A Travellerspoint blog

Day 6: A full day in one city?

(really?)

sunny 80 °F

After sleeping later than I had wanted to – the previous evening’s shenanigans made this a touch difficult – I got out the door around 12:00 on Saturday, ready to spend significant hours in Berlin. Walking down to Oranienburger Tor, I stopped for an iced coffee and apfel danish, and walked further along past Friedrichstraße station across a bridge, under which I saw passing boats packed with tourists. I noticed a sign for “Berliner Ensemble” in the distance. Sounded artsy, so I decided to investigate. Exploring the building, I came to realize that I had happened upon Bertold Brecht’s theatre! Not having plans that evening, I checked the schedule, and found out that the show playing that night was… The Threepenny Opera! I confess that I don’t know the work well, but I’m aware it’s probably Brecht’s most famous piece, and Kurt Weill’s music is equally well known. The show is sold out, but I’m told if I come back one hour before the 20:00, I may be able to score a seat. I resolve to do this – seeing this work in Brecht’s own theatre is too good an opportunity to pass up!

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I continue on walking toward the center of town, following signs for the Reichstag, infamous building of Berlin, which I remember hearing lots about in Mr. Twomey’s history classes, ca. 1988! On the way I come across a stunning sculpture of Jewish children being taken to the trains, and for the first time (with the possible exception of seeing the Pieta in St. Peter’s), I actually tear up at the sight of a sculpture. The piece is called “Trains to Life, Trains to Death”; there is a small girl about the same age of the children depicted who is beside the sculpture, holding an orange flower. It’s very moving, and I immediately embrace Berlin as a city who must continually be reminded of its past.

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I continue on toward the Reichstag, passing by many German football fans decked out for the big World Cup match with Argentina, which starts at 15:00. (Those who know me know I’m emphatically not a “soccer” fan… but I will admit it’s pretty exciting to be in a town so wrapped up in the excitement of an "international event.") I notice people queud up to take a lift (the word Europeans use when they mean “elevator,” snark) up to the top of… well, something. I’m not quite sure what, so I ask, and am told it goes to the top of the glass domed Parliament building, the Bundestag, built behind the Reichstag. I decided to give it a go, wait in line for about 30 minutes, and walk the circular path up to the top, taking some nice photos of Berlin on the way. There’s an interesting mirrored section in the middle of the structure and I take some photos of me which reflect off of it. Walking to the bottom, I read about the history of the Reichstag building, which has housed Germany’s Parliament for years, yet is perhaps most famous for the “Reichstag fire” which Hitler blamed on Jews, thus leading to draconian anti-Jewish laws in Berlin, ca. 1938. It’s incredible to see photos of the area surrounding this building, so friendly and nicely maintained now, but scorched and torn apart after the bombings of WWII. Leaving the Reichstag, I take some photos of kids playing in a water fountain – it’s hot here!

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Walking the opposite direction, I come upon the Brandenburg Gate, with the destruction of the Berlin Wall, perhaps the most famous landmark of the city. For years, entrance to the other side of this gate was closed off to Westerners by the communist government. Napoleon famously victoriously marched through this gate, humiliating the Berliners, back in 1806, and even had the “quadriga” statues from the top dismantled and sent to Paris. It’s also where JFK gave his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, in front of the gate which had been blocked, draped, and adorned with signs protesting the Western bloc.

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At the other side of the gate, I come upon an intriguing sign for a “Room of Silence.” I enter and am greeted by a lovely older woman who invites me in. The Brandenburg Gate, it appears, was initially designed as a “gate of peace,” yet this certainly didn’t transpire, and this room represents an attempt to restore that legacy. Outside the glass door to the room is a sign proclaiming “peace” in dozens of languages. As I pass into the room, two men walk out, so I have the room to myself. I momentarily disregard the “silence” instructions and take some photos, then just sit in silence for a minute or two. Something about this is terribly moving – I’d been running around so much: town to town, street to street, and outside of feeling really good to just sit, the charged air in this town hits me directly. The simple work of art on the wall – what the woman told me represented “darkness turning into light,” felt overwhelming and peaceful. I leave a donation, buy a few postcards, and thank the woman.

