Copenhagen

Copenhagen was another city that was recommended to me by enough people that I stuck it high up on my list. Surprisingly it was an expensive city. Culturally this city has so much to offer.

As with all cities, it started with a walking tour. My guide told us about Copenhagen's history of many fires and a their amazing Queen who illustrated The Lord of the Rings and speaks many languages.

I poped into the Kunsthall Charlottenborg and laughed at this exhibit from William Forsythe. I walk into the exhibit and think, "how can I avoid these pendulums!"

Jacob Holdt, a Danish photographer had an exhibit of work looking at poverty in America. It was a visceral experience looking at each photo, many accompanied with quotes (like Humans of NY) and often a Bible quote.

The theatre piece I settled on seeing first was called Come Together, this bizarre staging of Beatles songs with costumes from all over the time, reorchestrations, and lots of flying. Some of the covers were thrilling and engrossing, others were quite tacky and silly.
The theatre for this was a part of an aquarium in Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park in the middle of the city.

My friends and I also spent time visiting the Freetown Christiania, this sort of hippie commune.

One of my favorite museums I have seen so far is the National Gallery of Denmark. For their European art 1300 - 1800 section, the walls were color-coordinated so you could track influences from antiquity and across the land. The museum also had a brilliant collection on modern art and especially surrealist art. Wilhelm Freddie painted some brilliant works, and I was especially fond of this short film "Porridge".

A handful of Christmas markets were popping up around the city, which made me happy to waltz around.
• • •

London

My plan for my birthday was simple:
Go to a place where English was the main language, and see a piece of theatre I knew I would LOVE.

And so, my trip to go to London and see Gypsy with Imelda Staunton was set in motion.

Round trip for my RyanAir flight I paid ~20€.

With my great friends Tim and Nora, we started our day (after getting settled) with a walk from our AirBnB near the Tower Bridge, towards the West End.
Walking around we found ourselves on a bridge looking at faraway clouds and seeing them drop rain. How fascinating. I turned around and snapped this picture.


I was in love with the juxtaposition of the clouds.

Seconds later a torrential downpour began, followed by hail. We laughed, waited for the rain to get milder, and went for a walking tour, as I like to do in order to knock out all the important touristy sites.

Here's a photo of me with the Buckingham Palace.

We moved onto getting my most important birthday dinner: pizza.

Following pizza we had some time in the National Gallery. I was probably the most prepared to go to this museum, as many of the paintings studied in my art history class are housed there. I gasped so many times from recognizing paintings that a guard asked me if I was alright. A highlight was the Caravaggios, and getting to go up close to Botticelli paintings and describe why they're horrible.

Gypsy was a marvelous time. The production itself was fresh, stimulating, and highlighted why the musical is considered one of the best written of all time. Now, Staunton's performance was quite something. The deep deep emotional turmoil was like candy to enjoy. I live to see actresses like her.

Saturday

We all woke up late on Saturday, and spent time finding theatre to see that evening. Tim cooked us pasta, and all six of us had a family brunch. It felt so nice and adult. The group trekked through rain to one of the most important sites of the trip: Shakespeare's Globe.

On our way, we passed the original site of the Globe, and went into the Rose Theatre.
 It felt magical to walk into this space, even though it was mostly empty. An outdoor theatre originally designed to squeeze three thousand people. I thought a whole lot about how theatre has changed. Back then, you listened to a play, not watched, and you could leave when you felt, so there was a lot of repeated information. I did not know that Shakespeare wrote some later plays specifically for an indoor theatre, and therefore a wealthier more educated audience, meaning that the plays had more complicated language.

I then popped over to the Tate Modern Gallery, which was INCREDIBLE. One artist I LOVED, was Nam June Paik, and I realized I saw one of his pieces at the modern art museum in Amsterdam. I love museums.

Before splitting up for theatre, we all went for fish and chips!

After that, I went to see Miss Saigon. I went into the theatre knowing NOTHING about the show, except that there's a helicopter...and it takes place in Vietnam. The spectacle of it all was such a joy. Fierce belting, exhilarating choreography. As one of many raised on Les Miserables I enjoyed hearing the composer's style stretched and explored in a new setting.

