Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Berlin - Potsdam and Other Palaces

If I mention the name "Potsdam" what do you think of?  My "Potsdam" first thoughts are: the "Potsdam" conference; "San Souci" the palace of the flute-playing soldier-king Frederick the Great who employed musician-composers such as Quantz and CPE Bach; and "the Bridge of Spies" (Glienicker Bridge was used for spy exchanges until 1986).  Whilst in Berlin we spent a morning in Potsdam, but although we recognised the charm and attraction of the place, we didn't see a great deal because of light but continual rain and fog.  It would be a "first choice" place to visit if we ever return to Berlin, but that is probably unlikely - after all, Dresden, Leipzig and other cities are yet to be visited!
Potsdam is the capital city of the federal state of Brandenburg (remember "Brandenburg Gate", Bach's Brandenburg Concertos etc).  It is just 24km from the centre of Berlin and is now part of the greater metropolitan region.  It is a beautiful city with over 20 lakes and three quarters of its area designated as "green space".  Until 1918 when the Imperial dynasty was overthrown it was the place of residence of a succession of German emperors, kings and various members of the nobility.  From the 19th century it has been regarded as centre of science, and it is home to Babelsberg Studio, founded in 1912, and the oldest large-scale film studio in the world.

Because of the rain most of our sightseeing was done through the wet window of a bus, although we did get out (and wet) a couple of times.
Our views of beautiful Potsdam - were they
all to be obscured by raindrops or by fog?
Our first opportunity to get out of the bus and brave the weather was at Cecilienhof Palace.  This was the last of the many palaces built by members of the ruling Hohenzollern Dynasty.  In 1912 the Emperor ordered a new palace for his son as the traditional home of the Crown Prince was deemed inadequate.  This building with a modest 176 rooms and 55 decorative chimney stacks was constructed between 1914 and 1917 in English Tudor Revival style - somewhat strange as Germany was at war with Britain.  The new palace was named "Cecilienhof" in honour of Duchess Cecilie, wife of the Crown Prince.  The royal couple had only been in residence for a year when the monarchy was overthrown and the Emperor banished.  After a time in exile Crown Prince Wilhelm returned as a private citizen to Cecilienhof which had now been declared state property.  Wilhelm and Cecilie remained there during WW2 until they fled from the advancing Soviets who seized the property.  In July - August 1945 it was used as the site of the Potsdam Conference where the future of Berlin and of Germany itself was decided.  The palace later was used as a Soviet officers' club, a reception centre for VIPs, and then a hotel.  Today there is a small museum within the hotel complex.

Inner courtyard of Cecilienhof - note the impressive chimneys (just some of the 55)

One wing of the Cecilienhof - building
work and renovations are proceeding.
Sansouci is the former summer palace and retreat of Frederick the Great, king of Prussia.  The palace and elaborate gardens  became a World Heritage Site in 1990.  It has sometimes been misleadingly called "the German Versailles" but it is much smaller and restrained than the famous French palace.  Frederick used this palace to escape from the pomp of the Berlin court.  Its name indicates that this was a place of relaxation rather than demonstration of power.  "Sans souci" is a French phrase meaning something like "without cares".

Sansouci - the garden façade of the summer palace of Frederick the Great
Details on the central bowed section of the garden façade.

Fog descends on the famed and extensive gardens closest to the palace.  The many white
boxes are shelters for the fine marble statues to protect them from the ravages of the winter.  Fine cracks let in water which can freeze and cause pieces of marble to shatter and flake off.

Decorative emblem (reminiscent of the French "Sun King") on a plant enclosure.

Emblem on a garden structure.  The king maintained a renowned orchestra, and was an
ardent flute player and a technically competent composer (if not a particularly profound one).
In an earlier Blog entry I included  a photograph taken in the crypt beneath the Berlin Dom.  The bodies of many members of the Hohenzollern Royal family were collected and interred there after the Dom was completed.  Frederick is not there - he wanted to be buried at his beloved Sans Souci next to his favourite greyhounds.  He died at sans Souci in 1786, aged 74, but his successor Frederick William III ordered that his body be entombed in the garrison Church in Potsdam. Towards the end of the war Hitler had the body (and several others) hidden but he was located by the Americans in 1946.  Finally, in 1991, his wishes were respected and his casket was placed in the vault in the garden where only a simple stone in the grass marks the place.

