Thursday, April 29, 2010

Robert Wilson's Video Portraits at Kunsthalle Koidl

Robert Wilson's Video Portraits: A Collector's View is a wonderful, spare show in a wonderful spare space - a transformer center dating from 1928 which provided power to the nearby Charlottenburg S-Bahn. In 2007, the transformer center was itself transformed into a space that now showcases outstanding collections of modern and contemporary art. 


Until May 2 at Kunsthalle Koidl, you can see Princess Caroline (2006) from the collection of Bernice Steinbaum. With accompanying music by Bernard Hermann (who composed music for Alfred Hitchcock's films), the video shows Princess Caroline in silhouette posed like her mother, Grace Kelly, from a scene in Hitchcock's Rear Window. It is extraordinary. I learned that Princess Caroline posed for two hours in a stationary position. On the other side of the gallery, the portrait of Chinese artist, Zhang Huan, is equally mesmerizing. Inspired by Zhang's 12 Square Meters performance, Wilson situated the artist in completely different circumstances. Here, Zhang is angelic and covered in sugar water and butterflies as he stares dreamily just beyond the viewer - an experience which was undoubtedly more pleasant than being covered in honey and fish oil (and soon, flies) while he sat in the filthiest public lavatory in a Chinese village for one hour. This video is from the collection of New Yorker Michael Weinstein and is accompanied by the ethereal music of Michael Galasso, who also composed the music for the Wong Kar-Wai film, In the Mood for Love. 


Finally, from the collection of Robert Wilson's Watermill Center in upstate New York, there is Horned Frog (2006), accompanied by a Glenn Gould interpretation of Bach's Goldberg Variations. Each image of the frog is the same, but the slight variances in lighting create the appearance of nine different frogs. The croaking and the music play off of each other surprisingly well. 


What do a Monegasque princess, a Chinese artist, and a bullfrog have in common? Robert Wilson's keen sense of what makes us want to capture the essence of living creatures in a portrait.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Smoke and Mirrors - Olafur Eliasson at Martin-Gropius-Bau

I intentionally arrived early this morning at Martin-Gropius-Bau to avoid the crowds of people who have come to Berlin for the free events associated with Gallery Weekend, which runs from April 30 - May 2. 


I treated myself to two walk-throughs of Innen Stadt Außena textured show by Danish-Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson (he did the waterfalls on New York City's East River in 2008). The experience was like walking through a delightful fun house, complete with mirrors reflecting the visitors, and a creepy, claustrophobia-inducing encounter with multi-colored smoke-filled rooms, Your blind movement (2010). There were opportunities for shadow-boxing, which both children and adults took advantage of in another series of rooms. For me, the eeriest and most uncomfortable was Model room (2003). In the center of this rather large room, people were clustered around a long, rectangular table which contained maquettes, models, and prototypes the artist and his assistants have constructed over the years. Small slide projectors were strategically placed among the clutter of objects on the table. What I noticed above all were the ghastly yellow lights that bounced around the room and made everyone - even the most attractive people - look like corpses. 


I hurried out of there and into the next room to view the 10-minute film, which is also titled Innen Stadt Außen. It takes a few minutes to realize that you are looking at split screens, and then you notice that these are actually the images captured by a truck with a mirror attached to it as it drives through the streets of Berlin. The imagery is fed into a camera. Reflections, shadows, and shapes are a strong component of Eliasson's work. In addition to his pieces in the Martin-Gropius-Bau show, you can see his work scattered throughout Berlin. For me, the main question the artist posed was, "What are you really seeing?" 