Everyone but Tim and me had classes early on Monday so they left on Sunday, but Tim and I had an extra day to explore!

Sunday

Our day started with going to the Imperial War Museum. Their WWI exhibit was spectacular, and their exploration of the Holocaust was quite good. My history teacher told me this was the best war museum in the world, and it did not disappoint. It even had a tea room, so Tim and I had afternoon tea!

We made our way over to the West End and popped over to the Courtauld Gallery, which had marvelous impressionist artworks. An exhibit of Bridget Riley's paintings inspired by George Seurat was a highlight.

Theatre it seems in the UK takes Sundays off, the way American theatre usually takes Mondays off. I wished I had planned to see some true English Shakespeare, but that wasn't available. So Tim and I settled for an English farce. I had heard that The Play That Goes Wrong was funny, and wow it may have been one of the funniest plays I've ever seen (second only to One Man, Two Guvnors I'd say). It had surprises, calamity, and brilliant visual gags (check out this preview).

One observation about London: wow it's expensive. Everything, including the exchange rate, cost approximately twice what I thought it would be, expected it to be.

Though the city was wonderful. A place I could imagine myself living. A city I want to work in. I city I really want to see again.

• • •

Two Days in Berlin, 24 Hours in Munich

I needed to go back to Berlin for two reasons:
  1. I badly wanted to see a Brecht play at the Berliner Ensemble
  2. I had more days I needed to use for my Eurail
The third reason was that I wanted to explore this city more, that I had been fantasizing about so much. I wanted to have one city which I returned to on this trip, to arrive and already be a bit familiar, to get over romanticizing and appreciate it.

So I made a plan to go see Mother Courage and her Children at the Berliner Ensemble, and decided I would go to another German city. It was between Hamburg (which would have been on the way back to the Netherlands) or Munich (six hours south of Berlin). I asked around online and someone I hadn't really spoken to stopped me in the hallway and told me everything amazing about Munich, highly recommending I go. Also I came across a fascinating arts festival in Munich that I wanted to see, plus hostels were much cheaper, so "Munich it would be" I decided!

Thursday

I skipped all my classes on Thursday, hopped on a train, and made my way to Berlin. On the ride there, in preparation for seeing Mother Courage I read different translations of the play, critical essays and articles about it, and study guides made for high schoolers. My goal was to be really solid understanding the play, since it would be in German and I didn't want to get lost.

To see a Brecht play, at his theatre, a play that I believe encapsulates his vision of theatre best, directed as close to his style as I may ever see, was a revelation. Carmen-Maja Antoni as Mother Courage was a small, seemingly harmless woman, like Sophia from Golden Girls, but as the play progressed, she became colder and ignorant to her selfishness. Karla Sengteller, who played the mute daughter Kattrin, destroyed me and broke my heart. Because of the language barrier, it was the true emotional moments that I could connect with, while looking for how the production utilized the verfremdungseffekt (distancing effect), which most Germans I believe refer to as the "v-effekt". Though at one moment I felt the v-effekt was disregarded: when it began to rain onstage, and I couldn't see where the rain was covering from. Like Brecht's placement of lighting fixtures in plain sight, I would imagine the director would put the equipment in view too. I need some Brecht-experts (Brechtsperts?) to help me break this down. Also, why was the theatre's proscenium covered with the black frame? Lots to think about.

Friday

My hostel was in the neighborhood of Friedrichshain neighborhood of Berlin, so I woke up and wandered around. I visited the East Side Gallery, which is a remaining section of the Berlin wall, the east side covered in murals from professional artists, the west side an open canvas for all. In a wonderful moment of irony, I snapped a photo of someone maintaining the wall.
I decided to go on an "alternative" walking tour of the city, since I had already seen the major sites. We learned about the Otto Weidt workshop (whose story is amazing) and some infamous graffiti artists of Berlin. Weidt's workshop is in the Haus Schawarzenberg, this alley that hasn't changed much since after the wall fell, so it's grungy, covered in art, and super duper cool (and where I took this selfie).
Also inside, is a clothing store that although pricey, had some of the most unique, handmade articles of clothing I have ever seen. I took a bizarre route back to my hostel following the walking tour, and passed this sculpture.