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I decide to walk back through the gate in the direction of football revelers, sitting at tables watching the now-started game on large screen TVs. I continue walking and after passing through security, realize I have arrived at the famous “Fan Mile” which my friends from the previous evening had advised me would be the most intense spot to catch the game. And they weren’t kidding – thousands and thousands of colorful characters walking around, drinking beer, singing songs, and generally being really happy, especially given that the Germans were already up, 1-0. I watch a minute or two of the game – and I’m not reneging on this opinion, but soccer (sorry, football), still bores me as a sport – I’m more interested in taking photos of the fans and just being there on such an exciting day of cultural pride for the Germans. During the break (intermission? interval?) between the halves, I walk along a parallel path and see dozens of guys lining up to relieve their beer-bloated bladders in the trees. I ask a few fans to get together for a photo; one fellow asks me in broken English “you are shooting for… New York Times?” Err... not hardly!

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On the way back toward the gate I’m cajoled into buying a beer by some fans, and I stop to shoot some video. Passing through the gate again, I come upon a real find: “Museum The Kennedys,” a tribute to the legacy of JFK in Berlin. I enter and upon reading the dedication from my late senator Ted Kennedy, am again overwhelmingly moved (maybe it was the heat? lack of sleep?) that so far away from home, the legacy of a political family who so greatly shaped my own political outlook also seems a point of pride in Berlin. I pay the entrance fee and walk downstairs to the terrific displays of JFK memorabilia, including his keychain and suit, and all sorts of photographs documenting his life and that of Kennedy family (similar to the JFK museum in Boston), with a special focus on his time in Berlin.

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There’s also a new exhibit by photographer Richard Avedon called “Obama’s people” (he did this for other presidents as well) which features all of the president’s advisors. What a wonderful museum... and I’m the only one there. On my way out, I purchase a book, and ask the two female staff members whether it was true that when JFK said “Ich bin ein Berliner!” he was actually saying “I am a jelly donut?” They smile, but clearly they’ve been asked this before. I leave and stop into a Dunkin Donuts for an iced coffee and “German victory donut” with the flag’s colors expressed in candy sprinkles.

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I’m interested in making it to Checkpoint Charlie, but time is moving swiftly and I want to be back at the theatre by 19:00. Walking further downtown, the joy in the city is palpable: hundreds of fans lining the streets, cars honking horns with passengers draping flags out the window, spontaneous chanting and singing everywhere. I wave my little German flag which I found on the ground at Fan Mile. It’s so neat to be part of all this! I walk faster toward the Checkpoint, and come upon large signs which explain the history of the Berlin Wall. It dawns on me that a silly question asked by many Berlin tourists is probably “Where is the Berlin wall?” Um, they destroyed it, people.

I walk past the Checkpoint, where two costumed American GIs (I can’t tell if they’re actually soldiers or stand-ins) are posing for paid photographs.

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With 19:00 only about 15 minutes away, I start running back toward the theatre, and find my way there by 19:05. After waiting in line, I purchase one of the only tickets they have available – a “standing room” ticket way up in the back, for five Euro. I’m relieved to know I’m going to see this show, but not looking forward to the prospect of standing for three hours. I walk back to Quynh’s place and grab a quick shower, gulp about 5 glasses of water (rather hard to come by around town, and it’s hot out), and make it back to the theatre with a few minutes to spare. Outside, I’m offered a ticket for an actual seat by a woman leading a tour group from a graphic design program based in NYC, and although I can’t get anything for my standing room ticket, I gladly pay her 15 Euro for the chance to sit down.

