Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Pergamon, Kreuzberg, and Soccer Madness

Saturday night we decided to eat in the neighborhood and encouraged Cherie to pick the restaurant. She picked Schall & Rauch, a cafe/pension just two doors down (we had tried to eat there on our first night but the kitchen closed). This is "Spargel Saison" (asparagus season) in Germany, so they offered a "Spargel Karte." I ordered the white asparagus in a crepe with pumpkin and sunflower seeds, along with a starter of carrot-orange soup with pieces of smoked salmon. The soup was interesting, but not terribly exciting, but I enjoyed the asparagus crepe. The beer also went well with it.

Just as our soup came, we heard the American national anthem from the other room. America was facing off against England in the world cup. We asked if we could move our plates to an open table, and so we were able to watch the whole first half of the game while we ate. I´m not a terribly big sports fan, but I enjoy watching soccer. The last time there was the world cup (in 2006), I was also in Europe, and I saw a couple games in Poland. I think we were the only people in the cafe rooting for the Americans; the other diners didn´t seem to have a dog in the fight. Things didn´t look good when England scored so early in 1st half, and I have to say that but for the major fumble by the English goalie, the Americans would have lost the match. As it was, we fought them to a 1-1 tie. I´m not sure how that affects our standing to move to the next level within Group C.

The weather has definitely cooled off. On Saturday we wore jackets, but today (Sunday) I wore a long-sleeve shirt under my jacket.

The pension at which we are staying has definitely changed since the last time I was here 3 years ago. In addition to only accepting cash payment, their sunday brunch is greatly reduced. We left for the Pergamon a little before 11 and waited in line behind a group from Finland. We swapped stories about Finnish musical groups, which helped pass the time in the long line for tickets.

The Pergamon Altar never fails to impress me. The Germans may not have had a large colonial empire to fill their museums like the British and the French, so they had to make up for it by funding archaelogical digs and then taking back the biggest pieces they could find. After walking down the steps from the altar, the room darkened and I suddenly felt very light headed. I immediately sat down on the floor of the museum. It passed quickly, but it scared me a bit, so I decided to sit on a bench for a while. In no time at all I felt fully better.

From there we went to see the 3-story tall Market Gate from the hellenistic city of Miletus. There I met a group of Israelis. They were technical engineers from Nes Tziona, and their Histadrut sent them on a seminar program to Berlin to work/study with some aviation engineers. They tried to convince Annie to send Cherie to Israel and serve in the army.

After that we went to see the Ishtar Gate from the city of Babylon, along with about half a block of the walled road leading to it. I promised Kline I wouldn´t let Annie and Cherie leave without seeing some of the treasures of the Islamic collection. I took them upstairs to see the amazing wood-paneled 16th century Aleppo room, and then the Mshatta palace wall (from the 700s). Next to it was a small wooden coupala from the Alhambra palace in Spain.

By that point it was well past 1:30 pm and we were all getting hungry. I promised Cherie I would take her to Turkish Berlin, so we headed down to Kreuzberg where we found a Turkish pizza place. They ordered vegetarian so I chose one with a Turkish topping (they translated the Turkish name - which I don´t remember - as "knoblauchwurst").

It was a little after 3 pm when we got to the House at Checkpoint Charlie. The museum was founded by a private citizen and you can tell. The exhibits, while passionate, are not well organized, and the story of the wall and its context can be very hard to follow. This was one time where I really had to put on my teacher´s hat.

We only got back to the hotel after 5 pm, which didn´t leave me much time to shower and change for the opera. By the time I got to the bus stop, I realized I wouldn´t have time to eat dinner before the 7 pm curtain. I got to the Komische Oper in plenty of time. I forgot how cheap musical tickets are here. The government subsidizes the arts, so a mid-range ticket (18th row, middle, parkett level, just under the first balcony) ran only 22 Euros. Had Cherie come, she would have gotten a 25% student discount off that price. I did manage to get a large pretzel to eat from a street vendor to tide me over.

The opera was Tales of Hoffmann by Offenbach. I saw this opera performed by the students at the Cal State Long Beach opera program earlier this spring and really enjoyed it, so I looked forward to seeing it again since I already was familiar with the plot. From the outside, the Komische Oper has a very modern appearance, but inside, it is a baroque wonder with a large chandelier, elaborate and roccoco wall decorations, and plush seats. As I looked through the program I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they now have it arranged that the text of the opera now appears in either German or English on the back of the chair in front of you.

The couple next to me were from Lille, France. He was a professional opera singer (high baritone) and couldn´t wait to hear the performance. Next to his wife/girlfriend was a Taiwanese girl who kept apologizing to me when she got up. "I go to bathroom now. Please do not kill me." "Kein problem, no problem, it´s alright," I told her. At the Pause she told me that she had just come from Vienna where she saw an opera that bored her. "What was it called," I asked. "I don´t know," she answered. "It had two German names and I can´t remember German. I think it was by Tchaikovsky." I couldn´t figure out why she didn´t like it.

The opera was fantastic! The music is wonderful and the staging creative, with hanging lights either turning poisonous green during the climax of Act III as Antonia sings herself to death, or blood red in Act IV as Giulietta seduces Hoffmann to give her his reflection (following in the path of Schlemihl, who sold his shadow to her). In Act IV, the ceiling above the stage tilted violently back and forth, as if to reflect Hoffmann´s drunken depression.

At the Pause, I bought a lox sandwich with horseradish butter and a prosecco. I heard a woman yell out in excitement. She looked like a fashionably dressed woman in her early 50s, and she was gripping her iPod and sharing with everyone that Germany had scored two goals already in its world cup game with Australia. All over the lobby I could see Germans checking the scores of the match.

On the way home, I saw that Germany was winning 4-0. By the time I got off at Senefelderplatz to take the replacement bus, there were crowds honking and partying, celebrating Germany´s victory. The bus finally came but wouldn´t leave. The driver came on and said something like "mumble, mumble, mumble platz (place or seat or square), mumble, mumble, frei (free)." Some people got off. I figured he was saying that the bus was overcrowded, but a minute later he came back on and mumbled again. I got off and asked him if the bus was "kaput." He mumbled to me something about "Eberswalderstraße" and "fußball." I decided to walk.

By the time I got to Eberswalderstraße I could see what had happened. A huge crowd of young, mostly male, mostly drunk Germans had taken over the intersection, shutting down Schönhauser Allee. One man was up on top of one of the buses trying to lead the crowd in chears. As I crossed the intersection, another police car showed up, and the crowd began to buzz in anticipation.

I had a choice: this was probably a great opportunity to see how German police engaged in crowd control with a drunk mob of soccer revelers, or I could exercise "the better part of valor" and head back to the hotel. I chose the latter. I got back a little after 11 and was surprised that Annie and Cherie had managed to sleep through the honking, firecrackers, horns, and improvised fireworks, but perhaps they were tired from all the walking we did earlier today, and our rooms are in the back and are pretty quiet.

Tomorrow morning is laundry day.

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