of French women in the gallery were very indignant about it, so I wondered if the figures were French heroes?  Anyway, I photographed the information caption in the hope that someone who reads this will recognise the painting and be able to enlighten me.  It seems such a strange thing to do, to display a painting that has been mutilated like this! (Update, after a Google search: it’s not a defaced painting at all, it’s just not finished! See here and scroll down to the paragraph about Frederick the Great’s Address to His Generals Before the Battle of Leuthen (1859-61). )

Our last stop was the  Neues Museum, which specialises in Egyptian antiquities.  Once again Tim was in seventh heaven, especially when we finally got to see Nefertiti in all her glory.  For some bizarre reason, although you’re allowed to photograph everything else (as long as you don’t use flash), photos of Nefertiti are forbidden – which is daft, because there’s a gazillion images of her on the web anyway.  She’s displayed in a gallery all by herself, and it’s quite uncanny the way she seems to look out at people like us who are gawking at her.

But what I liked best was the early examples of writing – it never ceases to amaze me that these were somehow translated so that we can understand what these early scribes were recording. The funerary objects were very interesting too, and some of the sculptures of children were very moving – their expressions are very sad, showing that human emotion, especially grief, hasn’t changed at all over the millenia.

We finished up our time in Berlin at the tapas bar of the Melia Hotel.  This is an excellent hotel, and if you are keen to see the museums it is ideal because it’s within easy walking distance and it’s very central to everything else as well.  The service was great, the people friendly and the dinner we had in the restaurant was the meal of the trip.

That may change now that we’re in Paris of course!  Tim has booked us into a very nice restaurant for tomorrow night!

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Altes Museum, Berlin

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 5, 2012

After the Bode, (and a restorative coffee in the cafe) we visited the Altes Museum.  It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s full of splendid classical antiquities.

I was pleased to see a bunch of primary school children sketching the vases and statuary, and only too happy to submit to being ‘interviewed’ by some of them.  The two little girls that you can see in the slideshow were ecstatic to have found two such exotic subjects as a couple of Australians, and they were pleased to find a use for the English they’ve been learning at school.  They were lovely kids!

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Bode Museum, Berlin

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 5, 2012

I’m writing this from Paris after a long day and a late dinner, so it’s just slide shows from me tonight – sorry!

We spent our day in Berlin ‘doing’ the Museums, starting with the Bode Museum.  It’s a sculpture collection showcasing mainly Christian Art from Coptic Egypt, Byzantium and Ravenna;  sculptures from the Middle Ages, and the early Renaissance.   It was my favourite of the day.

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Pergamon Museum, Berlin

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 4, 2012

The Pergamon Museum in Berlin is splendid – but take my advice and do not waste your money on the Welcome to Berlin Museum Card.  It is a pain to buy, a pain to activate, and it doesn’t save you either money or time in getting into the museum.  (And the people whose job it is to explain it to you or facilitate its use, aren’t interested in doing that).

What’s special about this museum is the displays of the Pergamon Altar, (Ancient Greece) the Market Gate of Miletus (Ancient Rome) and the glorious Ishtar Gate from Ancient Babylon.  (See Wikipedia).

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Historic Moments: Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 4, 2012

After the Jewish Museum, we visited the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie, as most tourists do.  It’s very, very late now because the restaurant we went to for dinner was, um, ‘having trouble in the kitchen’, so I’m too tired to do anything other than share just a few photos.

But don’t be misled by the jovial photo, this was a place that made us feel very thoughtful indeed.

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Jewish Museum, Berlin

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 4, 2012

We began our day in Berlin with a rather forgettable city sightseeing bus tour.  To put it charitably, perhaps because Berlin is designed to be pedestrian and bike-friendly the roads don’t go past very interesting places?  The route mostly took us past dull apartment buildings and shops rather than places of historic or artistic interest.  I think it’s a shame that in a city where they had/have the opportunity for post-reunification rebuilding, their architecture is so unimaginative.

Anyway, we got off the bus at the Jewish Museum.  It is a very moving experience to visit this place, which consists of two buildings.  You enter through the old Berlin Museum and go downstairs to enter the new building which is a twisted zig-zag reminiscent of a misshapen Star of David.  But we didn’t enter straight away: there was a cafe where they were selling real Jewish cheesecake, the kind my neighbour Mrs Kuperholz used to make, which for me is the gold standard cheesecake that is so very hard to find.  But it wasn’t just the cheesecake of course, it’s also that I found it very hard to visit the Holocaust Museum in Elsternwick at home, and here in Berlin where the Holocaust was conceived and executed, I felt an even greater need to brace myself a bit before entering the museum.

(Actually, I don’t think I would ever have visited the Holocaust Museum at home if I had not met Elfie Rosenberg at the Melbourne Writers Festival, long ago when it was still at the Malthouse Theatre.  There, one had coffee between sessions at convivial tables, and because I was by myself I got chatting to the elderly lady at the same table.  She turned out to be the author of Serry and me, Kindertransport and Beyond and in the course of talking about her book, I confessed that I had never had the courage to go to the Holocaust Museum.  I feared that I couldn’t cope with it emotionally, and was ashamed of that, because after all, how can just visiting a memorial site compare with the lived experience of its victims?  They had to live through it, and I was afraid just to learn about it?  Elfie understood, and she offered to take me there herself.

So we met for coffee one day not soon after that, and she guided me through the museum, and amongst the heart-rending memories I have of seeing a model of Treblinka made by one of the survivors, and of a matchbox filled with soil from the camp at which a survivor’s mother was murdered,  I also have memories of Elfie chatting and laughing with one of the survivor-guides there, an inspiring reminder that life goes on, and that to let yourself be bowed down by grief, is to deny your oppressors triumph.)

The architecture of the Jewish Museum in Berlin is designed to disorientate.  There is a Garden of Exile, designed to represent the experience of not belonging for those who fled Germany or emigrated afterwards, and both Tim and I could not stay in there.  There are vertical columns set not quite in place, so that your brain is out of synch with your body and you feel nauseous.  Literally.  There is also a ‘Void’ – an entirely empty four-sided space about 20 metres tall, barren and grey and lit only by a scrap of a window up above. When the door shut behind us, I felt panicky, and again we had to leave.  We could, of course.  The victims of the Holocaust could not.

There was also a sickening fragment of the yellow Star of David cloth they used to stigmatize Jews.  I had never thought about anybody designing, manufacturing and distributing this material before.  This new (to me) example of perfidy really upset me, for reasons I can’t quite explain.

But once you leave behind these awful sensory experiences, the exhibition shows you the cultural and intellectual life of pre-war German Jews.  There is memorabilia which belonged to people now lost – dolls, sewing machines, Bar Mitzvah ornaments, books and photos, but also lovely photos which show the contribution that Jewish people made in all kinds of endeavours, and also that they were interesting, lively, congenial people that anyone might be pleased to have as neighbours.  (As I did, when I lived in Caulfield as a teenager).

People deal with an experience like this in their own way, but I have to say that there were some American tourists there who were incredibly tactless.  When they moved on from the sections about pre-war Jewry and came to the Holocaust display, one of the women announced loudly that it was ‘too much’, to which one of the men replied casually that ‘this was all familiar, they’d seen it all before’.

Bored by the Holocaust…what kind of people react like that?

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