Monthly Archives: July 2019

Berlin – the Jewish Quarter (Scheunenviertel) and the Jewish Museum

You cannot go far in Germany without coming across aspects of Berlin’s long Jewish history. Whether it is the former Jewish Quarters – now trendy areas with shops and art galleries or museums about Jewish history or holocaust memorials. Certainly no-one here is trying to sweep anything under the carpet and I heard that Berlin has the fastest growing Jewish community in Europe.

Here are a few direct and indirect views of Jewish Berlin.

The Scheunenviertel (or barn quarter) was home to thousands of Jews and the area was neglected totally after WW2. Now it is a fashionable and trendy place which includes the Dorotheenstadtischer Cemetery which is a lovely peaceful place and the final resting place for many well known Berlin luminaries including Bertolt Brecht.

The Dorotheenstaddtischer Cemetery in the Scheunenviertel district

The Hackesche Hofe is an area of restored buildings including interconnecting courtyards (indeed courtyard are really lovely in this area so any time you see something that looks like access take a wander to check out what’s behind)

Courtyards near Hackesche Hofe with the Neue Synagogue in the background

The tiled courtyards in the Hackesche Hofe are really well done and restored to look like they did in former days. And of course there is always a line-up outside the currywurst shop. Curywurst – a bratwurst with bbq sauce and curry powder on top is a strange Berlin speciality and supposedly was developed when Berlin was split into four sectors after WW2 (British, American, French and Soviet). The addition of bbq sauce and curry powder was a kind of “thank you” the the Americans and the Brits who are very fond of these items respectively. Probably an apocryphal tale and good knows what the French made of this!??

Hackesche Hofe courtyards

The Neue Synagogue is spectacular on the outside. It dates to 1866 and was once the largest the Europe. As I think I mentioned before it survived Kristallnacht but was severely damaged during the WW2. As a result the interior is now a museum showing photos of how it once looked inside – sad loss,

Neues Synagogue

Germany’s Holocaust Memorial was just 5 minutes walk from my hotel so I hauled myself out of bed one Sunday morning and was there to walk around at 7.30 – just me at that time of day and it gave me a very different perspective. This was opened in 2005 and consists of 2711 concrete steels of various heights and dimensions slap bang in the middle of the City. It is controversial on many counts – the perceived lack of artistic creativity (many say it is boring); the sign which says that it commemorates murdered Jews but not which ones or why etc etc.

I found walking around on my own gave a very different feel to the space than when it is overrun with selfie sticks and picknickers – some people have no respect – and maybe that is the biggest indictment. By enabling people to wander all around it 24/7 it may be easy to forget why it was put there in the first place. Everyone has different views – here are mine – from a photographic perspective at least….

Holocaust Memorial – Denkmal

Holocaust Memorial – early on a Sunday morning

The Jewish museum is partly under restoration at the moment but it is an interesting half old and half very modern design. It deliberately has a lot of “voids” created in its design to represent the places where Jews are not

Germany, Berlin – more fab museums and art – Part 2

Even though I am here for two weeks I am not going to get through all the places I want to see – especially the museums. But I am giving it my best shot knowing I will be back.

The Gemaldegalerie (or Old Master Paintings) has a great collection of European art from the 1300s to 1800. When you buy a three day museum pass you can go into a choice of 30+ museums over 3 consecutive days for free and you get audio guides for free too. It is the latter that is my nemesis as once I start listening I have to keep listening and next thing I know four hours have gone by. This certainly happened to me in the Gemaldergalerie located in the futuristic Kulturforum which also houses the concert hall for the Berlin Philharmonic and many embassies.

The modern environs of the Kulturforum and the genuinely old St Matthäuskirche

One of the nice things about visiting German museums and art galleries is getting more of an appreciation for the art from this country where of course the collections are extensive.

Below are examples of Holbein, Dürer and Cranach

German artists knew their stuff!

