Thursday, March 25, 2010


The Dutch neighborhood in Potsdam, the first Western suburb of Berlin. It was part of East Germany, but since reunification has turned into *the* place to live outside Berlin, with large homes, miles of forests and lakes, and many young families. It has a "Dutch neighborhood" because it wanted to attract Dutch immigrants way back when, when the city was a mecca of European immigration. Potsdam was also the home of some Prussian kings (see below), housed part of the Berlin Wall, and is connected to Berlin by the Glienicke Bridge, where the US and Soviet Union traded spies during the Cold War. Additionally (just when you thought this city couldn't get more exciting!), there is a little Russian village within Potsdam, called Alexandrowka, which was built in 1825 for a group of Russian singers. Several houses are still standing, and some are even still owned by the descendants of the original owners. Sorry I didn't get a picture, I was in a moving vehicle, but you can see pictures of it here. It is very cool in person.

Nothing says "Ich liebe dich" like potatoes on your grave. (Disclaimer: This is the "tomb" of Frederick the Great, aka Old Fritz, aka The Potato King [I am not making this up]. It's his "tomb" because he was not actually buried here [though apparently he wanted to be]. He's supposed to be the reason potatoes are so widely eaten in Germany. I'll spare you the details of that scintillating tale.)
I went to see the Berlin Wall in situ, if you will (and I know you will), at a place called the East Side Gallery, where artists have painted a long stretch of the wall with different murals. I would probably put this up there as one of the top three things *not* to be missed in Berlin, even though I just made it out there at the end of my trip. The different murals, by artists all over the world, are so cool.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Munich, etc

Updates from chilly Deutschland. Things are good here, I'm actually learning a little German, which is exciting. I wanted to post a couple pictures, largely because I don't want to be out-vacation-blogged by Natalie, which I will be ultimately because she a) is in Spain, and b) takes fantastic pictures, but I can at least attempt to keep up while I'm here... :)

I spent the weekend in Munich, which was totally worth the 6-hour train ride to meet my friend Anna, who lives as far away from Berlin as possible while still being in Germany. Munich was equally out of the way for both of us, so it was perfect! I got to experience the "real" Germany (right, Anna??) by drinking a mug of beer the size of a small person, getting hit on by drunk foreign men, and eating pastries soaked in gooey cream and sugar. I tried to wrestle Anna into a Dirndl, but she's surprisingly strong and resisted. So I don't have any pictures of that, alas.

Munich Lions

Anna demonstrating my newest vocabulary word: Schweinshaxe (on a boar outside Munich's hunting and fishing museum). Yum.

This is the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) in Berlin. (I think this picture came out pretty well despite being taken on my phone.) The gate is a major symbol of Berlin, being involved in so much of its history. It was finished in 1791, and the statue on top (the Quadriga) was taken to Paris by Napoleon after a Prussian defeat in 1806. The gate was one of the only structures in the area to remain standing after Berlin was bombed in WWII. The Berlin wall was constructed just west of the gate, enclosing it in (Soviet) East Berlin. It's a pretty impressive structure. I'll try to get back there with a real camera one day. :) On of the things I like about Berlin is that it's so clearly still being rebuilt. The Wall only came down 20 years ago, and there are still areas along where it ran where there's nothing more than weed-strewn lots with nothing there yet. There also isn't that much architecture that is obviously old, like the Brandenburg Gate, like there is in Paris, for example. It's a major capital city that's still becoming itself, in a way.

The other side of Germany

This weekend I had the (un)fortunate opportunity to visit Dachau, the Nazis' first concentration camp, located near Munich, in south-eastern Germany, about a 6-hour train trip from Berlin. It was a freezing, gray day, which suited the visit just fine. As I was told before I went, it's worse in person than you can even imagine. They have made a GREAT museum in the main building. For more information, and pictures from the camp, go to wikipedia's entry on Dachau.

The entrance - "Work makes you free"

View of where the barracks once stood (they've all since been destroyed, but two have been rebuilt as part of the memorial and museum), from near the crematorium. (I'm not posting pictures of the crematorium or the "oven," they're too creepy and gross.)

Statue outside the main building. The English says (it's a big inscription, but hard to make out in the picture): "May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933-1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men."

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The story of how I went to the opera wearing purple cowboy boots (and other adventures)

Greetings from frigid Germany! (Note to Germans: it doesn’t matter how many times you tell me “this is the coldest winter we’ve ever had!” or, “Normally it’s spring by now!,” it doesn’t make me feel better about the weather, or make me not wish I’d brought my down coat. Thanks.) Anyhoo, thought I’d write a short update of my travels up to now. I now know a tiny bit of German, and that tiny bit includes phrases like, “My hobby is rollerskating,” and “Klaus-Otto is married,” and does not include useful phrases like, “I’d like a small coffee with milk please.” Ah, well, it’s nice to know beginning language courses are the same throughout the world. :) I spent my weekend going to operas (they’re already in German, yet they put up German supertitles; I guess I never appreciated the Met’s individual screens where you can choose your own language until now) and going to Leipzig. Leipzig is a city about an hour and fifteen minutes from Berlin by train, famous for being the home of, at one time or another, Mendelssohn, Mahler, Schumann, Wagner, and Bach, who conducted the choir of the St. Thomas church for almost 30 years; as well as a pretty interesting role in the reunification of Germany. Leipzig also, as I learned when I arrived, has adopted the wait-until-it-melts method of snow removal, which made my choice of weekend footwear (suede pumas, as there was no snow at all in Berlin when I left) particularly unfortunate, since I was soon up to my ankles in snow and slush. As it was too cold to walk around and take pictures, I went to a few museums, then heard a concert at Bach’s church, which was advertised as a concert, but actually was more of a service, with standing, praying, a sermon (literally the only words I understood were “snow” and “March,” but maybe that’s because I was subconciously listening for them), the Lord’s Prayer in German, etc. (which reminded me of the fact that one of the first phrases I learned in sign language was “In Jesus’s name we pray, amen.” For an atheist I seem to gravitate towards religion a lot.) The whole concert/sermon was quite lovely, but I felt a little bad about disrespecting Bach in his house of worship by having my shoes and socks off, but both were soaked and cold. Afterwards I was wandering around and noticed that the Leipzig opera was doing Lohengrin, and decided to get a student ticket; but decided I couldn’t spend 5 (five! Thanks, Wagner.) hours in an opera with freezing feet and soggy socks, so I decided to buy some new socks. BUT the shoe store was having a major winter boot sale, and they happened to have some kick-ass purple cowboy boots (that’s right) in my size, half off. They also had some practical, black, staid shoes, but why buy practical shoes when you can buy purple cowboy boots? (Note: sorry for knocking the usefulness of my German – the entire shoe-buying transaction was conducted with a sales clerk who spoke no English, which is good, right? Even though it was mostly numbers. But still!) So that’s how I ended up at the Leipzig opera, seeing Lohengrin in ratty jeans (sorry, older and distinguished Leipzig opera-goers, and sorry, mom, I know I should dress better) and the aforementioned purple cowboy boots. Which, now that I’m back in Berlin, you’d better believe I’m going to wear with panache. :)

Bach, presiding over his church

A chandelier I liked in the opera house

The organ inside the Thomaskirche