Berlin Burial Grounds and Gardens

After visiting the museums, we decided to view a different kind of history by visiting the cemetery attached to St. Matthew’s Church – famous for being the burial grounds of the Brothers Grimm. When we got off at the stop for the church, I think we were both surprised. It felt like walking into another world because the stop was surrounded by trees and birdsongs. It didn’t feel like the city at all. It was almost as if we were walking into our own fairytale.

And the ivy-covered, stone and wrought-iron gate made it even more fairytale-like.

But inside, it felt more cheerful than I expected. Kind of homey, in a way, with the candles and smaller, unimposing tombs.

That’s not to say, however, that there wasn’t elements of a dark tale in the making.

When I was doing my study abroad in Austria, I visited some of the cemeteries there and was surprised at how frequently I saw people tending to the graves. I thought it was really beautiful that people cared for them personally. It looks like the tradition is shared with Germany because there were lots of watering cans available and even a little cafe near the church to accommodate those visiting.

The sun was getting lower, and we knew that we didn’t have much light left in the day. We really wanted to see the Tiergarten, a large park in the center of the city, so that was our next stop. One of the entrances is right across from the Brandenburg Gate. The trees were just starting to turn when we were there in late September. It was so beautiful.

I wish we could have explored more of the garden, but it’s huge, and we were getting pretty hungry. One of the downfalls of traveling in the fall was shorter days, but I think the beautiful weather made up for it. On our last evening in Berlin, we got Chinese food. It just sounded good, and you know, it was. We had reservations for a later train to Dresden the next day, hoping to catch a long breakfast, but we had lots of repacking to do and since we were taking the bus to the train station, it ended up taking almost an hour to get there. There just never is quite enough time.

Greeks, Egyptians, and Assyrians – Museum Island in Berlin

Something super convenient about Berlin is that many of its world-class museums are located in one location. We bought the Berlin Pass with Museum Island, so we had free access to all of the museums on Museum Island. To be honest, it didn’t end up being worth it because we weren’t really in Berlin long enough to take advantage. But it was nice to know that all of our entrance fees were covered and we could visit some museums that we might otherwise not have seen. While I love (almost) all art, I definitely have a preference for 18th to 20th Century European painting and sculpture, but when you’re in Berlin, you have to see the Pergamon Altar and the Ishtar Gate at the Pergamon Museum. They really are incredible. So often I only see Greek art as a single sculpture, so it’s really cool to see it all pieced together.

Here are some scenes from the frieze around the altar depicting the battle between the Olympians and the Giants. And yeah, it is totally awesome.

Here’s a ferocious lion taking a chomp out of someone.

But don’t worry because the lion gets his.

This is part of the Market Gate.

In the next room, you’ll find the Ishtar Gate – one of the gates to Babylon.

Some Assyrian art.

After the Pergamon Museum, we walked just a little bit to visit the Neues Museum, which specializes in Egyptian and early history art. It features the famous Nefertiti bust, but they don’t allow any photos in there. It’s such a beautiful building. Apparently it was significantly damaged during WWII, but it was restored.

So many of the Egyptian figures displayed tender relationships. So sweet.

We also stopped by the Berliner Dom just to soak in the perfect weather. I succumbed to the lure of the green grass and laid down for a while. Sometimes those are just the best memories. Well, that and the adorable school kids holding hands on their way to the museum.

It’s the little things.

Mother with Her Dead Son, a memorial

I’m sorry I haven’t posted much this past week. I took some time off from blogging to celebrate birthdays and Thanksgiving with my family. I actually wanted to write this post on Thanksgiving because it seemed so appropriate, but alas, with all the cooking and cleaning and lounging about because I had too much turkey and pie, I never got around to it.

I was so delighted to discover that there is a Kathe Kollwitz museum in Berlin. A few years ago, I wrote about how her art impacted me so much in high school. Unfortunately, the museum is a little further out of town, and we just didn’t find the time to visit before it closed for the evening. But Kathe Kollwitz designed a sculpture at the Neue Wache Monument near Museum Island. We had actually passed it by in our eagerness to get to the museums. It wasn’t until after we were wearily trying to decide what to do next that we realized we missed it and decided to head back. I’m so glad we did. It ended up being one of my favorite experiences in Berlin. I wish that I could truly share it with you. Sometimes it’s so hard to convey through words or images the emotions and thoughts I felt.

Here is the Neue Wache building. It’s beautiful – classic and stately. I actually took this picture on our way to the museum not knowing what the building was.

It seems like any typical monument. There weren’t many people about when we got there. I think we hit a lull in the traffic. It was perfect because the sculpture inside invites a solitary viewing. It’s intimate and personal.

The room was basically empty inside, except for Cristen and me and I think one other man. That emptiness is significant to my experience. In that vast space, the mother and son seem small, confined, but so central. There is a skylight above them and it feels like the whole world revolves around them in a way. That relationship. That sorrow.

It’s a variation of a pieta and invites comparison to Mary holding Jesus after his crucifixion. Her dead son was also a sacrifice.

The two figures are wrapped together, as though the mother is shielding her son. Even though the sacrifice is for the greater good, for so many people, in this moment, the only thing that matters is that a mother lost her son.

The way her hand caresses his fingers is the part that really just kills me, though. It is so tender, so lingering, so heartbreaking.

