It's a blog! Mainly of book reviews.
L to R, back row: Berlin Bear, Ranga and Koo, Stella, Zara, Webster Browser, Mervyn.
L to R, front row: Alison, Sally.
Ok, here's a more detailed account of yesterday.
I got going from the hotel moderately late and arrived at Alexanderplatz ~10.15 where a queue was aready forming for the viewing platform on the TV Tower; I'm pretty sure I waited longer at the Empire State building, though. Just over 200 m up and extensive views over Berlin and the surrounding area. Photos aplenty but I'm not very hopeful - pics through glass often don't work well.
After that I wandered over to Berliner Rathaus, then Nikolaikirche which claims to be the oldest building in Berlin and has very photogenic twin spires and on to Berliner Dom, which I bought a ticket for. A service was in progress. I always feel uncomfortable being a tourist in a place of worship when actual worship is going on, so I was glad to get going up the stairs out of sight and no longer be a possible cause of disturbance.
There's several "attractions" - seems like not quite the right word - including the crypt, a balcony allowing a view up to the spectacular main dome and down to the floor of the church and a museum area that incudes several scale models of church buildings. The best part is the "Dome Walk", though, especially the outside part. Photo-blitz!
After that it was time to go back to Wittenburgplatz, have a last currywurst mit pomme frites, bitte and get a taxi to the airport. Bye-bye, Berlin! It was tremendous, exhausting fun.
If you're looking for the cutesy tone of the film, or even its recent live-action re-make, look elsewhere, you won't find it here. You might be better off with Winnie-the-Pooh.
I had forgotten that several of the tales collected here are not about Mowgli, or the Jungle or even India in some cases and the Second Jungle Book focuses more on Mowgli than the first. Those non-Mowgli stories are not necessarily bad, though, and perhaps my favourite story from both books is The Undertakers, about a crocodile, crane and jackal. The North Polar story is perhaps second.
There's a detectable tone of arrogant superiority both of humans over animals and the English over Indians that is unsurprising from Kipling, who was very much of his era in this regard, but it wasn't strong enough to spoil the fun for me.
Got back alive; did lots of stuff; took over 800 photos on the trip. More details tomorrow; too tired tonight!
A few bonus experiences:
A couple of people shooting a bad video to a bad song on the steps of the Alte National Museum; a woman doing a handstand in front of a side entrance to Marienkirche while her friend photographed her; four teen girls formation dancing badly to a worse pop song they were playing in Alexanderplatz.
People = weird!
And - off to Alexanderplatz and Museuminsel! This was easy because the U-Bahn to Alexanderplatz is the same station and line I used yesterday morning. All sorts of interesting sights between there and Museum Island which is - would you believe it? - an Island full of Museums. On the way you can: walk right under the Fernsehturm (the famous TV Tower); see Marienkirche (an impressive church); meet Neptune in a fountain (Flagon and Speedy wanted photos with him); see the Berliner Rathaus, which is red, not pink, because it doesn't want to be mistaken for Bonn...; see Berliner Dom, the giant Protestant Cathedral having crossed onto Museuminsel itself and then you are at the museums. I visited the Alte National Gallery, which despite being 1/3 closed, did not give me 1/3 off the entry fee! Anyway, good 19th Century stuff here. Prredictably the French Impressionism room was the busiest, with most of the Big Name Impressionists represented but the discovery of Max Liebermann nearby made as big an impression on me. Manet was included with the Impressionists rather the the Post-Impressionists as sometimes happens and I was surprised to like the works on show; I'd never previously been a fan.
A late lunch and off to the Bode Museum, which focuses on sculpture, which proved to be a museum too far. My brain imploded. I was just too tired physically and mentally and after less than an hour I had to leave an exhibition I was thoroughly enjoying that compared African and European sculptures, masks and other ritual items. (Africa won for me every time, which was interesting.) I had numerous other things on my itinerary for the day but it was hopeless. I was too exhausted even for photo-blitz opportunities; I just went back to the hotel and napped for nearly three hours. Mysteriously, though, a Berlin Bear came back with me, as I discovered, when I checked my rucksack. The art book pile got bigger, too. Possibly it's a blessing in disguise that a number of other books were only available in German...