I then went upstairs to see Vorreiterin, an excellent show that featured the work of the 40 artists who were runners-up for the Gabriele Munter Preis 2010which is awarded to women artists over 40. That honor went to Christiane Möbus. But the work of several other artists captured my attention more immediately and for longer periods of time. For example, Brigitte Schwacke's coiled tubes of water pumped continuously and looked like threatening snakes lying in wait to spring on unsuspecting visitors. I especially liked Berlin artist Ursula Neugebauer's 2006/2008 video Haare, in which three women - a nun, a Muslim woman, and a modern feminist - discuss the importance of hair in their lives. Should you cover it, remove it, show it off? Should you be a blonde?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ich Spreche ein Bißchen Deutsch

[I speak a little bit of German] now that I've been here in Berlin for nearly one month and have had two four-hour days of intensive German language lessons. My class could definitely be characterized as Multi Kulti (multicultural). The 20 of us hail from all corners of the globe - like me, Jonathan is American; Nino is from Georgia (the country, not the state); Szofia is from Budapest; Sayaka and Ayako are from Japan; Priya is from Mauritius; Sebahat and Guldane are from Turkey; Jeanette is from Sweden; Sara and Jorge are from Mexico City; Aissa is from Burkina Faso; Nader is from Tunisia; Nancy is from Kenya; Akosua is from South Africa; Michael is from France; Anna is from Russia; Joann is from Trinidad; and Gina is from Italy. We are having a lot of fun so far struggling to communicate in our new common language. Today in class, we actually rapped in German. I don't think I have much more to say beyond that... 


...except that it made me think of last night, when I was with German friends talking, drinking champagne, eating supper, playing with the dog, and watching the excellent Berlin music channel (Deluxe?). We saw the classic video, The Message, by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (as I told my friends, it has been declared the first official rap song), some amazing Barry White, Bronski Beat (which made the dog bark - Jimmy Somerville's falsetto was evidently a bit too high for Henry's comfort), Michael Jackson, and Duran Duran.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin

I was looking forward to a free tour of the Staastsbibliothek zu Berlin this morning, a continuation of my obsession with Wings of Desire set locations and general love of architecture. I arrived promptly at 10:30, only to be told by the very nice librarian that the free tours are on the third Saturday of each month. I thought I had read the material properly, and I have neither jet-lag nor German language problems to blame this on at this point. In any case, the librarian took pity on my stupidity and told me to come back in 30 minutes for a quick, ten-minute tour. I arrived promptly at the agreed-upon time.

The kind librarian has worked at the library for nearly 25 years. She said that Wim Wenders and his crew filmed at night after closing time. It was wonderful to be in the space - the light, the sense of stillness. The architect Hans Scharoun designed the library as well as the Philharmonic. Scharoun's student, Edgar Wisniewski, completed the library after his mentor's death in 1972. The acoustics are wonderful - you cannot hear a sound in the library, while you can hear every sound perfectly in the Philharmonic.

The discovery of asbestos has caused a substantial portion of the library's collection - 3 million of over 10 million books, mostly modern and contemporary literature - to be declared off limits until the end of the year. Still, the library today was filled with people seeking the solace of this special place to study and reflect. You can see manuscripts of Goethe, musical scores of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, the Theses of Martin Luther, and a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, among many other important historical documents. When Berlin was divided, the library's holdings were also divided - the eastern portion was located at Unter den Linden 8 and the western portion at Potsdamerstrasse 33. Today, the library is considered one institution, but maintains both locations.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Some Things Cannot be Destroyed...

...and one of these is the Sports Palace Bunker on Pallasstraße, due east of where I live in Berlin. Because it could not be destroyed, a rather grim apartment complex was built around it. [Please view these excellent archive photos of both the bunker and the complex. If you have time, I highly recommend reading architect Andrew Hurle's drafting project which contains a detailed description of the bunker, photos of the inside and outside, as well as views from above.]  


