Tokyo: Asakusa and Kappabashi

This is post #2 of our Tokyo-Seoul trip, for the first half of Monday, November 6, 2017.


Coming out of our hotel room after a typical first-night-in-a-new-country sleep, we see this.  I guess we can tell where the elevators are.


Our hotel is in the Ginza area of Tokyo, near to where Dave’s conference will be, and before we leave the hotel’s wifi, out of habit, we check where we are going for breakfast.  Later on in the trip, we wouldn’t do this, as we would become used to the fact that we had a wifi hotspot in our backpack.


As newbies in town, everything was fascinating and intriguing — the Nissan building with the car in the front window, the Mitsukoshi Department Store clock, and the pyramid of seasonal chestnut treats:


More on this later as nothing was open yet, and we were headed to City Bakery, then to Asakusa Temple.


This is the first time we saw a scramble intersection: where everyone could walk every which way at once.



City Bakery didn’t disappoint this Monday morning.  So much to choose from.  We tried using our Google Translate app on this item, a “Baker’s Muffin” in order to see what was inside.  It pulled up something like “flour, egg, and breath of angels.”  Hmmm.  We found that idioms didn’t translate well into English, and sometimes were completely off-track.


This was also available.  Beautiful, but no.


Since we’d been to Japan before in 2001, we knew the drill: get the tray, use the tongs to put the food on the tray.  At the checkout, we buy juice to go with our breakfast, and pick up plastic ware for the road, and silverware for in-restaurant use. We sit down at the only vacant table, apparently vacant because all the regulars in this coffee shop know that the ventilation system blows gale force right where we sit.  We anchor all the napkins under our baked goods, and enjoy our meal, saving a few bites for later.


City Bakery was in the basement of a building, and this was the area next to it.  Later on, we’d learn that we could take a train from here and get places, but we are early in the trip, so re-trace our steps upstairs to get to our train, passing by the “love-inviting”  stone cat, which people stroke for luck.


We used our Pasmo cards, and (hopefully) get to the correct track, correct train.  The Hyperdia app was invaluable during our stay here:


I used my Snapseed app to label critical photos in my feed, like what our home station was near our hotel.  Now it seems silly, but then it was a lifeline.


Another thing I did habitually was to photograph the exit from the subway at a particular destination so I could find it again, like this time, when it dumped us into a small non-descript alleyway.


I wondered when I would see my first display of wax food in Tokyo.  This is actually pretty convenient for non-Japanese-speaking tourists, as it provides the opportunity to see what the restaurant served, and the chance to point at it, if you can’t make yourself understood to the waitress.


Oh, yes, I always have egg on my spaghetti.


We made it to the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, founded in 628.  It has a main temple and a five-story pagoda.  We pause in the main gate area, underneath the Kaminarimon Gate — or “Thunder Gate” —  with its huge red chochin lantern.


“Its chronicles put its founding at 628 AD through one of these stories that legends and religions are made of: While fishing in the Sumida River on the morning of March 18, the brothers Hinokuma Hamanari and Takenari caught in their nets a small golden statue of the Buddhist deity Kannon. They tried to get rid of it, but it kept coming up so they decided to keep it. When they returned to the village, they showed it to one of the chieftains Haji no Nakatomo who being a devout Buddhist understood what it was and built a temple to house it. The temple was, of course, Sensoji. ‘Senso’ is another reading of the characters for Asakusa and ‘ji’ is ‘temple’.”  (from here)


From the main gate, there is a walk up Nakamise Dori, the shopping street, full of small shops.  We are early, so some are not open, but I loved the sprays of (faux) fall foliage jutting out from the roofs.


Overview of the area.


Hozomon, the Sensoji Temple’s actual main gate.


Not Geisha.  I found out later that kimono are available to rent, and many young women will rent them and tour the temples, taking their photos as they go.


A group of school children, with matching red hats, with the five-storied pagoda in the background.


I made Dave do this with me, under great protest: drawing an omikuji.  I had an English-speaking Japanese tourist help me, as I couldn’t quite remember the drill.

We both drew bad fortune, so instead of being to bring the paper home, we had to tie it to a rack.  Judging by how many pieces of paper are tied at all these temples, I wonder if the temple puts out more bad fortune papers in those drawers, than good.


Now that we’ve donated money to the temple, we go to explore more of the area, in spite of the crush of tourists.


Private-school students, with matching uniforms.


Around us the incense is blowing around, the smokey air playing havoc with breathing (and even though we are supposed to draw the smoke over an aching body part, we side step it and head into the temple


And then we go out again.  No photos are allowed and a service was going on in the inner sanctum, so not much to see.  We appreciated the gorgeous decorations; I buy an omamori charm: a small bell.


Looking out from the doors of the temple toward the Hozomon Gate.


We read the guidebook, appreciate the pristine gardens and the beautiful five-storied pagoda, available for entry only at certain times in the year, and only if you have family buried here.


Our first Japanese vending machine of the trip.


Mine must have had caffeine in it, because it kept me going the whole day.


We head into another building, and buy an accordian-folded book, so the monk (or his assistants behind him) will write their shrine’s name in calligraphy and then place the shrine’s stamp in it, in glorious vermillion ink.  This costs 300 yen, or 500 yen sometimes — about $4.50 US dollars.  The shuincho is notebook, and the shu-in is a stamp with calligraphy.



We got a Christmas Card photo shot–one of several we’d take.  Such beautiful doors!


They have tree-trimming down to a art.


She’s holding her selfie-stick to one side of the photo.  We see them strike this pose repeatedly for tourists.


We wander over to the Asakusa shrine, another ancient place (but apparently not reconstructed like everything we see — WWII bombs didn’t destroy this one), and get another signature in my new accordian book.

Outside a family is posing for pictures.  Was it Children’s Day? as both the little boy and the little girls are dressed up in traditional dress.  Dave thought maybe it was that they presented the them to the priests at a certain age.  It’s Shichi-Go-San.

“In the custom, which literally means “seven-five-three,” families with three- or seven-year-old girls or five-year-old boys visit a shrine or temple to pray for the health of their offspring as they grow. Shichi-Go-San is traditionally observed on November 15, although with the busy pace of modern life it has become common for families to schedule visits to shrines on a weekend or holiday before or after the date.” (from here)


Dave steps up and offers to take the family’s photo.  All smiles, all around.  Dave later told me he thought tourists ought to be good for something!


We leave the shrine and wander down a street perpendicular to the Temple and see a lot of little shops in a decorative arcade.


We are headed to the the “kitchen street,” Kappabashi, but notice all the decorative surfaces as we walk.


We’re here, but what is it?  It’s basically a street filled with little shops of things we don’t need: knives, steamers, pots.  We amble and amble.  Our first big disappointment in Tokyo Touristing: overly-hyped attractions, supposed “gems” found in my research at home on the internet, but in real life? Not so much.



Random Gold Statue that I made Dave pose in front of.  I later found out that this is the Kappa Kawataro Statue, where Kappabashi gets its name.  On a tourist website, I read:

“A kappa (“river child”) is a creature of Japanese myth: a humanoid, frog-like amphibious creature with a plate-like head, scales, webbed feet and beak for a mouth. However, although pronounced the same, the “kappa” in Kappabashi and the mythical “kappa” are written differently. The association is coincidental, but Kappabashi has nevertheless eagerly latched on to the kappa as a mascot. The street’s kappa statue is a gold-plated bronze statue erected here in 2003 for Kappabashi’s 90th anniversary.”