Of course the Gemaldergalerie also has artists from other parts of Europe – some of my faves below – Therbusch self portrait (the monocle is so well done I thought if was hanging from the painting at first not part of it), De La Tour, Rembrandt (feisty youthful self portrait) and Botticelli.

Selection from the Gemaldergalerie

More Botticelli and Cranach – I think my friend Sylvie would comment that while these are magnificent paintings they also an excuse for male titillation pre-porn mags. She may be right?!

Selection from the Gemaldegalerie

And some more I liked (sorry Rembrandt crept in again!). The strong and intelligent looking lady at the bottom is by Velazquez.

I am always thrilled to see a Caravaggio and this one was great – Love Conquers All – a look at sacred and profane love where profane, in the form of Cupid, is clearly winning out and having a grand old time. Given this was painted in the early 1600s it was very cheeky even then but also the start of the naturalist rather than idealized style that so many copied afterwards. Possibly the figure was modeled by one of his apprentices.

Caravaggio – Love conquers All

His arch enemy the painter Baglione had done something similar earlier but in the traditional stylised format but he felt that Caravaggio had stolen his idea so he reworked his painting to give the Devil in his painting the face of Caravaggio! The first version with the devil turning away is right next to the Caravaggio in this museum. The one with the devil’s face in full is in Rome

Baglione’s first version

And if I’m not falling for Caravaggio’s then it has to be Vermeer – there are two here but this is my favourite – The Glass of Wine. As usual with his paintings you have to wander what is going here. Why is she drinking but he is not? Is she being seduced? He doesn’t seem that interested to me? I wander if it is a draught she is drinking to miscarry a pregnancy? That is just my theory though!!

Also in the Kulturforum is the Kunstgewerbe Museum – which houses craft objects and fashion and much more from the Middle Ages to today. Loved it here.

Tiffany glass, Art Deco and writing and jewellery boxes

Gorgeous dresses from a while back and the necessary undergarments – no worse than Spanx?

Can you ever have too many lbds? Dior and YSL do their thing.

Another museum I visited on Museum Island was the Neues Museum which now houses the Egyptian collection and the especially famous Bust of Nefertiti. The latter was in a room on its own but no pics allowed. Suffice to say that I was in the room with it alone most of the time – so much space so few people in Berlin – love that. I am showing two shots from the web as she is stunningly beautiful but even better to see it for real. A Must. And of course lots of controversy about whether it should be returned to Egypt!

Bust of Nefertiti, Neues Museum

I have a real love of Egyptian culture because they wanted to create beauty from such an early period of history and they did an excellent job too. The figure below is carved from wood – about 2300 BC!! So much movement.

The figures below are all from tombs of kings or wealthy nobles. The top left is an offerer bearer or handmaiden and the top right is a cloaked figure. The ones below are especially lovely. On the left the man’s wife and daughter have their arms around him and on the right, unusually, the man and the woman have their arms around each other (usually just the women who have their arms around the men). Touching.

Below top right is an engraving of Nefertiti and Akhenaten and their three daughters basking in the rays of the sun – this was the first time a religion had been monotheistic in that only the Sun (actually the light that the Sun generated) was venerated above all others.

From a different era the Golden Hat is one of just four found from Bronze Age Europe. It has very detailed carvings particularly believed to be about astrology and the calendar and lunar changes. It appears they were worn for certain religious ceremonies and were so tall so that they could be seen from far away. Fascinating.

When I visited the Pergamon museum some of the items were still under renovation and in particular the thing everyone wants to see – the Pergamon Altar. However given it is likely to be 2025 before this has been restored enough for people to have access again this is an option I thought I would check out instead. It was actually surprisingly good. A digital artist has created a panoramic vision of not just the altar but all the surrounding areas of Pergamon as it would have been in the day and you can view it at ground level of any of four levels you can climb up in the center of the circular room – there is sound and light turning day to night and it is pretty darn fab. Some attempts to give a feel for the effect are below.

Roll on 2025.

