Wednesday, May 31, 2017

German Fashion

I’m not sure there are any people in the world who have a stranger sense of fashion than the Germans. Who else would think it appropriate to wear dark mint green trousers with a light mint green shirt?  Or yellow trousers with a purplish-blue shirt?  Or pinkish-red trousers with a reddish-pink shirt?  I saw all of those in Berlin in the course of just 24 hours.  Germany is the only place where my lack of a fashion gene is not social hindrance.

When I checked the weather this morning it said it would be warmer than yesterday; in fact, today was the coldest day of the trip.  I wore shorts and a t-shirt and was nearly cold.  In fact, I put on long pants and wore a windbreaker when I went to dinner tonight (though I really didn’t need the jacket).  The sky was a deep blue, broken up by occasional clouds driven by a strong breeze. 

There’s still tons of pollen, though.  I had a fit of coughing last night and then remembered I had forgotten to take my allergy pill.  It only helps so much, so I went to the pharmacy this afternoon and explained I needed something against coughing.  “A dry cough or” and then she said something I didn’t understand but pantomimed something coming up from the lungs.  “Dry,” I said, “dry, dry.”  She went into the back and brought me small box containing 22 mg Dextromethorphan pills and told me to take one every six hours and not more than four a day.  They worked really fast.

This morning I headed back to the Bundesarchive in Lichterfeld.  A few months ago, the files that I examined in hard copy two years ago were microfilmed, so I headed down to the microfilm room. They handed me two rolls and I found an empty machine with a printer and then faced the task of putting on the microfilm.  I’ve been using microfilm machines for over two decades now, but it seems that no two are ever the same.  Each one has their own unique way of putting the film on the roller.  I ended up calling the clerk over and I watched her struggle and struggle to put it on.  While that made me feel like less of an idiot, I could see the researcher near me also needed help and was glaring at me for monopolizing the clerk.  Eventually, the clerk figured out how to do it but then seemed perplexed by how to properly frame the images so they were level.  Eventually she gave up and went over to the other woman.

I figured out how to right the image in about a minute and started going through the roll and quickly found the material I wanted.  I decided to print them out, but when I hit the print button nothing happened.  I think I ended up hitting every button on the microfilm machine and printer in the hope of getting it to work.  No luck.  I looked for the clerk, but she had her hands full with the other researcher, who had somehow managed to unspool several yards of microfilm, and was now trying to roll it back up and move to another machine.  As the clerk was walking by I tried to ask her but the other researcher glared at me and said “in a moment.”  I went back to the roll and just started copying things out by hand, just in case I couldn’t get it to print.

Eventually, I was able to flag down the clerk who tried pushing many of the same buttons I had already pushed.  None of them worked.  She left to handle another researcher and I began to wonder if this clerk had ever worked in the microfilm room before.  Eventually, I flagged her down again and after a few minutes, she found the problem:  the power button to the printer was “off” (but located in the back of the printer, at the very bottom, where no one would ever see it).  Once it was “on,” everything worked fine.

By noon, I had everything I wanted and was on my way.  My plan was to visit the Brücke Museum in Dahlem.  I’ve been several times, but I wasn’t able to go two years ago as they were closed while setting up a new exhibition.  It wasn’t that far from Lichterfeld, so I thought I might as well visit it while I’m in the area. 

First, though, I stopped for lunch in Zahlendorf when I changed buses. I went into a little shop and asked for “ein belegtes Brot mit Salami, bitte” (a salami sandwich), but the clerk said in a slight huff “es ist ein Panini.” “Entschuldigung,” I replied, “die Panini bitte.”  It wasn’t bad, but a sandwich would have been better.

After another coughing spasm (I hadn’t gotten my medication yet), I stopped nearby for a large café au lait and a slice of cheesecake (it is Shavuot today) and read my book.

Then it was off to the museum.  I had mapped it out, but oy, was google maps off course.  Luckily, I still found it.

