Things to Do

One of the most beautiful places in the world…

I’m not just saying this to give the overused statment another whirl. The Fischland Darß, found in the north east of Germany, is really one of the most beautiful places in the world. Give me the Darß, 15 degrees, and a lot of sun, and I’m soooo happy. It helps that I like running marathons and managed to do that too.

On my running blog site, I’ve been posting about marathon training for the past 16 weeks. I figured I would spare non-runner folks the details*, but I don’t want to deny you the grand finale: I ran the Darß Marathon 2018 (and I have the t-shirt, too!).

Darß as a part of the larger map

I must have mentioned the Darß on this blog before, because since I was about 7 years old, my family would take bike tours around the Bodden (the body of water between mainland and peninsula) and break up the long 100+ km with lunches, coffee and ice cream. We’ve had a lot of good rides and some not so good rides. Sometimes it’s broken out into storm halfway through, causing us to ride home shivering and wrapped in beach towels on the bus. I even rode it by myself once, just to enjoy a late summer jaunt and see the leaves changed in the heart-memorized northern German coast and landscape.

I’ve always thought it would be amazing to go through the landscape a little more slowly and combine two things I love.

In 2016, I was hunting around for a marathon to run in the Spring and found the Darß Marathon. The Darß was a place I knew well, I’d have logistics taken care of easily, and I would have something to train for (always nice to have as a runner). Unfortunately, I didn’t get to run the race in 2017 due to other responsibilities, but it was always at the back of my mind to try again.

This year, the opportunity arose; I paid my entry fee, even rented a car to drive up north from Berlin, and started training. Things were good until about a week ago when I started having a pain in my foot that my doctor and I both feared could be a stress fracture, and so I waffled back and forth for a week trying to decide if I should even start the race.

I ultimately decided with the support of family and friends to just go to the race, start it, and see how far I could go.

I set goals for myself: first 5km, then 7km, then 10km… keeping a check on my foot and updating my plans on what I’d do if the pain in the foot sparked at any given moment. I ran without music to stay in tune with my body, and I was therefore able to have an open ear for fellow runners along the way. I found out what is meant by the sportsmanship drug Runner’s World talked about the other day in reference to Boston Marathon winner Desiree Linden, using energy I would have used otherwise for a PR to ecourage other runners and gaining some enery and distraction in return. The miles kept ticking by, no real change in the pain in my foot.

I didn’t plan on running a marathon anymore when I prepared for the trip, so I only had one sport gel on me, but the coke, water, and sport’s drink offered along the course, along with bananas and apples, kept me going all the way through 42 kilometers.

I also walked all the water stops and took a lot of photos, prompting a few runners to ask me if this was my first marathon. “Nah,” I’d always answer, “I’ve done four already. But this run is about getting to the end and enjoying myself along the way.” It’s not often one can say that about a marathon, but I really did enjoy myself.

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This is the face of a happy person; water behind me, miles ahead of me.

So, details? I finished. I actually had several goals for the race: place top-three women, PR, sub-3:30… all those I threw out the window with the foot injury. Still, despite all the dilly-dallying and worrying, I finished 3:55:49, which, as runners will know, is not too shabby for an injury. It also manages to land smack in the middle of my race results, so I know I’ve done better, but I’ve also done worse!

And now, for some photo evidence of the beauty:

There you have it, tourist advertising and marathon recap in one. If you are a runner and think about doing this race, let me know… because I wouldn’t mind doing it again!

Cheers and happy days,
Dorothea

*insert chart of training recap here, 600 miles and 78 hours.  Darß Marathon

p.s. that injury? Well, I had an MRI lined up for today, the day after the race, and no stress fracture! Not even a stress reaction! No clue what it is yet, but I’m sure the doc will have some theories for me next week.

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D & D: Den Haag and Duisburg

It’s amazing how long a weekend feels when you leave your comfort zone and routines and just take things as they come.

Back in February, I finally decided to visit some friends I knew from childhood, and with whom I coincidentally shared a city in 2014-2015 in Hamburg. I also wanted to visit some friends of the family who were partially responsible for helping me get to Hamburg for the study-abroad. I booked the tickets on a late night, being able to take advantage of some sales-prices and my DB BahnCard25, and before I knew it, travel day had arrived. Of course, the main goal of the trip was to reconnect and have good times, but I also got to see some pretty impressive cities while I was at it.

