Things to Do

The New Synagogue in Berlin

I’ve barely been back in Berlin for a week, but I’ve already noticed how much more free time I have since being demoted to 8 hours a week. Granted, it means I have less money and am on the brink of an exist-ential crisis, and I should be using my extra time to work on my dissertation, but I’m also using it to fall back in love with Berlin in Spring.

While on my way to revisit the Dorotheenfriedhof with a friend who had come into town, we passed by the Jewish Synagogue, which is about 1 km from Friedrichstrasse S-Bahnhof (Cold War buffs will know this was the crossing point from East to West for civilians). While I was excited to show my friend the graves of Brecht, Fichte, et al., I did suggest we visit the Synagogue.

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©1999 Valerie Kreutzer

My friend, who had been to Berlin several times but never made it inside, since the last time the opportunity presented itself, a series of bomb threats closed the place down for a few weeks (months?).  Even if the Synagogue and museum were now open, there were police guarding it, as they do every Jewish or Turkish building of significance in Berlin. It’s, as one person in Google Reviews posted, sobering. Germans are in a constant battle against their history and themselves in the form of blatant or covert neo-nazism.

Still, while the same Google Review comments largely suggested that going inside the museum was a waste of time and money, I think I already mentioned that I had the time, and the 5 Euro on museum entrance and visit to the dome weren’t terrible. Granted, I thought I would be able to go into the main hall of the Synagogue, since I’d been able to visit the Old New Synagogue in Prague once upon a time, which impressed heavily on my faith questioning as a teenager, but I understand why that area would be closed to the public.

At any rate, I paid my five euros and spent about thirty minutes going through the exhibition. First of all, the Synagogue isn’t new, but it was the new one when it opened in 1866.  A lot of the information in the exhibit was about the destruction of the building in the 1938 Pogrom-Kristallnacht and World War II, as well as the rebuilding. But what I liked about the exhibit was how much information was given about how the Berlin Jewish population was living in Berlin in the 1930s and 40s. One got insight into the Jewish Schools for Boys and Girls in the surrounding area, famous artists like Maz Liebermann who were part of the congregation, and the way members of the congregation would worship, celebrate and learn in the building. After seeing how the large orthodox Jewish population in south Florida observed Passover the past week, I was personally moved by the way this building afforded a place of security and community for more than fifty years and hundreds of thousands of people before Hitler and the Nazis came to power.

I was also surprised to learn that of the 14 synagogues attacked in the night of November 9, 1938, the New Synagogue was largely able to escape most of the destruction due to the intervention of the chief of police of the precinct, Wilhelm Kruetzfel. While most of the fire brigade and police on that night stood by and watched, Kruetzfel and those under his command forced the SA troops to leave and then called the fire brigade. Of course, he had to answer for it and managed to get by on the point that the building was a “historic cite” and deserved protection, but I believe it was more than that and I’m glad to know that somehow, in the face of a majority who go along with what is morally and ethically wrong, there are those who resist- or those who at least stand by what they know to be right.

Anyway, after the exhibit, my friend and I spent a while trying to find the way to the dome. When we found it, we did indeed find a smallish room with a not terribly spectacular view of surrounding Berlin, but I appreciated it. One got an idea of how “mitten drin” the Synogogue was in the center and I had a chance to reflect on the purpose for the dome as bringing closer to God and as a symbol.

My friend and I talked a little more about the symbolism of the building and the police guarding it after leaving. We both agreed that of all place to attack, a synagogue would not present a lot of victims and really just is a pile of fancy looking bricks. Still, I commented on the symbol of the place, and the way it has regrown into a center for learning and worship for the Jewish community, and that the message an attack would send, even if the destruction were not too terrible, would be enough to cause a good amount of damage to the feelings of community, security and tolerance the place provide. So, yeah.Good reasons to guard it.

We ran out of time (I guess I still do have some limits) to see the Friedhof, but I’m glad I went inside the Synagogue for a bit of history and reflection. I’m also always amazed at how well Berlin derails me from plans and often offers me better ones instead.

James Turrell and the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof

Of course, given all the talk about my name in the past week, I had to visit the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof yesterday.

