We are well into the second part of my Berlin sojourn. Have been walking around the city interspersed with a few trips on the S/U Bahn. I still haven’t figured out exactly what they call the whole system. Nor have we figured out exactly how it works. Especially the ticket machines. They seem, for the most part, to be dysfunctional. They supposedly take both credit cards and cash, but we are rarely able to get one to work. Therefore, we have been taking some illegal rides. I have not come across a single transit cop in my three weeks here, but people certainly seem concerned, at least the Germans in my group did, and Viola and Michael did get stopped once. If they find you without a validated ticket, the fine is supposedly 60 euros.
We’ve walked a lot, one of the first days it was 10 miles. Other days it’s been perhaps 5 or 6 miles. Even some of the “museums” are outdoors, one the East Side Gallery, which is a long remaining section of the wall which has been painted, since the wall came down, by many artists. Most are political statements relating to repression, ie a mural of a car breaking through a wall. Another stretch of the wall, in another art of the city, is called the Wall Museum. There is a visitor’s center, with some poignant displays about people displaced, families separated, escapes and escape attempts. But the most compelling part is the walk along the segment of the wall, where the “border houses” that sat literally against wall were used as escape routes, the foundations of the houses that had been excavated fairly recently ,the routes of the tunnels also used for escapes, were delineated with metal markers embedded into the path. We walked in what is called the dead zone, the space between the actual border and the wall, where fugitives were targets as they tried to escape. People tried all kinds of methods of escape, including hot air balloons, and a zip line?! I didn’t know such a thing even existed them. Not for recreation, though.
The architectural juxtaposition, and combination, of the old and new is evident and striking wherever you go in the city. Many monuments and buildings from before the war still exist, but they are in fact largely reproductions. And because the laws are strict about historical accuracy work goes slowly, and is still being carried on today. Many buildings also combine the old structures, or at least part of them, combined with strikingly modern components, a lot of glass.. As an example, the Reichstag, the seat of government. It was heavily damaged, as was much of the city, and as part of the reconstruction a huge glass dome was added atop the old structure. A friend in my group had mentioned that you had to make reservations in advance to visit, and I did. The dome itself is currently closed, but just being on the roof and looking inside was impressive enough. When it’s open you can walk up a ramp to the top, which opens to a view the chamber of parliament itself. It’s meant to convey the idea of transparency in government.
We’ve gone to one of the art museums, the one that houses an impressive collection of old masters, including Boticelli , Carvaggio, Rembrandt, etc. But I was most interested in the Dutch masters, Bosch and Breugel and there was even one Vermeer called the Wine Glass. Exciting because there are only about three dozen known Vermeers in the world.
In the gift shop I saw a strangely familiar face on a postcard, a portrait of a young woman. I recognized it as a work I’ve had on a postcard since my days living in Europe. And in a second it dawned on me, this had to be the museum I’d visited on my day in East Berlin in 1970. My main memory of that day was how intimidating the museum guards, all female, were. But obviously some of the art had made an impression, too. Unfortunaately, it’s not one of the pieces we saw yesterday, aside from the familiar image on the postcard. Several other portraits also looked familiar, perhaps lodged in some inner recess of my memory. Or perhaps just similar to other portraits by some of the same artists.
I’d repeatedly looked, online and on posters, for events that might be happening during our stay. One of them was the night at the Botanical Gardens, which featured lighted displays, and also music and fireworks at the end. But since it didn't begin until dark, after 930, and went until 2am, and was a T trip requiring several changes, we didn’t make it. Berliners seem to be on a much later schedule than we are.
But I don’t know how I possibly missed the fact that yesterday was the city’s Pride Day parade. They actually call it Christopher St. Day here, in English, in reference to the Stonewall riots in NY in 1969. The Stonewall Club was on Christopher St. and basically resulted in the gay rights movement.
From early in the day, we’d noticed what seemed to be an inordinate number of unusually dressed people, some in garlands, one guy in pink hair and makeup, etc. But then, I thought, this may just be a Saturday in Berlin. It was only later, in the afternoon, that we noticed police blockades of many side streets, and more colorfully dressed, and undressed, people. I asked a man, one of two identically, scantily dressed guys in black, if there was an event going on, and he cheerily exclaimed, “it’s Christopher St. Day!? It was pouring, he was shivering, but looked quite happy.
We thought it was over, maybe shortened by the intensive thunderstorms. But when we returned home and I looked online, the news indicated that it was still going on at the Brandenberg Gate. Too bad.
My dad’s cousin Seymour Pine was actually the police captain in charge of the attack on the club. Not something I am particularly proud of. Nor was he, to his credit, in later years. He pretty much apologized in a documentary about the events. I never knew him very well, only saw him at the family gatherings my parents called the “cousin’s club.” What I do remember his seeming a rather sour, and intimidating person.
Seems I have a theme here, about intimidating cops, museum guards, cousins. I’ll have to give some further thought to whom I find intimidating, and why.