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...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Stay in Berlin

We liked Berlin. We came here for several reasons, specifically invited by Mihaela, a long time friend. Besides, it's been 22 years since we were here last time, shortly after the fall of the wall and the day after the monetary unification. It's been too long since then and I couldn't wait to see the new city of Berlin, frequently described as the most vibrant European city. A past great capital, the center of European power games and also the second biggest Turkish town in Europe. Berlin is a city in constant change, the locals don't recognize it year after year, and they joke that they don't need to go to any other city, they have something new all the time.

Guess what? I am in Berlin!

With our friends, before they left. Too soon.

Mihaela, Marcello, Alina and Matthieu left at noon for the airport. They were going for a couple of weeks to Romania and they left us in their apartment, in a central quarter of the city. We had a couple of hours together, on top of the previous evening, spent wandering on the streets in the drizzling rain. The walk was great but the first impressions were not that encouraging. Construction. Graffiti. Everywhere. Young people walking around with open bottles of beer, or sitting on the pavement in the middle of the bridge. No police around, this was not a young rebellious generation, just people living their lives being left alone.

After they left we went shopping for new T-shirts and shoes for Maria. We had a first quick contact with the Alexander Platz and walked on a large Stalinist boulevard, mostly deserted, Karl Marx Allee.
Karl Marx Allee

By the time we got to our apartment the stores were closed. But at the Turkish supermarket they were still cleaning and they let us get in quickly to buy something. Very nice people.

We met with Ina for the first time ever, even if we've known each other for a lifetime (at least, longer than Ioan's lifetime). We spent two days together walking for hours and hours through the center of Berlin and in Potsdam, at Sanssouci. In the city we covered all the landmarks, the Brandenburg gate, Unden der Linden, the German History Museum. We ended the day on the last stretch of the famous wall.
New old friends

tear the wall down
I really like Sanssouci, one of the best royal palaces of Europe and a World Heritage Site since 1990. It was built by Frederick the Great as a small personal retreat in 1745, in a rococo style adapted to his taste. It was only ten rooms and by design there is nothing to accomodate a woman, he separated from his wife after he became king. He liked dogs, paintings and occasionally the company of other men.
I'm not the only one happy to be in Potsdam

Everybody is happy!

The little ten-room retreat at Sanssouci

In a separate building, the art gallery

Some pictures please.

View from the gardens, on the roof of the Orangerie 

The Chinese Pavilion

Yes, we made it to the New Palace
The palace was extended with several pavilions and the New Palace was added 20 years later. It is a significant difference, as the new one was built after he lost a war, just to show off - a fanfaronnade to tell the rest of Europe that he still has power and money. It is a full, busy day to discover the whole complex. We were lucky, or not, to come just in time for an extraordinary exhibition on the life of Frederick. As he lived in the same period with Maria Theresa, it gave me the opposite perspective to what I learned in Vienna, just a week ago. The exhibition was exhaustive and exhausting and unfortunately covered the original wall decorations of the palace, but Ina didn't let us go until we saw one last room. Wow. It is the most fantastic room we ever saw anywhere in the world. It might not be some place where someone would want to live, but one could spent his life looking at all the decorations. A marble floor depicting marine animals, paintings on the ceiling, huge crystal chandeliers and the walls, with numerous niches that have statues and fountains. The walls! They are all covered in shells, quartz, marble, precious and semi-precious stones. It is a shame that they don't allow pictures in there and there is very little on the Internet about the Muschelsaal:

From Wikipedia in German, the only picture that I could find of the Muschelsaal

The last day in Berlin I got away in the morning on a personal tour of some museums and a quick detour to Potsdam Plaza. This is supposedly the center of the "New Berlin". Of interest to locals because it houses a cinema and to tourists because they can get fake Eastern Germany stamps in their passports. The Sony building is for some the symbol of the new city, renascent from its ashes. Creative and daring architecture. To me it looked old, rusty and dusty. The Sony shop had some lenses for our camera, exorbitant prices, they can keep them. The store seemed tired and so old fashion. The water fountain is working a couple minutes every now and then. Overall, a negative impression.

Building a business on the symbol of communism

Is there still a market for soviet memorabilia? 

Potsdamer Plaza

East Germany visa for sale

There is the Museum Island in Berlin, a World Heritage Site for its priceless collection of human creations. There are six museums, only five open at this time.
Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) completed in 1876

The most famous German statue - I found it Ina!

Bode Museum on the island's northern tip, opened in 1904, entrance hall
The more important ones I would visit later in the day with my family. The Pergamon museum, the most fantastic museum of my childhood, and the Neues Museum, with the head of Nefertiti, the most famous Egyptian relic. After seeing that we did a little experiment. We all spread out in five directions with an hour to spend anywhere we want. After we met in the hallway we had a few minutes to exchange impressions and go and see what anyone of us found really interesting. Read Ileana's post here.

Pergamon Museum, built in 1930

Section of Ishtar gate of Babylon

There is an impressive collection of Islamic art

The Neues Museum, opened in 1859, destroyed during the war and reopened in 2009

The famous royal couple of Nefertiti and Akhenaten (the only monotheist pharaon)

The phenomenal bust of Nefertiti, pictures not allowed (from Wikipedia)

To end our short Berlin tour we saw the new old building of the Parliament. It is amazing what some inspired architecture can do, the tour of the cupola is probably the number one experience to be had in Berlin. Twenty years ago the Reichstag building had some little historical importance. Even when the Russians conquered and destroyed it at the end of the second world war, it meant very little, and of course during the period of the two Germanies there was nothing going on here. Now it is the symbol of the new Germany, a powerful, respected and admired country that carries the whole Europe on its back.
The Reichstag, the new dome cannot be seen from this angle

On the roof of the Reichstag

We are in the dome now

We are approaching the top

Through this structure we can see the empty chairs of the parliamentarians
(if only they would work Saturday night!) 

So this is it. Four nights in Vienna and Prague, five in Berlin, a quick Central Europe tour sandwiched between our meeting with my parents in London and with Ileana's family in Barcelona. It was short, intense and rewarding. Thank you Alina, Mihaela and Ina.
Bye bye Berlin!

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