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The Dorotheenstadt cemetery, officially the “Cemetery of the Dorotheenstadt and Friedrichswerder Parishes,”  is a ‘landmarked Protestant burial ground located in the Berlin district of Mitte’ (Wikipedia) which dates to 1762 and in which many, many famous Germans are buried: Bertoldt Brecht and his wife Helene Weigel, who also happened to live next door to the cemetery, Hegel, Fichte, Heinrich Mann, Arnold Zweig, Anna Seghers, Regisseur Heiner Müller and the Prussian architects Friedrich August Stüler and Karl Friedrich Schinkel, among others. It’s called the “Prominenten [basically VIP’s] cemetery” of Berlin and is located in Stadtmitte (a city district in the center of Berlin) near Oranienburger Tor, which used to be the north entry to a much smaller Berlin. It’s also near the Jewish Synagogue of Berlin and the Bertoldt Brecht Haus. A lot of the cemetery and the chapel were affected by WWII, but the chapel was reconstructed in the 1960s and a dedicated space for James Turrell’s (a US American artist and architect) concepts of space and light since then. It is this chapel my brother and I visited yesterday, having been to the cemetery in the past to appreciate the space and resting grounds of many important German thinkers.

Since being in Berlin 2017, I’ve tried to do something unique to Berlin at least twice a month. Lately, it’s been something at least once each weekend. The past two weekends were taken care of by the Berlinale- Berlin’s international film festival, which featured some really great movies (better, dare I say, than some of the movies up for Oscars tonight).

To just return to those viewings for a second: The really neat thing about the Berlinale was that the directors, producers, and/or actors as well as others involved would be available for Q & A after the movies. The awards ceremony for the Generation group (movies with kids as a main focus) was especially fun to watch.

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The Glass Bears

However, this weekend, I spent a leisurely Saturday morning while preparing for my long run, came back from my long run and felt like a zombie, and decided it was a good reason as any to get some blood pouring through my legs again. I had looked for things to do in the morning, but didn’t really find much except for a play and a few random destinations. So I went for my run.

After refueling with pancakes, I looked again and stumbled upon the “tips for the day” put out by the Berlin event planner thingie (don’t know who’s job it is to arrange these things, but I’m glad they’re there!) and found an event that met my expectations: interesting, I knew where it was located, and it was inepensive- cost 5 Euro reduced entry free.

The event started at 5 pm, which I later found out was so that one could see the chapel during the day and then experience sunset and the effect of the light changes from inside the chapel. Being there a bit early gave me the chance to catch a few shots from outside and surrounding gardens:

After getting seated in the chapel, which was arranged like any other chapel- benches, alter in the front, space in the back for the organ, but otherwise rather spartan, I tried to wrap my head around the unusual lighting. There was a bright blue light coming from the walls, and bright green coming from the alter that while pleasant enough, just seemed artificial. I didn’t feel like I was properly in God’s space. It didn’t help that people were chatting and laughing and on their phones.

But then a member of the parish came up and introduced the space before introducing the curator of the art installation. The young curator told us about James Turrell and his work, as well as his ideas for the chapel. It is an interesting coincidence that the one event I chose this weekend in Berlin had to do with a US American, but it’s also a refection of how globalized we are.

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At any rate, I was thrown back to my art studies and how complementary colors work and how lights affect ability to gauge dimensions, and so I was really into the design aspect of the space. Then, the parish member lit the candles of the alter, and I was surprised at how the natural light balanced the artificial light that no longer was unappealing to me anyway.

There were some great violets and oranges that I didn’t photograph. Once the prayer was said and the candles lit, the space was mostly quiet and it was a great chance to reflect and let the lights do their magic… and it really was magic.

Leaving the chapel, my brother remarked that what we did was low-keyed for a weekend outing, but it was really nice. It got us a chance to see something unique and participate in a little event that not many knew of or were there for. I know many people who come to Berlin are more interested in the big monuments and events of the city, but one shouldn’t forget the small ones. I guess getting to know them is part of the perks of living in that space, and not just visiting.

For those interested, the event happens every Wednesday and Saturday half an hour before sunset, and costs 10 Euro, 5 Euro reduced for students, veterans, seniors, and those on benefits.

Update on Life in Berlin in Winter

A week ago I wrote on my running site that I was going to post to my “other” (this) blog soon. A week is still “soon,” right? So much for posting about life in general. I guess  I’m too busy living it to write about it much. But let it be said, things are mostly good and Berlin is cold and gray, but still a lot of fun.