This simple stone marks the burial place of King Frederick the Great of Prussia.
The strewn potatoes recall the King's wisdom in ordering peasants to plant
potatoes to provide food during periods of great crop failure.

Frederick's crypt is below the furthest slab.
The others mark the burial places of his greyhounds.

Judy admires the view (eyes in the back of her head?)
to the north of the palace of sans Souci.
An old windmill stands not far from Sans Souci.
From the simple (comparatively speaking!) Sans Souci palace with its beautiful views south across the park and gardens we travelled a kilometre or two to a surprising building in the western end of the park.  This was another palace of Frederick the Great (built 1763-1769).  It was not  built as a residential palace and Frederick rarely stayed there.  It was built to celebrate the Prussian victory in the Seven Years' War and it was built to receive (and impress) dignitaries.  It is grand rather than beautiful and elegant.  After Frederick's death in 1786 it was rarely used and fell into disrepair until it was revived in 1859 as the summer residence of the Crown Prince.  It received a number of modern conveniences such as steam heating, bathrooms and electric lights and continued as a royal residence until the 1918 revolution and abdication of the Emperor when it became a museum.  Many crates of the furnishings of its final years were discovered in 1970 so today it looks much as it did a century ago.

The New Palace, Potsdam.  Well, actually these are the
kitchens, service areas and servants' quarters.

One wing of the servants' quarters and service
facilities facing the New palace, about 100m away.

The dome of the New Palace

A panoramic view of the New palace and lavish, grandiose service areas.

In a brief break in the rain there was a little time to see a few more interesting sights.

Ceremonial arch in Potsdam

The Film Museum, Potsdam from the window of a bumpy bus.

The Nikolai Church, Potsdam - across the river and through the fog
From Potsdam we returned to the suburbs of Berlin to visit Schloss Charlottenburg.  This Palace, the largest in Berlin, was substantially built between 1695 and 1713 but as with all such buildings, it was subjected to repeated additions and alterations.  This was the main residence of Frederick the Great - when not on campaign across Europe or relaxing at San Souci.   He made substantial enlargements to the palace and added the "new wing" to be his residence.  The palace was originally commissioned by, and named after, his grandmother Sophie Charlotte, wife of Friedrich III.  She was the younger sister of George I, King of Great Britain.
The entrance to Schloss Charlottenburg with the central cupola above the original wing.
Gloomy skies, drizzle and some fog could not detract from the elegance of the palace.
Equestrian statue of Friedrich Wilhelm I, Elector of
Brandenburg and father of Frederick the Great.

Above and below - the New Wing.  The exterior was kept quite simple but the interior decorations and fittings were lavish.  They are still impressive, but not quite as extravagant as the excesses in some palaces we have visited.  This wing contains the state apartments of Frederick the Great and houses several collections, particularly of paintings and of royal household artefacts, silver and gold.

The rooms of the New Wing are just gorgeous.  Opulent? Yes! Lavish? Yes!  Vulgarly and excessively extravagant?  I don't think so.  As you progress from room to room you are impressed at each doorway by what lies beyond.

After many rooms dominated by "gold" it was both novel and refreshing
to find a room where the objects and decorations are of silver.

How's this for a drinking tankard?

A simple table setting with silverware (gold was for more formal occasions).
The table was reset for every course so that the table was not too cluttered.
Only what was needed for each course was provided and then removed.

A ceremonial plumed helmet for those occasions
when a bit of extra pomp and pageantry was needed.

Charlottenburg as night falls.
After English, French, Italian, and Austrian palaces we've now experienced some German palaces.   It certainly was an interesting day.