In the DVD version of perhaps my favorite film of all - Wings of Desire - directed by Wim Wenders and filmed in Berlin in 1987, the director discusses the bunker, how they found it, and why they used it in the film. The bunker was the stage set for a WWII-era film that Peter Falk, aka Columbo, was in Berlin filming, a movie-within-a-movie. In the DVD's Special Features section, Wenders also said that the most vigorous attempt to flatten the bunker involved packing it entirely full of dynamite and setting it off; even this only managed to lift the structure a few feet off the ground. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

History Lessons

This afternoon, I took the U2 to Mohrenstrasse (which I thought had been one of the Geisterbahnhöfe, or "ghost stations," but I was mistaken) and headed towards Galeries Lafayette, a collection of elegant stores as posh as its counterpart in Paris. I like the John Chamberlain sculpture there. I browsed through their gourmet section which was as enticing and unaffordable as the one at KaDeWe. My real destination, however, was the Gendarmenmarkt, a fascinating square in Berlin which consists of two churches (one French, one German), the Konzerthaus, and a lovely monument dedicated to the German poet, Schiller. After climbing 206 steps to the balustrade at the top of the French Cathedral, I was rewarded with a spectacular 360 degree view of Berlin, and immediately scared out of my wits when the church bells starting ringing. 


I next went to the historically important Friedrichstrasse, in front of which is a memorial to the Jewish children who had passed through this train station as part of Kindertransport (also Refugee Children Movement or "RCM'"), the name given to the rescue mission that took place nine months prior to the outbreak of World War II. Continuing along Dorotheenstrasse, named for Princess Sophia Dorothea of Prussia, I came to the Bundestag (formerly, the Reichstag), and noticed a number of white crosses on a fence opposite. This was the Weisse Kreuze Memorial, dedicated to those who were murdered while trying to escape East Berlin


To shield myself from the the fierce wind, I decided to walk back home through the Tiergarten. I was rewarded with the sight yet again of artist Wolfgang von Schwarzenfeld working on his Global Stone Project. I cut through the park and down Stauffenbergstrasse and joined a tour bus group that had just disembarked at the German Resistance Memorial. We were standing in the very courtyard where Claus von Stauffenberg and others involved in the 20 July Plot to assassinate Hitler were executed. 


Whether it's a street, platz, bridge, building, or train, you cannot avoid history here, one of many reasons I find Berlin such a compelling city.  

Der April macht was er will

"April does what it wants." I learned this German expression from a friend who has lived in Berlin for awhile. We were discussing yesterday's weather, which went alternatively (and quite violently) from bright sun to completely overcast to rain to a five-minute hailstorm, back to bright sun, in minutes. And the wind - it pushed me around corners and then slammed me from the other direction no matter which way I turned. Though I've lived in a number of pretty fierce climates, yesterday's weather managed to startle me. Since arriving in Berlin three weeks ago, except for 2-3 days (yesterday being one of them), we have had the loveliest weather. I was lulled into a false sense of security with the birds, sun, flowers, a la "April showers bring May flowers."

As I write this, the sun is kind of out, but I'm not sanguine that it will remain this way for long. Therefore, I will arm myself with a combination of umbrella, sunglasses, gloves, and a windbreaker as I head out to explore the city.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Recipe for "Sonntag in Berlin"

Have breakfast - scrambled eggs, English muffin, coffee, and carrot juice.
Run for awhile in the Tiergarten.
Chat with an old friend who calls from Poland.
Take the U-Bahn to Charlottenburg Palace, change trains at Zoo station and get some mushroom pizza.
Arrive at Charlottenburg Schloss. Continue reading Amsterdam in the gardens under a giant old plane tree.
Think about Queen Louise of Prussia, aka "Working Mom."
Close eyes and listen to ambient sounds. Get drowsy.
Get a little covered with insects and a little too baked by the sun.
Move somewhere else in the garden.
Speak German with people.
Take the U-Bahn back to Schöneberg.
Have a glass of red wine on Viktoria-Luise Platz and finish reading book.
Listen to a roving band of musicians.
Repeat as often as necessary. 

Poland

The loss of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and nearly 100 others as they crashed in Russia while on their way to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the massacre in the Katyn forest has saddened the world. Here in Berlin, flowers and candles have been placed in front of the Polish Cultural Institute on Burgstraße, and in front of the Polish Embassy on Lassenstraße. The state funeral for the Polish president was held today in Krakow.