But it is interesting to see these decorated buildings: I wonder if the one with plates and silverware is related to the fact that we are in the Kappabashi area?  Tired of trying to make sense of this area, we turn back toward the Metro.


But first, lunch!  Love the take-out window in the front right, but we go inside and head upstairs.  In our guidebook we read that Tendon is a combination of bowl (don) with tempura (ten).


They scurry to bring us the English menus.  We are happy to know we’ll be eating non-stressed-out prawns.


We point to the special and it turns out to be very good, although eating the squid was a bit strange.  The tempura was squash, green beans, white fish, prawn, lotus root over rice.  It also came with a cup of miso soup.


Our table.


We figured out that we should take the bill downstairs and pay for it on the way out.


Design is all around us, as even the heavy metal grates that straddle the the sidewalk to the street are decorative.


We stop at a dish shop, buying four little plates, two bowls and two chopstick rests.  It goes into the backpack along with everything else.



We laugh when we make our way back to the Metro and the shop right outside the entrance is a TENDON TENYA, where we had just eaten.  They turn out to be all over the place.


Time for a break: We head back to the room for a rest.


Placard in the metro car.


Clearly we are below par with our shoe choice of American athletic shoes.

We arrive back at the hotel, and Dave immediately crashes into a deep sleep, but the caffeine in my early drink keeps me awake.  I upload Instagram photos, watch the skyline from our our room, pondering what they are doing on the roof of the building just beside us.  This mystery will be solved by the end of the week.

From Home to Tokyo


This is the opening post (#1) of our Tokyo-Seoul trip, for Saturday, November 4 to Sunday November 5, 2017.  We were gone for fourteen days, beginning the trip in Tokyo.  After a week there, we headed to Incheon, South Korea, then the final three days would be in Seoul.  This is the day where it all begins: a drive to Los Angeles International Airport, a flight and a new adventure.  

I keep a master listing of the posts associated with this trip, in case you come at this sideways and are interested with our experiences.

We went to bed late Friday night, the night before our trip was to begin, after updating our passwords for our computer, then telling Son #4 where they were, sending him photos of where we keep them. Does anyone else feel like they are preparing for Armeggedon when they leave on a foreign trip?  Like whatever notes or letters we write will be the last ones?  Like we need to get in our final instructions and good-byes?

Then at 7 a.m. Satuday morning, a text came through on Dave’s phone that the flight had been delayed by two hours.  I’d spent some time on Friday downloading the Asiana Airlines app, a truly buggy piece of software, and had only been able to get Dave checked into the flight.  My check-in wouldn’t go through.  Luckily one of us got the message about the delayed flight.


I always make a picture of where our car is, with some notations, as a trip can wipe your brain clean.

We decide to go to the airport anyway and see what we can do.  The line at Asiana was forever long and moved exceedingly slow; the nice young man who helped us, though, got us onto the flight with Al Nippon Airlines, which was three hours late.  However, it was a non-stop to Tokyo, so we wouldn’t miss our connection and it got us in much earlier than our original flight.  We practically skipped over to the Al Nippon counter to get our flight voucher.


We cleared security, and entered the newly renovated Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX.  It’s quite upscale now, with soothing lights and sounds and moving pictures on screens.


In the middle of the Great Hall hangs “Air Garden” a mass of colorful looping strings.


We take our usual requisite couple selfie, actually we end up taking several, before finding the one to post to Instagram, and go to find some lunch: pricey, but we were able to eat near large windows with comfortable seats.  Usually you get one or the other, but not both.  We killed some more time doing email, calling my mother and father, but then it was time to head to Gate 157.  One last treat before boarding: a slice of fudgy cake at a Starbuck’s (using up a gift card from one of Dave’s students), then we waited for boarding onto NH5, our flight to Tokyo.

The flight was lightly filled, so we had an empty seat between us.  Everything is already Japanese; polite, smiling, kind, and handing us everything with two hands at the same time.


Even before take-off, they bring us Japanese crackers, and a drink.  After take-off, my cup of apple juice slides off the table, but the attendants were nice in helping with the clean-up, making me wonder: why do we have so many surly flight attendants on US flights?  I am impressed, even with their flight safety video: spare, with a slight sense of humor, but firm in their instructions.


A meal is served right away and we go for the “Japanese” option of mackeral, rice and assorted other treasures.  It wasn’t bad.  Then ice cream for dessert.  The trip was the best kind: uneventful, with a good array of movies for my sleepless husband.  About 90 minutes before landing we were offered another meal:


I never could figure out what the “CA Recommend” sticker meant, but we both got the Westernized meals, although it was a good thing we had a description of what we were eating.  We had crossed the International Date Line somewhere so instead of it being evening on Saturday, it is Sunday evening when we land.  There is not the crush to get off the plane, like there is with the US domestic flights.


In every airport: a welcome sign and a sundries shop (below)


Entering the airport, we had to walk through a scan, checking our temperatures, and then walk over disinfecting carpets (shoes on).  We pass through Immigration, retrieve our luggage, then go through Customs.  We find the airport ATM and get some money, then find the tourist stand to get maps, two essentials for any visitor to a foreign country.


Before leaving home, I always assemble a book: tabs for different cities or countries, money conversion schedules, a hard copy of our travel itinerary and for this trip, some train and subway directions, like the page on the right.  Because of all the time spent researching train destinations, we knew what to do (sort of): buy two Skyliner tickets, then in the adjoining machine, buy two PASMO subway cards, and put money on them.


We board the train from Terminal 1.  At Terminal 2/3, the train fills up — three Australian women in front of us, chatting and relaxed the entire 45-minute trip (approximately) to Ueno Station.  We get off there, with plans to change to a  a train.  We find our way to the Hibaya line, and the correct direction for the Hibaya line.  Our stop is H9–Higashi-Ginza.  Of course, sitting at home in California, all of this is meaningless to me, but now it makes somewhat sense.  Using the Google little yellow walking man in Street View multiple times, I had made him walk the trek from where we would get off the train to how it looked as we would try to get above ground and to our hotel.  I knew that if we took the A-1 exit and the elevator to the top, it would put us at our hotel’s front door, which it did.


But when we came up out of the underground, we saw the streets all blocked off by white-gloved policemen; I couldn’t tell what was happening.  We asked an American-looking woman what it was: “Trump’s visit” she said.  I joked that we came all the way to Japan to get away from him, and here he was, following us. (Jetlag lame humor) We continued talking as we waited the supposed five minutes before the motorcade was to arrive, but Dave gave up and went to the hotel to start checking us in:



A minute or two after he left, the motorcade came roaring around the corner, flags waving, the whole she-bang. The woman I was speaking to, as it turns out, was from Santa Monica, California and brought tour groups from all over the U.S. to Japan.  I was suprised at this, but I would run into the idea of how close our nations were by the sheer numbers of American tourists I would see, and the amount of tour groups, too.


A view to our room door from the elevator.

Since we were staying for a week, the hotel clerk gave us a nice room on the 14th floor, and then handed us a package: the wifi gadget had arrived!


Up in our room, we pulled it apart and checked that all the parts were there: wifi hotspot (black unit), battery charger and cords, pouch for carrying and a mailing pouch to mail it back when we were leaving.  I’d read about them on some online blogs, and knew that it would be lovely to have one of these.  We’d looked into the international plan with our telephone, but each person would incur the daily charges, whereas with this one, both of us could pair our phones with the wifi hotspot for the same price.  As per our usual, we connected the other devices with the hotel’s wifi, posted on Instagram.


A drawer with “gift-wrapped” toiletries. I wanted to bring them ALL home, but restrained myself.

