Saturday, September 15, 2012

Germany Day Three

Day Three – Museum Day

This morning dawned rainy and damp. I’d pretty much already decided that I was scratching the day trip to Potsdam to see everything I wanted to here first. I would have anyway, with the rain and all. Plus, my creaking joints were saying enough with all the walking/standing, so I decided to dial it back for a day.

Same breakfast as yesterday, only today I chatted with a retired couple from Toronto who were here starting 3 weeks in Germany. We talked about travel and what we’d seen and where we’d eaten so far. Nice folks. They affirmed my decision to get to the Jewish Museum today.

I headed out and realized half-way down Ku’dam that I’d forgotten deodorant today. Rather than obsess about it or go back to the hotel, I stopped into an apothecary and bought some. That’s always fun, talking to the pharmacist about your personal needs and having them find what you need and hand it to you. I should see what they have for knee and neck pain next time I pass by. I also stopped into Starbucks, where Benito the sorta hot barista undercharged me yet again for the apple crumble latte. What the hell, it makes me feel less guilty for drinking 600 calories in one go.

My first stop was the Gemaldegalerie, or Painting Gallery. This museum houses many old European masters in the 13th-18th centuries. The museum is only one floor, and organized regionally and then by century within regions. I exercised restraint and paid homage in the Flemmish and German galleries before I ran for the Dutch section at the far end of the building. I had read that this museum has one of the largest collections of Rembrandt outside of Holland. I was not disappointed. There were 19 that I counted, and some wonderful ones at that. There were portraits of both of Rembrandt’s loves, Saskia and Hendrijke. There were a few religious works unlike any I’d ever seen by him, like the Moses holding the tablet overhead. The mythical Rape of Persephone was just gorgeous, with Persphone being spotlit in the center of the painting and Jupiter and goddesses fighting over her between them, but barely seen. The golden work on her dress was gorgeous. There was a Christ profile which I wonder if I saw in Philly last year. There was a gorgeous holy family scene in a tiny frame that was just beautiful. I was smitten. And if that was not enough, there was a Vermeer around the corner. The Glass of Wine was on view, the other Berlin Vermeer is in Tokyo. Not that first time that’s happened to me, I’ll just have to come back! The Glass of Wine is pretty typical Vermeer, I think. I enjoyed seeing it, but it is not one of my favorites. Two more await me in Dresden (neither on loan, thankfully!)

The Italian section had a wonderful Caravaggio a Botticelli’s Venus and a Rafael Holy Family tondo. That was all pretty impressive, but I was drawn back to that Rembrandt room more times than I remember.

After a couple hours there, I walked back up to Postdamer Platz, where I had a lunch of currywurst and fries. Not terribly healthy, but it hit the spot.

My next stop was the Jewish Museum, which deals specifically with the Jewish experience in Germany which, yes, goes far beyond the Holocaust years. The architecture of the building is something to behold, with an almost palazzo-like main building a steel lightning bolt of an edifice next to it. There is no visible bridge between them, as you enter the permanent exhibit in the newer building from a tunnel. The tunnel has three axes (axises?): Axis of the Holocaust, Axis of Exile and Axis of Continuity. The first two deal with exactly what they say. The Holocaust axis ends in a tower which is unheated and darkened and lit only by natural light from the very top; the sensory deprivation of it, being able to just see light and just hear noise from outdoors is meant to represent the void in life from the loss of so many Jews. The Exile axis ends in a small square garden with tall pillars in it. As I walked on the uneven ground and lost myself in the maze of pillars, that was meant to represent the uncertainty and unsettled feeling those who moved in exile felt in their new lands. Ok, so far, I was hooked. Along each axis were mementos from various victims of the Holocaust or stories of those who were exiled.

The Axis of Continuity led to the rest of the permanent exhibit, which walked through the entire Jewish experience in Germany, starting in the Middle Ages. Since I’m not shy about saying when I learn something and how ignorant I feel not to know what I probably should, I’ll say it again here. I learned so much it was almost embarrassing. As I wound my way through the Middle Ages to the age of Enlightment (when, for a brief period before the Nazis came to power, Jews were equal to all other Germans) and even learning about the faith and its customs, I realized there was so much more to learn and understand. Of course this museum too spent a significant portion of the exhibit covering the stages of the Holocaust, from Kristalnacht to the various laws passed against Jews to moving to the camps, but then it also gave fair play to the return of Jews who survived the camps and how many ended up leaving, feeling that they could not stay in a place where something so violent happened.

One particularly interesting space was the Memory Void, which was another cold and seemingly empty space, except there were 10,000 steel faces piled on to the floor. They were larger than dinner plates and hard to move. They represented the void left by those lost to us and walking over them (which you were meant to do) you could not walk easily over them or move them out of your way, the resilience of the large plates as they clanged and refused to move was chilling.

I think that as much as I’ve made it sound sort of somber or morose, I also saw dozens of representations of how Jews contributed to society here and more than made their mark. There was a great section on innovation and famous German Jews (hello, Einstein and the Mendelsohns to name a few). This was one of the most thorough and positively navigable museums I’ve been to on any one subject. It’s definitely not to be missed.

After a quick stop at the hotel to rest up and change, I headed out to meet Petra, a fellow panda fan who lives here in Germany. We spent a great night talking about shared interests like travel and animals over a great Indian meal. I had a hot chicken tikka and a mango lassi. I don’t find great Indian food at home, so this was a great treat, and to share it with such a dear new friend was a bonus! Thank you Petra!

After midnight now, so signing off. Hoping for favorable zoo weather tomorrow or Monday!

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