Last time, I was in the midst of reminiscing about a recent trip to Berlin, which is once again the capital of Germany. Many of us have traveled to Germany many times, but many of us have concentrated on the beautiful Bavarian towns of southern Germany.
Now that Berlin is back in the spotlight, and has become a major force in the Western world, it is well worth a trip for its political and cultural excitement.
Just wandering around the city on its public transportation is easy and valuable. Look for bus #100, which goes through most of the major sights in the center. We took a subway (the U-bahn) to the Charlottenburg area, and found it extremely easy, (except that we paid for a day ticket, instead of a one-trip ticket.) Many people take a short train trip (the S-bahn) to the suburb of Potsdam to see the major palace and gardens there. I was too fascinated by the center of the city to leave during our short stay. My husband, however, took a train trip to Sachsenhausen, one of the former concentration camps. He found it a moving and necessary experience. His pictures of that day are haunting in their simplicity, and made me wish that I had taken the time to go there. I believe very strongly in the old saying that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
Back to the center of Berlin, we went to the Charlottenburg area for the specific purpose of seeing the Heinz Berggruen Collection of early Picassos. (This was also a good opportunity to see the Charlottenburg Palace across the street.) More than eighty works of Picasso form the heart of the collection, entitled “Picasso and his Time.” Works from his student days to his late years, including his blue period, my personal favorite, are here on three floors, as well as many works by Paul Klee, and a few by Cezanne and van Gogh. It is a small intimate experience.
Across the street we went to the Egyptian Museum, just for the thrill of seeing the bust of Nefertiti in the flesh (more or less). It is a superior experience to see this raving beauty still the center of attention after all these centuries.
Other museums not to be missed include the Gemaldegalerie,(the Picture Gallery) in the Tiergarten. (Oh, I forgot to tell you that there is a gigantic park called the “Deer Garden” right in the middle of Berlin.) The Neue National Galerie is housed in a glass and steel building designed by Mies van der Rohe, and contains 20th century European painting. There is a Bauhaus Archive here, which houses all sorts of materials from the work of the famous Walter Gropius as well as all the other Bauhaus architects, which is a must for architecture buffs.
I also sought out the Kathe Kollwitz Museum, set in atown house on leafy Fasanenstrasse in the center of West Berlin. Next to it was the inviting Literaturhaus, with its garden café, where I could picture myself sitting reading an intellectual tome with a cup of coffee. Kathe Kollwitz, like Mary Cassatt, was a painter of mothers and children. The likeness ends there, however, as the Kollwitz works almost always show mothers protecting their children from the horrors of war. The walls were covered with reminders that the human spirit seems to prevail in the most horrid of times.
Sadly I missed going to the extraordinary new Jewish Museum, but most who did were very moved, but disturbed, by the architecture, which I gather is deliberate. The design, which depicts buildings rent by slashes of lightning-like windows, seems to speak volumes.
For all but a few private museums there is a three-day pass that can be purchased at any museum for about $10.00, which is a major savings over single admissions.
Our major reason for being in Berlin was to attend concerts, which were indeed the highlight of each day. We managed to have early light meals at some charming restaurants, which were happily located near the concert halls. Our first such bistro was Lutter & Wegner, on the edge of the Gendarmenmarkt. Our first concert was in the Baroque Konzerthaus in the Gendarmenmarkt, with Daniel Barenboim conducting the Berlin Symphony in two Brahm symphonies. The hall was like a jewel box, with countless glittering chandeliers and mirrors. The Berlin audiences seem to adore their conductors and relish all sorts of music. We came back to this gem of a hall two evenings later to hear a most unusual program that combined Strauss and Schonberg. On our second evening, Claudio Abbado, who is retiring as director of the Berlin Philharmonic, gave arousing performance, bringing the audience to its feet many times, at the unusual Berlin Philharmonic Hall.
The Philharmonic Hall is terminally ugly on the outside, but all was forgiven when we heard the marvelous acoustics inside. I began to realize that this would indeed be a memorable trip.
Our evening had begun with a small meal at Borchardt, another well-known bistro in this delightful area of Berlin. The Gendarmenmarkt was named for the Napoleon era occupation of this area by French troops. It is a huge open plaza with the Konzerthaus in the Center, flanked by two giant, almost-twin baroque churches, one German and one Franciscan. Surrounding it on all the side streets are the newly chic bistros and shops of the new East Berlin.
The concerts were very sophisticated, and will be of great interest to those of our friends who are deep into classical music, and I’ve saved the program notes, though my translation prowess from German to English is long gone.
There’s more than enough to do in Berlin these days, and we didn’t even begin to investigate the nightlife. They say it’s over the top, but I leave that to the younger generations.
(Betsy Shequine will cover the other two cities she visited on this musical trip in future issues.)