The room was compact, but lovely.


After exploring all sixteen square feet of the room (sort of kidding), I opened the sliding door of the toilet to be welcomed in this way (click to experience this).


And we both snickered over the wording on this bottle, found near our bathroom sink.  Us?  Have anxious smells?  Oh, my.


Finally in our pajamas after too many hours, I wrote the daily expenses in my travel book, noting the shifting from U.S. dollars to Yen, then it was lights out.


Returning Home, or Multiple Levels of Dante’s Hell

This is the final post (#24) of our Dublin-Berlin trip, for Friday, September 27, 2018.


Why is this photo taken at night?  Because after a night of interrupted sleep, at 5:30 a.m. I say to Dave, “Ready to give up?”  He is, so we are out the door by 7:15 a.m.

We take the Metro to Potsdamer Platz, head to BackWerk and pick up breakfast and lunch, then board another Metro train to Zoolischer Station. We are just happy that we remembered to validate our tickets in the last stop of that ride.  Better late than never.  We board bus X9 for (as my travel journal states) “a bus ride to the Outer Levels of Hell, a.k.a. Tegel Airport.

We can hardly figure out which end is up, and of course, are completely frantic to get where we have to go in a big fat hurry, for in spite my romantic musings of yesterday, we are ready to go home.  Boy, are we.


After walking through an interminable and exceptionally crowded terminal hallway, we arrive at this place: budget airlines’ check-in.  We join the queue, getting an band for our “Under Seat Cabin Luggage” to prove that we checked in.  We pray our checked luggage makes it.  Then across the room from this stately and orderly process (we were early, by the time we left this gigantic room, it was a hive of activity and suitcases), we headed towards security screening.  If people went through too fast, everything locked up and no one could pass.  Finally the magic hour arrived, and they brought in more staff to process.

We walked down an interminable hallway, then another, then another passageway to arrive at another giant room full of people milling around.  It feels like a temporary terminal, filled with kiosks dispensing overpriced water (Euro 3.40 for a 1/2 liter–we bought one, then another).  I was glad we had purchased our breakfast, but when you are locked into a level of hell, snacking is the only pleasure, and there is none here that we want to buy.


Finally it was time to board.  No jetway.  As Dave said, again, “Welcome to budget travel.”  We didn’t make the plane reservations; his conference did.


This flight is uneventful–the best kind.  We land, yet it’s that “fake” kind of landing that European airports/airlines do: you are somewhere hanging out on the vast tarmac somewhere and you have to wait for people-mover busses to come and get you, all the while the pilot is chirping that “we have an on-time landing.”  Yet it’s not really, because there is still thirty minutes of waiting/moving until arrival at the terminal (photo of the door of the people mover, above).  After being moved to the terminal, we try to find out where we go next.  Another typical experience of European airports is that we have to hang around in a central lobby until they deem it the “right time” and only then will they tell us our gate.

Since we’d already been through the “dining experience” at Dublin airport, we avoided that.  Again, we’re looking for a snack.  Above are our choices for food in the Dublin airport where we are waiting.  I bought the Hunky Dorys, and we shared them.  I look up at the screen: it’s Magic Time! and we could head downstairs to the USA transit center.

This was new to us.  Downstairs was another set of massive rooms, all nearly new, where we would clear customs into the U.S., allowing us to come in to any terminal in Los Angeles, not just the International Terminal.  First up: security.

Apparently I was tagged for a secure search.  (Was it the jars of jam?  Just kidding–that was in our checked luggage.)  I’m pulled out of line, patted down, swabbed on the hands, devices powered off, shoes off, and basically treated like a criminal.  I glance at her sheet: approximately 20 of us are on her list.  I read about it later, the Frequent Flier guy mentioning that seeing the code “SSSS” on your ticket will send shivers down your spine.   Here’s another version of that.

Meanwhile, where’s Dave?  He’s watching all this from outside the glassed-in area, waiting patiently for his convict wife to re-appear.  We find a place to eat, and enjoy our lunch: squished sandwiches from early this morning in Berlin. I read the headlines from home (not a good idea) then it was again Magic Time! and we could head to our gate.  I’m double-checked in again (that SSSS thing), but we finally made it on board, heading for home.


I was pretty happy to take off!


Last views of Ireland.


This made my day.  My spirits were lifted.


I didn’t sleep much, so I was able to enjoy the view over Greenland.


And here’s the contrast with our own Western United States mountains.


After a long flight, this is breakfast/lunch/whatever.  Dave was still asleep so I took the one on the left, saving him the one on the right.  It was cold sludge by the time he ate it.  We landed, we were home and the only thing left was this:


Welcome to LAX and waiting for the luggage (about an hour).  We are happy to see our luggage, happy to be near home (another couple of hours to drive) and happy to have gone to Dublin and Berlin.

At the beginning of the trip, we loaded our luggage and packed our expectations and headed off into points unknown, ready for adventure.  But upon returning, the routine and familiar tasks await: check the phone for the traffic, call my 90-year-old mother, letting her know I’m back on American soil. The final pieces are laundry, stowing the souvenirs and suitcases, and dealing with jet lag.  Is travel worth it?  Does the hassle negate the more intriguging aspects of leaving home and seeing different places?  Each trip determines its own balance, the scales tipping one way or the other.

But the old phrase, “seeing with new eyes” is certainly the weightier recommendation for leaving home.  Pico Ayer, a travel writer, notes that “One curiosity of being a foreigner everywhere is that one finds oneself discerning Edens where the locals see only Purgatory.”  I think of Evelinde watching me be a tourist in her small corner of Berlin.  I think of all those people who walked briskly on past me, as I was busy taking a photo of a flower, a tile, a decorated building.  Does it balance out?  For this trip, yes.

Ayer also noted that “Writing is, in the end, that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.”  As far as journaling the experience goes, I’ve also learned to let the photos and the travel journals rest a bit after a trip, let them breathe a little.  The photos don’t compare to the memories, and it is only somewhat later, that they start to sync up again, reminding the traveler of what they saw and experienced.

To whoever reads this: I hope these letters about Dublin and Berlin prove satisfying.

Last Looks at Berlin • Part 2

This is post #23 of our Dublin-Berlin trip, for Thursday, September 27, 2018.


Yes, this was shown before, but this has different light so the front decorative art can be seen.

Dave returns, and he hasn’t had lunch, so we re-trace our steps to the Galerie Lafayette because, as I told him, there are so many choices!  Even though it was only about 90 minutes after my visit, most all of that abundance of food is gone.  He found something to eat, a dessert to try, and we packed it up and went to the Gendarmenmarkt to eat.


As his tour guide, I thought it important that he see Babelplatz, so we followed the red arrows, coming in alongside St. Hedwig’s to the square.


So much history here.  So much notable history here.  We stroll towards the bus stop.


At the edge of the plaza, by the bus stop and along the Unter der Linden boulevard, were a score (or two) of police cars.   We watched them while waiting for the bus.  And waiting.  And some more waiting.


The nice police officer who spoke to us casually mentioned that there would probably be no busses running, because…why?  They couldn’t tell us.


Like the bicyclist making a U-turn here, it was time for Plan B: walk.


So we turned to our right and walked.  Really, the downtown of Berlin isn’t all that huge, so after a few minutes we arrived at Berliner Dom, by all the museums. Berlin12_19aBerlin12_19b

We heard all the sirens, and turned to watch Erdogan’s motorcade stream up the street.  Obviously that was what was holding up the busses, and that the police man couldn’t tell us.  It wasn’t as grand or as lengthy as the one that greeted us our first night in Japan (Trump’s motorcade), and after it passed, we kept walking.