And finally for this post a quick visit to the Nikolaikirche which was originally built in 1230 but has been restored a few times. It is super modern inside.

Strange hanging Jesus and St Nicholas piece – not sure why?

And then next door to the Knoblauchhaus – a joy for Biedermeier furniture lovers.

Germany, Dresden – an easy day trip from Berlin. An amazing example of reconstruction.

The story of the bombing of Dresden by the British and US allies is quite interesting and many myths about why it happened seem to abound. Until 1945 Dresden had not been bombed at all – it was a centre for precision work that had nothing to do with war machinery and also had a very large migrant population – mostly refugees from Berlin which was being severely bombed by that allies at that time.

But long before all that in the 17th century there was The “Elector” August II (August the Strong) who was a key player in establishing old Dresden as a cultural and arts Centre. He was quite the guy. 30 official mistresses and 300 unofficial; 3 official children and about 300 unofficial. He was the second son but although he was having fun with all these ladies he also wanted power. So the first thing he did was get rid of his brother – he did this my encouraging one of his mistresses to sleep with him -knowing she had syphilis! Both the brother and she were dead within two years. He then put himself up to be elected King of Poland (the people there elected their kings and although he was successful he had to convert to Catholicism – a big deal in a strongly Lutheran part of Germany. So when in Poland he was more catholic and when in Dresden more Protestant. It explains why the Frauenkirche was so ornate for a Protestant church and why his body is buried in Poland but his heart is buried in Dresden.

August the Strong and on the horse the hoof is seen crushing a rose as a reference to his amorous lifestyle!

Here is what Dresden looks like today as you drive into it (about 2.5 hour drive from central Berlin)

Looking across the River Elbe at the old town in Dresden

Back to the bombings. One theory is that Churchill wanted “revenge” on the bombing of Coventry which had decimated that city but equally there are theories that the British used Coventry as a scapegoat to be bombed by the Germans as they had cracked their code and didn’t want the Germans to know about it so the “sacrificed” Coventry rather than London. Some say that the Brits and US never trusted Stalin even after the Yalta conference so they bombed Dresden as a “warning” to him to show what they could do if he didn’t abide by the agreements made re the Berlin borders; and yet another suggests that Stalin encouraged the bombing of Dresden as he always had his eye on Berlin post war and Dresden was placed between the Eastern bloc and Berlin.

There is even debate about how many were killed. When it happened they thought about 20,000 civilians had been killed; Goebbels decided to use the occasion for propoganda at the time given the Germans were starting to be very tired of the war and so said it was 200,000 in order to urge them on to fight against this atrocity. The belief nowadays was it was around 50,000 due to the large number of refugees there from Berlin and the use of both fire bombs and sticky bombs which flattened and burned over 90% of the city.

Not much was done to the city by the occupying Russian communists after the War so all the reconstruction really dates back only from the early 90’s.

The first picture shows the post bombing of the cathedral and then how it looks now.

Frauenkirche after the bombing

Frauenkirche at the bottom and The Procession of Princes

The Procession of Princes at the top is close to the cathedral and made out of 20,000 porcelain Meissen tiles! It shows the image of every elector and is quite spectacular.

Then on to Zwinger Palace the home of the electors and also where a lot of the art is kept. Incredible to see how it is now compared to the pics below post the bombing and for a long time afterwards.

Zwinger Palace

Zwinger Palace post bombing

Zwinger Palace post bombing

The old town including an iron made bridge linking the palace to the church – for special people only!

Unfortunately the Old Masters’s Gallery in the Zwinger was closed for a couple more weeks for renovations so I went to the New Green Vault where a lot of incredible treasures are kept – jaw dropping.

The Ottoman Rooms and other interiors in the Zwinger New Green Vault

Gold, ivory and the Green Diamond at the New Green Vault

So much more to see and do in Dresden so I do hope to return. Definitely worth visiting.