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First stop: Den Haag. It took a while to get there, though. The trip I had planned to Den Haag Centraal was with only one change. I ended up taking 5 trains and one bus due to a technical failure in Bad Bentheim, but miraculously, I only ended up arriving two hours later planned, so it turned out to be alright.

And what a sight awaited me. To be honest, I always thought of Den Haag, or the Hague, as it is otherwise known, as a nice little coastal town of the type one sees in England. Little houses, small cafes, no high rises… The city blew my expectations away. Sure, there’s a whole beach district with absolutely beautiful, wild dunes (upon which the city was originally built, in fact) and wild Scottish cows running about freely.

But it quickly became apparent to me that I’d ended up in the 3rd largest city in the Netherlands and one of the world cities of Europe.

I also had a few reminders that Holland still, in fact, has a monarchy. Sure, one doesn’t hear about them as much as the British monarchs, but they’re there, and their palaces in Den Haag are always nicely taken care of. I’m actually not totally clear about politics in the Netherlands. It’s a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy, but unlike the UK where devolution happens yielding power to the nations, the UK has provinces…yeah. This isn’t a politics class though, so that’s where I’ll leave it.

But I can’t say enough about the architecture, both interiors and exteriors. The city is over 600 years old, but like many major cities in Europe, it has learned to feature the old and new right next to each other. I mean, just check out the skylight in the H & M building below (for those who don’t know, H & M is a low-end designer label). It is clear that Den Haag has a rich architectural history, with a lot of modern designs and no fear of experimentation.

However, I think the part I liked most, other than seeing my friends again, was seeing a beach in winter. It has a beauty all of its own. Coming from Florida, I’ve never had the opportunity to see the coast covered in snow and icy tide pools.

My friend and I had a very cold walk on the beach, and she told me about the way that whole buildings are set up on the beach in the summer for all the people who visit. They’re taken down in winter, but one could just see how people were slowly getting the containers on the beach, opened and ready to set things up again.

As one can see, Den Haag alone would have been enough for the entire weekend, or longer. But I had to leave less than 24 hours later to make it to Duisburg. I had a half-hour delay there, too (I mean, what is it with the Deutsche Bahn lately? Or is it just whenever I ride it? Maybe it was just winter), but I made it easily enough.

I’d been to Duisburg a lot when I was younger, at one point even spending two weeks there to do an internship with the President of the Federation of German-American Clubs (who is also one of the family friends I mentioned), but I didn’t realize the city’s social, economic, or historical significance at the time. I mean, it’s the WORLD’s biggest inland port. It was responsible for a lot of the commerce of North-Rhine Westphalia. It’s also an old city, dating to the Middle Ages, and was a court of the Frankish Kingdom, but a lot has been done lately in the city to make it interesting and a “happening” place.

Unfortunately, I had just as little time in Duisburg as in Den Haag, and I didn’t even get to take photos, but I just wanted to mention it, to put it on the map for many American readers. It’s not far from Dusseldorf Airport, so even a day-trip there before flying on is well-worth it. It helps to have friends living in cool places, though. I’m glad they were willing to let me dirty sheets for only one night.

Hopefully this post doesn’t come off as too flat. I was actually planning to write and explain a lot more, but I’m running out of time. I wanted to post it before it becomes irrelevant. And if anything, there’s pictures!

Cheers! -Dorothea

Finding the political in everything

About a week and a lifetime ago (every week is a lifetime when on a break from normal routine), I just finished attending the Berlinale. As previously explained, there are various sections of the Berlin film festival, and I attended mostly the Generation 14+ movies with a K+ Awards ceremony thrown in. It’s not that I’m not ready for the “adult” movies yet. It’s mostly that the Generation section movies are easier to coordinate and attend. And honestly, they’re not any less demanding of empathy, understanding or ability to feel sad. This year, I saw four 14+ movies: 303, which I mentioned last week, Kissing Candice, High Fantasy, and the winner of the 14+ section: Fortuna. Of the four, 303 and Kissing Candice were more about growing up and becoming an adult. However, Kissing Candice, an Irish movie with a sub-plot about a gang of unruly, drug using, violent boys, also already crossed the border of entertainment into political commentary- which is what High Fantasy and Fortuna definitely were.