Paul & Judy
January 2016

Monday, 22 February 2016

Berlin - Pergamon Museum

One of the big cultural attractions of Berlin is "Museum Island".  This is the informal name given to the island in the River Spree which has UNESCO World heritage Status because of the cluster of museums located there.  Any city would be proud and honoured to have ONE of them, let alone the collection which Berlin has here.
The museums are:
  • Old Museum (1830)
  • New Museum (1859; rebuilt as Egyptian Museum of Berlin after destruction in WW2)
  • Old National Gallery (1876)
  • Bode Museum (1904, previously called "Kaiser Friedrich Museum)
  • Pergamon Museum (1930)
Which museum to visit with only one afternoon available?  It was partly a matter of elimination - we would visit the gallery which had a collection least like anything we had visited in any city we had already visited.  It was a tough decision. 
The columns of a covered passageway beside the Old National Gallery.
The golden dome of the "Old Synagogue" is in the distance.
The Old National Gallery was modelled on a Roman Temple.
Equestrian statue of King Frederick William IV on the stairs.
From the summaries of the collections exhibited in the various museums and galleries one museum stood out as the preferred place to visit. The winner was .... the Pergamon Museum.  Unfortunately the museums most prized exhibit, and the one which gave the museum its name was closed.  The museum was originally built in 1930 to house the monumental Pergamon Altar recovered from a temple in the Greek city of Pergamon, now in modern Turkey.  The gallery in which the altar will be displayed is being remodelled and is closed until 2019-20.
The Pergamon Altar in its original display setting.
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons, Raimond Spekking, 2004
The first "big" display we saw on entry quickly dispelled the disappointment we had earlier felt at not being able to see the star attraction after which the museum was named.  The Ishtar Gate is impressive!  The gate was considered one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World but lost its place to the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria in the third century.
Just a section of the beautiful and impressive Ishtar Gate
This gate, the eighth into the inner city of Babylon, was constructed in about 575BC on the orders of King Nebuchadnezzar  II.  It was excavated early last century and a section was reconstructed using the original bricks.  Although after some 2600 years the colours have lost some sparkle they are still brilliant and clearly convey how wondrous the gate must have been.

It was named "Ishtar" after a Babylonian goddess.  The glazed bricks depict alternating rows of mušḫuššu  (dragons) and "aurochs" (bulls).  The roof and doors of the gate were made of cedar and the gate was covered in Lapis Lazuli.

The reconstructed gate is just the outer and smaller part of a double gate.  The larger, rear section is still in storage as it is too big to be reconstructed within the museum.  Of particular interest is the gate's dedication plaque - there is no doubt what it is.

Details of one of the "bull" motifs portrayed in bas-relief brickwork.
As if the gate itself was not enough.  It stood on a ceremonial avenue which passed through the gate.  The walls were decorated with rows of lions and flowers. 
Model showing the ceremonial way with decorated wall and
towers leading toward the Ishtar Gate which stood in
front of an even larger gate into the inner city of Babylon.

A small section (less than a quarter) off the ceremonial
way which has been recreated in the Pergamon Museum.
From ancient Babylon's gate and walls we moved to the next section of the gallery where the marble "Market Gate of Miletus" has been reconstructed.  This gate is about 30m wide, 16m high and 5m deep.  It was built around the 2nd century AD in Miletus (modern Turkey) but destroyed in a great earthquake in 10th or 11th century.  It was rediscovered  and excavated in the early 1900s.  The niches along the upper storey would once have held statues of emperors.

The Miletus Market Gate. 
(Note the mosaic at bottom right)
The "Orpheus" Mosaic, Miletus, 2nd century AD
The treasures kept surprising us as we moved around the museum.

Reconstruction of a gate sentinel from an Assyrian Palace (9th Century BC)

Beautifully and intricately prayer niche
indicating the direction of Mecca in the
Islamic Art section of the Pergamon Museum.