Germany, Berlin – Museums Part 1. Museum Insel (Alte Nationalgalerie and the Pergamon), Deutsches Historisches Museum, the Berlinische Gallerie and the Berliner Dom. A feast of art, architecture, culture and history

I make no apologies for the large numbers of references to museums and art galleries in my Berlin blogs. There are are so many good ones. They are generally huge, airy, well designed and never overcrowded whether by people or too much stuffed in one space. A nice change from the madness that is the British Museum or Louvre these days.

The Museum Insel is an island in the River Spree in central Berlin which houses 5 major museums plus the massive Berlin Dom. Much of it was destroyed during the war but luckily most of the treasures were taken out beforehand and saved. It was only seriously started to be restored in the 1990s and is now a world heritage site. The entry to the Neues Museum designed by British architect Chipperfield was only officially opened a couple of weeks ago. Some of the museums are still being renovated and the whole thing should be complete by 2025 but plenty to see and enjoy before then.

The pictures below give you a feel of the island the exterior views of the Dom as well as the Alte National Galerie, the Altes Museum and the very new Neues Museum (interiors of the latter to follow in part 2)

Different viewpoints of Museum Insel in Berlin

The spacious and classic proportions of the interior of the Alte Nationalgalerie. I liked the (now green) Rodin bronze – makes a change from the Thinker and the Lovers!

Also interesting to see an exhibit of the paintings (the “Paris Street, Rainy Day” below is his) and collections of Gustave Caillebotte who was a major patron of Impressionism before it became fashionable and bought a lot of pieces from artists now very well known just to keep them afloat when their talent was not at all appreciated.

Special exhibit at the Alte Nationalgalerie

The Berliner Dom dominates the Museum Insel on an island that already has a lot of impressive buildings on it.

The exterior of the Berliner Dom

And the interiors don’t disappoint either (40 years of restoration on this after the war).It is very ornate for a Protestant cathedral. All the former members of the ruling families are buried here in ornate coffins both at ground level and in the crypt.

Interiors of the Berliner Dom

The Pergamon Museum is another wonder to behold. A mix or original items and recreated ones and a combo of the two makes your jaw drop due to the sheer size and magnificence of these finds from Babylon, Assyria and Jordan to name a few. Some items are like the famous Pergamon Altar are being restored but here is a taste of what can be viewed. I was a bit awestruck!

Market Gate of Miletus (AD100) – 52 feet high and the floor Mosaic of Orpheus

The Ishtar Gate and the Mshatta Facade

Then we went to something completely different – the Berlinischer Gallerie in an almost residential area. It had a cool feel to it with great interiors but also there was an exhibition about an artist called Lotte Lasserstein. Neither Sylvie or I had heard of her – she lived 1898 to 1993 but we both really liked her work. Being partially Jewish she left Berlin and went to live in Sweden at the start of the war and never came back and much of her work reflects her feeling of being displaced from her real home, albeit safe. I hope she gets better known globally.

Lotte Lasserstein artworks

I didn’t do all these spots on the same day but am grouping some together with similar themes!

The Deutsches Historisches Museum is very close to the Museum Insel and comprehensively covers German history from it’s start in the Middle Ages to today. One thing you have to say for the Germans is that they do not flinch from telling their history as honestly as they can even when it does not show them in a very good light. There seems to be a strong need not to hide or forget the atrocities – I admire this as it would have been much easier to sweep some of their history under the carpet and just stopped talking about it.

This museum is a bit like the Met in NYC in that is the old and new museums joined together across the courtyard of the old museum with a lovely glass overlay. The Glass courtyard roof and the new building were designed by I M Pei so also shades of the Presidential Library in Boston in its design. It’s quite lovely I think. Glass is deliberately prevalent in a lot of the newer buildings in Berlin – this is to try and represent the concept of transparency in all things.

The Courtyard connecting the old and new parts of the Deutsches Historisches Museum

The courtyard has 22 amazing reliefs of the “Dying Warrior” to portray the horrors of war.