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Director/Writer and two main cast members of Kissing Candice 

Before I continue, I should mention that I’ve always been weirdly involved in politics. Perhaps my transnational heritage caused me to question the point of nation, and therefore of state, and therefore of borders and therefore of what happens within those borders, etc.. But despite my degrees in literature, I’ve visited my share of political seminars and my PhD project is actually a weird intersection of literature, media, and politics (aka cultural studies) and so I consider myself qualified to talk about politics. Also, as Percy Bysshe Shelley proclaimed, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” so who knows!

I know that you are probably rolling your eyes right now. It’s okay. I roll my eyes at myself a lot too.

Anyhow, as far as Berlinale goes, my favorite movie was High Fantasy, a South African movie questioning the success of the “rainbow nation” and highlighting contemporary tensions in race politics and discrimination. It wasn’t just the topic that had me on board. I just really enjoyed the story, how the characters switched bodies, and the nod to 80s style sci-fi a la Stranger Things. Race Politics and the way People of Color were treated in South Africa through the 90s did not disappear with the end of Apartheid, of course. We see this in the USA too, and here we supposedly ended segregation decades earlier. On top of continuing tensions between People of Color and Whites in South Africa- showcased in various high profile events and protests in the past few years, there is also an increasing awareness of LGTBQ+ rights. So where do these issues find an audience? In front of the Berlin 14+ audience. Unfortunately, the movie has yet to be screened in South Africa, but maybe building up a portfolio of positive responses elsewhere will give director —- the strength (and financial means) to show it in South Africa and perhaps even get action-inciting conversation going.

Similarly political, but closer to home, was the movie Fortuna. Chosen as the winner of this year’s 14+ section for the Berlinale by both the international and public jury, Fortuna was honestly one of the most difficult movies I’ve seen in a while. It wasn’t terribly traumatic or tmi. Rather, it was just painfully slow. I’m sorry that I say that like it’s a bad thing. I’m definitely a fan of artistic movies, and agree I that we don’t need fifteen shots in just as many seconds and that the Hollywood combo of comedy and action just grates the sensibility to finely shredded stinky cheese. However, some humor is needed. And while the black and white cinematography was aesthetically beautiful, and the close shots of two men having a conversation for 15 minutes quite, well unusual , I was finding it hard to focus.

The story revolved around a 14-year old refugee from an African country and her fate- specifically, her ability to chose her fate (Catholic faith and questions about abortion played an important part in this movie). She had been sent to live in a Swiss convent led by a group of well-meaning, but perhaps unprepared monkish type men. The movie, despite having some artistic merit, clearly won due to its attempt to take on the socio-political topic of the decade- refugee seekers in Europe. The focus on an individual and her fate as an unaccompanied minor, as well as all the Swiss government beuracracy and the humanity in the face of inhumane forces (none the least an icy-coldness that I could feel in my own bones, despite the fact that it was only an audio-visual representation) maybe is what won. I don’t know. I can’t judge the 16 movies that were up for selection, but I felt that the other movies I had seen had just as much merit- if in different ways.

But oh well. That was that. The 14+ section also featured some great, slightly politically involved movies. The short film that won was Field Guide to 12-Year Old Girls, an Australian movie that I could relate to and enjoyed, and the feature film Les Rois Mongols (meaning “the idiot kings,” awkwardly translated in English as “Cross My Heart”). This movie wasn’t as political as the 14+ section films, even if it included some Quebecois left-wing politics and French versus English Canadian identity. However, it reminded me of the need children have to be included in decisions concerning family, and of their need to be taken seriously. They can understand more than we give them credit for, and that should never be underestimated, it looks like.

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The Glass Bears awarded to the public jury chosen short and feature films

So there you have it. Berlinale. Four glass bears awarded and I am 7 great movies richer for it.

Moving on, I also took a few hours of my Saturday (after a long run, before the K+awards ceremony) to pop into the Kennedy Museum (after spending an hour to discover that this wasn’t the same as the Kennedy Haus) and visited the photo exhibit of Pete Souza’s selection of photos taken during the Obama presidency.