Last day, tomorrow. I don't have to leave for the airport until 14.00 so, depending on when I get up, I might be able to do some of the things in/near Alexander Platz that I had planned for today. No Art Museums are on the agenda, though - I'm burned out for this week.
Did you guess any of my destinations from yesterday's clues?
First I took the U-Bahn from across the street to Potsdamer Platz to save myself a chunk of walking that I'd done before in both directions anyway. U-Bahn, you need to improve your information signage. Currently you are stuck at British Rail levels of crapness, a 1/4 century behind London Underground and Paris Metro and even the New York Subway is better.
Then Flagon and Speedy wanted to be photographed in front of the Berlin Wall. Flagon asked if he should whoosh it down? but I explained that the German people had already done that before I had even met my Dragon friend; these bits were to act as a reminder of the past and a warning for the future. More effective, though, are the big photos on display showing the devastation that was Potsdamer Platz during the era of the Wall and other similar photos of the "Death Strip" between East and West. Horrific. Now it's completely surrounded by exciting modern buildings and full of Berliners and tourists alike.
Not far down the street is the Holocaust Memorial - Berlin bravely faces up to history it seems. Many people were sitting on it which seems disrespectful but they probably didn't know what it is because there are no interpretation boards or signs explaining. It's impressive but not as much as the one in, of all places, Miami Beach, Florida.
A bit further along is Speedy's "rocky hill top," which he was surprised to learn was no such thing, the Brandenburg Tor being, in fact a gate! Anyway, more "Flagon and Speedy are cliche tourists" photos ensued - there was lots of that going on. One attractive looking young woman was actively posing, like she was a model, for her boyfriend to take pictures...
Hardly any distance further on was Speedy's "male deer" which, he learned, was no such thing, the Reichstag being a big old parliament building...Very impressive, as are the buildings on the opposite side of the Spree from it. (It should be noted that previous mentions of the Spree I've made were in fact no such thing but rather a canal that branches off the real river...)
And across the Spree I went, and on to the Natural History Museum, where Flagon did see some of his "non-magical ancesters" aka dinosaurs and "pretty Treasure" aka the mineral display. Taking the latter first, it's a quite old-fashioned catalogue type of display, divided up into primary and secondary chemical classifications. It's really comprehensive; I estimate 15-16,000 separate items! Some are visually spectacular items, too and some displays about the uses of minerals and metals. One looks fairly innocuous but is so rare I've never come across a sample of it before - macroscopically crystaline malachite. It reminded me of being a first year undergrad, sat in a lab, identifying rock and mineral samples and examining them microscopically using "thin sections" - thin enough for light to go through them.
The dinosaurs were, of course, impressive; the first time I've seen a full size brachiosaur displayed; over 13 m tall ! Also a diplodocus - over 13 m long ! The brachiosaur is taller than the diplodocus at the shoulder but then the neck goes almost vertically up for several meters more. The brachiosaur skeleton indicates that the neck could probably only articulate like a crane. On the other hand diplodocus's neck stuck straight out horizontally and probably could not articulate vertically much at all, which is why it had such an epically long tail to counter-balance it. Also a S. Hemisphere species of stegosaur (never knew there was more than one kind!), an allosaur and others, but, of course, the real crowd-pleaser is Tristan Otto, the Black Tyranosaur, which gets his own room. Only 50 T. Rexes have been unearthed and this is the third most complete, with 170 out of an estimated 300 bones discovered - bones that really are black because of the circumstances of fossilization. There's some really good, innovative and informative interpretation surrounding the dinosaur displays, including a bunch of other diplays showing fossils of other plants and animals (land, sea and air) that were discovered alongside the brachiosaur, allosaur and diplodocus, during one expedition to Tanzinia. (Tristan, like all known Tyranosaurs, comes from North America. Flagon was moved to note, "Roar! Almost as Fierce as me!" Probably a ot less Friendly, too!)