There was a really good 45 minute movie at the start which took you through the history at a high level – really helpful to watch before looking around the exhibits.

When it comes to the history of the country everything is covered from a Cranach portrait of Martin Luther to Biedermeier furniture to Meissien porcelain.

Different eras of German history

And when it comes to more recent history there is everything from the Victory statue, to nazi uniforms and propaganda posters and a few sections of the Berlin Wall.

Germany, Berlin- two days in Potsdam

While the city of Berlin has great historical focus everywhere you go – it tends to focus on WW1, pre WW2, WW2, Post WW2, the Wall and post the Wall. So it is quite fun to take the 45 minute trip out to Potsdam which wallows much more in the 18th and 19th centuries when every kaiser was called Wilhelm or Freiderich (or Wilhelm Friederich!) and where every member of the family gets their own castle and usually a summer one as well.

Potsdam is such an interesting place with so much to do that I visited over two seperate days – one for the palaces and surrounding grounds (407 acres of them) and another for the old Town, church and museums.

On arrival we started at Schloss Sanssouci built by Frederick the Great – the great German kaiser – who much preferred speaking French and hence the name of this palace – these days he might have called it “Akuna Matata”! This was just his equivalent of a “man shed” where he invited his mates to enjoy art, music, life the universe and everything in the very best of surroundings. His mates included Voltaire who would visit but never stay over? Although the yellow exterior is a little faded and could do with a lick of paint the building is lovely as are the interiors.

Panoramic view of Schloss Sanssouci

Exterior of Schloss Sanssouci – a homage to Rome’s Pantheon

It seems that every room where art is to be displayed included a sofa or chair – although apparently not really for sitting on but for showing off beautiful fabrics. Frederich the Great has done a pretty good job.

Interiors of Schloss Sanssouci

Also he was a fan or marquetry so amazing floors and the theme of spider’s web as per the ceiling below was a big thing.

Beautiful floors and ceilings

Even beds and doors had to be “hidden” by gorgeous drapes – love it.

Guest beds at Schloss Sanssouci – wouldn’t be great to be over 6 foot tall

Of course the grounds, including the well know Orangerie, around the Schloss which included significant vineyards are lovely to wander around and all grounds are free access so that the locals can enjoy them at weekends for picnics etc.

Orangerie and grounds between the two Schloss’

Just when you think you can’t beat Schloss Sanssouci you come to the real place – the big one known as Neues Palais. It has 200 rooms, a marble hall, a shell grotto and as probably one of the most perfect rococo buildings in existence in the world today. Even though rococo was out of date by the time he built this, he liked that style and stuck with it. I admire his willingness to not go with the pack.

the front of the Neues Palais

The back of the Neues Palais

And this is where the Servants and admin were based including the kitchens!

The grandeur of the Neues Palais

The shell Grotto in the Neues Palais

More art and sofas in the Neues Palais

Loved this domed room with reliefs on the walls. Gorgeous

And after all that grandeur, the town of Potsdam itself is not too shabby at all. Some fabulous buildings that look all the more impressive against a blue sky. Everything is done on a grand scale in Berlin and Potsdam.

Die Alte Rathaus and Nikolaikirche in Potsdam

From inside the legislative assembly grounds you can capture all the well known buildings in Potsdam

Nikolai Kirche – grand outside but simple clean lines inside

Then I visited the Museum Barberini (partly because it sounded a bit like Babani). They had an excellent exhibit of Italian art that had been primarily influenced by Caravaggio including the painting of his below. A lot of Potsdam has an affinity to Italy so this exhibit makes a lot of sense.

Caravaggio’s Narcissus from every angle – this man was a genius.

Italian art influenced by Caravaggio’s art

Beautiful ceiling and a Bernini bust of Pope Urban – his primary benefactor

Also enjoyable in Potsdam is the Holländisches Viertel – the Dutch Quarter which is four streets that are a mini Amsterdam – now with shops and restaurants but beautifully restored. Apparently much of Potsdam was built on swamp land and when it was drained canals were formed – in order to maintain and manage them the mayor at the time enticed people from the Netherlands to move here so that they could be properly maintained by the experts and he built them homes like they had at “home” so they would feel more at home!

