A walk along the Charles Bridge

As I mentioned, the best piece of advice a friend gave me for my trip was to get up early and walk across the Charles Bridge. I assumed it was because she knew I would want to see it in the morning light, and perhaps that was it, but the real benefit became clear as soon as we left our apartment around 7 in the morning. No one else was around. The streets were almost empty. It was glorious! And it was the perfect way to see one of Prague’s most famous landmarks. I’m just going to let the photos do the talking.






















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.

Highgate Cemetery, London

Ever since my friend Alene told me about Highgate Cemetery, I’ve been wanting to visit it. She actually told me about it right before my last trip to England in 2008, but we never made it there. It’s a little out of the way and when you read the instructions on their website, it seems somewhat complicated to get to. It doesn’t help that it also holds kind of odd hours. But since I love cemeteries and this one seemed so incredible, it was one of my top priorities for this visit to London and we went there on the first day.

Turns out, it wasn’t that hard to get to, really. You just have to make sure to catch the right buses and then it really is a pleasant walk through Waterlow Park. There are two sides to the cemetery – the East and the West. The West Cemetery, I believe, is the older part of the cemetery and it is accessible by guided tour only and the tours are only once a day on the weekday. Plus, the website explains that you aren’t free to take photos except as part of the tour. We opted to visit the East Cemetery so we could wander freely and take as many photos as our hearts desired.

One of the things that I love so much about cemeteries is the sculpture you find there. Highgate had some exceptional examples of sculptures depicting grief. I find them so sad and beautiful.

There are actually a few famous people buried in Highgate, although the gatekeeper told us we probably wouldn’t know most of them because we were American. And you know, he was right. We hadn’t heard of most of the people on the list. But this guy needs no introduction:

How great is this huge head of Karl Marx? I think it might be one of the coolest memorials ever. I would like a huge head of myself when I die. Just so you know. (Maybe… I haven’t quite made up my mind, but it would be pretty rad.)

This lady is also buried there:

Hi George Eliot… I still haven’t finished any of your books even though I’ve started three of them.

I also found a few really beautiful gravestones. I especially love this book one. Maybe that’s what I want when I die.

But this one is also pretty cool. I like how straight-forward it is.

Incidentally, it is the burial place of the artist, Patrick Caulfield.

But mostly, you can get lost wandering the little mossy paths and looking over the ivy-covered gravestones. It was very peaceful and lovely.

Next time I would love to visit the other cemetery. I’m dying to know what I would find.

Catching Up 1: Besthoff Sculpture Garden

Somehow I got two months behind on my blogging. I know! Two months! And maybe I should just forget about those two months – after all, it’s a brand new year – but then I wouldn’t get to share these pictures. And I have so many pictures. The first neglected event was taking the kids to the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at City Park back in early November. With the kids there, it wasn’t the leisurely, contemplative pace I would normally take, but it was fun to see what sculptures caught their attention. For the most part, though, they just wanted to run around.

Here are some of the sculptures that caught my eye.

The sculpture garden boasts one of Robert Indiana’s Love sculptures, a perfect photo shoot location.