I think I first fell in love with Die Brücke art movement when I saw the Merzbacher Collection in 1999 at the Israel Museum.  Among the artists who really blew me away was Emil Nolde.  I since learned that he was an anti-Semite and a Nazi (though persecuted by the regime for being a degenerate artist).  They had several of his pieces on display, and one of them was my favorite painting I saw today.

It’s called “The Hunter’s House (in Alsen)" and was painted in 1909.  Nolde’s thick brush strokes, in which underlying colors smear through, creates an intense vibrant scene.  Like his red poppies I had seen in 1999, no photograph can really capture how they look in life.  As the clouds raced over the sun, the painting was alternatingly in shadow and light, highlighting the rough texture of the layered paint. 

Some other intense paintings I enjoyed were Nolde’s portrait of “Herr Sch.” (1915):
Erich Heckel’s “Shell-Shocked Soldier” (1916):

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s “Portrait of Edwin Redslob” (1924):

I took a short nap this afternoon and then went to a coffee house to translate the material I copied at the archives.  For dinner, I decided to try the new Chinese restaurant my pension has every evening.  I had relatively low expectations, but I decided to order the crispy duck with sweet and sour sauce.  I was amazed how good it was.  No fat on the duck, but lots of crispy skin.  To keep the skin crispy, the sauce was on the side.  Some of the best Chinese duck I’ve ever had.

After dinner, I went for a walk for nearly an hour, then headed back to finish translating the memos I found in the archives.  Not sure entirely what to make of them, but they show a flurry of activity in April 1942, while making reference to a Balz’s file, which does not appear to have survived.  Kind of frustrating, actually, with the most critical document, which references a conversation with Goebbels about Balz (which Goebbels does not mention in his Diary) is undated! According to Goebbels, Balz should not be permitted to return to broadcasting, but no further steps should be taken against him. However, the memo number leads me to think it’s from April 1942 (not that I’m anywhere close to being an expert on how the Nazi bureaucracy numbered its memos).  Even more confusing is the handwritten note in English written at the bottom of the memo date 1946, years after the original memo was prepared, indicating that the Allied security services have permitted Balz to return to work. 

Tomorrow, I’ll try to figure out what to with this stuff.  I’m hoping the material I see at the Film Archive on Friday will help sort this out.  In the meantime, I intend do some laundry in the morning before visiting the Berlinesche Galerie in Kreuzberg.  Tomorrow night, I’m seeing Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust in West Berlin.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Weather Breaks

Some people might consider me to be a man of habit.  I tend to wake up at the same time, go to bed at the same time, and eat my meals at the same time every day.  Jet lag tends to hit me strongly as it throws all my cycles out of whack. 

My food cycle is the first to switch over.  Yesterday I had breakfast at 10 am, lunch at 2 pm, and dinner 7:30.  Today I had breakfast at 8 am, lunch at noon, and dinner at 7 pm, all much closer to my norm.

My sleep cycle, on the other hand, is still out of whack.  I went to bed before 11 last night, but woke up at midnight and then at 1 am, both times with racing thoughts. The temperature in the room kept fluctuating between too hot and too cold.  I took an Ambien and slept until 7:30. A good eight hours, but chemically assisted.

Plenty of time to enjoy breakfast today, a mix of salad caprese, toasts, and cereal, along with a café au lait and juice.   

Then it was off to the Bundesarchive, located on a former U.S. military base in the southwest of the city.  I brought the researcher card they gave me two years ago and everything went well until I got to the front door of the reading room.  I could read that the door was automatic, but I couldn’t see a button.  Eventually a staffer took pity on me and opened the door.  She apologized for its problems and showed me where the unmarked button was.

It turns out that my email to them never made it to the researcher’s desk, so with some difficulty I explained what I was looking for and they ordered the material so it will arrive tomorrow.  After I left, I realized I should have checked on some other people involved in the film, but I can do that tomorrow and order the material, if any for Thursday.  In the meantime, the film archive has confirmed that they have the material I requested and I can see it on Friday.

