Thursday, June 15, 2017

Grand Tour, Day 25: Munich and Beyond

On our last day in Germany, we got the kids up at 8:30 and were out of the room by 9.  By 9:15, we had walked to the Hautbahnhof, where we took a local train to the Südkreuz train station. We arrived at 9:38, which gave us a little less than an hour to get breakfast before our 10:34 train left for Munich. I got a breakfast pecan pastry; Mari got a falafel wrap; Nina got a pretzel; the boys ate what we brought with us.

At 10:34, our train left, on time. South of Leipzig, plains of grain became forested hills, Iowa became Colorado, the North European plains became Bavaria, and our train followed the bend of rivers past villages clustered around bulbous, slate-covered, clock towers;

I used the onboard wifi to read about some of the Bavarian villages I believed we might be passing by. The paved country roads we pass were a comfortable width for bikes, but it was strange to see cars driving down them.

We had planned a layover of several hours in Munich before we boarded our overnight train to Rome, so when we arrived, we checked our bags into lockers and went for a walk.

Along the way, we stepped into St. Michael's church to listen to an organ recital. The church was consecrated in 1597 after 14 years of construction. According to my friends at Wikipedia, this Jesuit church was a cornerstone in the Counter Reformation.

The exterior of St. Michael's features statues of several rulers of Bavaria, including the one above of Carlos V, the Holy Roman Emperor who played such a prominent role in Spanish history during his reign there between 1516 and 1556.


The entrance to the Kaufingertor mall on Kaufingerstraße--Munich's busing shopping street--is marked by "Man with Outspread Arms," a 2007 sculpture created by Stephan Balkenhol, who studied in Hamburg with Nam June Paik (who created the Zen film reel I enjoyed at the Pompidou).

In the picture above, the kids are standing in front of the Rathaus (town hall) in Munich's central Marienplatz. It features a famous Glockenspiel, which I saw in operation during a brief tour bus visit to Munich in 1983. Three times a day, its wooden figures tell a 10-to-15 minute "story" by spinning around on rotating plates, but we arrived at the square after its last performance.

The Rathaus was completed in 1906 in a neo-Gothic style that makes it look like a much older building (much like the University of Chicago, which was built a little bit earlier than this).

Munich's Der Alte Hof ("Old Court") was the first "fixed" residence for the rulers of Bavaria. That's the building's Burgstock Tower behind the RBs in the photo above. It was several stories shorter at the beginning of the 20th century before it was destroyed by Allied bombings in World War II and later reconstructed (and heightened).

After a couple of hours of walking, we rushed back to the Hautbahnhof to make our train, which was scheduled to leave at 7:17.  Somewhere along the way, I lost my hat. Nobody noticed.

We ended up getting to the station and to our track with our baggage and with pizza slices with plenty of time to spare before the train's 7:17 pm scheduled departure for Rome.

I took the photo above at 7:14 pm.

When the train did not appear at 7:17 pm, I went looking for answers and found a sign that listed our train number and destination with a "+60" beside it.  A 60-minute delay.

As you can see, there was no place for us to sit on the platform, so we retreated to the shopping area, where the kids ate their pizza slices, and we got some fries for Pablo. Mari ate some chicken.  I bought a replacement hat that looked almost identical to the one I'd lost earlier in the afternoon. No one noticed.

I looked for potato chips in one of the station's convenience stores and was shocked to find not a single bag that wasn't flavored in some way. The potato chip options above include: (top row) Sour Cream and Onion, Paprika, Mild Paprika and Balsamic; (second row) Paprika and Salt and Pepper; (third row):  Holland sauce (probably mayo-based) and Tomato-Chili;  (bottom row): pretzels and bacon snacks.

I looked on other aisles and found "African Style" potato chips, but no simple potato chips.

At 8:02 p.m., we headed back to the platform to await our train, with its anticipated new departure time of 8:17 (7:17 + 60).  The train was not there.  No passengers were there waiting either.  I suspected that the track might have changed, but when I looked at the timetable board, it listed the same track with a "+40" beside it. I didn't like the look of that.

We all went to an information booth and confirmed our fears: the train had indeed left at 7:17 pm +40. We had missed it by five minutes and there was no other train leaving for Rome that night. We had paid additional fees so that we would have two sleeper cars for the five of us, with 3 bunks in room and 2 bunks in the other so that we wouldn't have to share our sleeper car with any bleeding, drunken Swedes (see "Losing My Religion on a Post-Soviet Train"), but we had lost those reservations as well.

The only explanation I managed to get about why the timetable had listed "+60" but had left at "+40" was that the "+60" was an "estimate." An unsympathetic German train station employee said the fault was ours because we hadn't waited on the platform.  Ugh.

To make matters worse, we were informed that a railroad workers strike was beginning in Italy at midnight, so no other trains to Italy would be available the next day.