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As found on the Kennedy Museum Website: https://www.thekennedys.de/english/

An exhibit for Obama in the presence of a permanent exhibit about John F. Kennedy was no coincidence. Both had a special and curated relationship with the people via the media, and this much can be seen in the photos taken of both throughout their presidencies. I personally am guilty for letting my impression of Obama take over my feelings about his political actions while in office (and afterwards). For me, he presents one of the most intelligent, upright characters that I know. This is, of course, based only on what I (am able to) know about him, but I also hope that my opinion of him is never shattered by some news about what he did in office or afterwards.

At any rate, many Berlin fans will know that Kennedy once gave a speech in West Berlin where he states “ich bin ein Berliner” (I won’t explain the joke that Kennedy called himself a donut- you’ll have to look that up yourself), and the visit from which this speech came endeared Kennedy to the hearts of many Germans, and hence a whole 100+ sq. meters dedicated to the man in one of Berlin’s more expensive corners. It’s a pretty well put-together museum, and I enjoyed my hour there. I can advise it- but only if you’re not allergic to politicians and photos.

And thus endeth one post, with plans for the next one to cover a trip I took to Duisburg and Den Haag.

As a small preview: small Blaumeisen, which are now my favorite birds. Yellow breast and blue heads and feathers. You can’t really see it here, but it’s still a nice photo, I think.

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okay, in reference to the post title, maybe not everything…

That time I met Benjamin meet Brecht

You know how some people wait until the absolute last day to go to an exhibition that’s been going for months, and suddenly come together to fill up a small space, that’s been sparsely filled for weeks, with damp shoe smell and garlic Döner breath? Well I’m one of those people.

Hi everyone! It’s been a while. I have to be honest and say I went through a pretty rough time since the summer, and it’s taken me a while for the process of ‘open the “write post” page and type something in’ to be easier…but if you’re reading this, the drought may finally be over.

While I’ve been neglecting WordPress and you, dear readers, I wrapped up a pretty nice Christmas season with a lot of Weihnachtsmärkte and at least 6 mugs of Glühwein. I even made it down to Nürnberg again, and longtime readers will remember how ridiculously full the Markt gets and ridiculously silly I get, but this time I was kept responsible by looking after a few cute kids.

Here are some pretty pictures of some of the markets my brother and I went to. It was his first Christmas season ever in Germany, so I made sure he got a good idea of what the markets are about (clearly: food).

 

I went home again to Florida for Christmas and fully took three weeks off school, which may or may not have been the best decision I’ve made last year. I came back early January and zoomed into the semester again, and now here we are, end January and I’ve visited a lot of lectures, done some writing, a lot of reading, and saw people do mad acrobatics/gymnastics in the Mercedes-Benz Arena again.  My brother and I also spent time being dorks in the snow, since we’re still Florida kids and just get excited by the white powdery stuff, you know?

 

And today I visited said exhibit that’s been open in the Berlin Akedemie der Künste since October: Benjamin and Brecht: Thinking in Extremes.

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yes. Berlin is just a grey and dreary in winter as people always say it is.

Oh, you didn’t know that one of the 20th century’s most celebrated playwrights and poets had met and worked with the 20th century’s favorite (okay, my favorite) cultural and literary critic? Oh, good. Me neither (and if you did… can we meet and talk?, because  you sound pretty interesting).

 

It makes sense that they’ve met giving the timing and both their fates as exiled from the 3rd Reich under the National Socialists in Germany, but as the title of the exhibit demonstrates, Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht were pretty different and their coming together in theory and practice was a bit explosive sometimes. Benjamin was a kind of straight-laced, tweed wearing (though I don’t know if he wore tweed), briefcase carrying rationalist and Brecht was a cigar smoking, scuffed sneaker, gesturing dreamer. Both believed in the necessity of art for social and political critique, though, and that much was clear in the exhibit.

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The exhibit was part record of their conversations and conversations about B and B, but also artwork that commented on their theory or generally continued the work of the two.

I especially appreciated Zoe Beloff‘s work. She submitted two of her paintings and a movie to the exhibit and if her movie Exile (still a work in progress) is ever available to own, I will definitely procure it.

And I don’t know if I was just in a good mood today, but seeing the community aspect of criticism and art just made me happy. I like to see the working habits of writers, how they spend their days and the kinds of lives they lead. This impression was created by the hanging boards with pictures and quotes of/about the men’s lives. Very little was said in the exhibit about the women in B’s and B’s lives, but most of the quotes about their relationship came from women. And both Benjamin and Brecht had children (something one doesn’t hear a lot about), so I’m assuming some part of their lives were spent wiping poop away off something.