There's a bunch of other exhibitions covering topics including, evolution (too basic for my level of knowledge), Earth history and plate tectonics (much of it again too basic for me), the solar system and meteorites - had some great stuff about this topic, including an explanation of the theory of how a huge meteorite impact killed the dinosaurs (and an estimated 70% of life on Earth) and the now very strong evidence base, nearly 40 years after the initial hypothesis. There was lots more but it would take ages to go through it all. Suffice to say, it took me ~5 hrs, including lunch and some rest stops, to see everything I wanted and two visits would be required to look at everything properly. One of the breaks was enforced; there was an "alarm" and everybody was evacuated. I say "everybody" but Flagon and Speedy were trapped inside, which was very worrying until ten minutes later we we allowed back inside. No idea what that was all about!
Afterward I wandered back by nearly the same route and stopped off for some food. Now, it took less than 24hrs after my arrival in Germany to eat my first bratwurst, plain. But all the street vendors are proclaiming Currywurst boldly, which is clearly a Big Thing in contemporary local food culture - it's just your basic bratwurst mit pomme frites, bitte with curry sauce thrown on top, but it is yummy. However I was disappointed to learn that instead of being an additional option, it seems to have entirely replaced sauerkraut, which is a shame - I was looking forward to some sauerkraut. I wonder if you can still get it in New York? Some of the hotdog carts there had it.
Needless to say the walks to and fro were a nearly continuous series of photo-blitzen and I'm looking forward to seeing how they turn out.
Now, what should I do tomorrow, my final full day, before flying home some time on Saturday? I haven't made a plan; suggestions very welcome!
Oh! Mysteriously, I found a Stegosaur by the name of Stella in my bag on returning to the hotel...this keeps on happening!
Back to the Technical University of Berlin for variable quality talks on the super-interesting topic of exoplanet magnetic fields. Met a PhD student from National University of Australia doing stuff on estimating the field strength of rocky exoplanets, which is an important factor in narrowing down targets in the search for potentially habitable planets, but one that most astrobiologists are only superficially aware of, at best.
After that I wandered off to Schloss Strasse, about 2 km away, passing the amazing Rathaus Charlottenburg on the way. German town halls are things to behold - the one in Bonn is also amazing, despite being too pink for 13 yr old me to fully appreciate. Photo-blitz! Anyway, Schloss Strasse (sorry, don't know how to find the proper beta symbol) is the Charlottenburg Museum District and I was there for the Museum Berggruen which focuses in one building on Surrealism, its precursors, adjacent movements and descendents and in the other, on the opposite side of the street on Picasso and his contemporaries, e.g. Giacometti, Cezanne, Magritte and Matisse (whom I often get mixed up) and Paul Klee. I discovered the etchings of Piranesi, whom I'd never heard of before - so good I bought a book in German just to have some of his work, though it doesn't contain the excellent Imaginary Prisons sequence on show at the gallery. I also developed some appreciation for Paul Klee which has never happened before. I mean I still disliked a lot of it but I liked some of it... Minor Cezanne works. Lots of Picasso, exceedingly variable in style, medium, technique - and quality - he was so prolific that some of it is just not that good compared to his best stuff. Giacometti - there's a great short film of Giacometti at work on a sculpture in clay and if you're into tall, skinny women with very long legs, you should be delighted by the first sculpture you encounter upon entering the larger building. (This joke is only comprehensible to those familiar with his style.) There's also a Cat, delightfully stood on a high shelf. Ach, I'd forgotten how much I like Giacometti! Minor works by Magritte (the good one, surrealist) and Matisse (the "why do people like him so much?" one). Ditto, re: Chagal and Joan Miro.
I really, really, really wanted to buy the huge full catalogue of the museum (available in English) but the intimidating size and weight made me leave it in favour of a much smaller, cheaper guide (available in six languages - including German!). This turned out to be wise regarding the return journey - more on which later.
