Category Archives: Germany

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 Even though rococo was out of date by the time he built this, he liked that style and stuck with it.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

Germany, Rothenberg and Castle Harburg on the Romantic Road – last post from Germany

The Romantic Road is a tourist route through some very pretty parts of Southern Germany and while the road is not romantic most of the spots along the way are. Just to be clear they use the term romantic to mean old style and traditional rather than a place for lovers!). Our first stop was the delightful Harburg Castle which looks a castle should and is in a picture perfect landscape.

Just when you think things can’t get any cuter you arrive at Rothenburg. Firstly I was hooked on the wrought iron shop and hotel signs – these were some of my favorites.

When it came to the town I often felt I could be in Epcot Florida or really in Germany. It is almost too cute for its own good but it is also hard not to keep taking pictures. See what I mean?

It is also the place to come for Xmas markets and even in July the Xmas shop was doing a roaring trade – it is huge and easy to get lost in. Even I loved it and succumbed to a typical German toy purchase – a teddy bear (the small one of course, although I was tempted….).

Next stop: Vienna

Germany, Munich – Museum Madness part 2

And now for the very new and the extremely old. Lebanbachaus has a varied collection of contemporary art with some artists more well known to me than others.

I was bowled over the the Glypothotek which was started by Ludwig 1 as he liked collecting old things. Not only is the collection of Greek statues superb it is also housed in a brilliantly designed and lit environment. Biggest positive surprise of all the museums I visited in Munich.Stunning works.

More from the Glyothotek. I love the funerary mast of the young man below. It almost looks like a photograph and I thought the drunk old woman was excellent too.

Then on to the Stadt Museum and the Judisches museum. The former was ok with some interesting thoughts on what makes Munich Munich; the latter was small and next to the new modern synagogue that I couldn’t get access to. It was mostly about Jewish customs but also had an exhibit by a Jewish artist with a whole variety of cartoons many of which I found amusing as they show how similar we all are in the end.

Finally a visit to the Museum Brandhorst – another contemporary art museum whose collection was quite challenging in a not very endearing way except for the fabulous giant Cy Twombly exhibits which I totally fell in love with.

Germany, Nuremberg

Nuremberg is an easy day trip from Munich – 90 minutes each way on the train. Almost 90% of this city was flattened by American bombers at the end of the war so there has been a lot of rebuilding. As you will see they have very much tried to keep the original style in place (some facades were sandbagged to keep them safe during the bombing) but much of the interior were wiped out.

So on the one hand I think this is a pretty picture perfect place (notwithstanding the heavy history it also holds as the place where most of the Nazi rallies took place) but on the other I know it is all a lot newer than it looks – hence a kind of Disneyesque feel to it.

The sculpture at the bottom is called the Ship of Fools and aims to show many of men’s vices – hence it is a somewhat menacing.

Germany, Munich – Museum Madness part 1 plus a bit of beer

I have not only been drinking beer and checking out the locale while in Munich. In fact I was pleased to discover there are a lot of museums – most of them helpfully housed in one area with impressive collections of renaissance, modern and contemporary art in impressive buildings.

I will cover the group of three Pinakothek museums in this blog. The Alte was created by Ludwig 1 who was a big collector (of both German and other artists) and was then followed by the Neue (19th century) and then the Pinakothek Modern (20th century). Also getting a mention are the Treasury and the Cuvillies Theater – both are part of the Residenz that I saw on my second visit as it is all too big to do in one go.

The Alte Pinakothek.

I liked the somewhat lascivious young lady in blue and also the obviously smart lady in white and blue (she is reading Isaac Newton in the background). The one at top right is an unusually bright Botticelli and the one below one of the four great Murillo paintings in the collection.

Museums here are mostly visited by locals but none have been crowded – maybe everyone is drinking beer instead. That suited me fine as did the distinct lack of selfie sticks and the really good audio guides that come free with tickets.

The Neue Pinakothek

Van Gogh and Manet and Slevogt and Steiner. Love the look in the eye of the lady in white. All knowing!

Pinakothek Moderne – Warhol, Picasso, Schlemer and an interesting building.

The Treasury at the Residenz – no expense spared on these crowns!

The spectacular Cuvillies theater that used to be privately owned by the Wittelback dynasty.

Also very happy to have my friend Sue and then my friends Andrew and Sylvie over so that we could enjoy Munich together.