A strongly recommended place to see if you are in Berlin and nice to get out of the city without having to go very far at all.

Germany, Berlin – a hidden Berlin walk, the Rathaus and a tour of the Reichstag

On arrival in Berlin I met up with my friends Sylvie and Andrew – this is the third year we have met up somewhere during my travels.

We took a walking tour of Hidden Berlin with Urban Adventures – a company I have used before and like as their groups are very small and they tend to focus on food and/or being off the beaten track.

We started off our tour learning a little about Martin Borman’s attempt to escape from Berlin at the end of the war. The day after Goebbels and his family had committed suicide, he took the biggest tank the Germans had and early one morning had it driven down the Main Street and across a bridge on the River Spree. At first everyone was shocked to see this but then the multitude of Russians around started firing and disabled the tank quite quickly – given it was rather slow! He then tried to escape on foot but was quickly captured with his aides. They all had secret cyanide tables in their teeth and this was not detected so he was able to commit suicide rather than stand trial.

The building below next to FreidrichStrasse Station is the Palace of Tears and is built around the area where the those crossing the East/West border went past the guards to be checked. This space has been kept as it was and by going through a very narrow passage you switch from East to West Germany. In only three days here so far there is no doubt that the Wall had a tremendous emotional impact on the people of this city especially as it went up overnight so the shock factor was even greater. Having seen the separation wall in Palestine I understand how confronting a wall through the middle of a place that everyone lives in and could cross before can be very confronting.

The sculpture below is called “Train to Life; Train to Death” and is part of a series of 5 with the others being in London, Hamburg, Gdańsk and the Netherlands. These were done by Frank Meisler who himself was lucky to be on a Train to Life (the kinder transport just before the war that enabled about 10,000 Jewish children to escape to the UK and other locations). That’s the two children shown below. The other side of the sculpture reflects the children who ended up on trains taking them to concentration camps and usually certain death. There are more of them to reflect the weighting of how many more children dies in the holocaust (estimated at around 1 million)

Outside the Palace of Tears and the Meisler sculpture

We then briefly headed to what was the Jewish Quarter where I had my first Pfannkuchen (traditional non greasy doughnut with jam or very light custard cream) – it was from a bakery that has been specialising in them for 85 years and it was so delicious I ate it without taking a pic – no doubt I will try them again so will add to a future food blog!

The Grand synagogue below is unusual in that it was not wrecked in 1938 on Kristallnacht when the Nazis all over Germany ransacked the synagogues in the country and smashed everything they could find (hence Kristallnacht as there was so much broken glass around afterwards). This synagogue had been built much earlier in the 1840s and a big German nationalist hero of the time – Otto von Bismarck – had stated that it represented true German nationalism and should be respected. Apocryphally, when the Nazis thugs appeared and started to get ready to smash it up along with all the others – two very brave men came foreword and told them that this building had been sanctioned by the greatest German nationalist ever and did they really want to explain why they had broken it all up to their leader – also a strong nationalist. They decided to step back from destroying it on that night.

The Sophia church below is also interesting because it is a place where Martin Luther King came and preached in 1964! Who knew? He had been invited by the West German government to speak on behalf of the recently deceased JFK and he was interested in visiting East Germany. The US said no and took his papers away but he got someone to drive him to the checkpoint and the East Germans decided to let him in as they thought he might be a potential Marxist recruit. As this was an impromptu visit crowds gathered to see and hear him by word of mouth and it as as if he had appeared out of thin air. While he started to preach normally in the first 5 minutes after that he spoke about “if people find themselves in an environment where they are not allowed to live and pray freely there are people in other parts of the world who know about this and want to help them and set them free”. His way of giving support but NOT appreciated by the East Germans who swiftly sent him back across the border!

