Thursday, October 27, 2011

Currywurst and Gluwien

Last weekend we stayed in town, and spent Saturday wandering around the beautiful street markets. We bought some cheese :D
We also had our first encounter (s) with Currywurst and Gluwein. Gluwein is a hot, mulled wine served only when it is winter. We were searching for winter coats, and feeling the cold! But oh how yummy and warming is a glass of Glewein in the market!? It was lovely.

And then we had Currywurst. This is a classic Berlin speciality, and Owen has been very excited about trying it. Here it is: A bratwurst cut up into bit sized pieces, some kind of seasoned tomato sauce that isn't quite ketchup and not quite pasta sauce, and a good couple shakes of curry powder. Currywurst. Surprisingly delicious! 
The story goes that it was invented after the War, when rations in Berlin were short. One thing that the Germans were getting from the British airdrops was curry powder. So what does a Berliner do with curry powder? Put it on Bratwurst, of course! 


Being in Berlin has its perks. One is the incredible museums. Last week we took an afternoon and went to see the Pergamonmuseum. Most of the artifacts were taken from Turkey in the 1800s. That is what the West did. And it isn't even that Germany was terribly interested in the artifacts. The Prussians just looked around and saw great big museums in Paris and London and didn't want to be left behind.  I think they 'caught up' pretty well. 

As you walk into the first "exhibit" you find yourself at the foot of an ancient Greek Altar—The Pergamon Altar, or Altar to Zeus. 
While much of it is reconstructed, all the friezes are the orignal. They depict the epic battle between the gods and the giants. The friezes wrap the entire room, and are only a portion of the original. Larger than life humans, with stone flesh, wresting with ani-morphs and crumbling.

 This is what Owen and I would look like if we were Greek:
 The next spectacular artifact was the Market Gate of Melitus, one of the best preserved and complete architectural elements from the Greek Period. I am thinking later Greek because of the capitals' very intricate patterns and designs. These are stones that Christ could have walked by!
 So, let's go a little but further back in time. Walk through the Gate of Melitus, and emerge in Ancient Babylon. This is the Ishtar Gate of Nebuchadnezzar II.  Actually, it is the smaller portion of the gate. While parts are reproductions of the gate, many of the tiles are the originals. The animals and cuneiform script are the real thing.
I usually think of artifacts, museums, etc as being beautiful, but monochromatic. Objects do, after all, loose their pigment over time. This gate is brilliant deep blue and bright yellow. The tiles catch the light. It was spectacular.

 The rest of the museum is full of Ancient Middle Eastern artifacts, and then another level of Islamic Art. The scope covers the Middle East from before the Hittites to this century. There is certainly a maturity and depth in this art that has grown and developed with culture, religion and time.

Truly Spectacular.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cologne Part 2

The next day we climbed over 300 steps in a small winding staircase (fighting more tourists coming both ways) to the top of the Cathedral spire. About half way up you could take a break at the bell tower. The bell behind is 24 tonnes of free swinging iron! (But currently undergoing repairs.)

Notice the worn down stairs? It is simply amazing what time and persistance can do to even the hardest of things.

I was awed by the attention to detail that did not wane, even on the highest and hardest to reach spires. How were these Cathedrals built? I am truly perplexed.

Even though the city of Cologne was pretty much levelled by the bombings in WWII, the Cathedral was minimally damaged. Those famous flying buttresses not only hold up an amazing amount of weight, they also give the structure flexibility. It was able to absorb the impact of the bombs without shattering.

Ok, just one final photo of the Kolner Dom.

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Chocolate Museum

Some of our family and friends back home were really excited about a chocolate factory in Cologne. We were too! Reading about it, it seemed interesting; and yummy!

We arrived. At the front there was a not-really-only-kind-of-to-scale replica of Noah's Ark. Probably not a good sign. I smell tourist trap.

There was lots of chocolate in their mini factory.

I found the machines kind of interesting. Always find assembly line machinery interesting.

There was also a lovely chocolate fountain where you could get your small token wafer dipped in it.

There was some memorabilia surrounding chocolate. But that is the end of the semi interesting things. Really not worth the money or time.
The majority of the exhibits had writing most likely composed by the curators themselves. Massive amounts of text filled with superfluous material. Some of them went so far to explain what inventory lot number the item belongs in. Gee thanks. If I'm ever asked to put anything away I'll have all the information I need. Oh they did try to spruce up some of it by putting the blobs of text behind doors you opened, or slide out panels. Although the slide out panels may have been used so they could increase text per square inch. What added to the disappointment is the fact you felt like you were walking through a subliminal marketing campaign for Lindt Chocolates.
In short... skip

Cologne Part 1

Last weekend we trained across Germany to see Cologne and the Rhine.

Our first steps out of the Cologne train station brought us to the base of the towering Gothic Cathedral, one of the biggest in Europe, and certainly the biggest that either Owen and I have ever seen. I have heard about these churches—the scale and workmanship that have gone into them. I have seen pictures. But I did not understand until I became dwarfed standing next to one.

See the highest point on the cathedral? That tiny little flourish?
This is how big it really is:

I don't think that I can explain much more. You will have to come and see it for yourself.