Ultimately, the visit to the Bundesarchive is more just dotting the “I”s and crossing the “t”s.  I want to make sure I’ve quoted everything accurately and make photocopies this time of the most important documents, since my handwriting leaves something to be desired.

The weather so far has been on the unpleasant side: warm, very humid, and overflowing with pollen.  In other words, not all that different from Washington, D.C. in June.  Everyone on the subway or bus or street has that damp sheen of sweat, and long hair is wet and frizzy.  It wasn’t just me, I could see people fanning themselves or sopping up sweat as they stood on the platform or sat in the subway car.  By noon, the sky had begun to cloud over and at 1 pm, it broke. 

I had gone back to the hotel to drop off the metro passes I bought for the students when I heard a peal of thunder and heard a massive down pouring of rain.  I thought I might try for the S-Bahn, but didn’t get three feet before I ran for cover.  There was a lot of lightening and the rain was coming down in sheets.  I waited in the doorway of the pension for it to ease up.  After about 10 minutes, I figured it was safe to head to the station and had no problems. 

There, I could see hordes of very damp school children who had been caught in a class outing; all were soaked through, as were their teachers.  The good news, though, is that both the temperature and the humidity were way down.

I decided now was as good a time as any to get a coffee, so I took the S-Bahn to Unter den Linden and walked to Café Einstein, a very good Viennese style Kaffeehaus.  I already knew I was going to get a café au lait, which comes with separate pitchers of hot coffee and steamed milk, but I asked if I could check out the pastry case.  In the end I settled for a slice of Johannisbeertorte (red currents with streusel on top of marzipan filling and a pastry dough crust).  It was very good.  Red currents have a flavor that most closely resembles cranberries, though not quite as sour.

After enjoying my coffee and torte and editing my article for an hour, I headed over the German Historical Museum.  I’d never gone through their entire permanent collection exhibit before.  To be honest, I really hadn’t missed all that much.

The post-World War I era is far more interesting, with a very good display of Nazi and communist propaganda posters.  Their section on the Nazi era, however, could have expanded the coverage of the Nazi culture and home front, but perhaps that’s just because that’s the topic of my current research.

  "The 70th Birthday of Kommerzienrat Valentin Manheimer" (1887). A classic portrait of German Jewish embourgoisement. As the accompanying note remarks, "more than half the Jews [in the Second Empire] belonged to the middle or upper middle class, and another quarter to the lower middle class. Mostly Jews from eastern Europe made up the lower class." My family is an example of the last category (though they didn't arrive until just before or after WWI.

From there I walked down to Alexanderplatz, checking out along the way the reconstruction of the Berliner Schloss, on the site where the Palast der Republik stood in DDR days (in turn built on top of where the Berliner Schloss had stood).  The Palast had been a triumph of East German communist culture, but it fell on hard times after the wall came down and they found it thoroughly riddled with asbestos.  Abandoned while politicians decided what to do with the space, it was used for avant-garde art until the city decided to tear it down and reconstruct the home of the Hohenzollern monarchs.

For dinner, I decided to go to one of my favorite restaurants in Berlin:  Gugelhof, in Prenzlauer Berg.  Every two years I go here, and every two years I order a very rich and delicious appetizer:  crème brulee of duck liver with salad, onion marmalade, and a small triangle of brioche.  It’s very rich and very good.

I decided to have something “light” for dinner, so I ordered the “noodles” made out of zucchini, with mint-walnut pesto, green asparagus, and salad.  I have to say that the noodles were very convincing and seemed more like ravioli than I would have suspected.

For dessert, I ordered the Gugelhof glacé, which turned out to be a “slice” of homemade walnut ice cream in the shape of a slice of gugelhof cake and served with raspberry sauce.  It was very good.

The weather is a little more humid than it was right after the rain, but I’m hoping it stays cool and dryer.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Back in the Capital of the Free World

I had very low expectations for sleep last night.  Even though I had had very little, I often find it difficult to sleep when the time difference is so great.  This one is 9 hours.  I took a Benadryl and got into bed a little before 10 pm.