I was showing pictures from Berlin to my 9-year-old niece, Claire, and when we came to these photos, she asked me about it. I told her it was a memorial to let people know the cost of war. That every person who dies in war is someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister, husband or wife, friend. It doesn’t matter what side they are on. Here I was in Germany, and this memorial was for those who fought against America and essentially caused the rows upon rows upon rows of graves that I saw in the American Cemetery in Normandy, but what I loved about this memorial is that it is so universal. A dead son is a dead son. And I know that a war had to be fought to protect other sons and daughters, but this sculpture reminds me (and hopefully all who see it) that life is precious. That our loved ones are precious. And we have to make their death — if it must happen — mean something.

East Side Gallery and Berlin Graffiti

Berlin is a city that I’ve always heard of, but didn’t really know much about. If I were to list words I associated with Berlin, it would probably go like this — Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, graffiti, Bauhaus, techno, graffiti, art house cinema… honestly, I am probably just embarrassing myself here because these are such stereotypes, but it’s really all I knew about it. I wish I had more time to spend in the city to move beyond those surface characteristics. But since we only had a few days, we wanted to see the sites so indelibly associated with the city.

Graffiti was easy. We saw it as soon as we walked out the door.

And the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall was only one U-bahn stop away from our apartment. Well, one stop with an incredibly long transfer. And of course, there was a little walk from the U-bahn stop to get to the East Side Gallery. We learned the hard way to avoid the bike lane.

The East Side Gallery is a stretch of the Berlin Wall that has been turned into a memorial with over a hundred paintings. They were incredible, so I’m just going to post lots of pictures of it.

And of course, we had to take some photos of ourselves with the one of the world’s most famous backdrops. Don’t mind my goth-inspired attire. All of my clothes were still drying on the rack at the apartment.

And of course, we wanted to leave our mark. Cristen just happened to have a Sharpie in her bag.

As interesting as the East Side Gallery was, I was probably more fascinated by the graffiti art on many of the buildings that surrounded the wall. I was surprised at the large scale of them. They were just incredible.

We decided to stop by another Berlin landmark, Checkpoint Charlie. On our way back to the U-bahn stop, we walked underneath the Oberbaum Bridge.

We passed an old section of the Berlin Wall on our way to Checkpoint Charlie – one that hasn’t been turned into a memorial.

Checkpoint Charlie was exactly the tourist trap that you would expect. There were men dressed as officers (maybe they were real officers? maybe not?) posing with tourists for a fee. And you can get your visa stamped (or something) for another fee. There’s a museum. We mostly just passed by, after getting yelled at by one of the (faux) officers for getting too close to the visa stamps.

And since we’re just wandering around Berlin in this post, let me also point out another Berlin trademark – the crosswalk figures. I didn’t realize how well-known they were until I saw them in every gift shop. I admit, I bought a magnet of the Go man because he’s pretty adorable. I love that he’s wearing a hat.

Berlin Bundestag and the Brandenburg Gate

When I was researching things to see in Berlin, I read about the dome at the top of the Reichstag building. I’m such a sucker for rooftops and views of the city from above, not to mention things you can do later at night after the museums and other attractions have closed, that visiting the dome went near the top of the list of things to do in Berlin. Luckily, I read about it a few weeks before our trip because you have to request permission in advance. You give your name, date of birth, and a few options for when you’d like to visit. Then, a week or so later, I got an email giving us a time slot and an attached PDF to bring with us.

Our visit to Berlin landed about 10 days into our trip, just when we were pretty desperate to do some laundry. We used airBnB to rent an apartment (one with a washer and dryer), so after arriving at the (huge!) train station, we took two buses to our apartment that we discovered was on the 3rd floor (4th floor if you use the American way) and thus, up 63 steps! That’s a lot! (But it still wasn’t as bad the 6th floor walk-up I rented in New York once, so I guess it’s all about perspective.) Once we were up in the apartment, we sorted out our laundry and found we had four loads. AND it turns out that the “dryer” listed on the apartment was actually just a drying rack so doing laundry pretty much took up our afternoon. We finally finished all our loads in time for dinner.

The great thing about renting an apartment is that our host left a list of recommended restaurants. We decided on a vegetarian one not far away. It was such a charming little cafe. I wish I could pinpoint what it was, but sitting there, reading the menu, looking out the window, people-watching the other diners, I just had one of those little thrills that you get while traveling and you realize that you’re somewhere completely new and different. I love that feeling. I really wanted to take a picture of it, but it’s not the type of thing you can really capture on film (err, digital), so I just got Cristen’s delight in her German beer.

Dinner took a little longer than expected (they always did), so we had to rush to make our time slot at the Reichstag. Sadly, I also realized that I had forgotten my printed permission for our visit, but we did not want to climb back up those 63 steps to get it. I had an electronic version on my phone, though, so we hoped it would be alright. We made it there just in time, and the electronic version worked just fine. They gave us some visitors badges, so we felt official.

We took the elevator to the top, picked up our audio guide (yes, I actually got one!) and stepped out onto the roof to take some photos. It was a little darker than I hoped when I selected the time, but that only made the lights brighter.

The dome has a ramp that spirals all the way to the top and the audio guide points out different buildings and tells you about the history. I also really enjoyed hearing about the German government. It was actually pretty interesting, but mostly it was space age awesomeness.

Probably the only really interesting thing that I remember is that the dome is open at the top. It was raining while we were there, but the rain is collected and then reused.

We didn’t have time to get any photos of the Reichstag before going up to the dome, so we attempted to take some pictures afterward. It was a little dark.

Just down the road is the Brandenburg Gate.

It was super crowded with lots of tour groups of teenagers. I have no idea what all of these tour groups were doing there because it seems like school should have been in session by then, but the biggest problem was that when we tried to get a donut at the Dunkin Donuts nearby, the students had picked the place dry of all the good options. We hated them so much!