What a beard.

My other objective of the day: to find a cool European leather jacket. I went to the Humana Secondhand Shop knowing that the five story thrift store would have the greatest range of jackets. In the end I tried on over 30 coats, including this one that I ALMOST bought. In the end I found one for about $40 that I've fallen in love with.

The night continued with me going to see Mania at the Maxim Gorki Theatre. This was the main-stage, for the company where I saw Talking Straight Will Set Us Free on my first trip to Berlin. The production was an adaptation of The Bacchae, in German with English surtitles. Essentially the staging was a group of performers intensely dancing to loud club music, while monologues were delivered by someone wielding a microphone. I adored it. The final moment had pink goo fall from the ceiling. I had chills and my jaw dropped. The aesthetic of loud, pumping music made me want to go a club. I thought about how theatre is so stagnant, we sit in these seats watching something happen. But by the end, I didn't want to dance anymore.

Saturday

As I walked to the S-Bahn on Saturday morning, I passed by the corner pictured here. When I was first walking to my hostel on Thursday --  at around 5PM -- I saw someone pasting posters on the wall. By Saturday, these new ones were covering it. That's Berlin to me, always changing, building on top of the history.
I took a long train ride, appreciating the Bavarian countryside, journaling, thinking. It was quite pleasant.
Once getting to Munich I strolled through the city, taking note of the fruit carts with stunning-looking berries and nuts. For a second I thought I was in Florence, at the Piazza Delli Sigornia.
As always, my trips are focused on pastries and foods covered in powdered sugar. Munich's specialty did not disappoint.
The Spielart Festival was this huge arts festival in Munich. I planned to see two piece back to back: Sculpting Fear and The Empire Strikes Back.

Waiting for the first piece, I explored this massive art installation in the theatre complex.

Sculpting Fear was staged in a fairly large, proscenium theatre. But there were risers placed over the orchestra, so the space became a fairly intimate blackbox, but with a large stage. A fascinating moment of this was an existential drama of roombas. As two of the devices moved around the stage, a conversation of the robots inner monologues and conversations played. Of course, my favorite moment of the piece was when a mess, and chaos was created on stage. The whole floor was covered in styrofoam mats, which the performers picked at. Fans lined up stage left blew the broken down bits away. It look amazing. Here's a video.

The Empire Strikes Back was 90 minutes of...a lot of things. There were many vignettes and moments, etudes. Parts of it were complete chaos, which I enjoyed. Here's a clip from my favorite moment. I'm still making sense of it. My favorite design element was the stagehand who wore black leather pants.

Sunday

I took a walking tour, as I always do, then headed back to campus. I missed all of Munich's great museums, and most of the city. But I went on an adventure by myself. That's what matters.

My tour guide came to this building and announced that this is what most of post-WWII Munich looked like. Imagining a majority of the city like this, quite spooky.

My other favorite spot on the tour was the "Monkey Tower"


Photo by Travis Amiel

I snapped this photo, and my tour guide whipped out a reproduction of a painting by one Adolph Hitler.




My lesson though from this weekend was simple: I do not like traveling alone. People told me I should explore places by myself, and I did. But being so cut off from the world without a proper cell phone with constant internet connection, in a foreign place where English was not the main language, I did not feel amazing or gain special insight, I felt alone.

My goal: learn German, and return.

How can I not return to Berlin when such a bookstore beckons?
• • •

Travel Break: Vienna, Prague, Budapest

After midterms at Kasteel Well is the second group excursion, followed by a week for travel break. All 81 of us, three members of the Office of Student Affairs, five professors (I believe) headed off to the German speaking country of Austria.

