Thursday, December 14, 2017

Ciao Bella Firenze

Another day of traveling, waking up at 5am to head to the Tegel airport, where I flew out around 9:40 to head to Paris. From there, a brief layover, long enough to grab a bite, have a 30 minute delay, then make my way to Florence. A 15 minute bus shuttle to city center, and 25 minute walk to the AirBnB, and I had arrived at my destination in Santo Spirito. Let me give you the picture version below, for those who don't want to read, but, if you've gotten here already, you probably did read. So, gold star for you.

So, I'm exhausted, right, because although it is only something like 4:30 in the afternoon, I've been up nearly 12 hours at this point. The struggle is real, I know. 

I hung out a bit then went exploring, walking around the narrow streets, enjoying the sounds of the holidays, as the lights littered the walkways, and carols sang out from who knows where. The spirit was abound. I walked down via Romana, full of artisanal shops, their owners working in the studios in the back, sewing clothing, knitting, working leather, or creating timepieces. In the front, their hard work shown off in their stores. 

I made my way back to the Basilica di Santo Spirito, where the square was filled with Christmas music and the F-Light Firenze show was being projected on the church. This light festival was taking place all over the city with 15 locations, bathing monuments and squares with video-mapping, projections, games of light, art installations, educational activities and meetings.

From here, I headed back across the river to find more lights and explore more streets until my belly ached. 

Finding food in foreign countries is the hardest part for me. Between not knowing the language and not knowing the customs, I want to eat, but without offending. I had done my homework and knew that most restaurants had a cover charge of about 2 euros, but tipping wasn't necessary as servers in Italy (and Germany and I'm sure others) make a living wage. If only, America...if only...This first night, I went all out - antipasti, first course and second. If you have never eaten pecorino with honey and pine nuts, stop what you are doing right this second and make it happen. I've never hummed out loud like this before. I'm sure it was embarrassing, but I was too busy enjoying myself to notice or care.

With a full belly, I walked around exploring a little more before heading back for sleep. I had some fun playing with long exposures, since it was well after 10pm and the streets weren't as busy. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A New Day, A New Way through Berlin

Since this was my last day in Berlin, I decided I needed to be a little more, calculated, if you will. I had lost an entire day and I needed to make my way around the city.

I woke up early and I had a plan.

Some would call it lofty. I called it a challenge. Needless to say, one I failed at, but by the end of the day, I was happy with what I had chosen to achieve and some pit stops made along the way.

So first up was the East Side Gallery and Wall Museum (which I did not end up visiting.) I hadn't realized what a long stretch of the wall was still up, nor I had I realized that the wall was actually two walls with a death strip in between. Below, a variety of panels, by international street artists - mostly just ones I liked enough to stop and take a picture of, or, as in the case of a few, the most famous and/or recognizable ones.

This last one was a tough one to get a picture of, because everyone wanted a picture next to it. But eventually, my irritation...err...I mean patience, paid off.

The socialist fraternal kiss, or socialist eternal embrace, is a special form of greeting between the statesmen of Communist countries, and consists of an embrace, combined with a series of three kisses on alternate cheeks. Apparently, when the leaders were exceptionally close, they kisses occured on the mouth, instead of the cheek, as seen here.

This most famous painting, My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love, by Dmitri Vrubel,was created in 1990 and depicts Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker in a fraternal embrace. The graffiti is actually a reproduction of a photograph of their fraternal kiss, taken in 1979 at the 30th anniversary celebration of the foundation of the German Democratic Republic.

Whoa. Learning things is cool, folks. I had no idea that was the original meaning of that panel. The current art is actually a reproduction of the original panel that was painted in 1991. By 2005, it had been vandalized and the artist was commissioned to restore it 2009. 

After visiting this section of the remaining Berlin Wall, I meandered through the Friedrichshain district in search of a yarn store, Wollen Berlin.

Before I could arrive there, though, I stumbled upon this Die Nische, an outdoor adventure playground, which I had read about but not actually seen in person.