Prayer niche ("mihrab") from the Beyhekim
Mosque, Konya (Anatolia) 13th century.
(Museum of Islamic Art, Pergamon Museum)
I've shown just a few of the big, grand displays.  The museum has a very large collection of interesting artefacts spanning about 4000 years of cultural and artistic activity across several regions of classical antiquity.  There is enough here to keep you occupied for days (if you have the stamina).
Paul & Judy
January 2016

Monday, 15 February 2016

Berlin - Getting Around

It's not as easy to appreciate the city's layout, or visit the key attractions on foot as it is in so many other great European cities.  Berlin has a number of significant historical buildings but no distinct "old city" or well-defined modern city centre; it has clusters of new development but no typical CBD.  Its spread- out nature is due in no small part to the division and differential redevelopment after the profound destruction of much of the city in WW2. 
Potsdam Platz
Potsdam Platz is a large and important public square in the centre of Berlin.  It is the point where the old road from the city of Potsdam passed through the old city wall.  During WW2 it was laid waste and was left in ruins during the early post-WW2 phase of the Cold War.  In 1961 the Berlin Wall was built through it, thus further preventing any rebuilding.  After reunification in 1990 the Berlin Senate held a competition for its development.  The area was divided into 4 sections which were developed independently.  The part developed by the electronics company Sony is probably the best known and  most interesting.  Sony built the Sony Centre to house their European headquarters with a roof said to be inspired by the shape of Mt Fuji.  It's a staggering construction of steel and glass.
Bahn Tower houses the corporate HQ
of Deutsche Bahn (German Railways)

Entering the public space of the Sony Centre.

Part of the massive roof of the Sony Centre.

Upwards and Onwards
The buildings around Potsdam Platz were designed to present the best that modern architects could offer, and it's certainly an impressive sight, although there have been expressions of concern that the development suffered excessive "Americanisation" and that what resulted was not what was envisaged when the design competition was announced.

Moving east from Potsdam Platz we were fortunate to catch a good view of the Berlin TV Tower which is the highest structure in Berlin .  It was said that it was made 365m tall the height could be easily remembered (365 days in a year) but it is now listed as 368m to the summit.  We hardly saw it in days to come as it was usually lost in the fog.
"Fernsehturm" (TV Tower) with visitor
platform and revolving restaurant.
The Brandenburg Gate
For many people this gate is the symbol of Berlin, perhaps even of Germany as a whole.  It was quietly exciting ("quietly exciting" - is this an oxymoron, an illogical expression?) to see this famous structure, one of the world's "iconic" attractions and a symbol of the tumultuous history of Germany.  We saw it twice, on both occasions in misty rain.  It was built between 1788 and 1791 in neoclassical style and was based on the gateway to the Acropolis in Athens. 
The triumphal arch stood on the site of a gate which was not a part of the city's defences, but one of the gates comprising the "customs wall".   This new gate/arch was built to symbolise "peace" and was named the "Peace Gate". 
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, with the Quadriga facing the square.
Atop the arch is a "quadriga" driven by the goddess Eirene, goddess of peace.  Whilst possibly the most famous quadriga (or chariot drawn by four horses abreast) it is certainly not the only one around.  I've seen the 4 bronze horses (of a no-longer existent quadriga) on the balcony of San Marco Basilica in Venice (actually they are replicas, the originals are inside, protected from pollution); the horses in all "modern" quadrigas are based on these ancient horses of Greek or Roman origin.  I've seen 3 quadrigas in Paris, and one in each of Rome, London and Brussels; there are several more in cities I've not visited.  Still, this is the one most remembered when you see a quadriga.
After defeating the Prussians and occupying Berlin in 1806, Napoleon took the quadriga to Paris as a war trophy, just as he had taken the Venetian horses to Paris.  After Napoleon's defeat in 1814 the Prussians entered Paris, returned the quadriga to Berlin, and redesigned it as "Victory". 
The Quadriga, driven by "Victory" atop the arch.