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Things I did recently worth writing about:

  • I visited a national Turnkunst exhibition. Turnen is a sport similar to gymnastics, but while we associate gymnastics in the US with girls, it used to be a “bro” sport in Europe and involved the typical bro culture. In Germany especially, Turnen fraternities were largely responsible for the mobilization that lead the to the (failed) 1848 revolution to get Germany to unite from all its little kingdoms and townships. Going there introduced me to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
  • I also visited the International Grune Woche: basically a convention for world produce, agriculture, bee culture, farm culture, rock gardens, nutrition…, I think you get the idea. I was impressed by a device exhibited that’s supposed to determine the sex of the chicken in an egg while it’s still an eg. This device would help prevent waiting for the egg to hatch before killing the chicken if it’s a male. I was also excited about all kinds of free samples and thought it was neat to be in Berlin’s convention center for the first time. It was pretty cool!
  • Finally, I most recently  (as mentioned in my running log) traveled with my brother to Lower-Saxony and had a skiing vacation in mountains of the Harz national park. It’s so beautiful there… and has a reputation for its deli specialties and witch motif. Apparently, witches celebrate Walpurgis Night (featured in Goethe’s Faust as well as re-imagined in Joyce’s Ulysses) on the Brocken, the highest mountain in the Harz, and the theme is carried out in all the shops, restaurants and hotels- partially for the sake of tourists, but also an homage to this history and it’s suitable for the region. Wandering around the quaint German town (I had forgotten about the German architectural stereotypes living in Berlin now) after dark was a bit exhilarating.

Looking forward, the Berlinale, Berlin’s International Film Fest is currently in its 67th rendtion, and I am actually willingly leaving my flat on weekends to participate. I’ve opted for only one day of the weekends, not both, and I’ve limited myself to watching 5 of the many, many options. I’ve never participated in a media event of this magnitude before. I guess living in Berlin does have it’s perks!

And it’s not all gray.

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p.s. I continue to follow the news in the US with great interest.

Advent and Christmas Spirit in Berlin

I know the title is about Berlin, but I have a few photos of my visit to Hamburg last weekend that I wanted to share as well. Same theme, different (beautiful) city.

I’ve been meaning to post for some time now and just found myself overwhelmed by school, work, work for school, applying for scholarships, trying to get some social life in… not to mention, exercise, eat, and sleep–it’s all a bit much. But I figured I’d relieve some of the pressure that I’ve put on myself by making a short post about Christmas in Germany, round 2.0 (see the archives for Round 1.0 in Hamburg in Dec 2014). That way, I can decide to tune-in a few times through the rest of the year with photos and maybe an end-of-year post that probably is too self-reflective anyway to be super interesting, but I won’t feel bad if I remain tuned-out of WordPress and tuned-in into the rest of my world.

That aside, there are two things that make the holiday season unique in Germany:

  1. Advent
  2. Christmas markets

img_2013Now, I think it’s pretty clear that Germany is developing into a recognizably multi-cultural, -ethnic, -religious space. However, its social life is still heavily framed by a Christian (mostly Lutheran in the north and catholic in the south) background and traditions, and these traditions play out in various corners of the social spheres. One way that Advent is noticeable by living in Germany is the sale of wreaths and evergreen arrangements with four candles, one for each Sunday of the waiting for the baby Jesus. People wish each other a happy Advent Sunday and it’s assumed that households will have a candle set of some kind in their homes and light one more candle each Sunday as the 24th draws near with their inner family circle or with friends and extended family. It’s a time of togetherness, quiet, and reflection… and a lot of goodies: Lebkuchen, Domino Steine, Zimtsterne… the baked goods in Germany are delicious anyway, but around December they are especially good.

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Since Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, the Advent season is as long as it can ever be: 5 weeks. Starting the weekend after Thanksgiving (good thing most Germans don’t celebrate both!) and carrying through the 24th, Advent is a chance to feel legitimately festive all through the month.

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Included in Advent are the Advent calendars. One sees these boxes with little doors for each day of December in US stores now too-most notably Trader Joes, Aldi (both German, btw) and The Fresh Market. However, in Germany they can get a lot more elaborate, there’s many more brands to chose from, and many people make their own for their loved ones.

Still, while people may not have heard of German Advent customs, they most likely have heard of the Christmas markets. Nuremberg is an extremely popular one in the US, but each German town will have one or more, and while some are just a place to get Christmas-y festival food and drink (basically every other stand has waffles or crepes or candied almonds or mulled wine [Glühwein]), a lot are still special with hand-made crafts, carol singing, and unique items for sale that may make a good gift after a mulled wine or three. A few larger markets will have amusement rides, which aren’t really my thing, or ice-skating rinks… which I wouldn’t mind visiting!