I really wish my kids had been there to play. I remembered reading an article about these types of playgrounds either in The Atlantic or The Atlantic, but also remember copious conversations with my American friends about the liability that would uprise if one of these opened in the states. Oy. How I wish one would, though, because this place seriously looked so fun, I wanted to have a go at it.

I finally made my way to Wollen Berlin, which was adorable, but carried mostly yarns I can get in the States, like Debbie Bliss, Malabrigo, and Brooklyn Tweed.
I did pick up three balls of Ulysse merino from De Rerum Natura, which is a French yarn, not German. But close enough.

I kept wandering down these sweet streets, checking out all the quaint stores carrying a variety of hip home goods. I didn't buy anything, because in all honesty, a lot of it was stuff I had seen at stores in the states as well. Perhaps a hat tip to American culture? Or just the harsh reality of globalized tchotchkes?

As I neared the end of the street, I see Salami Social Club across the street, and at the suggestion of an American expat living in Berlin, I knew this was where I would be having my lunch. Rather a lucky coincidence, because this place did not disappoint. It was maybe the best pizza I have had in a very long time. I asked for the day's special, but one hadn't been made yet, so I let it be the chef's pic. He chose the Salami Special: bacon, pepperoni, hungarian salami, olives. A winner for sure.

It was almost 1:30pm at this point, and if you refer back to the list above, you will see I have a lot to still accomplish. I was on to the sixth point on my list, Reichstag building. I jumped on a bus...for all of one entire bus stop, when I decided to hop off and see the Berlin Cathedral in daylight. Just as stunning by sun as it was by moon. In the same court yard, the Altes museum, one of the six on Museum Island. While I didn't visit this museum, which houses displays of Roman & Greek artifacts, the building itself was rather impressive, with 18 columns and a rotunda. (Pictured below)

I hopped back on the bus to finally make my way to the Reichstag Building, which currently, since 1999, is the meeting place of the German parliament: the modern Bundestag. 

I strolled through Tiergarten, on my way to the Brandenburg Gate. Tiergarten park is 520 acres and is among the largest urban gardens of Germany. It is also Berlin's most popular inner city park, and home to the Soviet War Memorial, one of several war memorials in Berlin, built in 1945 within a few months of the capture of the city. This wasn't even half way down my list. Or I guess, technically on my list. But, in the spirit of not sticking too stringently to the list, we can make an exception. 

On to the next stop though....Brandenburg Gate, 18th-century neoclassical monument, considered today as both a symbol of the tumultuous history of Europe and Germany, but also of European unity and peace. It was from this site in 1987 that former President Regan issued a command to his cold war adversary: "Mr. Gorbachov – tear down this wall!"

From here, it was on to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The sculpture covers 4.7 acres, with 2,711 concrete slabs or "stelae", arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. The slabs are 7'10" long by 3' 1" wide, but vary in height. An underground "Place of Information" holds the names of 3 million Jews murdered during the holocaust. It was quite an experience walking among the stelae, weaving in and out, as I walked up and down the winding slopes. It certainly evokes the feeling of being in a cemetery, but from what I've read, that may not have been the original intent. Nonetheless, one can't help but be overcome by the reality that was the massive loss of life represented by this memorial.

Across the street, one of my favorite monuments by far. The Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism. This gray slab, from a distance, simply looks slightly askew. When you get closer, you notice a window, and when you get even closer, you notice a looping video inside of homosexual couples kissing. From what I have read, there has been controversy around the video and the placement of this memorial so close to the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe. The original video did not include lesbian couples, but after discussion, has been updated to include lesbian couples in rotating videos that change every two years.

By this time, my feet were sore and my heart was heavy. Nowhere is the suffering of the holocaust as evident as in the memorials in Germany. The weight of the occasion, one that can not merely be grasped through our history books, comes alive in the living history of Germany. 