The tragedy has cast a pall over Polish cultural events taking place throughout Berlin. At Kunst-Werk Berlin Institute for Contemporary Art, the current exhibition, Early Years, gathers the work of 17 Polish artists over the building's four floors. Whether photographs, video, or acoustic pieces, the work invited interaction and reflection. On Friday, I interacted with the pieces more intensely because of the events of April 10th, and I sensed that the other visitors did, too. 


Last night, I saw The Year of the Quiet Sun (1984) at Kino Arsenal, one of many venues throughout Berlin hosting the filmPOLSKA series from 15-21 April. The poignant, realistic drama about the relationship that develops between an American soldier and a Polish widow is set in the grim context of 1946 Poland, in an area that had just been part of Germany. Somber cinematography and shocking scenes of a mass grave exhumation (which paralleled the Katyn forest massacre) provided a counterpoint that only made the love story more beautiful. I was grateful for the darkened movie theater and the dark streets as I walked home from Potsdamer Platz, because my eyes were not dry.    

Thursday, April 15, 2010

In Schöneberg - a President, a Genius, a Blue Angel, a Thin White Duke, and Assorted Artists and Upstarts

My neighborhood in Berlin - Schöneberg - has either hosted or been home to individuals as diverse as John F. Kennedy, Albert Einstein, Helmut Newton, Christopher Isherwood, Klaus Kinski, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Marlene Dietrich, Jeffrey Eugenides (Middlesex), Rosa Luxembourg, Billy Wilder, and so many others. 


After visiting Nollendorfstrasse 17, Christopher Isherwood's residence from 1929-1933, I visited the Rathaus Schöneberg to see where JFK made his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech. I continued along Belzigerstrasse, home for a time to British music writer, David Rimmer, who authored the book I am currently enjoying, "Once Upon a Time in the East." At the end of Belzigerstrasse is 155 Hauptstrasse, the residence of David Bowie and Iggy Pop when Bowie was in Berlin recording some of my very favorite music of all at Hansa Studios. The director Billy Wilder (Some Like it Hot, Sunset Boulevard) lived for a time on Viktoria-Luise Platz at the end of my street. And this is only one of 12 Bezirke (districts) in Berlin!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Adult Education

In September 2007, I began my Master's degree program in Art Business at Sotheby's Institute of Art in New York with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. It had been [a long time] since I had been on the other side of the desk. I had taught English and writing in Poland, Lithuania, China, Argentina, Slovakia, and in the States for about five years and was confident in my abilities as a teacher. But what about being a student again after so long? Luckily, I dug in, enjoyed myself, learned a lot, and graduated with honors last year.

Now in Berlin, I have again chosen to be a student. This time, I plan to take a 100-hour intensive German course that will meet for four hours a day/five days a week. I walked over to my local Volkhochschule yesterday for an evaluation of my language level. I observed other foreigners waiting in line who, like me, wanted to acclimate linguistically to their new environment. There were Africans, Turks, and Europeans. I chatted in Spanish with the three guys in front of me - one was from the Basque region and the other two were from Valencia. For about ten minutes, I felt great, in control - I CAN speak other languages well. At this point, however, a two-year-old child has a better command of German than I do.

These two student experiences, while seemingly in sharp contrast with one another, are really quite similar. From a Master's student to an absolute beginner in a foreign language, the goal is the same. So I will show up for class on time, take notes, do my homework, ask questions, and learn.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

In Kreuzberg

On the 2.5-mile walk from my neighborhood to meet my friend in Kreuzberg, I noted the following: a nascent circus (www.juxirkus.de); the occasional whiff of coal (which I happen to like and which instantly transported me to Poland, 1990); an orange metal dog poop receptacle; the Spreewald-Grundschule at Pallasstrasse 15 with its bizarre sea-green mesh wiring; a number of fruit trees blooming pink and white; sketchier parts of the city as I headed further east; lots of graffiti under the Yorck bridge train trestles (including a Banksy-esque "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil" piece, but with monkeys sitting atop one another instead of policemen - upon further investigation, Banksy's 2003/2004 Berlin graffiti tour did not include the area I was in today, so I bet that the piece was an homage to the elusive British street artist - the "Thanks, Banks!" next to the monkeys suggests this possibility); the lovely Viktoriapark; and Bergmannstrasse's colorful shops, restaurants, and coffeehouses - I met my friend at one of the most well-known of these, Barcomi's.