We can see the Fernsehturm (the tall TV tower), but first, Dave wanted to see the beautiful old church, so we stop at St. Marienkirke, where I heard the organ concert.


We step outside, hook to our left back around to the large plaza, and spot the Neptunbrunnen fountain, backed by the Rose Rathaus.


We turn back to see the side of the beautiful church with its details (above and below) then stroll up the plaza.



The Fernsehsturm, with its origami-like wings at the base.


We cross underneath that, and into the large banhof (train station) at Alexanderplatz:


We head out the other side to Alexanderplatz itself.

The light is casting long shadows, some parts are already in darkness, pointing to the realization that our last day in Berlin is coming to a close.  Time for dinner, time to head back to the hotel and figure out All the Details.

After a Ubahn ride and a long walk, we enjoy a delicious dinner at Cafe Orange.

Golden light of sunset brings out the beautiful hues of Berlin’s buildings.


Even with Google Translate, we couldn’t figure out what this meant.


End of a good trip, we take a dual selfie in the elevator.


We pack, and head downstairs to try to figure out how to print out our boarding passes, check in to our flights, and wrap up the trip.  We speak with the young woman who has helped me enormously, and she gifts us two jars of jam from the Movenpick brand of foods.  In conversation, she asks us how we liked Berlin.  I could honestly say I loved it.  In one of our exchanges, her guard let down, she shared that she found the East Germans still “a little bit strange,” and I’d have to agree with her on some counts.  I appreciated that we’d been there long enough to enter her world, see a slice of life that she encountered and understand.

Next post: Multiple Levels of Dante’s Hell, or Returning Home.

Last Looks at Berlin • Part 1

This is post #22 of our Dublin-Berlin trip, for Thursday, September 27, 2018.


Okay, what day is it?  Oh, yes.  Our last day in Berlin.  Dave’s conference finishes at noon, so technically I have a half day.  I note in my travel journal: “Two things to see today and I only did one of them: see inside Galeries Lafayette.”

Berlin12_undone thing.jpg

As I try to recall from the distance of time and miles, perhaps visiting this church ( in the opposite direction) was the other thing, which remains unseen.  But it may have instead been some of the official State Buildings on the river.  Or that museum I can’t quite remember the name of.  Next trip.


I took the bus to Kochstrasse U-bahn station, then hopped on it for two stops, exiting near Galaries Lafayette.


Perhaps it was because these buildings were behind the wall, but their architectural style is so different than so much of what I’ve seen.  There is quite a mix of architecture in this city, from all schools and styles.


I’d walked by this multiple times, and today was the day.


The center “dome” extended far up into the upper floors, although with this view, it just looks like a spaceship about to land, and then below street level one floor. (Supposedly this is supposed to mimic the Reichstag dome.) I went down in their little space-capsule elevator with glass walls and a curved door that opened to each side and descended into their food section.  I strolled all around their food aisles, picking up lunch (seemed like enough prepared lunches for all of Berlin, with multiple counters and multiple menus), and then buying chocolate to take home:


We love European chocolate–the low-end kind from the supermarket shelves.


These caught my eye–aha! the Ritter chocolate shop.

I’d heard you could “build your own chocolate bar” but they didn’t have dark chocolate — only white and milk.  Apparently dark chocolate doesn’t appear until October, several days after our visit.  Makes perfect sense, I guess, if you live here.  I still bought a few to try and some bars and tins to take home to friends.


As I came out of the shop, I turned right, passing by this building with fascinating decor.


Lunch: a small turkey salad, a bretzel roll, my “water” bottle (Volvic) and the bag of yummy things from Ritter Sport.  I strolled to the big square I’d seen last night: Gendarmenmarkt, found a bench and ate my lunch.  At the time, these small acts of being “inside” a city, not just being “in” a city, are what I treasure about long-term visits overseas.


While I can still remember the feel of the brisk morning, the sunshine flickering through the trees, the sounds of the workmen renovating the large building towering over this spot on the bench, I know these sensory sounds and feelings will fade. Hopefully, though, I will remember the taste of the bread, the delicious flavors of my dessert:

I was feeling sort of wrenched about leaving Berlin: on one hand it WAS time to head home, especially given my tenuous health situation (funny how chocolate was always fine to eat).  But I’d grown accustomed to finding places to visit, hopping on the transit and heading there, observing new sounds and sights.  I was tired though–to be truthful, I was tired to the bone.  But it was bittersweet, this last lunch in Berlin, so I lingered, hoping to soak it all in deeply.

The workmen spilling out into the square reminded me that Dave was meeting me back at the room, and I’d better return.

Although I had a hunch as to what it was, I was curious about this green structure some distance off to my left.  Curiosity satisfied.


Map Key: pink circle (upper edge) is the U-bahn stop; yellow X is Galeries Lafayette Department Store; green X is Ritter Sport chocolate shop, and the red X is where I ate my lunch, under the trees.  This visual view gives a sense of the enormity of the square.


Gendarmenmarkt is a huge square, with two churches on either side of the Concert Hall.  According to my guidebook (Rick Steves’ Berlin), the name  — part French and part German — comes from Gens d’Armes, Frederick the Great’s royal guard, who were headquartered here.  In the 17th century, “a fifth of all Berliners were French émigrés.”




The Concert Hall is in the center, and I loved that some group was posed on the red-carpeted steps for a group photo.  This square is busy.


This is to the right of the concert hall as you face it, and is the French Cathedral. The church on the other side is known as the German Cathedral, “bombed flat in the war and rebuilt only in the 1980s” (guidebook).  They look remarkably the same, and unbelievably, even though I have multiple photos of this square, I couldn’t figure out which was which.



Buildings on my way home.


When I arrive back at the hotel, there is a helicopter circling overhead.  I guess security is tight for his visit.

Next post: Last Looks at Berlin • Part 2

From the 100 Bus to Bebelplatz

This is (long) post #21 of our Dublin-Berlin trip, for Wednesday, September 26, 2018.


My travel diary proclaims: “Today is Ride the 100-Bus Day.”


Downstairs in the hotel lobby, I confer with the concierge about which way to head, which stop to get off.  I’ve taken to making a screen shot of the directions from Google Maps, and circling what he says.


There’s a new bus in circulation today: one with keyboards painted on it.  Is it a festival time, or something?  I catch my bus, get on the U2, get off on the correct stop.


Different food at this U-bahn station–I think they are covering it all.


But then it’s like, huh?  Very cool building and somewhere around here I’m supposed to catch the 100 bus.  I keep pulling out my phone, and watching my blue dot move.  No, that’s the wrong way, walk the other direction.  Nope, try turning left.  And there it is: a plaza with lots of busses pulling in and out.  I get early in the 100 line as I want a place up top in the upper level, right in front.  I want to see this route, recommended as a good way to get an overview of Berlin.  I grabbed one seat, and a young woman took the one next to me, as there were quite a few people heading to the upper deck.


I recognize this church, with its distinctive ruined, snaggled-toothed appearance.


I’d heard about the zoo, but never made an attempt to go.  (Next trip.)


I’d used ScribbleMaps a couple of times, as they draw out the routes.  The Siegessäule was one landmark I wanted to see.

Sometimes called the Berlin Victory Column (inaugurated in 1873), this originally stood near the Reichstag, but was moved in 1938 as well as elevated, and was envisioned as a welcoming column for the capital of a worldwide Nazi empire.