I had lunch at the Museum in what I term the Impossible Cafe: It's signage loudly proclaims it is self-service but you can't access any of the food or drinks...seems appropriate for a building filled with surreal art!...and I was finished with the museum by mid-afternoon - unexpectedly early. There are other art museums in the area e.g. literally the building next door, but I was all paintinged out for one day, what to do? There's a clue to the most obvious answer in the name "Schloss Strasse" - it's right opposite the giant and grandiose Schloss Charlottenburg, named after Sophie Charlotte, first Queen of Prussia. She was quite a character, hanging out with Leibniz and having a passion for music and theatre - not just as a patron, either; she played harpsichord, allegedly very well for an amateur (but as she well knew, how trustworthy are the opinions of people talking face-to-face with a powerful Queen?). She had an amazing looking harpsichord that was totally eclipsed by her other harpsichord, which was frickin' amazing-looking, white and covered in faux-Chinese paintings. I had to buy the souviner book just to ensure I have a picture of it. (I have ten books I didn't arrive with already and there's still two days' worth of tourism to go.)
The building, which has a long and storied history, is amazing inside and out and the gardens are impressive, too. Unfortuately, part of that history is bombing by Allied forces in 1943; some parts still aren't fully restored, though it's all structurally sound and the exterior is finished.
And then it was time to return to the hotel...carrying my laptop, pile of new books, camera, pair of Adventurous Magical Creatures etc. I was ~2km from the TU, which is ~2km from the hotel - in a practically straight line - hence ~4 km from "home." I had to stop twice to rest my feet and shoulders! The second stop was dinner at the fun, wierd Juice Smoothie Thai place. (Peanut Chicken Curry, yum!) This was because it's on the edge of the overpriced (and worse, Italian) restaurant zone surrounding the hotel and hey! - it's good!
Since Monday, my explorations have all been in Charlottenburg because that's where TU is. I'm finished at the conference now, though, and get to go elsewhere. I have a plan for tomorrow and here's some cryptic clues as to what they are: I plan to use the U-Bahn for the first time. Flagon is looking forward to seeing what he describes as "some of his non-Magical ancestors" and some pretty Treasure. Speedy thinks there's some kind of male deer on the agenda, and a rocky hill top.
Well, I could probably walk to the conference from my hotel without using the map, now. I gave my talk this morning and consequently met someone who knows about Mercury's magnetosphere - an important contact that has, workwise, on its own made the trip worthwhile.
After lunch I visited the Museum für Fotografie where I saw, along with a lot of photos, Helmut Newton's Monoco studio reconstructed, props from some of his photos, his art/photography book collection, numerous magazines his work appeared in, a small contemporary fine art exhibition and a shopful of photography books...could have spent a fortune there, too...managed not to.
Then I went to the fairly nearby Käthe-Kollwitz-Museum, which brought my attention to an artist I was completely unfamilair with before. She focused on print making (etchings, litho-prints and woodcuts) for the most part but also did some fine sculpures. She usually had a social/political agenda, starting with working class poverty, moving on to war, death and grief later. Her capacity to depict human suffering evocatively and sympathetically was extraordinary.
Neither of those museums is big so I got round all of both of them in one afternoon, failling to escape the latter one without buying 2 books...after that I went to an outdoor clothing store and got a new pair of trousers - only three days too late! But nevertheless, Jack Wolfskin for the win!
After that I stumbled upon a little platz off the street which contained two aviaries holding a number of tropical bird species for no apparent reason. Well, if I could read enough German the reason might be apparent...anyway, one photo-blitz later I found a dinky and somewhat trendy place doing sandwiches and smoothies but also a bunch of Thai food and got the best meal of my trip so far. I had this bizarre drink made from apple, orange and lots of ginger. I also managed to get through the entire rather convoluted transaction in German without the staff automatically switching to English. YAY! Outside of there is a sculpture of four bears pulling a chariot being ridden by another bear. Wut? Anyway, it looked great, so another photo-blitz ensued and then I started to wend my way back to the hotel, a process involving three more photo-blitzen (?) and a chocolate icecream. Photos of various buildings, including the tiny in cross-section but remarkably tall Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtnis Kirche. Also an interesting fountain/sculpture hybrid and the LEGO shop.