Vienna

We started our trip like we started our trip to Amsterdam, with a tour of the city. We passed two WWII-related memorials: the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial (which struck me as solemn and dignified), and the memorial in Albertina Plaza (which was a little scary and unsettling, but powerful). I love observing how European cities have central areas that are friendly for pedestrians, where there's no divide on the streets between where people walk and cars. My favorite sight on the tour was the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, the school that rejected Hitler. St. Stephens Cathedral, with its color tiled roof blew me away. I had never seen a decorated roof of that style or size before. My tour guide asked what style this church was and how I could tell, proudly recalling an answer from my art midterm I shouted about the pointed arches and large windows.

Kunsthistorisches

Most my Saturday was spent in the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum with my art teacher. The palace like museum itself is a stunning piece of art, here's a 3D look inside it. We spent a long time looking at Albrecht Dürer's Adoration of the Trinity. I'm entertained that below heaven, on Earth, Dürer drew a portrait of himself, perhaps in case someone wanted to know what he looked like and hire him. Our group was split in half, so while the other group was working my assignment was to write a detailed description of a work. I chose a small Hans Memling altarpiece. The activity made me feel like a real art historian. Although we looked at works by Raphael, Jan Van Eyck, the most fascinating work was this small self-portrait by the silly mannerist Francesco Mazzola (or Parmigianino), which was painted on a convex canvas, to perfectly replicate the convex mirror the artist saw himself in.

Die Hamletmachine

Of course I wouldn't let myself go anywhere without seeing some theatre. The best option seemed to be a production of Heiner Müller's Die Hamletmachine at the Burgtheater, the Vienna national theatre. I had heard of the play before, and I thought, why not see it in the original German! Take a look at the text. The only problem was that the play was sold out, and I didn't get off the waitlist I signed up for online. Somehow I convinced my friend Suzie to come attempt to get tickets with me. We end up at the theatre around 7:55 (for an 8:00 curtain) and can't figure out where the box office is, asking a security guard (who spoke almost zero English) where to go after attempting to enter through a side entrance. Finally the woman at the box office (with decent, but very basic English skills) tells me at 7:57 that the show is sold out. I press on, "any rush tickets" "no" "any cancellation/waitlist/open tickets" "no". I'm about to give up when she offers me a single ticket. Here's when I realized Suzie was a good friend, she told me I should go see the show alone, and she'd be fine figuring out how to return to the hostel. I hug her, thank her...and then the box office lady offers me two tickets!

7:59 we're rushing around the corner to the theatre, checking out coats, and grabbing the last two seats out of the 60 total. The theatre space was called the "vestibül" and it was like a gallery in a museum, with theatrical lights hanging from the ceiling, and a couple rows of seats set up. The room was covered in gorgeous marble. The set was like a museum gallery. Because the performance was in German, I understood little of what occurred; but the actress who played Ophelia was mesmerizing and watching her attempt to hang a stuffed bull head on the wall, was remarkable for some reason. After I learn German I'll reread the text and it will all make sense, because the English translations I read before seeing the play did not help me break down the hour long performance I witnessed.

Bratislava

We took a day-trip to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. I think we went to Bratislava to get a taste of what Cold War-era Eastern Europe looked like. I remember best the cobblestone streets we walked along, and the UFO above the Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising. After walking around the city we got on buses and went to Devín Castle, a symbol of the Iron Curtain. On the top of the cliff, we came to the ruins of an old, grand stone castle. There was a beautiful view of Danube and Morava rivers. This part of the trip became the ultimate photoshoot, as we were at the "golden hour" of photography and everyone was together.

Melk Abbey

To bridge the gap between the studies of Renaissance and Baroque art in my "History of Renaissance and Baroque Art" class, we visited the Melk Abbey, about an hour outside of Vienna, in Austria. This was the perfect place to see what Baroque architecture is all about: overwhelming the beholder. In competition with the Protestants, the counter-reformation sought to create heaven on Earth through the glorification of God. Looking up at the ceilings, there is no vault, but the illusion of getting a glimpse of heaven above. This place was ornate, and then had another layer of gold. My pictures don't quite do it justice. The abbey itself remains a place for about 30 Benedictine monks to pray, work, and learn. Our guide said that the monks drink wine in moderation, even have computers and cell phones, since they're a pretty modern bunch.