I struck up a conversation with my seatmate and she told me her job was as a voice dubber for English movies (into German).  She is 33 years old, and was just now getting her driver’s license, in fact that’s why she was headed into town–to take classes.  I also found out she hates our current president (Trump), using a vulgarity to emphasize her disgust; this was not unusual.  She worried about his impact on their politics, noting that the political right was making gains, and it worried her.


The Bellevue Palace, the residence of the German federal president, and where the police were camped out.  President Erdogan of Turkey was due in that afternoon for a state visit, and this is where he would stay (she said).


This is known as the House of World Cultures, but I didn’t know that until later.  I just thought — because it was advertising a current movie — that it was a fancy movie theater complex.


Now I’m in familiar territory, with the Reichstag on the left.  The young woman and I were now into the part of her story about the night the wall fell. I wrote at the time: “Today while riding bus M100 across the city, I struck up a conversation with the young woman next to me, and within a few minutes, she was telling me her memories of the night the Wall fell. She and her twin sister flanked their mother, watching a huge crowd on their way to the gate, everyone crying, smiling, crying and smiling, all unbelieving.
When she asked her father what it meant, he made a fist, then clasped the other hand around it. We were two, he said. Now we are one.  These stories are everywhere, and I’ve been listening to them for nearly two weeks. It’s sobering, this business of division and hate and mocking and ridicule. We need to be careful in America—careful that we don’t lose sight of what joins us.”

Evelinde writes: “I think everyone especially people who lived in Berlin always will remember that special night 💕”


Dave and I walked along here on the first day we arrived, one street over from the Berlin Marathon route.

She got off right after we passed under the bridge, headed to her driver’s class.  I wished her well, and thought long about her father’s hands — she illustrated them for me, clasping one into the other — and wondered how many Berlin stories would stay with me from my time here.


After being here for more than a week, I recognize all these buildings.

I linger in the fake Oktoberfest Village, cracking up to see fried tortilla shells stacked up, awaiting customers for…Mexican food? My new friend Evelinde explained about the cookies on Instagram: “Yes you can eat them, but should by them at [a] stand, where they should be fresh. When we were kids we liked to buy them because they have cute words on it. We mostly hung it on the wall for decoration and after a while they’ve been too dry for eating 😘 Lovers often buy it as a special sign of love for their partner 💕”

I’m also feeling the Get the Souvenirs Deadline, as tomorrow is our last day in Berlin.  One of my goals was to get a nutcracker and although we’ve seen a couple of shops, nothing has really inspired my husband to open his wallet.  I decide it’s up to me to get mine, and I’ll worry about his later.


I think I just found mine: a matryoshka doll.  I pick a blue set of five dolls:


As usual, I decide that my husband can give it to me for Christmas.  I head into the department store once again, to round up any chocolate bars, or find any trinkets to bring home.


I knew that Germany was famous for its Schleich figures–lifelike representations of animals and other monsters, if this display is any indication.  I pick up a couple to keep around the house and for gifts (they meet the criteria for Will Fit In The Suitcase).


I’m always fascinated by English writing on foreign toys.  Too bad these “2 Exclusive Babies!” won’t fit in the suitcase.


I end up buying a small pair of earrings to wear with my dirndl at home.  So fun to see these Oktoberfest displays.


And right by the elevator is that cake-on-a-rolling pin treat that we’d had on one of our other trips (Budapest?).Berlin11_15b

I snagged a bite or two of their free samples.  They let the dough rise, then cook on a turning spit, slide it off the rolling pin-thingie, and sprinkle it with cinnamon-sugar.  It’s an awesome treat.


Back outside: last time to see the World Clock, and the Carousel.


A little political expression on the sidewalk near the U-bahn station.  I don’t take the U-bahn this time, as I’m following the blue dot on my Google maps to find the Christmas-type shops that will carry nutscrackers and German wooden souvenirs.  I’ve read my guidebooks backwards and forwards (all three of them) and have written down the addresses.


I, of course, found many many things I wanted to buy and bring home, but none of the nutcrackers seemed unusual or ones I wanted to give Dave for Christmas.  I keep walking.


The Rotes Rathouse, named for its red bricks


Of course, it’s when you get home that you realize that you should have gone inside the Rotes Rathouse, or tried to get a tour, but when you are on the ground in Berlin– and it’s the day before the day you go home, and you are on a souvenir hunt, and it’s lunchtime and you’re still trying to find a particular shop — you walk by, instead noticing what a fine building it is.


I find the next shop, and fell in love with the big green nutcracker in the front window, but know there is NO way I can get it home, and besides Dave’s not that fond of green:


The people in this shop are very friendly and helpful and interesting.  When I leave, he hands me a card with the location of their other shop.  I think him, tuck it in my bag, but rather doubting I’ll ever get there, given that tomorrow’s our final day.


Across from the shop is this old church, marking the place where Berlin began, as a medieval settlement called Cölln, this fact sifting into my memory from multiple readings of the Rick Steves’ guidebook.  To walk around the church a fee is required, but it’s not really a church anymore, so I pass.Berlin11_18aBerlin11_18b

Love those twin spires, though.  At this point, I realize I am hitting the wall, and better stop walking around and get to food, fast.  It’s hard to stop, though, because now things are just starting to fit into place: how this area relates to this area, which is next to this neighborhood. Berlin is starting to make sense, and I just want to walk and walk and explore some more.  Instead I hop onto the 48 bus, which takes me back to Potsdamer Platz: I’m headed for BackWerk and a late lunch.


After eating the same thing I had for dinner last night, it revives me, so I walk over to the Mall of Berlin, pay half a euro to use the bathroom, and begin to explore:


This is the passageway between two different mall buildings, and stares right into the Bundesrat, or the Federal Council of Government for Germany.  One temple of power staring at another.Berlin11_22Berlin11_23Berlin11_23aBerlin11_23b

I’m headed for idee., the creative place, but end up buying only a pencil or two.


I’m fascinated by this three-story slide, and have fun watching people slide down.  I do head to Desigual, a Spanish clothing store that I love, and see if there’s anything else I want to buy, but they only have the shirt I already purchased, so I head back to the hotel.


Just outside the Mall is this line in the pavement, marking the site of the Berlin Wall.  Always sobering.  There is no forgetting in this city.


I arrive in time for the Chocolate Hour, and pick up a few treats to take back to the room for Dave.


I think he’ll like these, too.  I take a break, write some in the journal.  Dave emails me, and he’ll be late late late again, so I head out to find dinner for both of us.


Since I know BackWerk agrees with me, I head over there another time, but this time, my sandwich and drink are a little different:


I have a ham sandwich for Dave, along with another drink.

I’d read that the best time to see Babelplatz, or the place where they burned the books, is at dusk, so I walk the couple of blocks to that site, the sun just setting.


“Frederick the Great built this square to show off Prussian ideals: education, the arts, improvement of the individual and a tolerance for different groups — provided they’re committed to the betterment of the society.” (Rick Steves)  Here’s a video of the square, as I turn in a circle.


This is the book-burning memorial–a glass window looking down into a room of empty bookshelves.


It’s a sobering place, this platz where they burned the books one night in 1933.  That night, the students and the staff from the university built a bonfire, and into that they threw 20,000 books that had recently been forbidden.  Overseeing it all was the propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels.  “Erich Kästner, whose books were also among those burned, was present at the scene and described it with bitter irony in his diary” (Wikipedia).

The plaque reads: “That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people.”


Another thought-provoking moment in this city of two histories.


I head down past St. Hedwig’s cathedral, finding my way through things, trying to get somewhere, yet I don’t quite know where.