Like most people, my natural tendency is to compare and contrast. For example, I decided that - with the exception of the coal smell and dog poop receptacles - versions of the above elements could easily be found on New York City's Lower East Side, with a bit of the West Village thrown in for good measure. In the end, though, I decided to resist this temptation (likewise, the impulse to convert Euros to US dollars), and instead just be where I am.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

TV and Radio in Berlin

TV5 Monde aired the film Villa Jasmin the other night. It's a WWII drama in French with German subtitles, so I got a chance to practice (struggle through) both languages. 


I also recently watched Dangerous Liaisons, The Net, and Sex and the City (SATC) here. It takes some getting used to hearing Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jeremy Northam, Sandra Bullock, and the women from SATC speaking perfect German. For me, Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha (from SATC) somehow sound a bit more intelligent and less shrill. 


I rationalize watching TV here as a way to improve my German. There are many German language stations with shows that range from silly to quite good, as shows tend to be throughout most of the world. There are also a couple of French channels as well as the ubiquitous CNN and BBC, if I crave English. I also enjoy NPR Berlin in the morning. But as much as possible, I head outdoors to hear analog versions of language on the streets of Berlin.

Friday, April 9, 2010

My Inaugural Berlin Run

Despite the brisk north wind today, I went for a much-needed run. For the past three weeks, the transition from New York to Berlin has allowed little time for exercise. Although I have been walking a lot since I arrived here a week ago, it is not the same as a good, hearty run. 


I did a walking mile warm-up from my neighborhood and, after crossing the Herkulesbrücke (Hercules Bridge), began to run on Klingelhoferstrasse. I passed the Bauhaus-Archiv and reached Tiergartenstraße, where the the street name changes to Hofjägerallee. I had in my sights Die Siegessäule (Victory Column), my own Rocky-esque goal. But the Berlin icon seemed to recede further away from me the more I ran towards it! The same thing happened when I trained for the DC Marathon in late 2001/early 2002. On one particular group run - our longest before the actual marathon on March 24th - we did 20 miles. As we approached our end point - the Capitol - it also seemed to recede in the distance on the Washington Mall. As I told a friend who will be participate in the Berlin Marathon in September this year, once you run one of these, there is nothing that you cannot do in life from that point on. 


So I kept telling myself this, mantra-like, until I eventually reached the Victory Column. I had originally intended to continue east on Strasse des 17 Juni, the east-west axis through Berlin, to reach the Brandenberg Tor (Gate), but it was out of reach for me today. So I turned off into the Tiergarten on a footpath that promised to get me to Potsdamer Platz in 1.2 kilometers. It was not a lie and I was there soon. Running west now along Tiergartenstraße again, I heard distant church bells, which signaled to me that I'd been running for about 45 minutes. Just as I was debating about whether or not to run even more (though it hurt like hell), a beautiful hawk glided silently, directly across my path and pounced on an unlucky creature in the brush to my left. I took it as a sign that I was through for the day. 

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Up and Down the Ku'damm, a Zoo, and a Church

The Kurfürstendamm (more colloquially known as the Ku'damm) is a historic street in Berlin, lined with high-end shops. Nearly every major city has a Ku'damm. I can personally attest to the grandeur of New York City's 5th Avenue and Madison Avenue, Chicago's Magnificent Mile (Michigan Avenue), Paris' Champs Elysees, Milan's Via Montenapoleone, London's Bond Street, Toronto's Bloor Street, Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona, and Dubai's Mall of the Emirates (not really a street, but there aren't any strolling streets to be found there). 