Construction started on this church in 1248, thanks to the funds raised by pilgrims coming to see the churches most important relic: The Gold Casket that contains the Relics of the Magi. Apparently parts of the wise men are inside. The church has 2 other notable relics: A crucifix dating from 970AD that was responsible for miracles, and a painting of Mary, also responsible for some miracles.

When money stopped, so did the building of the church. The two front biggest towers at the front of the church were left unfinished for over 200 years. Then, in the mid 1800's, construction began again. The Cathedral was finished in 1880. It is still considered a fully Gothic Cathedral, because it was completed according to the original plans drawn in the 13th century.
The history of this building is thick. This is the third church built on this site. The first structure was a Roman house, as excavations of Roman cellars and baths have revealed. After that a small church, that was expanded over many years. Eventually that was torn down to make way for this Cathedral.
When they tried to build a parking garage underneath the Church, they found the Roman ruins.

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In and Around Berlin

One thing that remains true no matter where you live, is that we as humans always gravitate towards rhythms and least resistance. Which in some sense is great because it means in little ways Berlin is becoming home. Ashley and I have found a groove of working, the daily choirs, and going for the odd walk. Nothing amazing, and I wonder if we are using our time well. One thing that has slipped is the frequency of our blog posts. Will get back on the horse and fire off a handful.

When doing city tours we have discovered the magic of bike tours. This is especially true in flat places such as Berlin. With our walking tour or Munich we only saw a handful of things and spent most of our time walking. With a bike tour we cruised around on these super comfy bikes and saw most of the major highlights of the city!

Alex our guide was amazing. As one of the few people I know using his history degree he had a real passion for what he was talking about. Here we see him explaining the Berliner Dom, a big Protestant church (which by the way is a few meters taller then the near identical catholic church on the other side of the square).

Humboldt University was really neat to see. People such as Einstein, Otto von Bismarck, and Karl Marx attended classes here. The university also boasts a home to 29 Nobel Prize winners.

Checkpoint Charley was quite the draw for many tourists that day. The French and English also had checkpoints for the parts of Berlin that they controlled, but the American checkpoint gets the most attention. Almost everything from the wall and those times is gone. It really speaks to the German way of moving forward and beyond dark areas of their past.

There are still sections of the wall standing to preserve those aspects of history. The pipe at the top of the wall was added to make it more difficult to climb over. Across the street (no photo sorry) is the old Nazi Airforce HQ as well as former offices of the Nazi Secret Service and Gestapo. Interrogation rooms and cells for political prisoners come with the package. Now... it's the German tax offices. Our guide found that kind of fitting.

Something I found really neat is that where the wall used to stand there is now a two brick wide cobblestone line. A small way to remember that a great wall once stood right here.

This is a parking lot for some luxury condos. Another great example of how the Germans quickly move forward from their past. What is under the parking lot is Hitler's bunker. It is so well reinforced that they could not remove it. So they simply filled it with sand and concrete then turned the top of it into a parking lot. In the last couple years they put up a info sign (the people are looking at it) to give a bit of background. Germany still struggles with neo-nazi groups so it's a fine balance between remembering the past and keeping groups like this at bay. Talking to our guide any Nazi related activity has zero tolerance in Berlin, especially around locations such as these.

This is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The artist purposefully never explained any part of this such to leave the interpretation open to the viewer. Gravestones, empty city streets, war camp... it's up to you. The un-level ground, and variation in stones created a very meaningful effect. As you walk through other visitors will appear and then disappear never to be seen again. A very realistic reminder of what happened. In the bottom photo you can see the glass dome of the parliament as well on the left the top of the Brandenburg gate.

For the ed of our bike tour we were greeted by the Victory Column. This column was erected for the unification of Germany. Not after the wall, but by those Prussians in the 1800's. And yes that statue as well as the extra pieces on the column are gold. It was a very drizzly day so the pictures only kind of turned out.

I've only included about half the stops and even less info then what was on the tour. Overall a fantastic way to get a proper introduction to Berlin.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Berlin Flat

We have had a couple people ask us to show them out little apartment. So here it is! A very quick photo tour.
This is the front door and our entrance hall way. To the right is another small hall way that leads to the bathroom.
If you turn around, you are in the main room. First you see the bed (seperate duvets seems to be a Europe thing).

A small sitting area and TV. Behind the red drapes are full length window, with ledges. We took these photos at night. Behind the rightmost drape is a small outdoor patio, just enough room for a bistro table and two chairs.

Following the far wall to the left, is a small kitchen nook. A sink, stove, little oven and table for two. More than enough for us.

This is the bathroom.

And we had friends over for Canadian Thanksgiving!

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bike Tour

On Monday we took a bike tour—oriented ourselves to the city, learned some great history, and came home very wet from the rain. We saw lots, and I am sure that we will show you more in the coming days. For today though, this is the memory that remains.
Humbolt University, where some of the greatest minds have studied.
Here, in 1933, students who had bought into Hitler's propoganda of a true and pure Germany raided the library and stripped the shelves of any books that did not coincide with the German ideal. Piled high in the square, more books from around the city were added. They were all burned.

The art installation in the square allows the passerby to peer into a empty room. Empty shelves. Empty.
One of the authors whose works were burned was a Jewish Poet, Heinrick Heine. Although he wrote with hindsight about the Spanish Inquisition, his words are prophetic:
"Where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also." ~ 1834

Further on our bike ride we passed the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

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