This square was magical in the nighttime: Gendarmenmarkt is beautifully lit, and enticing, but I’m thinking that I should be heading back soon.


But!  Right across the street is that “other shop” from the one I’d been in earlier.  I find a beautiful (smaller) blue nutcracker like the green one I’d seen earlier in the day.  Leaving behind all the beautiful pyramids was difficult, but I was fairly quick in wrapping up my purchase.


I walk toward Checkpoint Charlie, as I now have my bearings, and pass this building.  Things look differently at night, but I am alone and don’t really want to do too much exploring by myself.  I catch the bus, and head back to the hotel.  Dave arrives a moment or two later, and enjoys his sandwich and chocolate treats.



Can you believe it? More Berlin Museums


This is post #20 of our Dublin-Berlin trip, for Tuesday, September 25, 2018.

Day Three of the Three Day Museum Pass, and thankfully, a night’s rest really helped in the Feeling Better Department.  I’m taking no chances today, and have decided to limit my eating (it’s also hard to manage on a 7-up and crackers diet when in a foreign country).

And…we start the morning with the Squeaky Blinds Going Down.  I’m going to miss this when I go home.


This mural is right next to our hotel, a piece of gaiety in a parking area.


Have I shown you the manhole covers (in some places)?

I head back over to Museum Island, taking a closer look at the central fountain.

I am aiming for the Alte Nationalgalerie, or the Old National Gallery, to see the Caspar David Friedrich paintings, some moody favorites of mine when I studied art history at our local community college eons ago:

Monastery Graveyard

Notice that “courtesy” business on the bottom of the painting?  Let me explain why I have an internet picture: it all began when I couldn’t get the elevators to go up to the third floor.  I kept pushing the button, nothing happened.  I asked Guard #1 for some help, and he just looks at me as if to say, Stupid Tourist.  Nearly getting slammed by the elevator doors, I try to get some help from Guard #2.  See above.  A lady with the stroller gets in, goes easily to Floor #2, and I begin to think I am a Stupid Tourist, until Guard #3 explains that the button to floor #3 won’t work because the Friedrich gallery is closed.  Which prompted two cranky postings to Instagram:

That’s the danger of always having a hotspot in your backpack.  And they aren’t just closed for today.  They are closed until the 29th of September, while they reset the gallery.  That’s just  two days after I go home.  So close.  I push the button and go to the second floor.


Snow White (1862), by Victor Müller

Love this one of the seven dwarves frolicking around Snow White.


The Sisters, by Gabriel Max (1876)


Flax Barn in Laren (1887) by Max Liebermann


The Artist’s Mother (1877), by Louis Eysen


Auguste Renoir: Children’s Afternoon at Wargemont (1884)

And then I had a bonanza of People Stitching In Paintings.  Or doing thread work or spinning.  I did see a painting of a dog with a chain of sausage balanced on his nose, but I’ll spare you that.  Rodin had representation with another version of his Thinker, or as the museum translated it, “Man and his Thought.”  There must be quite a few of these in the world, I’ve decided.  Here’s another view of him:


This is in homage to my late brother-in-law Tom; he used to teach art history and he always had a slide of this view of the statue for his classes.  Clearly I am becoming goofy, having been gone away from home so long.  Only two more days after this one.


I was completely taken with this photo showing how a bunch of soldiers have trashed an elegant mansion while taking advantage of the fine furnishings.  The title is “A Billet outside Paris,” by Anton von Werner.  I wonder if it was his family’s home that was destroyed by a bunch of oafs.


This museum is pure elegance when it comes to the architecture.


View of the dome.


This is now my screen on my computer, all ethereal blue/greens, classical statue and tiny rows of gold stars.  Okay, Alte Nationalgalerie, I forgive you.


I walk out, past the Berlin Cathedral, and catch a bus to the other side of town, passing through a veritable gateway at Potsdamer Platz:

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This is the opposing view of the street where the marathon was run that first morning in Berlin.

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Giraffe guarding the entrance to Potsdamer Platz plaza, as seen from the upper deck of my bus.


The bus drops me on the other side of the Concert Hall, and I walk over to the Gemäldegalarie, passing St. Mattheus-Kirche, ringing its bells just for me (click *here* to see video).


I have arrived.  But where to enter?  I gander towards the left, using my iPhone and my hotspot in my backpack to guide me to the entrance.  Backpack into wooden locker in the lower level (no coin necessary) and then upstairs to enter, after going through this courtyard:


Always look up.


The paintings in here are old.  Very old.  This diptych is from 1475-80, and depicts the twelve apostles, first when Christ washes their feet, and then at a meal.


detail of Judas, looking rather gnome-like


Seen also in my art history days, I was blown away to see this in person.  While on the flat pages of a book, it looks almost cartoonish (and it probably looks that way here), I studied this for a long time, trying to take in all the very strange details of Mary as the Queen of Heaven and the baby Jesus.  It is part of a set, known as the Melun Diptych, and only joined here together because of another museum’s renovation (see text, below).  This was painted by Jean Fouquet around 1452-1460, and the features of Mary resemble those of King Charles VII of France’s mistress, Agnès Sorel. It was really a breathtaking painting.


The title card for this one reads “The donor kneels with his patron saint Stephen in front of a Renaissance architecture, addressing the Virgin” (in other painting).  Stephen, one of the first Christian martyrs, was stoned to death so he is often depicted carrying stones or rocks.  One internet site notes that Stephen is the patron saint of  headaches.  No doubt.



I loved this picture for its frame.  I know, shallow.  I photographed many of their beautiful paintings, but because of the lighting, they didn’t all turn out well.  They do have a online database where much of the collection can be seen.  This museum also had some interesting architecture:


Pieter J. Saenredam (1635) “View into the ambulatory of St. Bavo in Haarlem”

Looks like I’m not the first person to try and capture an image of a church.


I waited ten minutes to take this one, waiting for the guard to move out of that far doorway and to stop looking at me.


In this central hall was an overview of painting from the 13th century to the 18th century.  There were many beautiful paintings in this museum, but it was time to go.


I headed to the next museum and got this far: a photograph of their lockers.  Couldn’t face it, so I started to walk towards Potsdamer Platz.


Art exhibit showing trees on life support. (I know.)


I walked into the Potsdamer Platz courtyard, but after the beautiful dome at Alte Nationalgalerie and the geometric dome in the last museum, this was was soulless, cold, and I noticed that there weren’t many lingering here.  I didn’t either.



Sculpture near staircase headed down to the trains.

It’s nearly 3 p.m. and I’m tired, but since I only have a couple of more days, everything has to count.

One floor down, there was a little shop called Back Werk (Back is short for bakery).  Since I was really hungry, the sandwich I bought ended up being amazing: a triangular bun (Laugendreieck, or Lye Triangle–another way to say pretzel bun), layered with süsßem Senf (sweet mustard), Lollo Bionda (a type of lettuce), saftigem Krustenbraten (some type of roast ham?), Krautsalat (pickled cole slaw) and fresh radish slices.  And yes, I really do have to go through all that translation just to figure out what I’m eating.  Especially today.  I also bought Dave’s breakfast at Back Werk and some treats for later.  I took the late lunch and treats back to our room for a break, and to rest for a while.


Dave sent me an email: he’ll be late late late.  I felt okay, so decided to head to the Christmas Shop near Checkpoint Charlie to pick up a few things, including my favorite: Mama Claus.


By the time I was finished, and the shop closed, it was dusk.  Fake Checkpoint Charlie was all lit up.