After the return from Paris the "Iron Cross" was added to the statue now denoting "Victory"

Reminders of WW2
Just a few minutes walk from the triumph of the Brandenburg Gate is a memorial which commemorates the tragedy and atrocity of war.  The "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe" or simply "Holocaust Memorial" is a memorial to the millions of European Jews who were victims of the Holocaust.  It is an array of 2711 concrete slabs of varying sizes, arranged in rows N-S and E-W on a sloping site.  Designed by Peter Eisenman and Buro Happold it covers 19,100 square metres (4.7 acres). 

A few of the concrete stelae making up the Holocaust Memorial
The Holocaust Memorial
We joined an interesting walk around Berlin which not only took us to some of the expected sites but to some we'd not anticipated.  The most surprising was a car park beneath which are still remains of the Führerbunker.  In the years following WW2 several demolition attempts were made with only limited success and the site was largely forgotten.  The main section of the bunker was over 8m below the ground and had a concrete roof 3m thick.  A small plaque was erected in 2006 noting the location.  A few meters across the street is the place where the bodies of Hitler and Eva Braun were burnt to prevent the bodies being displayed, mocked, reviled and debased.

This marks the location of the Führerbunker which was
the air-raid shelter of the Reich Chancellery

Later in our walk we stopped in front of one of the buildings of the great Humboldt University, founded in 1810 as "The University of Berlin" by the Prussian educator and reformer  Wilhelm von Humboldt, brother of the great explorer and geographer Alexander von Humboldt.  The university has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners!  During WW2 it was affected by the Nazi regime and in 1933 about 20,000 "degenerate books" (political thought, anything written by liberals, Communists or jews etc) were burnt in the small plaza now known as the Bebelplatz.
Now set into the surface of the Bebelplatz  is a glass panel above an underground white room lined with empty bookshelves which could accommodate 20,000 books.  A plaque contains a prophetic quotation from the German author and poet Heinrich Heine:  "This was but a prelude; where they burn books they ultimately burn people".
The window into the empty book room in Bebelplatz.
Empty bookshelves serve as a reminder of the book burnings.

Moving On ..
During our walk the light rain cloud descended as a fog, restricting our views of anything more than a couple of hundred metres away, as can be seen in this picture of the sightseeing balloon with just a couple of occupants who were not going to see much.

See Berlin from above - perhaps not today.
I doubt they can even see the ground.  Do they get their money back?
Our walking route took us past the "Trabi Museum".  I'd heard of the "Trabi" but knew very little about it other than it was a cheap, under-powered produced in East Germany from the mid-50s to the fall of the wall.  It must interest many people as it is rated the 190th out of 600 attractions in Berlin.  You can visit the museum, drive a Trabi or one of the highly modified novelty forms ("stretch" etc) and even train in a simulator.  Briefly the Trabant P50, first built in 1954, was an ultra-cheap small sedan made of  a plasticised body with a tiny 18HP engine. The Trabant 600 of 1963 boosted the motor to 23 HP, and in 1964 the P601 "boasted" 24HP.  This model was produced until 1989 but could not survive the competition of West German vehicles once the Wall came down in 1989-90.As a rough comparison, my first car (1966) was a 1954 Morris Minor (not a "Mini" - that was still years later).  Small as it was it had a 30HP motor.  The various models of the popular "Mini" series (starting in 1960) came in a range of engine sizes starting at about 33HP.  Now the Trabi is a nostalgic novelty and collector's car.

Don't miss it.  The 190th most popular attraction in Berlin.

The one and only "Trabi World". 

Rent one for an unusual (perhaps "unforgettable") driving experience.
Berlin's icons on a drain cover: the TV tower, Brandenburg
Gate, the Victory Column and the Dom are easily recognised.
Several bridges cross he River Spree.  One of the more unusual style of bridge is also one of the best known.  During the division between East and West Berlins, the Oberbaum Bridge was one of the important crossing points and it is now a symbol of the city's unity.  It is unusual because it is a double-decked bridge.  The lower deck carries a roadway and the upper deck carries a rail line.  The bridge's name is roughly the "upper (i.e. upstream) tree bridge" as it was once part of the toll boundary around the city and to prevent smuggling along the river a large tree trunk studied with spikes was lowered across the waterway each night as a barrier.

