Saturday, 22 December 2012

Leaving Germany - Berlin

Today was the last of my last days in Berlin. It's been another interesting visit. Much colder than last time so a lot more time spent indoors & a lot more time spent thinking about the weight of history, especially recent history. It's now a city where this is a tourist attraction

as is this, just a few hundred metres down the road.

And if that's not enough to evoke the recent past, what about this,

and this,

the memorial for the hundred or so ordinary people killed while trying to get from one side of the wall to the other.

In my museum visits a couple of images have really struck me as important to remember. Firstly this one, taken around about 1944, showing one man with the courage not to conform

and then this one, Gorbachev & Honecker meeting for the DDR's 40th anniversary celebrations, just two days before 70,000 ordinary people got together in Leipzig and hastened the end of the divided country.

No wonder the rest of the time I tried to find art to look at. And I found it in some unexpected places. This looked like the coldest campsite imaginable but was in fact sculpture.

Just like this,



and this.

The gallery itself was once a train station

and still retains more than a few reminders of its former self.

Not far away, I came across some more art-related graffiti that really appealed (luckily in English not Deutsch)

And despite the sub-zero temperatures I did spend a bit of time outdoors looking at buildings. This is surely the strangest I have seen, the 'Bierpinsel' (ie, the 'beer brush', whatever that means).  It was built over a U-bahn station to be a restaurant but, believe it or not, was never a great success. Now, sadly, it's empty and waiting to be redeveloped.

I also caught a couple of glimpses of this one.

But this is who I was really in Berlin to see.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Germany in winter - Dresden and Weimar

After leaving Verona, I caught the train through the Brenner Pass up to Austria and then into Germany.  The ride through the Brenner must be one of the most beautiful train trips in the world.  Every turn opens up another view of intensively cultivated farmland framed by rugged rocky mountains

and, at this time of year, snow covered Alps.

And with all that southern sunshine, not all of the land is given over to agriculture.

Almost immediately over the border, the last of the sunshine soon disappeared

and winter was all around.

It seemed a good time of year not to be wwoofing

but rather, to be inside a warm, fast train speeding past countless forests

and pretty, snow-covered villages.

My destination was Dresden.

The last time I visited Dresden was 1979.  My recollections from that visit were of a dreary, grey place with a lot of open space and a half rebuilt opera house. At the time, the rebuilding project had been going on for years and seemed to be a long way from finished. It also seemed to me to be a strangely sad and possibly futile attempt to rebuild and recreate a beautiful Baroque city from the rubble of WW2 allied bombing. I couldn't have been more wrong.

This is the now completed and fully functioning opera house,

the market square,

the castle,

another part of the royal residence, the Zwinger palace, now home to a truly wonderful 'old masters' art gallery

and some extremely elaborate fountains (turned off for the winter).

This is one of the churches that has been restored since 1945

and this one, the Frauenkirche, has been entirely rebuilt.

The black stones were retrieved from the rubble and left dark to remind us of the 1945 bombing that wrecked the city centre and killed around 25,000 civilians.  The buildings are not the only reminders of the war

but Dresden is far from a gloomy place now.  The city centre is a wonderful mix of old and new and of course, at this time of year, Christmas markets

Some of the goodies on sale were exactly as you would expect

but others had me completely baffled.

Apparently brushes, brooms and wooden implements have something to do with Christmas but I have no idea what.

I played it safe with the gluhwhein

and discovered that no matter what the weather, it's never too cold for the locals to be outside, eating and drinking.

There are still some parts of downtown Dresden that retain their DDR character

and in some places, buildings have been deliberately left untouched so that traces of the period are not completely lost.

In other places, the DDR architecture has been retained and enhanced with a bit of landscaping

and the addition of new architecture

and in the 'new town' (which is pretty much all old buildings as this part wasn't damaged during the war), things have really been spiced up.

I would have liked to have seen this one on a wet day to find out what the water coming down through the pipes actually sounds like.

When I first arrived in Dresden, I thought it was beautiful.  The next day it snowed heavily and it became even more beautiful.

The day after, the sun came out and the place was sparkling

right through until sunset.

From Dresden, I got another warm, fast train. Along the way, I saw plenty of examples of 21st century land use, some more obviously environmentally sound than others.

Here, for example, I guess that painting the chimney is intended to be some sort of claim for environmental friendliness but I'm not entirely sure. I hope so.

I was headed to Weimar and, tempting though this place sounded, I didn't break my journey to check it out.

Weimar is famous for many things but probably most famous for having been Goethe's home town for 50 years. This was the house he lived in for  most of that time.

It's now a museum and even if you know nothing of the man when you first walk in, you will feel like you know him intimately by the time you walk out. This is the view from his front room

and this is his study where he dictated his works to a secretary who sat at the desk while Goethe himself walked around and around getting his thoughts in order.

The room he died in is right next to the study and has been kept pretty much intact from the moment of his death.

Not far from his house is the library set up by Duchess Anna Amalia in 1766 to house the royal book collection and more.  The library was frequented by Goethe as well as all the other intellectuals who were attracted to Weimar at that time and, incredibly, it is still in use. If you want to have a look at something on the shelves (and you read German), you just have to ask. I don't think you can take the books home though.

While you would never guess it, the library was badly damaged by a fire in 2004.  One very interesting aspect of the library tour is seeing how the burned and charred books that could be saved were in fact saved and how the library itself was rebuilt and repainted to its original 18th century state.

The centre of Weimar is full of lovely buildings

many of which are in great shape, given their age and history

although, as in Dresden, not all have been beautified.

There is a park running right through the centre of town which in summertime must be a delight to visit and which in December is a delight to have a very quick walk through.

Back in the centre of town, I discovered plaques to a few other famous Weimarians.

 Here stood the house of Johann Sebastian Bach from 1708 to 1717,   Friedemanns Bach was born here 22 November 1710,  Philippe Emanuel Bach was born here 8 March 1714

Lucas Cranach lived in this house from 1552 until his death on 16 October 1553 
and, in fact, the house that Cranach lived in and its next door neighbour were two of the most spectacular of all.

From what I saw, however, only Goethe and his great friend Schiller have a statue erected in their honour and this particular monument is said to be one of the most famous and most loved in Germany. Even the Christmas markets gave it a respectful bit of space.

In fact, it seemed that for the locals, the Christmas markets were the main reason to be out and about at this time of year.  And not a bad reason at all.

 Especially if you are on the look out for one of these.