And the next evening's overnight train to Rome was fully booked.

Would we miss Rome?

"No--wait,' the ticket seller said. There were 5 beds available in a sleeper for six on tomorrow night's train after all. That would be enough for all of us and one drunken, bleeding Swede. Cost? 170€. We took 'em. Why hadn't the ticket seller noticed them before? Ich weiß nicht. But I am glad that instead of promptly leaving the counter, I stood there for a while thinking through our options.

Having bought the tickets to Rome, our next challenge was to find a place to sleep for the night. Then, we'd need to plan a day of activity in Munich.  I was mad at Munich now and didn't want to stay there any longer.

Didn't the overnight train from Munich to Rome picked up passengers in Salzburg, Austria?  I asked the woman at the ticket counter. When she confirmed that it did,  I asked her if there were any trains leaving for Salzburg that night. There were. Were the seats available for us?  Yes.  We'd arrive at 11 p.m.

We took 'em.  I'd rather spend a day in Austria than a day in Munich.

At 10:02, we boarded the train to Salzburg.  Our next challenge was to find a place to stay that night in Austria.  I turned on the dreaded "mobile data roaming" feature on my cell and tried to get on Booking.com whenever our intermittent wifi connection was available.

Eventually, I managed to reserve a "family room" for 5 in the Hotel Turnerwirt, which was originally built in the 15th century.

When we got to the Salzburg train station, a 10€ taxi ride got us to the hotel, where we were the last people to check in for the night.

In our room, Maria checked her phone message and learned that Maria Rosa had fallen and broken her arm and she would have surgery the next day.

What a day!

We went to bed by midnight.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Grand Tour, Day 24: Berlin Wednesday


On our last day in Berlin, we got up at 8:15 and were out of the room by 8:30.  Our destination? A local laundromat. We took a bus to get there and arrived shortly after 9 a.m. We fit our clothes into three washers, and the owner (who spoke English, of course) helped us make sure that we included the spin cycle.  While we were washing our clothes, Mari and Nina brought in breakfast from a bakery down the street. I bought a"Kuchen" pastry that was on sale in the laundromat.  After drying and folding our clothes and getting back on the bus, we were back in the Jugendgästehaus by noon.

We took the Strassenbahn (streetcar) to the bomb-damaged Kaiser Wilhelm Church.

Built in the 1890, the Kaiser Wilhelm Church was originally 34-stories high. The church was badly damaged in a bombing raid in 1943. The  spire was not repaired after the war as the building was retained in its damaged state as a war memorial; it is now 21 stories high. According to my good friends at Wikipedia, Berliners call it "der hohle Zahn" ("the hollow tooth").

After visiting the church, we took a subway to the Jewish Museum. Before we went in, we had lunch on a sidewalk table at the Yildiz restaurant. 

This meal was one of the highlights of our trip for me.  I loved the lentil soup I ordered.  I was not alone. We also had falafel, pizza, pasta, doner (meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie) for Mari, and fries for all.


The first Jewish Museum in Berlin was an art museum that opened in 1933. The current museum opened in 2001. In addition to memorializing the Holocaust, the Museum provides a history of the Jewish people in Germany and in Berlin in particular.

We started our visit in the basement, where three slanting corridors intersect. These corridors represent three paths of Jewish life in Germany "continuity in German history, emigration from Germany, and the Holocaust."

The second of these leads to the "Garden of Exile," which is crowded with 49 tall pillars (see the image above and the images below). At the top of these pillars are plants that garden visitors are aware of but cannot reach.

This distance between the garden visitors and the plants at the top of the pillars and the disorientation that results from slanted floor of the garden are meant to recreate for visitors the difficulty of emigration into a foreign country.


Daniel Libeskind says he designed the building based on three principles: "first, the impossibility of understanding the history of Berlin without understanding the enormous intellectual, economic and cultural contribution made by the Jewish citizens of Berlin; second, the necessity to integrate physically and spiritually the meaning of the Holocaust into the consciousness and memory of the city of Berlin; third, that only through the acknowledgement and incorporation of this erasure and void of Jewish life in Berlin, can the history of Berlin and Europe have a human future."

The "erasure" and the "void" is represented visually by "empty spaces" that cut through the building. According to Libeskind, these spaces represent "That which can never be exhibited when it comes to Jewish Berlin history: Humanity reduced to ashes.”


In one of the museum's "voids," there is an installation called "Fallen Leaves," by the Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman (see the image above and those below).


The floor of the void is covered with more than 10,000 heavy round iron plates. Holes have been cut into the plates to make them resemble faces with open mouths.

Visitors are encouraged to interact with the exhibit by walking across the floor.

As you step on the plates, a clanging, scraping sound echoes throughout the space.