It was an artfully done exhibit, taking advantage of the multiple technologies we have today (including a self-playing chess board… it was magic!), and I’m glad I went, though admittedly I got a bit anxious by the end because my work was calling and the exhibit got to be too full of people by the time I left. I’m not the only one who waited until the last day and looked for a bit of literary and cultural history on a bleak Berlin day.

Looking forward, the semester in Berlin is about to end (only three more weeks!) and in the meantime, I’m slogging through trying to get a working model of my theory done. It’s harder to pin-down than it is to think about it in a fragmentary nature though.

Oh! I almost forgot to mention that in this time of not-writing-about-going-ons-in-Berlin, I also visited a lecture that was meant to provide a mid-term evaluation about Trump. It was, interesting… but writing more would be its own post.

Hope the first month of the year was good for you, and that the next one is good, if not better!

Cheers, Dorothea

p.s. sigh. You can totally tell that the quality of my bro’s camera is better than mine.

This is the Golden Country

“Isn’t there a stream somewhere here?” he whispered.

Whenever I feel the darkness creeping around my heart during the daily drudge to work or the Uni, waiting in long lines for things I don’t want to do anyway, taking much longer showers than necessary, I go back to my books. Not the esoteric considerations about life, the universe, and everything (which really could have just been summed up with the number 42), but the narratives which always hold a truth and require a bit more work and provide a bit more reward than the halfway satisfying constant streams of Netflix.

Currently, I’m reading George Orwell’s 1984 with my students, and beyond being able to comment on politics without worrying about freedom of a speech or lack thereof, I’m just inspired by Orwell as a writer and find myself nodding at his aphorisms about language and politics and how those who control language control thought- but that’s a set of contemplation for another day and context. Mostly relevant for now are the descriptions of the Winston Smith’s childhood/dream landscape that just fit so well for the golden country my brother and I visited a little while ago. If you’re ever looking for something to do in Berlin that’s not being a tourist in the city, take your bikes and head to the outer rims of the S-Bahn service.

In the middle of October, the weather in Berlin went from winter coats and wool socks to shorts and tee shirts for a day. Forecast for almost a week, there was an air of anticipation in all my interactions with people. Feeling inspired, my bro and I took our beat-up Brandenburg bike-tour book and bikes and went exploring. In retrospect, it’s a good thing we took advantage of the opportunity before the semester started. The commute to the start point of the ride and then back home was almost an hour. Now, I don’t know if I could have kept calm “losing” so much time- but that’s an issue I’m working on.

At any rate, we took our bikes on the S-bahn without trouble, paying a small price for the bikes on top of our normal public transport ticket, and got out at the almost last stop in the south-east of Berlin: Koenigs Wusterhausen coming across the most quaint town where the streets are named after Russian writers and playwrights, and it didn’t take long for us to get to Schloss Koenigs Wusterhausen where the young Friedrich the Great saw his best friend executed after they had both tried to run away from the strict rule of the Soldier King. After being in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe for over a year now, it was a bit of a shock to walk our bikes on narrow, cobblestone-stoned streets and the small two story houses of the Middle Ages. Granted, there are still quite a few areas directly in Berlin like this, but usually they are bordered by ultra modern buildings and shopping houses. The shining sun was also a bit of a shock to the system, which added to the dreamlike feeling of being here.

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there was a pottery market happening, so we didn’t linger long

The tour was called “Along the Notte Canal” (in German of course) and took us all along the canal. To our left was farming and pasture land and to the right a broad stream framed by trees that were taking one last chance to show off their colors before they would lose their leaves.

I won’t go through the whole tour in words with you, but I feel inclined to describe the feeling of awe and contentment at seeing the beauty- in both nature and old small town architecture- around me.

I also can’t forget to say that we spent about 4 kilometers being lost because we confused a pond for a lake and that the last part turned into an obstacle course as we navigated around the trees knocked down by two strong storms in just as many weeks.

My brother, the better photographer and with the better camera took the pictures that bring a bit of that pleasant late summer warmth to my heart as I hope they may to yours as well.

