Berlin!!! (September 2017)

Hi Everyone,

We loved Berlin! It was overwhelming, enthralling, high energy, more than 170 museums, crazy and enticing.

Berlin Hauptbahnhof or main train station, huge, well-designed, functional and a little intimidating. Beautiful in its way.

We managed to get reservations almost immediately to visit the Reichstag, the seat of the German parliament. The Reichstag, built in 1894, almost destroyed by fire, fell into disuse after WWII. Finally restored only after German reunification in 1990 under British architect Norman Foster.

It’s that building across the plaza with the dome. It was almost hot in Berlin with a strong, bright sun.

That dome is sleek and gleaming, yet with its almost skeletal exposed structure manages to remind us of the building and Berlin’s past: bombing, fire, near destruction.

The roof of the Reichstag.

Walking up the ramp which encircles the dome. We all wore headsets to hear a history of the Reichstag and what the architect had in mind when he re-built it.

Looking down to see the German parliament in session. The headsets told us that the intent of Foster’s design was  to show that the government was going to maintain complete transparency with the German people. Ouch, that caused us to wince a little, thinking of Trump’s closed sessions, and press conferences where many agencies and media were excluded.

Mirrored elevator going down.

Walking along the River Spree.

The famous Museum Island; looking at the Bode Museum. It is astonishing how almost everything one looks at in Berlin has changed dramatically since the reunification, such a short time ago (1990), including these museums. The collections had previously been divided between East and West Germany. I hear the buildings themselves have gone through extensive refurbishment.

The Market Gate of Miletus (or the middle section of it).


I was intrigued by this carving, and found out this interesting info. The priests of Dagon in Babylonia and other ancient realms wore these fish costumes, which supposedly were made from huge fish. Ceremonies must have been rather malodorous. Dagon was half man and half fish and it was believed taught humans the basis of civilization. Supposedly, the Pope’s mitred hat is fashioned after this Dagon ceremonial robe.

The Pergamon Museum has the Altar of Pergamon (under repair while we were there). It seems there is always a main feature under repair wherever you go in the world, especially if you are going off-season.

The Pergamon also has the largest section of the amazing Gate of Ishtar and the processional road to the gate. The Gate of Ishtar was one of 8 gates into the city of Babylon, built by Nebuchadnezzar, who used the slave labor and resources of those he defeated in battle, which I guess was fairly standard in those days. There are also parts of the Gate of Ishtar scattered in museums around the world: The Met, The Louvre, Istanbul, Detroit, Boston, many places. In recent years, both Saddam Hussein and the American and Polish armies caused major damage to the remaining site in Iraq.

The reconstructed Ishtar Gate in the Pergamon Museum

Photo from the Archaeology-travel blog site. The gate is immense.

We also went to the Altes Museum, which is rightly famous for its collections of Ancient Greek antiquities.

Altes Museum, again, not our picture

Ceiling of the Altes Museum

I love that early Greek and Etruscan smile. They look happy and uncomplicated.

Then on to the Neues Museum, also on Museum Island, which has Egyptian works, including the amazing Nefertiti, which we were not allowed to photograph. Another beautiful building with another great collection.

Head of King Ptolemy X

Bon Appe-teeny - a small Michelin star story

All that wandering around museums and gawking can make you pretty hungry, so we checked out a 1 star Michelin restaurant, which shall remain nameless. I include this report mostly for entertainment value.

We started off with an amuse bouche of some house-made crackers with bits of food on them. Notice the caviar; this is not unusually large caviar. That gives you an idea of the size of these. However, they were like a little gift from the house, so we happily gobbled them down, trying our best to taste them. Under those endive slivers is a little dab of guacamole.

Marinated sturgeon with some smoked powdered fish with a slice of radish and a slice of what was probably a baby tomato. It was obviously terribly labor-intensive and probably tasted great individually, but it was nearly impossible to taste them individually as they were so minuscule.

Here is an example of a salad leaf. I felt like I was at a doll’s tea party. Or Mad Hatter's repast.