My sleep was fitful.  I woke up at 11 and then at 12, and finally at 2 am.  I’ve been getting over a cold and the congestion makes sleep difficult. I started thinking about this wonderful drug I could take when I was younger.  It was a very small red pill, the smallest pill I had ever seen and the first one I could successfully swallow.  It was called Pseudophedrine (marketed under the brand name Sudafed) and did a terrific job of drying up my sinuses (though I couldn’t take it before bed as it made me jumpy).  I used to wonder how people got through colds before it.  Now I know.

Several years ago, I went to the store to buy some and the new stuff didn’t work very well.  I compared labels and discovered that the new “Sudafed” didn’t actually contain pseudophedrine.  I went to the pharmacy and they explained that if I wanted the real stuff, they needed to check my driver’s license and record my purchase.  Eventually, I just gave up taking the stuff and learned to suffer through the congestion.

These were the thoughts going through my head at 2 am.  I also felt very warm in the room and opened a window.  About ten minutes later, two American women, in their 20s by the sound of their voices came home.  I think they’re staying in a neighboring pension that shares the same courtyard; their voices came from aways and above.  Even with my ear plugs in I could tell at least one of them was drunk.  Eventually, I took my earplugs out to figure out if she was crying or laughing.  It turned out to be both. I decided I’d rather be warm and quiet, than cool and noisy.

I took an Ambien to help me fall back asleep and for a while, I didn’t think it was working.  I put on my eye mask to block out morning light and tried and tried to fall asleep.  Next thing I knew I heard someone faintly knocking.  I figured it must be one of the neighboring rooms, but I glanced at my watch.  It was 10 am!  I had slept nearly eight hours after taking the Ambien and nearly twelve hours total.  Typically, Ambien knocks me out for only four hours.  This is probably the most I’ve slept in a night, ever.

I threw on my clothing and rushed to the lobby to ask if I as too late for breakfast.  Nearly all the tables were put away, as was all the food, but the clerk pointed out the one remaining place setting and said it was for me.  She brought me bread, butter, cheese, cold cuts, juice, and coffee, while I read the internet.  Seems that Berlin has now become the capital of the free world.  

After showering, I was ready to start the day, albeit rather late.  I started off at the drug store, where I got some cough drops and tissues, and the International New York Times.  Then it was off to Film Universität Potsdam to see what material they might have on Bruno Balz (none, it turned out), and the 1942 film, Die große Liebe (press clippings).   As I sat on the S-Bahn, I couldn’t help but notice how fit everyone was.  People walk or bike or take the subway everywhere.  It keeps you in shape.  I was also struck, as I always am, by the social intergration in Berlin.  I don’t just mean people of different races or ethnicities, but the way you can have the elderly and children, college students and parents with infants, all sharing the same subway car or sidewalk.  In America, we keep all those people in their own neighborhoods and communities, and you rarely see them together.

After Wannsee, we passed a section of garden plots.  These are for people who live in apartments in the city who want to grow fruits and vegetables. They often come with little tiny garden homes for them to sleep.  I first saw them in 2006 and I so wanted one.  I realized that I do have one: it’s my backyard garden.  Right now my fig tree is full of green, unripe figs; the pomegranate is full of red flowers; my apple tree is flowering late; and my lemon tree is full.  I squeezed and froze ten cups of lemon juice before I left town. 

My final addition are a group of tomato plants I grew from seed.  I read about this scientist in Florida who has figured out how to have tomato plants whose tomatoes actually taste like tomatoes.  For a $10 donation, he’ll send you some seeds. I bought them in February, but they took a while to arrive (not ‘til the end of March).  I planted all of them and five beefsteak and six cherry tomatoes sprouted and survived to be transplanted.  I kept two beefsteak tomatoes for myself and gave the rest away.  No one was interested in the cherries, so I ended up planning four of them. I’m hoping that at least one of my beefsteak tomatoes survives my trip so I can harvest one for its seeds.