I headed home to meet Dave, and we enjoyed a treat from Back Werk and other odds and ends of food we had tucked away.  He told me I looked a lot better tonight than last night.  I do feel better.  We prep for tomorrow, and he tries to listen to the audiobook we’d downloaded for the trip.  And…he’s out for the count, so to speak.



More Museums and Exhausted Tourist

This is post #19 of our Dublin-Berlin trip, for Monday, September 24, 2018.

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The museum passes we’d purchased were good for three days, and even though I was pretty tired of being on the go for a week-plus, like a good little tourist, I headed out to explore more art and spacious buildings and see Berlin.

I took the bus to the first museum and as I walked from the corner, I passed this decorated brick building.  The small touches from another era are intriguing, as is this sign from the current day, decrying the advent of Brexit:

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Even the building opposite the Galerie carries artful (even quilty) touches.

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The main interior staircase.

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First exhibit was The Art Show, 1963-1977 by Edward Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz, showing the a highly ironic opening of an art exhibition in a gallery.  The faces have parts of cars: air conditioning vents and fans, with clothing from the 1970s.  If a button is pressed on the figure, they comment on the art, but since I didn’t speak German, I didn’t do any of that.  I found it highly amusing, whimsical. There was even a table with a punch bowl and glasses.  I shot a quick video, giving a sense of the exhibit.

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So many interesting portraits in this exhibit:

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One of the downstairs exhibits had this placard, listing all the worries — or Fears — as seen from the artist’s viewpoint.  “Angst verkanetet in Versicherungen” translates to “Fear creeps into insurance.”  “Angst macht Macht” translates to “Fear makes power.”  “Angst erntet Echo” is “Fear makes echo.”  Have fun typing some into Google Translate.

As I think we are permeated with Fear these days (Angst okkupiert den Okzident means Fear Occupies the West), this list demonstrated how the pervasiveness of Fear can affect us.

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I headed upstairs to the more traditional exhibits.

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I always take pictures of people stitching, and the title of this is The Warming Hall in Berlin, 1908:

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While I am familiar with art concepts, I always need guidance with art history, so was grateful for the excellent titles, both in German and English, to help me understand what I was looking at.

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Modern Head III 23 (1923) by Paul Goesch

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Fritz Ebert (1920), by Paul Goesch

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Clanging and noises sounded throughout the upper gallery as the artist was working to ready his exhibit on the ground floor, but the openings in the upper wall allowed me to observe for a while.  From where I stood, it didn’t seem like anything that would catch my interest, but later, when I went downstairs, there was a good-sized crowd waiting for this one to open.

It was Berlin Art Week, and many galleries were listed in their brochure.  But this was the Big One. They even had snacks laid out, just like in the Opening of the Art Gallery piece, shown at the top of this post.

Okay, back upstairs.

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The Folly Square (1931) by Felix Nussbaum

Nussbaum depicts a group of young artists unloading their paintings in front of the Prussian Academy of the Arts in Pariser Platz in Berlin.  Their distinguished professors parade past, illustrating the generational conflict: The younger artists believe the established artists are defending a rigid art tradition and are standing in the way of new trends. (info from title card)

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This title card was sobering.  As I have noted before, the Nazi regime and all that is related to it moves through this city like a specter, haunting random corners of this trip.  Even here, in an art museum, I found the effects of those dark years. There were many placards detailing harassment (if the artist was Jewish), or denouncements of artists if they did not agree with the authorities.  One artist, Ernst Neuschul, moved to Britain and changed his name to Ernest Norland, after his mother and other members of the family were murdered at Auschwitz.  Many did not immigrate, but instead withdrew from public life.

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Hermann Nonnenmacher’s Farewell (1928)

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I carefully took photos of title cards all the way through, except for this one.  But I include it here because it was painted on a door, artist’s materials in short supply during the war.  I do know the last name of the artist: Heldt, and this is the title card:

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We were a Kind of Museum Piece (1964) by Wolf Vostell

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Yellow Wall (1977) by Rainer Fetting

This is one of a series of works by Fetting relating to the Berlin Wall.  This section was near the gallery he founded with some artist friends in 1977, the Gallery am Moritzplatz.  The title card notes that “the yellow color removes any sense of threat from the Wall.  Against the deep blue of the night sky, instead it flows like the backdrop to a promising stage set…embracing and protecting the…island city, West Berlin.”

The wall fell in November 1991.

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As I left, the tour bus pulled up and a large group joined the one already inside.

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I was headed to another museum, and the bus route went past our hotel, The Movenpick.

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I never tire of seeing this curvy building by the above-ground water pipes.

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I head across the plaza from the grand department store KaDeWe this time, heading to lunch at Noah’s:

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I had Monday’s special: Tagliatelle with Mushrooms and Ham.  All of a sudden, I am feeling really tired, for some reason, tired of being on the go, however.  Just the other side of the window (I was eating inside) a young couple sat down, had a coffee, a couple of smokes, and topped it off with a fight. They walked off in separate directions. Entertainment.

I took another set of underground trains to where the next museum, the Bauhaus, was supposed to be, but apparently it was under renovation and all I encountered was a storefront that held a fancy gift shop full of pricey souvenirs for a museum that didn’t exist.  I stopped a block down to get the baked goods for Dave’s breakfast, then made my way back to the underground station.

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I’m feeling a lot more poorly now.  As Brian Regan would put it, in his classic comedy routine “Happy 8 Day”, everything that was in the inside of me wanted to be on the outside of me, and visa versa.  But even when I got off the train back near my hotel, I still had a long few blocks to walk.  I hurried to my room, quite ill.  I didn’t know if it was the food, or the multiple days on the go, or the water, or whatever.  Safe in my room, I collapsed and after a while, fell asleep.

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I awoke to this sight, but didn’t move, staying in bed, weeping, just wanting to feel better.  Travel can be like this, too, unfortunately.  We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been fairly healthy on all our trips, or only having minor illnesses.  The only other bad one was going to see a Dr. Faustus one time in Munich (where she cauterized my sore throat with a swab dipped in some insanely painful chemical.  I didn’t eat for two days), or when Dave had the stomach flu in Copenhagen last year.

And when you don’t feel well, everything’s dark and gloomy.  You just want to be home, in your own bed, in your own house.  This feeling of being unmoored is not a pleasant one, and I’m glad it doesn’t come often.  I much prefer the experience of expansive exploration.

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Dave texted me: he’ll be late.  I pulled myself together and went down to the Vietnamese restaurant a few blocks away, ate about half of what you see here, then went back to the hotel, back to bed.  Dave told me later that I looked terrible when he came home.  His perception was truth: I felt terrible.


Museum Island • Berlin

This is post #18 of our Dublin-Berlin trip, for Sunday, September 23, 2018.

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I’ve been on this trip so long, I decided I’d better start making an Instagram marker, just so I’d know what day it was and what the date was.  But today has been set aside as Museum Day, and it’s raining raining raining, so there’s not much to keep track of.  I realize, in hindsight, that it’s a good thing I didn’t try to come to Berlin when it was occupied; I would have missed most of what I’ve seen this trip.  The Museum Island is in the area of former East Berlin, with its Altes and Neus Museum, the Pergamon Museum, the Old National Gallery (which we didn’t visit), and the Bode Museum (my favorite).

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We arrived here mid-morning, after making arrangement at our hotel, to buy timed tickets  for the Pergamon, a good decision.  We toured a small street fair just across from the museums, but the sky was threatening rain, so we made our way to the  Neues, which has old things in it.  (I know, confusing.)