And a couple of things I should have mentioned about previous days: I saw some remarkably exhausted marathon runners on Sunday - I hope they were near the finish because some of them looked like another mile might be too much. And you can see KaDeWe from my hotel entrance. Shops have no right to occupy such astonishing premises!
Monday - actually went to the conference! Found the campus fairly easily, got lost finding the actual conference building, but if I go to that street I'll find the main entrance to the place and if I just cut through that building from back to front, it's a short-cut to the right street...and also is the exact building where the conference is being held! Phew!
Registered, picked up the programme, wandered around to get the lay of the land ahead of giving my talk tomorrow, realised all my relevant stuff is Tues-Weds-Thurs and sneaked off to the zoo + aquarium! Spent 5 hrs there, saw mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects, fish, crustaceans and a bunch of things I don't know how to classify properly e.g. coral, sea anemones, sea urchins, jellyfish, starfish...
Perhaps most memorable were the elephants, great apes and other primates and rock-hopper penguins. The Indian elephants were using their trunks to throw dirt on their backs. The African bull elephant was using his trunk to spray muddy water on his belly, before just walking into the pool and kicking water everywhere...
The rock-hoppers were merrily diving in to the water, swimming around, getting out again... I noticed that "diving" was an overly dignified term for a jump followed by a belly-flop...also that when they do jump they flap their wings, which acheives absolutely nothing but seems to be a relic instinct from a time when their ancestors weren't completely flightless.
And the primates! One of the Sumatran orang-utans was seemingly as interested in watching the humans through the glass - nose pressed right against it - as the humans were to look at the orang-utan...The gibbon enclosure was the liveliest, including a not overly serious infant vs. adult female fight and a mating. (Took about three seconds.)
I went to the shop on the way out - they had a couple of great T-shirt/sweatshirt designs - women's style only! Grrrr! Mysterousy, I entered that shop with two Magical Creatures (Flagon and Speedy) and when I got back to the hotel there were nine! I'm not sure how that happened...I'll introduce them another time when I can post pics.
Which leads me to the fact that my camera battery ran out early in the zoo visit, which may be a blessing in diguise because there's no way I'd have seen the whole place if I'd been snapping away at the rate I started off at. But...no spare battery and no charger with me, either. Having noted a giant electronics store in the Europa Centre the previous day, I threw money at the problem and got two spares and a USB charger...
Tomorrow I have to work at least until lunch-time!
So, Sunday I went for a walk to the Kulturforum via the banks of the Spree river and what might be termed Embassy Row, in order to visit the Gemaldegalerie. Saudi Arabia, Italy and Egypt stand out as having impressive embassy buildings. Apparently the Nordic countries share a building that the public can visit and they put on art exhibitions - but I didn't know that, then.
Anyway, the Gemaldegalerie is pretty big, with ~60 rooms displaying paintings. If you want an over-view of mainland European fine art painting circa 1200 - 1800, this is the place to go. (There's some British work - only one relatively small room but it's got some top-notch Gainsborough in it - hard to find outside Britain itself.) The layout is very clever: it's split between countries North and countries South of the alps and they progress forward in time in parallel, enabling easy comparison and showing the development over time. I managed to see a targeted ~40% of the museum before my brain completely fried. There were a lot of Big Name artists I didn't see. I left the place with a frickin' mini-art-library; there were surprisingly plenty of books in English as well as heaps in German and one of the gallery highlights books was also available in Spanish and French...
Mid-afternoon and I wandered over to Potsdamer Platz and the amazing Sony Centre with its fabulous supended glass roof over the central plaza; saw The Predator. Yep - in Germany watching a silly American sci-fi action/horror movie...in IMAX on Berlin's biggest screen, however. Also saw the approx. life-size LEGO giraffe outside LEGO Land Discovery Centre. Adults must be accompanied by a child in order to be admitted, in a reversal of the usual restriction...waaaaahhh!
After that, pizza and back to the hotel. This book and map served me very well, indeed.