As a sort of update, I’ve entered a new phase of my life and been forced to spend less time on WordPress and more time looking at other words. It used to be that even if I didn’t post often, I could at least interact with the community a good amount. Now? I have reading lists of 8-10 texts a week and I’m glad if I can halfway read three-quarters of them…and let’s not talk about writing ;-). However, I’m not complaining and this isn’t an excuse; I’m just stating the current situation. I’m taking a golden opportunity to bring some October sunlight into gray November thoughts, and I’ll continue to use the opportunities as they come to write and interact. I’ve been on WordPress rather constantly for three years now, and it has been and continues to be a great virtual space to visit when I feel like I’ve got something to share and have the brain space free to read about opinions and experiences that aren’t my own.

Hope the holiday season starts well for you and too see you again soon!

Cheers, Dorothea

German Unity Day 2017

Side note to get us started, but what did we do in the days before Google Doodles? How else did we know why the stores were all closed or which obscure media theorist had his birthday in the middle of July?

The Google Doodle for Tuesday celebrates October 3rd, of course. I talked a lot about the significance of the day for Germans last year here. This year, I used the day off to catch up on work and take advantage of some opportunities in the city with my brother. It was nice to have a mid-week day with him again, too.

We started off having American pancakes in a new personal favorite of mine in Berlin: Zimt und Zucker (Cinnamon and Sugar). It’s a “sweet” little place, in the style of Vienese coffee houses of the 18th and 19th centuries, in Berlin Mitte (kind of the center of Berlin near the old Cold War checkpoints and the Brandenburg Gate, etc.). One has a large menu of breakfast type items to chose from all day, and it is very popular, especially on weekends. I (in a rare moment) thought ahead and had reserved for my bro and me, so it was a nice start to the day. If you are in Berlin, I can recommend the salmon and green onion crepes or the bacon and sour cream pancakes. 🙂

Then, we walked over to the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum) that had opened its doors to the public for the holiday. Accordingly, the place was packed, but people were in mostly good spirits and I brushed up on my early modern German history. The exhibits ranged from pre-middle ages to WWII.

Visiting the museum reminded me of the large role the Reformation had in European history, and wouldn’t you know it, but this year it’s been 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door. You can imagine this is being celebrated in Germany, not the least on Reformation Day, which isn’t too long from now: October 31st. Even stoic Berlin, usually exempt from religious holidays, grants its citizens this day off this year.

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So many Protestants… I wonder how much more quickly Luther’s ideas would have spread (and/or been ignored) had there been the internet…

Yesterday, I also used the free entrance to visit the special exhibit to explore the first press-photography in Germany with the Bild Zeitung. Leopald Ullstein was a big name in the late 19th and early 20th centuries being responsible for making photos a part of news for the first time and for his influential role on how the way the population viewed politics. Apparently then, like now, the press liked to focus on the big names on the political scenes and forgot to look at the protests, demonstrations, and stuff happening on the sidelines. It was also interesting to see the role his enterprise played in the Nazi propaganda machine. Since I’m professionally interested in media and its impact on culture, I appreciated the exhibit very much, even if it was crowded, darkish, and one could not take photos. After seeing the other exhibit, the special one was a bit of a letdown. Still, it put into perspective how our media changes over time.

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My brother and I were both impressed with the craftsmanship of this edition, and the ingenuity of writing these laws and their explanations within each other.

After we had our fill of the museum, my brother and I headed down Unter den Linden with the masses of people who were enjoying marginally okay weather. Most people were heading for the street-fest by the Brandenburg Gate, but after the disappointment last year, my bro and I opted for a coffee stop and side streets heading to our next destination: free dance classes as a chance to get to know one of Berlin’s dance schools.

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Typisch Berlin: old, new, and then a TV Tower sticking up in the middle of it all. Fun fact: the old building to the left was the first institution for experimental psychology in Germany. I’m not sure how pleasant a place it was at the time, though.

I made it to the school, my brother opted out. I danced Zumba, Salsa, and Boogie-woogie, and called it a day. It was a good day, rounded out with my regular English-language practice with members of the German-American Club of Berlin. As one can see, I really did a little bit of everything.

I imagine all my non-German friends (and those not in Germany) spent the day with normal weekday stuff, but I hope it was good! Hope you have a good rest of the week as well! -Dorothea

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.