So I leave you with a few choice images of Adventszeit in Berlin, and I wish you a healthy, safe, and as-stressfree-as-possible holiday season.

–  Dorothea

Berlin adventures in October so far

[…] Before you go to sleep,
Say a little prayer,
Every day
In every way,
It’s getting better and better,

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
Beautiful boy,

Out on the ocean sailing away,
I can hardly wait
To see you to come of age,
But I guess we’ll both
Just have to be patient,

‘Cause it’s a long way to go,
A hard row to hoe
Yes, it’s a long way to go
But in the meantime,

Before you cross the street,
Take my hand,
Life is what happens to you,
While you’re busy making other plans […]

First of all, I’m my mother’s daughter and a Lennon fan. This song has been running through my head recently. It makes me sad that he sings “I can hardly wait/ To see you come of age”; but “Life is what happens to you,/ while you’re busy making other plans” is my current mantra.

It’s gotten to the point where I make lists of what I want to blog about, and transfer these from week to week in my planner.

On the one hand, I’ve been unusually flexible. I’ve been more giving in my time and energy, and I haven’t said “no” to every opportunity to go out, meet someone, step-a bit outside my comfort zone. On the other hand, I like my routines for a reason- they help me get things done.

Still, I went on a few adventures since my last outing to the Brandenburg Gate on German Unity Day.

First, there’s the trip to Munich that deserves (and will get) it’s own special post.

Then, there’s the Festival of Lights that I almost would have missed if it hadn’t been for the US VDAC exchange student who is currently living in Potsdam, a city just outside of Berlin. He and I met one day after work, and just wandered around. Then, I saw Potsdamer Platz lit up by projected lights, dynamic and fascinating, giving a review of 20th century German history. Then, we wandered over to the Brandenburg Gate, and I was in awe at the science and art of the light display. Berlin is famous for this yearly event, and this year the city celebrated its tenth anniversary of hosting hundreds of thousands of people to see the architecture brought to special life. Being a part of this event gave me another reason to love this city.

I also went on an outing to the Maybachufer, one of Berlin’s most famous Turkish markets, and then on a walk where I saw bits of Berlin I normally don’t see (since it’s more in the east and a 45 minute public transportation trip).

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Germany is becoming more and more of an atheistic society, but its churches will always be reminders of bygone eras, and the protestant religion is still a cited part of the Berlin culture

Coincidentally, (almost all) stores are closed on Sundays in Germany. Perhaps an unnecessary remnant of holy Sundays (and more and more stores are open a few hours on Sunday), but I actually like not having the option of running errands on Sundays. It forces me to get done what I need to before Sunday, and leaves me one day a week for pure relaxation. However, there are a few (8) days in the year where Berlin stores are legally allowed to be open. These days are chosen by the Berlin senate and usually coincide with another special event in the city, in this case, it was the Festival of Lights.

Jedes Jahr bestimmt der Berliner Senat acht feste Termine, an denen alle Geschäfte in Berlin an einem Sonntag ihre Türen öffnen dürfen. Teilnehmende Läden und Einkaufscenter können an den verkaufsoffenen Sonntagen freiwillig von 13 bis 20 Uhr öffnen. Grund für die Sonntagsöffnungen sind in Berlin stattfindende Events bzw. Anlässe.

I didn’t participate in Verkaufsoffener Sonntag on Oct. 16th. It was  the first day in about two weeks where I didn’t have to be anywhere or do anything for anyone other than myself, and I stayed at home all day. Why ruin a perfectly good Sunday to do what I could do any other day of the week?

My most recent adventures involve school. I’ve still been working my part time job, but more importantly, I got my school enrollment papers! And the uni started. Nothing like fall rain to get you out early on a school day. Just kidding. I’ll ride my bike through anything but a steady rain.

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These sights get me out the door, though.

So that’s been life. It happened while I was busy making other plans, but at least it happened well.

15 years ago…

This marks the first year that I’m not in the US on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. While I didn’t expect there to be any sort of reminder other than the interactions I made with the online world, I was surprised to hear tributes to victims and observance of September 11, 2001 on German radio stations.

Apparently, even though most of the world, contrary to US belief, hold reservations about the US being the best country on Earth, they still are very tied to the 9/11 Attacks and their history is tied to the US on this day. For example, there were also German citizens in the Towers and nearby in NYC on that day. Furthermore, the resulting “War on Terror” drew in various countries all over the world, and let’s not forget the growing threat of terrorist attacks since then.