Eighty-two steps lead from the basement corridors to the permanent exhibit about Jewish life that is on the ground floor.  But the stairs continue past the permanent exhibit to a blank white wall.

Pablo was particularly fascinated by the permanent exhibit on Jewish history and was very frustrated that didn't stay long enough for him to interact with all of the interactive exhibits and listen everything that his audio guide had to say.

On our way out of the museum, Nina bought a small art object for her friend Anneliese.

After we left the museum, we found our way to "Checkpoint Charlie," where Emilio bought a gift for his friend Charlie Grasso. Then we continued back through the center of the city to the Jugendgästehaus.

Along the way, we came across this sculpture by Claes Oldenburg titled "Houseball" in the Bethlehemkirch Platz. Internet research teaches us that the original "Houseball" was designed for a 1986 collaboration between Frank Gehry, Oldenburg, and Oldenburg's wife, Coosje Van Bruggen. Oldenburg and Van Bruggen are also responsible for the giant badminton shuttlecocks on the lawn outside the Kansas City Museum of Art.

According to the artists' website, Houseball is "based on the idea that one could gather all one's possessions in a large cloth and tie them up in the form of a ball that would roll . . .  to its next destination. . . .  Later, Coosje came to see the Houseball as a symbol of displaced populations, the ordeal of refugees, and in 1993 she proposed a larger, permanent version of the sculpture for a site in Berlin, near what had been Checkpoint Charlie, the gate of entry in the Berlin Wall."

Further along our route, we passed by the location of the Führerbunker, the underground bunker complex where Hitler killed himself. The bunker itself was destroyed in 1959. The site was unmarked until 2006, when this information board was installed.


Our walk took us again through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews.


At the edge of the Tiergarten, we visited the "Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism," which was opened in 2008. A plaque beside the monument notes that the Nazi-era law that criminalized homosexuality was not altered until 1969 and not completelyvoided until 1994.

When you look through the window in the side of the monument, you can see a one-and-a-half minute film loop of two men kissing projected onto the back wall of the cube. The film changes periodically and now also includes an image of two women kissing.


On our way back out of the Tiergarten, we walked by the Reichstag building, where the German parliament meets.  The building first opened in 1894. In 1933, it was severely damaged in a fire. The Nazis blamed the Communists, abandoned the building, stopped acting as a parliament, suspended civil liberties, and increased aggressive police action throughout the nation.

The building was not used for many years. It was only partially refurbished in the 1960s, but a full reconstruction was begun after German reunification in 1990. In 1999, it once again became the meeting place for the German parliament.

We bought groceries at Aldi (just like in Ada!) and back at the Jugendgästehaus, we had a dinner of cream cheese sandwiches, plums, salt and vinegar chips, granola, and tomatoes.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Grand Tour, Day 23: Berlin Tuesday

For some reason, I got up first at 6:30. Pablo was next at 8. When everyone else got  up, we walked to the Hautbahnhof, where we took a streetcar to Museum Island.
Our destination was the Pergamon Museum, but we stopped on the bridge across the Spree to take a picture in front of the Berliner Dom, which was completed in 1905. It is the largest church in Berlin.

There are five museums on Museum Island. We were only able to visit one. In the photo above, the RBs are standing in front of one we did not visit: the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery).


The main attraction for us at the Pergamon Museum was the Ishtar Gate, an image of which is featured prominently in my legendary, unfinished book "A History of the World for Nina, Pablo, and Emilio."

In about 575 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar II ordered construction of the Ishtar Gate on the north side of the city of Babylon, which was probably the largest city in the world at the time.

In II Kings, chapter 25, the Bible describes how the soldiers of Nebuchadnezzar the II laid siege to Jerusalem in 587 BCE, destroyed the First Temple ("Solomon's Temple"), and deported Jews to Babylon. The Ark of the Covenant was lost at this time.

Psalm 137, which begins "By the waters of Babylon, we lay down and wept ...", was written about an deportation of Jews to Babylon that too place twenty years before, in 607 BCE. Deporting Jews from Israel was, apparently, one of the ancient Babylonians' favorite pastimes.

Daniel ("Lion's Den" Daniel) was one of the Jews who went on to serve Nebuchadnezzar the II in Babylon. In the Bible, Daniel convinces Nebuchadnezzar of the superiority of the Hebrew god. No other historical sources report this.

Ishtar was a Babylonian goddess represented by a lion. The figures on the walls in these photos represent dragons (the long-necked creatures) and young bulls (the ones with horns), both of which are associated with other Babylonian gods.


The Babylon of the Bible was semi-legendary until the excavations of German archaeologist Robert Koldeway confirmed its geographic and historical reality.  Koldeway's excavations began in 1902 and ended when the British captured Baghdad in 1917 during World War One.

Koldeway returned to Berlin, where he died in 1925.

Reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate using original bricks was completed in 1930. Hundreds of crates of glaze brick fragments were carefully cleaned and then pieced together with new bricks baked in specially designed ovens.

The Ishtar Gate is only one small part of the design of ancient Babylon that also included the palace, temples, an inner fortress, walls, gardens, other gates and the Processional Way (represented in the photo of the model above). The lavish city was decorated with over 15 million baked bricks, according to estimates.The Processional Way, which has been traced to a length of over half a mile, extended north from the Ishtar Gate. The Ishtar Gate was actually a double gate; the part that has been reconstructed at the Pergamon Museum--which is about four-and-a-half-stories high--is the smaller, frontal part. The larger, back part--just visible in the model above--was considered too large to fit into the constraints of the structure of the museum; it is in storage.

Another of the featured attractions at the Pergamon Museum is the reconstructed gate to the Miletus Market, seen above.

The gate was most likely built during the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (about 120 to 130 AD), and it served as the northern entrance to a market (agora) in the city of Miletus, near what is now the western coast of Turkey.

In the 10th or 11th century the gate was destroyed by an earthquake. 

In 1903, fragments of the original structure were excavated by the German archaeologist Theodor Wiegand. These fragments were transported to Berlin in 1907 and 1908.

From 1925 to 1929, over 750 tons of fragments were reassembled to form the gate that is now on display in the Pergamon. There were not enough original fragments to re-build the entire gate, so "fill material" was used to provide the missing pieces. Many people criticized this practice at the time.

During World War II,  the gate suffered significant damage from aerial bombardment. Both the roof and skylight above the gate were destroyed. The right wing of the gate collapsed, and additional damage was done by fire and shrapnel. Significant restoration work was completed in the 1950s.

Between 2005 and 2008, the gate was surrounded by scaffolding so that further restorative work could be completed.

Another one of the best-known features of the Pergamon Museum is the structure that gives the museum its name: the massive Pergamon Altar, which was built in the 2nd century in Greece.  We were unable to see it as it is currently being restored and will not be open again to the public until 2023.

My caption for the photo above: "The Ancient Arameans invent Rock, Paper, Scissors. The King, playing paper, beats the servant, playing rock."

The Museum's caption in German reads (translation by me and by Google Translate):  "Relief plate from the . . .  the castle of Sam 'al  Zincirli [near the coast on the current border between Turkey and Syria] around 730 BCE. On the throne sits the Prince Barrakib, before him stands his scribe with a writing-tablet under his arm. The inscription in Aramaic script next to his head reads: 'I am Barrakob, son of Panammuwa.'"

This mihrab (prayer niche), built in south central Turkey in 1270 , featured interactive elements that Pablo enjoyed. Every mosque has a mihrab that indicates which direction Mecca is so that those who pray can face that direction.

This pillared arcade runs along the Bodestraße on Museum Island.

After leaving the Pergamon, we walked by the Berliner Dom again. Heavily damaged during the war, this church was closed until 1993 (!).  It was in atheistic East Berlin, which explains why restoring the church was not a high priority.

This bronze statue of Communist Manifesto authors Karl Marx (sitting) and Friedrich Engels was installed in 1986. in a park that was named "Marx-Engels Forum."

After German unification in 1990, and the fall of the East German Communist regime, some recommended that Marx-Engels Forum Park be renamed and the statue be moved elsewhere. It wasn't, and they weren't.

After leaving Marx-Engels Forum, we walked down the broad, Unter den Linden boulevard through central Berlin.  When it started to rain, we stopped for lunch at a covered cafe terrace: croissants with cheese, a gouda sandwich (!) with mustard and cucumber (Mari's choice), dessert cookies and an eclair.

The Brandenburg Gate is at the end of Unter den Linden. Built between 1788 and 1791, it was originally called "Peace Gate."

The Memorial to Murdered Jews is a block south of the Brandenburg Gate. Underneath the monument is an information center with photos, exhibits, videos and recordings documenting the Holocaust. We stood in line for a while to get in. They didn't have audio guides for the kids because the subject matter was considered too mature. Mari accompanied Nina and Pablo, and I accompanied Emilio. The experience was not pleasant. Emilio and I stayed longer than Mari, Nina, and Pablo. Emilio wanted to go sooner, but I was insistent that he be exposed to more of this history.

The Memorial to Murdered Jews was opened in 2005. It contains 2,711 stone blocks.

It is easy to lose someone here.  We lost Nina momentarily.
On our way back to the Jugendgästehaus, we walked through the massive Tiergarten ("animal park," in English), which is just west of the Brandenburg Gate. The public park was protected in 1527 as a hunting area for Brandenburg's rulers, who had wild animals placed here.

We stopped at the Hautbahnhof mall for supper and had a quiet night of reading and journaling in the Jugendgästehaus. Lights out at 11.