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Three Days In Berlin

Monday 24th October. It's the last of our autumn half-term city breaks; for there will be no more half-terms. Fantastic apartment, practically next door to the Friedrich Palast, where a lady who wasn't born that way wears her eyes on her arm and sports a superb Jean Paul Gaultier outfit, with feathers to burn; and unfortunately I am poorly. Got some bug. We won't be going clubbing, or visiting that fabulous rooftop bar Gabriel raves about. Cracking headache, aches and pains, thick head, stiff neck feeling sick, but I'll get by. First time we've had our passport check automated at St Pancras, I suppose the full body-scan won't be far behind. . . but still a nice atmosphere down there at the Intercontinental Bar. I have read The Green Hat (Michael Arlen), mysteriously placed in "The Second Inquisition", as glamorous naughty book, but this has always puzzled me, as the novel is actually really, really miserable, unless you think having multiple septic abortions is glamorous. One of that mini-genre I call "Syphilis trash romance" (better done by Ethel M.Dell in The Keeper of the Door). Nope, I'm no wiser. Next holiday homework,the notorious Darkover Landfall. (a Marion Zimmer Bradley initiation for me). Tomorrow is Gabriel's first recital in India. Hope it goes well (it did).

Tuesday October 25th. Museum Island. What a nifty idea, a corral of museums! We visited the Neues Museum, which is all about Egypt, and the star of the show is the bust of Nefertiti, she is amazing. You cannot photograph her, but you can touch her, as there is a replica, black stone, for blind people and anyone else with any sense. Akhenaten's bust, though less spectacular, is also pretty good. The Egyptian everyday stuff in the basement is very, very good, much more intelligently & respectfully annotated than in the BM. I would show you my photo of Imhotep (the real Imhotep, on whom The Mummy himself is based, in the two greatest adventure fantasy movies in the world), but the lights were low, and my hands were understandably shaky. They have what's left of the loot from Schleimann's Troy hoard (the Russians made off with the gold), and a whole EU budget's worth of cumbersome bronze-axe currency. But the other best thing, next to Nefertiti, in the Neues Museum has to be the Berlin Gold Hat, up on the top floor, beside the lovely video-diorama called The Time Machine. You've got to see this, it's bizarre. It's an actual hat ("made for the male skull" the info firmly tells you), a wildly tall and pointy wizard's hat, made of beaten gold, covered in arcane symbols, and dating the museum believes, from about 1000BC. Bought from an antiques dealer in 1996. It's been deciphered as a record and a demonstration of vital calendar information, converting from the Lunar calendar to the Solar calendar. (& if you don't get what that implies, dear reader, I'm guessing you're not female?). Hm. Maybe I should have smashed the case, or scrawled it with red paint GIVE US BACK OUR ELEVEN DAYS! But I just gaped. One thing I do not expect in an ancient history museum is a proper surprise. Wow. J K Rowling missed a trick!

Wednesday 26th October. Chill grey air outside our rooftop apartment: Berlin in the fog, thick fog in my head, but never say die. Off we go to Checkpoint Charlie, a puzzling tourist stop for me as I was convinced that we were staying in West Berlin, and would now be crossing over into the East. (Based on the fact that our part of town was all richly-built and fancy looking, whereas after Checkpoint Charlie it was dour housing blocks all the way; plus a misunderstanding of the orientation of the "East Side Gallery" beside the Spree, I retained this impression even as the day progressed). But anyway, just a short stroll down the Friedrichstrasse with its big shiny shop fronts, we moved in a slow procession with others, along the hoardings that tell the story, 1945-1989, (around the cleared ground that has become a sort of hippie camp). It was absorbing. Although I don't remember ever being afraid, I do remember some of this. I definitely remember Peter Fechter. I was ten: it was, I suppose a pitiful, horrible incident on a scale small enough for me. I don't remember the flood of "East Germans" through the last gap, but here it is, the story that puts Angela Merkel's response to the refugee crisis in context. We must let them in. Yes.

The sparrows chirped, the people moved quietly, reading their history lesson carefully. All the while I was growing up, and even to the turn of the 21st century, I never really believed that all this would be superseded, that WWII and its long Cold War dying would one day no longer be the worst of times; that I would live to see Europe, see the whole world engulfed in another descent into horrors. But here we are.

