Berlin

If you're like me, you have a romantic vision of Berlin: people in cafes smoking cigarettes, drinking, and chatting about Marx. Maybe that's just me. Or maybe I'm thinking of Paris.

Amanda Palmer (my favorite artist, and number one life influence after my parents) lived in Berlin for a year. Cabaret (which takes place in Berlin) is one of my favorite musicals. I adore Brecht. Since I found out I was going to be abroad, people have asked me where I would visit, and I always would say that Berlin was my number one city.

I decided to buy a Netherlands/Brussels/Germany Eurail, so I could take the train to Berlin. It takes a long time (from Castle to Hostel took around nine hours, including all the delays) but having a couple of solid, calm hours to read on the train is wonderful. European cities are so much more dense than American. Within a half an hour of leaving a major city on the train, you see farms. In America, we have our car culture, and it can take a long time to leave a city and find real nature.

The weather was gorgeous all weekend, which can be a sort of burden when you want to be in museums all day.

Friday

Nine other Emersonians were at the hostel with me, so we sort of stuck together.
The first thing we did was go to the DDR Museum, which focuses on Germany and Berlin post-WWII, along with the formation of the German Democratic Republic. Although it was very touristy, I think I learned a thing or two I didn't know before, and the interactivity of the exhibits was appreciated. The setup of the museum was to have cabinets everywhere, and you'd open little doors to see artifacts and read more.

After that we headed to the Brandenburg Gate, which was set up for a huge out concert/festival happening each evening that weekend.
It was there I had my first bratwurst, it was yummy.

Afterwards we explored the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It's an impressive memorial, but walking around the maze of colossal concrete slabs, I saw kids (13 - 15 years old I suppose) running around as if they were at a playground. And I couldn't blame them, I felt at times like I was in a sort of urban cornfield, where quickly I could appear around one corner, and surprise my friends around another.

Near the memorial is a parking lot, the parking lot where Hitler's bunker was, and the place where he killed himself, the Führerbunker.

Talking Straight Will Set Us Free

Someone recommended a piece called Talking Straight Will Set Us Free, after I inquired about finding something "weird that you could only see in Berlin". It was housed in the Maxim Gorki Theater's Studio Я (pronounced "ya"), the radical offshoot of the ensemble-based Maxim Gorki. The whole evening was conducted in an invented language, as in, no one in the audience knew what the actors were saying, but they were speaking in a constructed form of communication. All I'll add is that after seeing this, I think about and approach theater just a little bit differently.

Saturday

We learned that October 3rd was Unity Day, the day when the wall fell down and Germany was...unity-ified...unified. Being that it was essentially German 4th of July, most things were closed (most places are closed Sunday). My dreams of buying a dope leather jacket, and a trendy European haircut were crushed.

Thankfully all of the major museums of Berlin's "Museum Island" were open, so I visited three of the major institutions: the Pergamonmuseum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, and the Altes Museum (the museum in the above photo). Unfortunately, the Pergamonmuseum, which houses a collection of work from antiquity, Middle Eastern art, and Islamic art, was under major construction. Although I did enjoy some of the large reconstructions of Roman buildings, I was deeply disappointed to miss the Pergamon Altar, which won't be open until at least 2020.

The Alte Nationalgalerie contained Neoclassical, Romantic, Biedermeier, Impressionist and early Modernist artwork. The Impressionist wing (my favorite) was closed (of course!!) but I still came across some delightful artworks. Wandering this museum I felt like I got back in touch with the play I'm working on, which made me really happy.

Finally I popped into the Altes Museum, which houses mainly Roman and Greek art. It was wonderful to connect all the art to what I've been learning in my Renaissance and Baroque Art class.

Faust

After watching a documentary that featured the Berliner Ensemble (the theater that Brecht founded in Berlin) I've wanted to see something there, to see how they do theater. Last fall in my intro theater class, we collectively watch a documentary on Robert Wilson, an experimental theater director/artist. Naturally, when I saw that Wilson's Faust would be in Berlin when I wanted to go, I jumped and bought a ticket.

The first act, running about ninety minutes, was brilliant. Even though it was in German, I was enthralled. Every scene was a different, perfectly balanced visual masterpiece, that I could stare at like a painting. Herbert Grönemeyer's music was this rock/electric mix that in musical-like moments, was the epitome of what I look for in the theater.
After a thirty minute interval (intermission vs interval, why the difference?) the second act began. Two hours later it ended. The high energy song & dance moments I cherished in the first part didn't quite come back, and the long, dialogue-heavy scenes were less enjoyable for me, having no understanding of German or the plot of Faust.

LESSON: for any classical or classical-based theatre, read a synopsis ahead of time.

Sunday

My friends left and I had a day in Berlin to myself.

Brecht Haus

High on my list was to tour the home where Brecht spent the last three years of his life, in the Mitte (meaning middle) neighborhood of Berlin, just ten minutes from the theater he worked at. Tours were given on the hour, and when a women came into the lobby and saw me standing alone, we began. In my personal tour, I saw the flat Brecht lived in, kept in the exact condition it was when he died. Hundreds of his books remain. He kept a diverse assortment of religious iconography, which surprised me, knowing that Brecht was an atheist. I walked around the main room Brecht used to write in, and host guests, which made me begin to imagine what kind of flat I'll want when I'm an adult writer. I paid a visit to Brecht's grave, read his poem "The Doubter", and wrote in my journal.

Art Hostel

Walking down the street I came across what looked like an art gallery, hosting thirty different artists. I found out that an old hostel, which was about to be turned into a hotel, was being repurposed for a few weeks to showcase art. Inside the crumbing, messy, and at times a little unsettling construction site was a range of expression. Canvases with large globs of paint (my favorite way for paintings to be) and vibrating metal wire surrounding a room are two examples. All of this awesome (literal awe-inspiring) art was such a surprise. I happened upon this gallery, with contemporary art, in a space so...well...cool.

I took the rest of the day to walk the city some more, exploring the non-touristy, more local area of Kreuzberg.

A Third Theatre Piece

The person who recommended Talking Straight had also directed me towards a theater piece which seemed like it would be good. The video had a sort of counter-culture theme, and it would be presented in English! In the end it just failed to be groundbreaking. That's all I want to say about it. Not everything in Berlin is mind-blowing and exciting.

I'll return to Berlin to explore more, with new purpose, and a realistic set of expectations.

in the lobby of the Maxim Gorki Theater STUDIO Я
Location: Well, Kasteelaan 20, 5855 Well, Netherlands
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