The film university is located on the corner of Marlene Dietrich Allee and Emil Jannings Street (two huge stars of Weimar German movies).


 My visit to the film university’s library went well, and I received even better news when I checked my email:  the film archive has agreed to let me come on Friday to see what they have about Die große Liebe.  With such good news, I decided to celebrate.  I headed up to West Berlin and went to KaDeWe, to the most expensive cafeteria in Germany, to check out their pastry display:


 In the end, I chose the Baiser Kuchen mit Rhabarb, Erdbeeren, und Marzipan (in the second photo, look for the one right in the middle).  For those of you who don’t speak German, that means a pie, filled with a layer of marzipan, strawberry filling with rhubarb, and topped with meringue.  Technically, no whipped cream, so I’m breaking my diet by not having a whipped cream dessert today, but I think this counts.  It was very good.  Not too sweet, either. 

I didn’t head directly home, but rather to Unter den Linden in order to check out what is showing this week at the Komische Oper and the Staatsoper.  Turns out I’m going to be hearing a lot of Berlioz.  On Thursday, I see The Damnation of Faust and on Friday, it’s Carmen. 

The students arrive on Saturday, and my plan is to take them to I Due Forni, a pizzeria, in Prenzlauer Berg.  I wanted to check it out again and photograph the menu.  I got my usual:  the Diavolo Pizza (without olives) and a “kleine Bier.”  Heinrich Heine quipped in the early 19th century that the Jewish contribution to German politics was the “kleine Bier” (a “little” beer).  

Tomorrow I go to the Bundesarchive in Lichterfeld, so I’ll be back on the S1 towards Wannsee.  I will actually set an alarm (only for 9 am) in case I oversleep again.  If I finish early, I’ll visit the German Historical Museum on Unter den Linden, since I’ve never been through the entire core exhibition.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Back to Berlin

The travel day east always hits me hard. It's one of the reasons I head over before the students: so I can be fully rested by the time they arrive.

Thank God, but I didn't fly "screaming baby airlines." l had high hopes for a good night sleep, but as I tried to drift off, I realized that behind me were two American girls in their mid-twenties who really wanted to gossip about a friend of there's. While all the lights were turned down and everyone else was trying to sleep, they happily yakked and yakked. What made it particularly annoying is that I couldn't make out what they were saying, only that they were saying it.

Eventually I put on the headphones and started looking for some music that could serve as white noise. All the meditation stuff started with a calm voice in German telling me to relax. I didn't find that relaxing. Eventually I found something soothing when my neighbor decided to read his novel. I put on my eye patch.

I had finally drifted off to sleep when I felt someone poke me. I realized it was my neighbor: his girlfriend needed to pee. Sigh.
The two girls behind me were still going strong. I managed to fall back asleep, and I think I might have gotten 3 hours of sleep altogether.

Frankfurt Airport really hasn't changed since I was here last year. It's still better than most American airports, though it's also rather charm free.

Berlin Airport is better. Not because it's newer; it clearly shows its age. I just love the fact that the baggage claim is right at the gate and that customs is just beyond that. In five minutes, I went from the plane to the terminal.

I seem to have arrived at the tail end of a heat wave. Yesterday it was 42, today the high was 36, and tomorrow the high will be 29. More like it.

Had no trouble finding my pension; I've been staying here since 2006. Sasha was behind the counter and commented that I haven't been here for a while (not since 2013). The rooms look just the same.
I went for a walk before dinner to try to acclimate to the new time zone. The neighborhood really hasn't changed that much. Part of it is extremely gentrified and part of it is resisting gentrification with all its soul. 

It was a very hot day, so I guess they felt it was time to add an awning.

For dinner, I went to Zum Schusternjungern about 10 blocks away. It was a good walk to and from, and helped burn off the beer, cream of asparagus soup, and the huge piece of schnitzel I had. They had their "Spargel Menu" up. Their menu basically screams "DDR."

Now it's off to bed to try to recoup some of the sleep I lost.