Saturday, June 29, 2013

nach Deutschland

The Best of Berlin

No matter how much a city undergoes change, there is no way it can escape its history.  Berlin is a city that has embraced its past, shows no remorse of it and flaunts it extensively.
The events prior to the first World War that lead to the Nazism, followed by defeat of Germany in the War by the allies; and the country's 50 years separation to East and West, are no happy memories.  Yet, in every tourist area there is a building, a poster, a sight that hints to these events.  It is hard to expect to see reminiscence of Prussian kingdom in Berlin, since this city was nearly flattened in the consecutive world wars. 

How to get here:
The train ride Frankfurt - Berlin takes only four hours, and the city main train station, Hauptbahnhof is central and connected to almost anywhere.  The DB Bahn web site, has an option of translation to English.  It offers discount of advance purchase, and offers deeper discounts on non-refundable tickets.  The first class section of the train offers more leg room, individual tables, and 1-hour free Wifi.

Holiday Inn chain has two locations in Berlin, City Center, and East City Center.  The rates are very reasonable, 50-100 euro, and some rates include breakfast.  The rooms are clean, with coffee, tea station and small fridge.  The breakfast is generous and there is lots of different options to choose from.  You can get breakfast for 5euro per person anywhere in Berlin and by noon you actually have appetite to eat lunch! :)

The first day in Paris, and one goes to visit Eiffel Tower.  The first day in Berlin and one goes to visit the Wall, Berliner Mauer.  There is still such curiosity surrounding where the wall was once --even 24 years after 9 November 1989 that all GDR citizens were told they can visit West Germany without paperwork.  On Friedrichstadt close to Postdamer Platz there are pictures of "then", you turn your head and right where the wall used to be, you see nothing, open space.  Once you look down you see the cobble stones dividing the city right in the middle.  I got goose bumps from happiness.  If you have to see the wall, a part of it has been preserved; it is available for viewing at no charge. [U6 - Kochstrasse]

Imagine 6-acre land.  It is a huge area.  Now imagine it, packed with rectangular, shaped gray concrete at different height and width.  This is the site of the holocaust memorial, dedicated to an estimated six million Jews who were killed.  Keep your eyes peeled to these structures as you walk toward it, and as you approach, change your view and look through them.  It's a maze.

For something more pleasing on the eye and heart-warming head to the area around the "Unter den Linden", Under the Lime Trees.  There is metro construction until 2013, nevertheless the buildings in this area tell the story of the Germany of a different era, pre 1800.

The Staatsoper was commissioned by King Frederick II of Prussia in 1741, designed and built by Georg von Knobelsdorff as the first and the oldiest structure on Babelplatz. At that time it was called Hofoper (Court Opera) and was inaugurated with the performance Cesare e Cleopatra in 1742. After the collapse of the German Empire in 1919 the opera was renamed Staatsoper.

Gendarmenmarkt is a beautiful example of an architectural ensemble full of harmony and it includes both the French and the German cathedral as well as the Concert House.

Built in 1688 according to plans by Johann Arnold Nering, the square was originally called Linden-Markt and later on Friedrichstädtischer Markt and then Neuer Markt. However, after being used from 1736 to 1782 by the military for sentry duty and housing their horses, it came to be known as the Gendarmenmarkt. After 1777, the square was developed uniformly according to plans by Georg Christian Unger.
Severely damaged in the war, the square was rebaptised “Platz der Akademie” in 1950 on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the Academy of Science. In 1991, it got its original name back. Numerous restaurants, businesses and hotels are located around the Gendarmenmarkt.

French cathedral

The French Friedrichstadtkirche was built between 1701 and 1705 based on designs by Jean Louis Cayart as a church meant for French Protestants (Huguenots) who had fled to Berlin. In 1786, while the Gendarmenmarkt was being transformed, the impressive tower of the French cathedral designed by Carl von Gontard and Georg Christian Unger was opened. The cathedral was severely damaged in World War II and was rebuilt starting in 1977.

German cathedral

Located across from the French cathedral, the German cathedral was built by Giovanni Si-monetti between 1701 and 1708 according to plans by Martin Gruenberg. From 1780 to 1785, Carl von Gontard completed the building by adding on the domed tower. The cathedral was destroyed in World War II and, after extensive restoration work, it reopened again on 2 October in 1996.

Concert House (formerly Theatre house)

The Concert House was built as a theatre in 1821 by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, who was replacing the National Theatre, which had been constructed between 1800 and 1802 by Karl Gotthard Langhans and which had burned down in 1817. The design of the Concert House, or the Konzerthaus as it is known to Berliners, integrated what remained of the Langhans's rectangular shaped building and added a larger and wider building which was crowned by a pediment. After being destroyed during the war, the building was initially preserved and then the systematic, faithful restoration work began in 1979. After the reopening in 1984 concerts instead of plys were given in the Konzerthaus.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Elegance of HedgeHog (L'Élégance du hérisson)

It is hard for me to come to terms with the way this book ends. Nevertheless, this doesn't change the way I think about it. It's an excellent read.
A 54 year old, ugly, short concierge of a posh residence in Paris, and a 12 year old highly intelligent daughter of a rich family living in the same residence, each struggle to conform to what society expects of her. Each is unhappy with what it seems her fate.
Through out the book, independently, each ponders the social convention imposed upon them and philosophize on the possibility of change. There is hope for change. Jean Arthen the junkie, son of the prominent Paris food critic, turned his life around.
Their encounter happens half way through the book, and something so tender and sweet blossoms. It is two chapters back to back, "Sisters" and "Profound thought number 15", when the story peaks emotionally and leaves the reader thoroughly satisfied.
But the ending. Ugh the ending is harsh!  I want to believe in the power of "Camellias".