A fact I never knew is that MLK’s father came to Germany to study in the 30s and was so taken with the Lutheran approach to religion that he changed his son’s middle name to Luther out of respect for Martin Luther the founder of Lutheranism in Germany.

Great synagogue, Jewish quarter and St Sophia church

We then visited a portion of the Wall that remains as it was when it was in use. You can see the watch tower of which there were many and peek through the gaps as people did back then to see the No-man’s land or the “Death Strip” as it is known. A lot of people used to live there – their houses were just mowed down and they were moved elsewhere when the wall went up in 1961. BRUTAL

The Wall – as it was back then

Finally on a busy day i wandered past the red brick Rathaus (the Town Hall) and took a look in inside. I liked the stained glass windows which had representations of different professions.

The Berlin Rathaus

Headed back to the hotel to change and then onto an evening tour of the Reichstag (or German Parliament Building)

An interesting building as it still has remains of the old design and building including the magnificent frontage and then of course had modern parts added and the famous dome all designed by Norman Foster. Tours are free but you have to pre book and be cleared to attend and bring passports. The tour is about 90 minutes.

Original entrance to the Reichstag

Norman Foster’s Reichstag dome

Below is the interior of the dome and members of the public can walk up to the top on the yellow walkways which means that when parliament is sitting they can look up and see people walking about their heads. All symbolic to remind them that they represent the people who are above them.

The parliament area inside the Dome

Below is some of the original building with Russian graffiti written by the soldiers placed their at the time of liberation. The Reichstag was a key building they wished to liberate. The boxes on the right are all the same (to reflect equality) and reflect the name of every elected official that has sat in the Reichstag. A few had an additional citation if they were killed as part of the rise of the Nazi party.

Russian Grafitti and metal box sculpture

The interiors of the massive set of buildings is modern and light and airy. The public are able to wander around the outside, picnic and enjoy the environment.

Interiors of the modern Reichstag

This is a view from inside looking through the modern windows and then through the old pillars onto the main entrance.

Interiors of the Reichstag

There is an excellent restaurant on the terrace at the top of the Reichstag so we had dinner there and got to enjoy the terrace in the evening after all the other visitors had gone home.

Great day in Berlin.

Dinner on the Reichstag Terrace

Hungary, Budapest – A river runs through it part 2 – the Pest side of the River Danube

Having only briefly covered Pest (pronounced Pesht as ‘s’ on its own is ‘sh’ whereas if you want an ‘s’ sound you need to have “sz” which probably explains why Hungarians learn English and not the other way around!) in my earlier blog on the synagogues and Ruin Bars – I thought it appropriate to finish my visit with a tour of the Pest side of the river – the much more fun and lively side!

Everything in Budapest is about the river – what on either side, getting across it, boating down it, walking along it and even the trams trundle by.

Although there is loads of construction going on in the city and especially in some of the large squares there is still lots to see around and about the holes in the ground just be wandering around and discovering squares, fountains, sculptures and statues.

On the topic of sculptures – these are some of my favorites from the Pest side and I know there are many more I did not find – a good reason to come back.

The Fat Policeman below is keeping an eye on the apartment across the street and is based on the artist’s grandfather. Everyone likes to rub his tummy. The girl with the dog is very popular and I was very happy to capture her with a real man with his dog!

A selection of sculptures in Budapest including the Fat Policeman and the Girl with a dog

The Little Princess below is very popular and I think the Ronnie Reagan one is pretty good. The weirdest though is Will Shakespeare (actually outside the Starbucks of my hotel). This is a replica of a sculpture whose original is in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia (yes honestly). The original sculptor was a Hungarian born Australian and the replica was unveiled in 2003 and meant to represent close ties between Australia and Hungary. I get all that – but why William Shakespeare? Weird enough that he is in Ballarat but then again in Budapest? What has he got to do with either Australia or Hungary?? (Answers on a postcard please:). I am perplexed…….

More sculptures in Budapest including William S?!?!