This may have been Don’s pork sashimi. It had a different name that we did not recognize; otherwise we may not have eaten it. Pork is raised differently in Europe than in the US, so that it is supposed to be okay to eat rare pork in Europe. I don’t know about raw, though. We each had some and didn’t get sick. Probably the portions were too small to contain much bacteria. The pigs were supposed to have been raised on some special farm, only fed apples, and bathed three times a day (I made that last part up).

Here you can see the waiter pouring some sauce onto some more miniature food.

Here I am trying not to crack up. The lady at the next table seems to be still hungry and is eyeing my dish.

My main course, which was halibut. Little dabs of sauce which were almost too small to discern the flavors. The waiter is attempting to grind something up - perhaps making a nutmeg powder.

Don’s main course, some type of small bird breast. Again, notice the size of the waiter’s hand as he applies the sauce. Also, I think there is a blueberry and an edamame bean or two on the plate.

We left thinking What just happened? The bill was not cheap, but there was no question that they earned their money with all that prep. One might ask why, though?

The most astonishing Berlin museum to us was the Gemaldegalerie. This museum is at least as large as the Uffizi and has a comparable collection, and yet there was hardly anyone there. As you may have experienced at the Uffizi, it is sometimes necessary to reserve tickets way in advance to get into the Uffizi or the Louvre, and then battle crowds to catch a glimpse of the paintings. Here is a typical scene at the Gemaldegalerie while we were there.

Many of the canvases did not have mirror or plexiglass over them, and the guards didn’t seem to mind if we put our cameras inches from the precious canvases.

It was pretty thrilling,

The Uffizi doesn't have all the Botticellis.

Antonello da Messina

It’s vast, it’s amazing, and it’s empty, or almost so.

After all that high brow stuff, time for some street art. Our very large and new apartment is nearby what they call the East Side Gallery (the largest existing stretch of the Berlin Wall.)

We're staying in the East Side, where there is nonstop building going on. We marveled that the cranes which were constantly swinging around didn't hit each other. The spacious apartment we were in was built so well that we never heard a whisper of noise from outside construction, traffic or neighbors.

On to the East Side Gallery, which is covered in graffiti.

Hey, no pictures! We're trying to fleece some tourists here with a friendly game of dice/sleight of hand, legerdemain.

My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love

Custom "tuba" which sounded like Tibetan throat singing. The musician said his instrument worked on the same principles.

Tribute to MoTown and American jazz, which was very big in what we used to call the satellite nations. 

To escape from East to West Berlin, one route would be to climb over one wall, cross the vacant space and vault over the next wall and then swim the river. The whole time under searchlights, patrols, guard dogs, etc., etc. Hard to imagine now. Gives one hope that North Korea could one day be a civilized society, and the changes could come very fast.

And some aspects of the changes are not necessarily for the better. Here is Checkpoint Charlie, looking from the East Berlin side towards the West, represented by an American GI.

And looking towards East Berlin represented by a Russian soldier. The whole area is now pretty touristy, sort of Fisherman's Wharf-like although not as large. Give it time.

We found a French Bistrot which we liked very much, Sucre et Sel. We went twice for dinner - a meal miles beyond our Michelin 1 star experience.

Maybe not quite as artistically presented, but delicious and you know what you're eating. Chicken filets in a wild mushroom sauce. Don is having a duck breast with figs and I believe endive.

Signing off with some street posters. One reminds me of my little sister, Sally, when she was small and in a defiant mood. The other is pure Teutonic decadent silliness, reminiscent of Cabaret without the Nazis.

On to Prague, Southern Czech and Vienna. I may not be able to write about these as the travels are almost over. Great trip, though. We're safe, happy and will be home soon.

Devastating to hear about the carnage in Las Vegas. We could have a really great country if it wasn't for our gun-toting NRA supporters (and a few other problems, okay). As Rosanne Cash recently so bravely stated: The N.R.A. funds domestic terrorism. The willingness of these people to accept the number of guns out there and a homeland slaughter every now and again somewhat dampened our enthusiasm for returning home. We recently wrote our Congresswoman about the extreme gun problem (as if Barbara Lee didn't know, but maybe she can use the numbers to help prove her case) and we made a donation to Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit which we hear makes the NRA nervous and also where the top exec makes a salary within reason.


Era and Don