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This production of was without question one of the finest, most fully realized works I’ve ever seen on stage. The production oozed with visual imagery, with a strong emphasis on groupings of parallel lines. (See the picture with the Die Dreigroschenoper title hanging from a scrim to see another reflection of this design.) The raked stage allowed for a sense of depth that was especially effective from where I sat in the top balcony, and every corner of the stage was used at one point or another. The opening montage sticks out in my memory, featuring a parade of characters silhouetted against concentric, electrified circles of red light, swirling and “burning” at different speeds and directions, with one grandfatherly narrator singing the famous “Mack the Knife” melody. Which really gets stuck in your head! Bulbs of parallel light (mostly white but also blue and red) were in almost constant use, first as stage dividers, and effectively, in the final scenes as bars for MacHeath’s jail cell. The first act alone was 2 hours, then after a short pause, the final act brought the show to just over 3 hours in length – far longer than I think most American audiences generally can deal with – yet the show moved at a brisk pace. (During the interval I have a German cheese-pretzel and a Coca-Cola… what’s with the glass bottles everywhere, Europe?) The acting was phenomenal – all sort of characters, ages and types (I counted 22 onstage at one point), all with a deep physical awareness and infinitely subtle range of motion. I also found the singing, although not flashy or operatic (thankfully), rooted in the acting, a perfect match for the tongue-in-cheek, presentational mode of theatre which Brecht helped to develop. What’s perhaps the greatest testament to this production I could offer, however, is that over that entire 3+ hours of the show, I didn’t understand one word of it. (Except for the lone English phrase spoken in the entire pay: "Don't cry for me, Argentina"... which perhaps had something to do with the earlier victory over the Argentinians?) Anyway, the language mattered not. The show still made sense, although it was interesting to hear the audience laugh on lines where I had to intuit actual meaning based on the physical expression of the actors. At the conclusion I walked around Brecht’s giant theatre taking photos, and thanked my lucky stars the winds had blown me to this town, on this night.

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When I got back to the apartment, I realized that the director of Die Dreigroschenoper was in fact the great American Robert Wilson, frequent collaborator of Philip Glass (they co-produced Einstein on the Beach, the music of which I studied for this original piece last year), and one of the most legendary theatre directors in the world, especially with regard to design. And I concur.

Not wanting to end the day just yet, I ventured out past partying people, prostitutes and pimps, chanting and singing and blaring victorious car horns still, and walked in the direction of Alexanderplatz, an area which I had been advised to see, but in my rush to the theatre hadn’t had time for. It ended up being further away than I had expected, and once I was there it was already quite late, so I walked around, stopping outside Berlin Cathedral and taking some photos along the water. The clubs felt a bit too “Miami” in contrast to the chilled out area I had been in the previous night, so I didn’t stop. I walked back to my home neighborhood and down past Aufsturz, but it was late and there would be no second meeting of the Potato Döner Club.

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By 2:00 or so I headed in, stayed up another hour or so, chatted with my friendly hosts about my extraordinary day in Berlin, and planned my adventure to Prague for early the following morning. I packed my things and collapsed in a heap by 4:00am, with every intention of leaving by… 7:45. Gulp.

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Posted by coolmcjazz 18:26 Archived in Germany Tagged photography

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Comments

Hey Jason,

it's great and fun to read about your experiences in Europe!

Maybe you remeber a paper that I once wrote in your class? It was about racism (topic: change the anthem of Florida or not). And I wrote how it was unthinkable for me who grew up in Germany to even think racist thoughst not to imagine to show them in public?
Well, now you really know what I meant! It's impossible to ever forget what happened here, especially when you're in Berlin. And it's good that we never forget. But I'm from a generation who should not forget but also doesn't have to feel responsible for what happened! I don't HAVE to feel ashamed but still I do.
By the way: You maybe have noticed the small metalic bricks in the pavement in front of buildings with names and dates on it? They are called "Stolpersteine" (~stumble stones). Each stone has the name of a Jewish person on it who lived in that building. They also tell you when this person was deported, where to and when they died (if known).
For me these stones are the most important thing to remember and never forget. I'm used to them since years, but every time I see one it makes me incredibly sad. It makes what happened real to me, although I did (thankfully) not experience any of it.

To be continued...

by Simone

Part II

That explained you might understand why it is such a big deal for us Germans to show our patriotism via football. It's the only occasion when we dare to do so. And it took us until 2006 until we really did it. The whole world were guests in our country and we showed them that we are good hosts, that we are multicultural nowadays and that we welcome everybody. We dared to be proud of our country, we dared to wave our flag and most important: no one minded! What a new and good feeling for us!
Anyways... just one more thing: We use glass bottles rather then cans becaus you can reuse them. They go back to the factories, get cleaned and then are filled again. It's better for the environment and you should have noticed by now: we're a green country!

Have fun in Paris!

All the best,
Simone

by Simone

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