The quaint style is described as "Northern German Brick Gothic" (very specific, very German) with many decorative elements such as pointed arches, cross vaults and coats of arms.  The two towers were inspired by the Middle Gate Tower in the not-too-distant city of Prenzlau.

The Oberbaum Bridge, Berlin

One of the two towers on the bridge.
 Our hotel was in the city district of "Mitte".  Just a couple of train stops away was Hackesche Markt which these days is an important transport hub and starting point for the city's nightlife (I wouldn't know about that).  Adjacent to the Markt is the interesting courtyard complex known as Hackesche Höfe.  This a cluster of 8 interconnected courtyards designed in 1906 in Art Nouveau style.  It contains a mix of residential areas, craft workshops and outlets, businesses, cafes and restaurants and open space. There are a couple of side and rear access points but the main entrance is through an arch on Rosenthaler Strasse.

One of the 8 courtyards in the Hackesche Höfe

Just a few minutes walk from Hackesche Höfe is the New Synagogue, built
1859-1866 in a Moorish style with some resemblance to the Alhambra.
The Reichstag Building Dome
The Reichstag Building was opened in 1894 as the parliament of the German Empire, later the Weimar Republic.  The Nazis had no need of a parliament during their dictatorship so after the devastating fire of 1933 it remained derelict until its restoration after German reunification.  The parliament today is called the "Bundestag".

The building was reopened in 1999 after a reconstruction effort led by the British architect Lord Norman Foster (he also designed "The Gherkin", now an iconic London landmark).  To replace the  original large dome which was destroyed in the fire, Foster designed a wonderful glass dome which is open to the public (free but by appointment to regulate the huge demand).  The dome contains a pair of ramps which separate the "up" and "down" movements of visitors who gain a 360 degree view (subject to fog, as we found).  The main hall of the parliament can be seen immediately below the dome which has a large electronically controlled sunshield to permit light to enter the chamber without dazzling the occupants.

The Bundestag (old "Reichstag") building.

Looking up from outside to the dome on the Bundestag building.
The spiral footpaths can be seen through the glass panels.

Inside the stunning glass dome.

A happy visitor to the dome.
The Berlin Cathedral
During our wintery visit the sun set early, and with the foggy conditions the light was fading rapidly even before 4 pm.  We made our way to the "Berliner Dom" (actually the Evangelical Supreme Parish and Collegiate Church, but known as the Berlin Cathedral).   This is a building from roughly the same period as the Reichstag building (during the Kaiserzeit").  It was finished in 1905 and became the Royal Church.  It is built on the site of earlier grand churches and internally is finished in "high Neo-Renaissance" style.  The state budget, even with the Kaiser's "personal contributions" could not cover the planned fit-out with the many lavish internal fittings of marble and gold so a number of economy measures were adopted to reduce the cost.  Many of the pillars are not marble but lesser material decorated to look like marble.  Reconstruction work between 1975 and 1993 repaired much of the damaged caused by bombs during WW2.  Restoration of the dome has not yet been undertaken because the difficulties and associated high projected costs.
Approaching the Berlin Dom.  The fog
is just sitting on the top of the dome.
Some of the decoration above the entrances.
Looking across the Nave towards the altar.
The organ was restored after damage resulting
 from  exposure to the elements when the dome
 was struck by a bomb in 1944 and collapsed.
Looking up to the dome and the "lantern".
Decoration of the apse behind the main altar.

In the extensive crypt beneath the church are 94 tombs and caskets of members
of the Hohenzollern dynasty which ruled  Prussia (1525-1918) and Brandenburg
 (1415-1918).  Another branch of the family ruled Romania (1866-1947).
Night fell and the fog thickened producing a
romantic effect as light contrasted with fog.


Daylight has completely gone and the Dom is lit by spotlights.
Ice flows along the River Spree, past the building.
Paul & Judy
January 2016