After my trip to the Abbey, I met my mom back in Vienna and we went to Café Sperl. It had this ambiance I feel like I'm always looking for: people drinking cappuccinos and reading the newspapers, a student with a bunch of books sprawled out, and locals chatting over a meal. I imagined it as a place to meet people, important people, in their natural setting, since Vienna claims to be the "coffeehouse capital of the world".

Prague

This city was one of the first cities people recommended I go to if visiting Europe. I found it quite wonderful. It's an inexpensive city, there was a huge variety of culture (i.e. theatre), history, and exploring to be done. We went on a huge walking tour of the city our first day, to see the Prague castle, the tribute to John Lennon (who didn't have any special connection to the city), and ended with a tour of the Jewish Quarters. My favorite moment of the tour was when the guide was describing some of the Jewish cultural museums, "the one down that street focuses on the most important moments in a Jew's life: birth, circumcision, Bar Mitzvah, marriage..." she paused, realizing she needed to finish the sentence. "...and cuisine"

One of the touristy treats to get all over Prague is trdelník - rolled dough wrapped around a stick, grilled and topped with sugar and walnut mix. I got it, it was delicious, and I set a new objective for the second half of my European trip: eat more pastries covered in powdered sugar.

The hotel I stayed at with my mom was my absolute favorite hotel I've ever stayed in, The Hotel Agnes. The staff cared so much about making sure we had things to do in the city, that we were given tea or coffee, that all went well with us. And to finally have a breakfast with delicious coffee, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, pastries, it was heaven.

Sights

The Sternberg Palace and Clementinum gave me my fill of culture, along with an exhibit on death at the National Museum. As always on this trip, when I saw a church, I went inside, unless there was an admission fee.

Libûse

All the theatre in Prague worth seeing seemed to be performing right AFTER I was leaving. But for the occasion of the 28th of October, which is the day Czechoslovakia was formed, the opera Libûse was being performed at the National Theatre. In my literature class on postcolonialsm, we studied the concept of nationalism; and often the whole idea of a "nation" comes from a set of cultural performance, such as the national anthem, traditions, etc. This opera was a literal performance of nationalism. The ending of the opera was Queen Libûse having a prophecy of the future for the Czech nation: there would be some struggles and hard times, but the Czech nation would survive and triumph, foretelling the founding of Prague. Some of the performances I loved, others I appreciated. Listening to a recording of the opera as I type this, I remember how beautiful the large orchestra sounded (I love a large number of instruments playing together...) and being in awe of the strong operatic performances.

Budapest

Budapest was one of the coolest cities I have seen yet. But somehow on this trip, I went to no museums, and no theatre. When I opened the TimeOut guide (2015 edition) for Budapest to find arts and theatre, it essentially said that arts had been cut, so there wasn't a huge selection of live theatre. This was the first city (not counting the Hague) I had slept in, but not gone to see theater. I wanted to see a tour of Mamma Mia! that was playing, but I couldn't convince my mom to go.

As usual, we started our stay in Budapest by going on a tour, which turned out to not be the most exciting tour, but I got some nice photos. The roof of this church, reminded me of the church I saw in Vienna.

My mom felt as though the trip was like her going back to her family's Eastern European roots. We went on a walking tour taking us through the Jewish Quarters. We saw the Dohány Street Synagogue, which is the largest Synagogue in Europe, and other synagogues which once were in operation but are closed today. The tour of the Jewish Quarters led us to what I think is one of the coolest neighborhoods I've seen on this trip, where restaurants and bars are packed around Kazincy Street. Our guide took us to one of the original ruins bar. In Budapest, about a dozen old buildings have been transformed into these cool-grungy pubs, which are very popular. The one we went to was filled with modern art, was HUGE inside, and right next to an alley filled with food trucks. I loved it all.

Budapest is known for the thermal baths, which I had a nice time at. I felt like a Roman, soaking in hot water from the Earth.
• • •