“A thick bundle of black smoke is hanging outside the tower. It looks too heavy to hang there. An aeroplane comes in slow motion from the corner of the screen…” “The aeroplane comes again. The television shows it again and again.”- Brick Lane by Monica Ali, pg. 366

Since starting my PhD project dealing with intermedial references in contemporary literature to events like the 9/11 attacks, I’ve been forced to address the large amount of discussion in German intellectual circles about the event and its mark as a “turning point” in history. Arguably, having a massive symbol of western capitalism and ideology attacked and destroyed before the eyes of the world– camera crews were on hand to capture the second crash into the Towers–shifted “what is possible” and “how do communities react?” for the world as well as for the US.

Still, it’s a strange feeling to be a US native in a German city, hearing about this event both as a mature adult and as a representative of my country- for, despite how good my German is and how integrated I am into the social, legal, and academic structures here, I am still “the American.”  I like to think I have a special claim to memory and grief in regards to this event, because I was one of the millions of school children sent home early that day to find safety with family- since many US Americans feared even more attacks scattered all over the US. I was someone whose normal routine was interrupted by a call by someone who happened to catch the news and gave instructions to turn on the television news. I was someone who sat at home with my family, television news running in the background, trying to get in contact with people we knew who were in NYC and the Pentagon, wanting to make sure that at least the people we knew personally had escaped death and, if lucky, weren’t in the area altogether. I was someone who couldn’t understand why one group of people could hate an ideology so much, that they would be willing to take the lives of anyone who lived in it.

Now that I’m older, more critical of the world and the way public trauma works, I realize that there’s a lot of “black and white” understanding of these events and the subsequent reactions of the US and countries around the world. It’s actually thousands of shades and tints of gray that no one person could summarize in his/her lifetime. Still, 15 years later, I think we can all agree that it was not the end of the world. Time moves on. Wounds heal. Movies are made, books written, and thousands of interviews and conversations add more layers to understanding the attacks (or rather, continuing to try to understand).

Fifty-five years from now (I’m an optimist- I believe there will be a 2071, I imagine my grandchildren asking me where I was during the 9/11 attacks. What will we tell them? How will they learn about it in school? What is the timeline of events that will appear in the history books, before and after September 11, 2001? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I’ve learned what it means to despise an ideology- Islamist fundamentalism is a pretty nasty piece of business- and  I hope I’ll never to have find out whether I’d be willing to kill someone of that ideology. I suppose an individual can be justified differently than 3000+ individuals. But that’s not a thought I want to end this post with.

Rather, I felt the need to publicly reflect on an event that is such a key part of recent public memory. I know I won’t be the only one who feels that way today, though most people don’t feel the need to share their reflection with the world.

I am grateful to live in a world so interconnected that a US American can be inspired to reflect in Germany, and that US Americans are wise enough to recognize their role in the world and work on being a productive member of it, even if we often disagree on the methods they take to fulfill that purpose. This interconnectedness- another word could be globalism in the cultural, political and economic sense- is, as we’ve seen, a double-edged sword that we’re still collectively learning to wield. Good luck to us all.

 

Some Exploring in Berlin: Hoppegarten and the Botanical Gardens

I have some time on my hands when I’m not motivating myself to be academic or apply for yet another job, so I’ve taken a few trips around Berlin these past few days.

I ride my bike a lot anyway, partially to make up for the fact that I’m not running and partially to avoid public transportation costs. Still, I always end up seeing something really neat, even if I get lost more than I thought possible just by making one wrong turn.

On the other hand, when I set out for a trip on purpose, I can also get a little disappointed.

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This is my “I rode 20 miles for this?” face

Still, it was worth the ride and I saw a little bit of Berlin outside of Berlin.

Today, I visited Berlin’s Botanical Gardens and saw all the plants gardeners from around the state had brought for the “Stauden Markt.” Stauden are bushes and shrubs, and I would never have thought I would be interested in shrubbery beyond getting past the Knights of Ni in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but there were a lot of interesting plants being sold, and a lot to see in the garden itself.

IMG_1757I even brought my first lily! It’s tall, bearded, and called “Stairway to Heaven.” I can’t wait for it to bloom… though I guess I’ll have to (and learn how to keep a plant like that alive) until next June.

I’m having a pretty good time so far in Berlin. Then again, I don’t have the stress of school or a job yet. I have my first interview tomorrow, though. Wish me luck!

-Dorothea

p.s. I finish this post just in time to start getting ready to watch Tatort, which is the longest running detective series in Germany and tradition on Sunday nights for many families.