The saddest sculptures are the famous shoes along the Danube which was created to honor the Jews and others killed by facist Hungarian militia in 1944/5. They were ordered to take off their shoes and then shot at the edge of the river so that their bodies would fall into the Danube and be carried away. Several of the shoes were stolen in 2014 – no one knows by whom or why.

Memorial Shoe sculpture by the River close to House of Parliament

There is also a burgeoning street art scene especially around the Jewish quarter. Below is the beloved Empress Sissi and the Rubik cube (which was invented by a Hungarian) as well as a commemoration of a 1953 World Cup match in which the Hungarians beat England. It was a big deal apparently which is in the memories of all Hungarians as strongly as 1966 is for Brits. Like us, they are still basking in that reflected glory. Time to let go, I say…….

Street art in the Jewish Quarter and living in the past football success!

The Time Magazine cover is a reproduction of an actual cover at the time of the ill fated Hungarian Revolution against Soviet communist rule in 1956.

Street art in Budapest

The National Gallery , which is located in the spectacular Heroes’ Square, is now split between the Pest side and the Buda side – I have to say I was underwhelmed by the collections there but I did like these busts by Messerschmidt dating back to the 1770s.

The magnificent Heroes’ Square

Messerschmidt sculptures in the National Gallery

The chain bridge is one of quite a few that straddle the Danube in Budapest and it is probably the most photographed as it resembles the Eiffel Tower in design – but as a bridge – if you know what I mean?

The Chain Bridge from every angle!

Don’t think I didn’t eat while in Budapest – of course I sampled all the local specialities.

Grazing around Budapest

Craft beer one minute; rooftop cocktails the next

Fore gras fantasy, stuffed cabbages and sour cherry and poppy seed strudel.

A visit to the Houses of Parliament by the river is a must. The exterior is stunning – apparently based on the design of the Houses of Parliament in London – and so is the interior (which is only half used)! This is because it is perfectly symmetrical and was built to house the equivalent of the Houses of Commons and Lords and to be exactly the same as each other – but of course there are no more lords in Hungary so the bit we get to see is the space that is no longer used for politics – which is really a bit of a waste when you see how plush it is.

Luckily someone had the sense to ensure that all the stained glass windows were taken out and hidden as WW2 started to accelerate. They also took 600 detailed photos of everything so were able to recreate the interiors perfectly after the war,

Exterior of the House of Parliament – day and night

The Golden Staircase and interior corridor in the House of Parliament

The main chamber in the House of Parliament and beautiful carvings of every profession that exists

Just outside the House of Parliament is an underground memorial to those who were killed at the time of the Hungarian revolution against Soviet communist occupation in 1956. It is a sombre memorial to remember the many young people who went to the square outside the Houses of Parliament to peacefully protest two weeks after the initial uprising. But by then, the Russians had returned and they fired indiscriminately at the crowd killing many people and this violent approach continued in a brutal fashion across Hungary for the next year until all insurrection had been quashed. Over 200,000 Hungarians fled the country at this time and were taken in by a variety of other nations (those were the days when we took care of people in need). The Russians stayed in Hungary until 1990!

The Hungarian Revolution Memorial

St Stephen’s Basilica is at the Centre of Pest and while I didn’t like it as much as the more unusual Mathias church in Buda it is pretty spectacular from the outside and inside.

Exterior of St Stephen’s Basilica

Unusually at the altar it is not Jesus you see but St Stephen is is very important to the Hungarians. I believe they had to have special dispensation to allow this to happen.

Interior of St Stephen’s Basilica

As ever in European churches, they do a pretty good job with domed roofs!

Domed cupolas in St Stephen’s Basilica

Although it is summer season I did manage to visit the Vigado Concert Hall to enjoy an evening of Hungarian symphony, operetta, ballet and gypsy violins. It was great!

Exterior of Vigado Concert Hall

The art nouveau concert hall just before the Hungarian Gala evening began

And so farewell to Budapest………