I skipped the Dali exhibition, and made my way to the Topography of Terror. This museum documents the rise and horror of the Nazi party. During the "Third Reich" the headquarters of the Secret State Police, the SS and the Reich Security Main Office were located at the site of this documentation center. 

The skies were darkening, and it was time for me to head back to the flat to figure out my dinner plans. But, not before a stroll past Checkpoint Charlie, a Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. 

I hopped on the train and headed home. As you can see, I only got to number 12 on my list that day. But I think that was quite an accomplishment. After dinner, a Doner Kebap, a most delicious Turkish street food popular in Berlin, I did head back out for a bit. There was one last popular Christmas Market I wanted to stop at before packing up to head to Florence. 

This last one, Weihnachts Zauber Gendarmenmarkt, actually cost a euro to enter. They had live entertainment, certainly, the show I caught was a most interesting variety show that included juggling, comedy, feats of acrobatic wonder (if you can call it that.) Well worth the Euro and another great way to end my time in Berlin, before heading to Florence for a different kind of culture.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

An unplanned day in Berlin

Nothing of note happened last night, December 11. It was dark when arrived. It was almost 6pm when I found my flat. And then I just walked aimlessly around the neighborhood. I couldn't tell you where I was if you asked. Don't ask, okay. It will save us both the embarrassment.

Today, though, I decided I would just see where the day took me. No plans. No agenda. Just, wandering. Okay, maybe it was a little more structured than that. I had a loose list of places I might go, but had really that was it. When I would get to one place, I would look at the list, and then decide.

So first (after getting some cash - never use a service to exchange money. They basically steal from you.), I headed to the Charlottenburg Palace

to see their Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market),

only to find that I was about 30 minutes too early.

No worries! I was hungry anyhow. So I started wondering and then decided, I would head to the Pergamon Museum. The market was open until 10pm anyhow, and since it was only 1:30pm, I needed to see the museums while they were open.

But no line was straight that day. I needed to switch trains at Potsdamer Platz from the U-Bahn to the S-Bahn, but upon coming up from the underground, I stumbled across another Weihnachtsmarkt! I walked around admiring the little shops, full of ornaments and decorations, scarfs and food. I stopped at this grand little place for a brat before heading on my merry way.

And holy moly. This thing was delicious. Not sure why the bun was so small though!

I did finally make my way to Museum Island, which houses not one, but SIX museums, all part of the Berlin State Museums. And, they only are housed on the northern end of the island situated in the Spree River in the central Mitte district. When I arrived, I was faced with a decision- should I visit the Bode or the Pergamon. I'm not sure why, when I had planned all along to visit the Pergamon, I suddenly felt torn. Afterall, I had no clue what was actually in either of them, and without access to the internet, couldn't even look it up. I had to go inside. First stop, the Bode, which is on the northern end of the island. It houses sculpture collections and late Antique and Byzantine art. I decided to head over to the Pergamon instead.

I was surprised by how small it was inside, considering how large the building was on the outside. But inside, I learned that it houses two immense buildings - the Pergamon Altar, the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, and the Market Gate of Miletus reconstructed from the ruins found in ancient Middle East. The museum is subdivided into three parts: the antiquity collection, the Middle East museum, and the museum of Islamic art. Below, the pics aren't great, as the GoPro was struggling in the low light and really, no other camera I had  could capture the enormity of these two reconstructions.

When I stepped back into the world after visiting, it was night time. And from the museum exit, I had a wonderful view of the Berlin Cathedral. Despite being dark, it was still early and the night was still young. 

The TV Tower was also visible as I walked into the Mitte district, I found yet another.... Weihnachtsmarkt! 

This one even had a ferris wheel and an ice skating rink. 

A wandered around inside again, realizing that while all the markets are rather neat, they are all rather identical. Same booths, same artisans, same foods. If you've seen one, you've seen them all. And now, I had seen three. I was getting hungry, so decided to head back to the flat and figure out the rest of my evening. Which, ended up being Korean food from Mmaah. So tasty. And the perfect end to a random day.