Anyway, we had another surprisingly short walk down the Freidrichstrasse, to the turn off for the Jewish Museum. Huge banners advertising an exhibition called The Golem, took us aback, we'd been prepared for an intense and grim immersion, not a monster fable, but all became clear indoors, and the Libeskind Building part was exactly as described by Gabriel. Stark. Gripping. Really good, tragic art in the form of a tall hangar of a building holding a concentrated small maze of different experiences. In the Holocaust Tower (the endpoint of the maze), we were invited by Libeskind to think of the genocide; or of genocides; or to find our own meaning for this darkness. So of course I thought of the oblivion that is likely (on current figures) to swallow me, years before I die. I'm very, very much more terrified of that than I am of death itself, because death at least is a door out, whatever lies beyond. An escape.

The towers of the Garden of Exile were also pretty good. Very unsettling.

After this, the Jewish History museum part was thorough, informative and a little bit tame, but we didn't skimp. Much.

I kept thinking, this could happen to me. No, not for being a "bolshy feminist", or any of my other tiny squeaks of dissent (thanks for the thought) but for something I didn't even know I was doing,; let alone doing wrong. For having four Irish grandparents, for having been baptised a Catholic. And they would start closing in, but I would put off running for my life, because I wouldn't be able to believe it was happening, and then suddenly it would be too late . . . I didn't want to have lunch in the cafeteria, I couldn't sit down and happily munch a sandwich after that lot, and so on we went, hungry, and ate risotto in a pop-up cafe near the river.

The East Side Gallery was great, both sides. Nice wide open space.

That same evening, in spooky deep darkness, we took a taxi across town to the piano salon where Alex works and where Gabriel had booked us tickets for a warehouse recital, for two pianos. Grand piano carcases like beached whales lining the walls of this great cavern, strange medley of art and fantasy works among them and up to the rafters, and everyone kept their coats on, you'd better believe it. Olha Chipak and Olesky Kushnir, playing Stravinsky, and Bizet, and Schubert and a bit of Swan Lake, and a four-hander version of Die Erl King that was just brilliant.

Thursday 27th October. The mist was thicker, the temperature lower, and we did a lot of walking around. Can't say I was too impressed by the "Empty Library" (You paid how much?) Decided against the official "Holocaust Memorial", put off by the idea that the anti-graffiti paint on the pillars provided by a subsidiary of IG Farben. Through the Brandenburg Gate and across the Tiergarten, which means zoo but we didn't get that far. The Alte Nationalgalerie in the Kulturforum is the place where the Germans definitely were not at the back of the queue. Wow, what a heap of loot! You like Sandro Botticelli? This is the place for you. Vermeer? They got Vermeers. The Rembrandts are a bit so-so; except for a couple of the self-portraits . . . Like that.The food, however, was awful. The hoodie crows (I loved the hoodie crows of Berlin & they were everywhere) crowded around the little trees outside the Reichstag, but I had nothing to pay them with, so they wouldn't let me take their photo.

& in the morning we caught the train home.

Funny thing, it comes back to me now that I was really quite worried about the reunification of the two Germanies, in 1990. There was a cartoon in one of the broadsheet newspapers of that time, showing a map of Europe with two Jack Boots standing upright, springing to attention: ready to resume their old business. Watch out! The Stasi are coming! But it didn't happen. On the contrary, and as of today, we have a middle-aged East German woman in post (much to her dismay) as the de facto, acting Leader of the Free World. It goes to show you never can tell. A thought which is not supposed to make you feel cosy and better. Feel as bad as you like. You won't be wrong & you might achieve something that way.

P.S Darkover Landfall did not disappoint; so to speak. Highly reminiscent of a certain kind of Seventies Commune, the kind from which you should run away very, very quickly. And, just by the way, what an idea! We're stranded on an unknown planet, haven't a clue what it's going to throw at us, haven't yet built shelters or got crops in the ground, quickly lets all the women get pregnant! And lets declare "them" useless for any other purpose! Cruelty breeds cruelty, I have a strong suspicion she was abused before she was an abuser . . . but, anyway, less said the better and that's another unknown become a known.