Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Berlin, Deutschland

Gutten tag! 

Here we are in Goethe’s land. The first time we were here it was a few months after the fall of the Wall and the differences between East and West were evident. The situation was tense because they had just adopted the Western mark as the national currency, transforming overnight normal Easterners into poor people. The graffiti was everywhere.

The first night we roamed the streets with our friends. Mihaela and Marcello (from Napoli) are so kind and let us stay in their apartment, while they go to visit her family in Romania. We walk aimlessly, talking and catching up with our busy lives, finding more about them and Alina (her sister) and Matheu (her sister’s boyfriend). We switch from Romanian to English, then when they talk with each other it’s either in Italian or French. We ask for directions in German. I ask Mihaela how many languages does she speak: seven, all of the above plus Spanish and Portuguese. And she is not alone. Berlin is the hubbub for all the artists, a place where they can find a venue for their imagination and is not expensive to live.

Enjoying the movie "10 Months In"

We find a place that sells kebab and falafel so we sit down to eat in front of the neighboring coffee shop (conveniently closed), on the bench of its garden. 

Art with typewriters on top

Later we bought some beers and walked around (we fit right in, everybody is doing the same) and when we were done, we just left the bottles under the garbage pails. There are people who make a living from returning bottles, mostly men, dressed with care, you wouldn’t know if you just met them. I asked about the ubiquitous graffiti. Now it is part of their culture. There are people from every walk of life who meet in the dead of night, sneaking to avoid police and guards, and paint anew. In a way, it is beautiful...

After a day of active rest (we don’t visit, but search for shirts and shoes), we meet for the first time with Ina, another friend of ours. Fourteen years ago, Mihai stumbled upon her blog, where she wrote about her visit to Pitcairn Island. In those days she used to pay to work on a sail ship as a deck hand and she got to see many unusual places. They started an exchange of emails and we became friends. 

We are late getting out of the house, so Mihai goes ahead to meet her. I soon spot them in the crowd and wave a hand. Ina answers me immediately with a big smile. We start with coffee, tea and hot chocolates so we could plan the day. As an expert she takes us with the U-bahn, the subway, we stop to admire one station, change lines, telling us a little bit about the history of the place and how things changed after reunification, more construction, more life. 

Hauptbahnhof Metro station

It goes on four levels

The boulevard “Under the linden trees” is wide, one way streets on the sides and in the middle a large alley with linden trees on both margins. It is leading toward Brandenburg Gate and it was the place for a promenade. Hitler needed more space to show off and he ordered to uproot the 200 years old linden trees and planted instead nazi flags. There was a public uproar and he replanted the trees. Ina says they suffer from the salt in the winter, the gas pipes buried under their roots and the bitumen reflecting heat in the summer. So they remove and replant them one by one. 

The Brandenburg Gate is again a monument of one Berlin and not a divider. What was a deserted part of town 23 years ago is now a pedestrian and touristic area. Behind it we could see the new dome of the Reichstag, the parliament building.

We walked toward the Germany History Museum, where a whole courtyard was decorated with the heads of kings and emperors at the time of their deaths (just a kind reminder for that time's king that we are all mortal). We started with the beginning and strolled between exhibits, but again, we found that there was too much information about any subject. By the time we approached the first World War we were too tired and especially hungry.

The world after the discovery of two more continents. Ptolemy and Vespucci are presented as godfathers of the world view.

We went to Alexander Platz (plaza) and chose traditional food, which I am unable to name. It went down with white beer, colored with syrup. It was an unexpected combination, fizzy bitter and sweet; I understand that it’s all the rage in the summer time. 

We entered the St. Mary church with frescoes in which people dance with skeletons. The children were treated each with a tile to help create in mosaic what was in the frescoes, and in the same time, to finance the restoration.

Next to the church it was a parking lot painted with a map to scale of Berlin on which pins were showing the diversity of the city (people of different nationalities that used to live on that street, stores, ethnic restaurants, etc.) After the WWII West Germany needed cheap labor and Turks were the ones to answer the call. In time they brought their families, grew in numbers, kept to themselves. There were cases of old women not knowing a word in German, of rebellious young men. Xenophobia flared, then riots. The government wasn’t prepared. Now they are offering free German lessons for everyone who wants to study and they are trying to raise awareness and acceptance of the diversity.