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Like this Golden Hat.  Made of paper-thin gold leaf (so the guidebook says), it was likely worn by the priest of a sun cult popular among the Celtics around 1000 BC.

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I add these placards in here, for they tell the story better than I can, but the hat is covered in circles, a few crescent moons, with stars on the top.  I was having a meta-experience while looking at this oddity, realizing that Germans may come over and see some of our best artifacts–like a torn flag–as oddities, too, although a flag is more commonplace.

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This ancient lur horn, from northern Europe, had a gizmo where you could press a button and hear the strange sounds it makes, as it has no finger holes and makes “tunes” only by using the mouth.

I became quite enamored of the surface decoration of the floors, namely all the tile patterns. They even sold a postcard for this, so I’m not the only one.  It’s probably like getting a fancy gift for Christmas and wanting to play with the box it came in, but I was enjoying the architecture of this place, as well as the dramatic stairwell, mid-museum:

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While they had many Seriously Old items for display, the Bust of Nefertiti — glimpsed here from some distance (they had German Rules that didn’t allow photographs anywhere near it) — was one of my favorites.  This 3,000-year old bust is the most famous Egyptian art piece in Europe, and arrived here in sort of an Indiana Jones-type sleight-of-hand story (Rick Steves’ words, not mine).

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How do you keep the tourists from losing track of where they are?  Paint the room red.  I liked this room for its simplicity, and because it had ties to to writing and printing. But our time was fast approaching for the Pergamon, so we headed up there next.

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The regular line to get in (above).

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After getting oriented in the museum, the first draw is the Ishtar Gate, from c. 575 BC, under the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II.  It’s massive.  It’s huge and blue with animals and daisies and arches and tons of people milling around.  It’s hard to take it all in.

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Considering that they found a lot of this in buckets of fragments, which then had to be painstakingly pieced together, it’s remarkable.

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Reproductions (above) with all originals (below).

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This is sort of how the gate was laid out, in the King’s time, with the Processional Way leading up to the Ishtar Gate.  The lions walk against the flow in this 30-foot wide, 200-yard long road.  The walls rose to 50 feet on either side.

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Later on, we went upstairs, and were able to overlook the rebuilt areas, getting a sense of the scale of this thing.  Apparently there is an even larger gate which the museum has, but it’s too big to display.  The Ishtar Gate was the grandest of Babylon’s gates, one of eight in the 11-mile wall that encompassed this city of 200,000 people.  This gate was one of the original Seven Wonders of the World (Rick Steves).

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The rooms/galleries on either side of the Ishtar Gate contain more Assyrian artifacts.

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This man shows examples of the first system of writing, cuneiform script, invented by the Summerians around 3500 BC.  It’s called cuneiform, or “wedge-shaped” because it was made with a wedge-shaped tool pressed into a soft, clay tablet.

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Another gallery, back through the Ishtar Gate was the market gate of Miletus.  It reminded  me of our visit to Split and Diocletian’s Palace in some ways.  I liked seeing the guy who looked over the balcony.

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Another notable was the Weather God Haddad, which has import because my mother loves to talk about the weather, and anything weather-related reminds me of her.

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Now they tell us!  We were lucky that on this trip, we didn’t encounter any “tricksters.”

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We left the Museum, and walked over to the Berlin Cathedral, paying our money, putting our wet things in lockers, waiting in line just to see a darkened cathedral on this rainy day.

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While ornate and certainly significant, it just didn’t have the “feel” of some of the other churches we’d been in.  It appeared, as Dave noted, to have been built by man, for man.  Not for God or for worshipping Him.  We climbed up one set of steep stairs to grab a seat in a balcony box, next to where the Emperor/Kaiser would have sat, out of the way of the riff-raff below on the main floor.

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The South Boxes, for my Emperor!

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We walked out, and towards the street fair, but it had been rained out; we were glad we’d done our purchasing before.

We also had to go out and around to get the Bode Museum, which the guidebook says is skippable, but ended up being one of my favorite museums.  Small, but lovely.  Above left is the outside, and right is peering up into its dome.

This first hall was like entering a chapel, with its small niches filled with art on either side.

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I loved this one for All the Reasons.

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Veil of Christ-themed art always catches my eye, implying that the burial cloths that He was wrapped in were burned with his image at the moment of transfiguration, leaving behind his likeness.  Or perhaps it’s just conflating several significant imageries into one portrait: burial cloths, thorn crowns, and the likeness of Christ.

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The cover of a prayer book, showing Moses receiving the commandments.  This is tiny, maybe 4 inches tall?












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Mary in Annunciation

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The carved and sometimes painted wooden statues were such fine examples of this type of art.  I really loved the brilliant orange Mary from an Annunciation by Francesco di Valdambrino (1375-1435).

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An example of a mosaic from Ravenna.  Good.  Now I can check that one off my list.

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We diverged: I went upstairs and Dave went downstairs.  This was my favorite of the items upstairs, with that expressive Devil and triumphant St. Michael.  The wood clothing looks drapable.

Still raining, we found Cafe Orange just up a couple of blocks from the Bode, and boy, was it a welcome place.  We loved our meal so much that we went there again later in the week.  Good thing, because I found out that after 26 years, it closed a month after we’d eaten there.  That dessert alone was worth the visit.  Not a real Bavarian strudel like Austria, but good nonetheless.

We took the S-Bahn home after dinner and holed up in our hotel room the rest of the evening.  Dave prepped for the next  day, then almost instantly fell asleep listening to one of his audio books.  I closed out the lights, looking at the Tempodrom once again, then went to bed as well.



East Side Gallery • Berlin Wall

This is post #17 of our Dublin-Berlin trip, for Saturday, September 22, 2018 (part 2).

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Cool tourist.

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Another cool tourist, in front of a toxic waste wall panel.

The panels of the wall were painted shortly after the wall came down, and as The East Side Gallery website notes, they:

“are for the joy of came down of the wall, for the overcoming of the Iron Curtain in Europe, the euphoria over the peace -won freedom of the persecution, spying and lack of freedom, the hope for a better, more human society. For personal stories, hopes and dreams.”

After sitting through two videos at the other Berlin Wall site, I can attest to the feeling of joy and elation at seeing the wall come down.  More information can be found at their website as well as Wikipedia.

What follows are some of the more interesting panels.  Interestingly, the border was the river, and this was merely the wall that guarded that border, creating a dead zone (as shown at the other site).  I found people’s reaction to the panels almost as interesting as the wall itself, so I include a lot of tourists in these photos. Click on any to enlarge.

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Graffiti has been a problem, and they are now attempting to restore some of the original paintings, not without controversy.

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According to Wikipedia, the Russian words at the top read “God! help me stay alive”; and continue at the bottom “Among this deadly love.”

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Tired, we head over to the train station nearby and see this:

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We wait, and the next train comes.

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Another nutcracker shop for Dave to check out.

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A look up the street from the Nutcracker shop.  We are near Hackesche Hofe, so we stop in to see all the courtyards.

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No buying, but instead, we head home, arriving just in time to see the treats go out for the Chocolate Happy Hour.  We snag a couple.

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After a break, we head out for dinner, past this cool fire escape stairway (above) and colorfully painted trash dumpster area (below).

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We got into the Indonesian restaurant and when confronted with this, asked the other couple at our table (who were leaving), what they had.  I think we tried to understand the menu, and the owner was most helpful in trying to help us.  We ended up with this:

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Those half-spherical discs are rice crackers.

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More texture, than flavor, was my assessment, but Dave liked his food.  It’s an early night for both of us, and we crash.