Of course, you would expect (and you would find) on all of these streets shops such as Chanel, Valentino, Bulgari, Hermès, Gucci, mixed in with galleries, antique shops, hotels, auction houses, and restaurants. I had a very inexpensive and delicious lunch at a Thai place, while enjoying the sun and reading (actually struggling through, but not for long - my German lessons start next week!) Der Tagesspiegel. One interesting difference I noted on Ku'damm, however, was that many of the luxury stores had set up glass vitrines out on the sidewalk to display their wares. Many had listed prices, too, thus saving embarrassment and time on the part of the potential buyer and seller, respectively. I doubt that the display case concept would work in any other city, but it works in Berlin. 


After the calm and elegance of the Ku'damm, I passed by the Berlin Zoologischer Garten railway station, also known as Bahnhof Zoo ("Zoo Station"). It was raucous, rowdy, touristy, and reminded me of Times Square minus the lights. I hurried on - though not before browsing through racks of books selling for 1 Euro - towards the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Unlike most of Berlin, which was flattened during WWII, much of the church's original jagged structure remains standing, augmented by later additions. To me, a structure like this is what makes Berlin such a fascinating city, a fusion of new with old, an example of what can emerge from near destruction.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

I walked four miles to the former East Berlin neighborhood of Mitte today to meet an artist friend about becoming involved with the Berlin Collective, among other things. We had a delicious homemade carrot soup with ginger at Cafe Oliv and afterwards looked for shoes in this trendy, interesting part of of the city. My friend witnessed a simple mistake I made when ordering coffee here and I told her about an even bigger mistake I made the other day. I had finished my liver and onions and the waitress came by to ask (I anticipated) if I wanted anything else. What she really asked was " Was the meal tasty?" So, I said "nein, danke," responding to what I THOUGHT she said. Her face fell, I felt awful, and quickly corrected the situation amid much embarrassed laughter.


What these two events clarified for me was the importance of being able to communicate effectively in the language of the country you are in, especially if you intend to be there for awhile, as I do. I have always made it a point to learn simple words and phrases for shorter sojourns, and to invest in longer language programs for stays of 1-2 years. In this way, I have had a much richer experience. I think it's arrogant of native English speakers to expect everyone in the world to speak English. It is an unsavory relic of colonialism and further contributes to the pervasive negative perception of English-speakers by most of the world.


So today, I started the process of registering for German language classes at my nearby Volkshochschule (literally, "Public High School," but in this context, it is also a place where adult education courses are taught). There are 2-3 month programs for a reasonable fee. The center near me is named "Albert Einstein," which I hope will bode well for my future language success.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spargel, Spargel Everywhere

One of the most enjoyable things about living in different countries is the opportunity to observe how others shop for food. Whether at open markets or supermarkets (here in Berlin, we have Kaiser-Markt, Penny-Markt, Netto-Markt, and Aldi), I have always felt privileged to get this intimate glimpse into the way human beings acquire sustenance. There is also the Winterfeldtmarket, near me, which is said to be the best in Berlin. I felt triumphant upon leaving this market bags full of produce, meat, cheese, flowers, etc., knowing that I have tried (and mostly succeeded) in making myself understood to the vendors.


Having been a teacher of English as a Second/Foreign Language for a total of five years (in Argentina, China, Poland, Lithuania, and Slovakia), I know that food vocabulary is among the first things taught. This is followed quickly by words for numbers - money - to pay for the food items. Berlin's food prices are a third (or less) of New York prices as far as I can surmise. I can buy a container of yogurt for about 30 cents, for example, and a nice French roll for 15 cents. German produce is nominally priced as well. Good wines from France, Germany, Italy, and California range from around $2.00-8.00 per bottle.