Then we took a metro toward the still-standing part of the Wall. It was repainted by the original artists at the anniversary of 20 years since its fall. There are voices who want it knocked down, but I think it is a reminder of the unfair political game, of the lives that were lost or lived in freedom after crossing it, of the joy of reuniting, of the hope of a better future.

The other side of the wall is a fresh and new canvas, open to anyone.

The Trabant, a small, reliable car that eventually worked with any combustible.

Friday, September 14, we meet again with Ina, to visit Potsdam. It is a short train ride from Berlin, where we could admire in all its beauty the Sans Souci, the “no worries” summer palace built by Frederic the Great. He wanted a place where he would feel like home, with gardens, and dogs, and close friends. He planted potatoes, people stole them, guardians wanted to catch them and the king said “Let them steal the potatoes, maybe they would realize how good they are!”  And to this day people bring potatoes to his tomb (he was recently reburied next to his dogs as he had asked in his will).

The side entrance to the garden

A column with glass rods in the Bavarian colors

The first professional stove meant that the kitchen could be closer to the palace with no danger of fire

A beautiful gallery build especially to house the art collection.

The spider ceiling in the palace.

View of the mill from the garden

There are many buildings with different styles. We visited just a few. Ina’s mom went there at least 80 times and each time she found something new.

Saturday morning Mihai went to visit the Museum Island on the Spree river, a World Heritage Site because of the 5 museums built on it. He walked through some of them and saved the other ones for later, to see them with us.

Pergamon museum was built especially to host the Pergamon temple; from Asia Minor, the Ishtar Gate from the Babylonian city, just the small one; and the Mshatta (Millet) Market. To me, they all seem crammed and squished inside. There is a controversy about their legitimacy being here, instead of Turkey. I have no idea what happened with the rest of the monuments, if they are still in situ or in other museums, but I am thankful that I can see them, and they didn’t disappear through bombing or looting, during one of those wars.

This is how it is supposed to look, larger and longer...

...not like this!

The Neues Museum, is actually an old building, damaged during WWII and renovated in a weird style. It has frescoes and painted ceilings, naked brick and mortar, and the last marble and glass modern thing. This one holds part of the treasure gathered by Schliemann. He was one of the fortunate people in the 1800s who had the means to follow his interests (archeology) and to have things to discover. He excavated the treasure in Greece, which was a part of the Ottoman Empire in that time, took it out of the country, paid a fine for tricking the authorities and another one, to be sure he was granted ownership and to have the right to exhibit them in his country. We could see a few of the real things and some gold imitations. The true ones were war booty (three gold coffers beside numerous other objects) for the Russian army when they entered in Berlin in 1945. Some were returned, but not the gold ones, and these can be seen, violating international protocols, at the Pushkin Museum in the former USSR. 

In a small case, beside small objects found in this area, from the 8th century BC, there is a vessel inscribed with a swastika. I look at it and wonder how many people notice it and if they associate the sign with Hitler. Do they know that this one means peace and the other one got its meaning after being used by the Nazis? My mind flies back in Japan, where we could find it on the shrines, in China where it was in the park, but mostly in India where it was everywhere, the original and the mirrored Nazi one. It took me a while not to react negatively to its image and some more to see it as its original message, as peace. How did this vessel come to be?

From here we go to Reichstag dome. A glass and steel cupola, built on the old Parliament building, it is beautiful, environmentally friendly (the inverted mirrored cone spreads natural light in the building and the ribs help collect the rain water) and sends daily messages to the parliament members: people, who walk on the double spirals, can see them! The Parliament is not in session when we visit, but we walk on the spiral and listen to the audio guide, telling us about the different buildings that we can see. None are familiar, with the exception of the Brandenburg Gate. We stay as long as we can, enjoying the view, and we have fun playing in the lights.

But all things come to an end. We give thanks to our friends that helped us see a different Berlin and especially to Mrs. Koys, Ina’s mom! Vielen danke!

We will come back! Auf wiedersehen!

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