Here in Berlin, I'm both brushing up on and learning new German words, some of which are quite similar to English words, while others are completely foreign. I love the word for asapargus (spargel), which is a big hit here this time of year. Especially the white kind - I found this article about the subject, which is quite interesting. I bought some white spargel today as well as the green variety (not as common here) that was folded into a veal-like cold cut. Very tasty. 


Speaking of Geschmack (taste, flavor), there are many organic, "bio" products available and Germans have increasingly shown a preference for them over the years. Eggs, bread, meat, fruits, vegetables, and cheeses have a different/better flavor to me. All this talk of food has made me hungry (Ich habe Hunger!!!), so I am going to prepare something tasty and inexpensive for dinner now.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Monday in Berlin

My friends warned me about the dreary weather in Berlin, but since arriving here on April 1st, I have experienced only sunny, albeit cool weather...until today, that is. Armed with an umbrella, I made my way up Martin-Luther-Strasse (ML is no doubt spinning in his grave at the proliferation of strip joints that line the avenue named for him) and had a blueberry muffin and a coffee for 2 Euros at a low-key little cafe. 


It is so quiet walking here (in direct contrast with New York City streets) that I could hear bicycles pedaling and even conversations from the other side of Potsdamerstrasse, which has four lanes. Either alone or with a couple of other people, I waited to cross at the intersections for the green man with the hat to light up. Even when absolutely no cars are in sight, you are supposed to halt when the red man sign is lit. What is my hurry anyway? Do I want to be gauche, to stand out here? No, I don't. I like the chance to rest and observe. Also, it is against the law to cross when the red man is lit. 


It is so quiet here in fact that a sharp horn from an impatient driver startled me out of my internal monologue (a la Wings of Desire), just as I was thinking that all these Porsches, Audis, Mercedes, and BMWs are seductively soothing. Really, there are few garish traffic sounds here, except for the occasional random honk. 


In Potsdamer Platz, there was a demonstration of some kind - I think it was against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the banners people were carrying. These ranged from the expected Che Guevara ones to some with Hindi script to various German Workers' Parties. I saw a guy headed towards the marching group with a determined look on his face carrying a "Nein zum Kreig" banner. 


My destination, though, was the Deutsche Guggenheim on Unter den Linden to see Utopia Matters: From Brotherhoods to Bauhaus. It is a concise, cohesive show featuring nine groups that lived apart from society and/or wanted to change to way people thought and lived: the Primitives, the Nazarenes, the Pre-Raphaelites, William Morris and Arts and Crafts, the Cornish Colony, the Neo-Impressionists, the De Stijl group, the Bauhaus group, and the Russian Constructivists. 


Before this, though, I went upstairs in the bookshop and was very glad I did. I chatted online "Second Life"-style with Chinese artist Cao Fei, whose virtual identity is China Tracy, a resident of RMB City, her virtual Utopian world. She was born in Guangzhou, China in 1978, and has also created a physical Utopia that resembles a private room (complete with a bed) located within the museum's gift shop. The charming young man who was working in this space told me about the artist and encouraged me to talk to her. It is a highly interactive exhibition and very cool - you don't often get to speak to the artist in this fashion! 


At this point, I was ready for a hearty German meal and this I found in Kaffeestube in St. Nikolaiviertal, one medieval neighborhood I rather like here. The patrons were all German and my heart was happy that I heard nothing but quiet civilized conversations and no cell phones. I even observed a table with three people, all of whom were reading books. I ate a plate full of liver with onions, potatoes, apples, and red cabbage along with a beer, and was fortified for my walk to Checkpoint Charlie. I walked through the checkpoint, didn't go to the museum, but did visit the outdoor Topographie des Terrors and what is left of the Berlin Wall in that area. I was starting to get a little depressed about it all, so I went to the nearby Martin-Gropius-Bau to see what was happening there. I will return in the future to see the Frida Kahlo exhibition and Olafur Eliasson at the end of April. 


I have logged about 10 miles of walking today, so I will sign off. By the way, it is now 7:45 pm and the sun has not yet set - it finally came out!