Wednesday, May 29, 2019


Apparently, I’ve become completely forgettable, but more on that below.  Let me first focus on what went right today.

I slept very well last night.  About thirty minutes before bed, I took some melatonin, and then at bed time, a Benadryl.  Usually, my problem with jetlag isn’t falling asleep but staying asleep.  After six hours of sleep, I woke up around 4 am.  I decided to take half an Ambien and slept until 8 am. Since it was only half, I didn’t wake up with any lingering grogginess.

The breakfast buffet was nice and on a par for a German pension.  There was the cold cut and sliced cheese platters for the Germans, along with soft boiled eggs, cut fruit, and rolls covered in various seeds.  I made some toast and had salad caprese along with some German yoghurt, followed by some very American-style cereal and milk.

Since the courtyard beneath my window is a playground for a kindergarten, I feared they might wake me up, but the kids didn’t arrive until after 9:30, around the time I was getting ready to head out.  My big splurge while traveling is to pick up a daily paper (it used to be the International Herald Tribune, but now it’s the International New York Times).  The bookstore next to the S-Bahn station that carries it doesn’t open until 10, but that was only a five-minute wait.  Then it was off to the archives.

There was a cute episode on the S-Bahn.  A man with a medium-sized dog got on the train and was sitting a few seats to my right.  Further down the car was a mother with a five-year old kid, who was holding a life-sized stuffed golden retriever.  I noticed that the actual dog was whimpering.  She thought the boy’s toy dog was real and wanted to go sniff and play with it.  We all smiled and the dog owner kept trying to reassure the dog there was nothing to do.

At first, I assumed these were the same archives I visited in 2016 while working on my Balz article, but no, while they are in the same general part of Berlin (the south west), as I approached the elegant Baroque-style building, I realized this is where I came 21 years ago, on my first trip to Germany.  Sure enough, as they brought me the files I requested, I found my name and signature from 31 March 1998 on the inside check out slip. In one case, I had the only signature, which turned out to be the file I needed the most.  In two files, I saw that Ismar Schorsch had checked them out before me (well before me, in 1977; in fact, I suspect I knew where to look for them in the first place because he probably cited them in his research).

I had come back to these archives to reexamine files I had looked at 21 years ago, because I had trouble reading some of the microfilm the archives had sent me back in 1998.  Originally, my dissertation was going to need this information, but since my topic was changed during my oral exams, I never used it, but now I need to.  Part of what had surprised me was that when Graetz (the subject of my research – a nineteenth-century Jewish historian) enrolled at the University of Breslau, in the School of Medicine, Philosophy department, he didn’t major in either philosophy or philology, but apparently in a catch-all department that included “natural sciences.”  I was having trouble reading the other two specialties and I thought having the original in front of me would help.  It did.

By comparing the entries from year to year, I was able to figure out that the second specialty was “Mathematik” (i.e., mathematics), but the first one – “Cameral.” – wasn’t ringing any bells. When I got back to my hotel and googled it, I found this is the old German term for someone studying “public administration.”  These are still surprising since Graetz did not go on to become a public administrator, a mathematician, or a scientist.  On the other hand, there were a lot of restrictions on Jews attending Prussian universities.

I also noticed that under “Remarks” there was a notation that was somewhat difficult to make out (I’m still struggling with nineteenth-century German cursive).  At first, all I could tell was this remark only appeared for new students who were from Posen (now, Poznan in Poland) who were Jewish.  By comparing the remark in different handwriting from different years, I was finally able to figure out that it said “Minis. Erl.”, short for Ministerium Erlaubt, or “allowed by the Ministry” (the Ministry of Culture).  He needed special permission to attend the University of Breslau.

This time, I didn’t have to worry about microfilming; I was permitted to photograph all the pages I wanted (once they made sure I wasn’t working with sensitive files; as soon as he saw “Kultusministerium” on the files, he said “copy as much as you like”).  After about three hours, I was done with my work and headed out to find a late lunch. 

Without any specific plans for what to do if I finished early, I headed over to Nollendorfplatz, picked up a small sandwich, and then decided to walk to a museum in the neighborhood.  Along the way, I accidentally found myself in a red-light district.  In the space of a block and a half, almost a dozen scantily dressed women all carrying small purses, all came up to me to ask me what was going on.  It was like running an obstacle course! 

The small purses, by the way, are an essential part of a prostitute’s attire in Berlin.  How do I know this?  My father’s cousin grew up in Berlin and loved to swing her purse when she walked along the street as a young girl. She told me that her mother scolded her, since swinging a purse was one way prostitutes would signal their profession. 

Anyway, I got a bit lost but eventually found the place.  After about an hour of walking to, in, and from the museum, I thought I deserved a reward for all my exercise and for my success at the archives. I was only about two blocks away from Café Einstein Stammhaus, so I stopped in.  It was such a nice day, I thought I would sit in the garden, but it was closed.  I could sit by the window overlooking the garden, I was told, so I did.

I made sure to carefully examine the pastry case before taking my seat, and settled on the Himbeer-Mandel-Torte, or Raspberry Almond Cake.  I also ordered their Viennese café au lait to drink with it.   This comes with a pitcher of hot coffee and a pitcher of steamed milk, so you can decide how strong or weak to make it.  I managed to get four cups out them. 

The cake was delicious!  It has a thin layer of crispy almond base, followed by a thin layer of sponge cake (Biskuit in German), an equal layer of raspberry mousse stabilized with gelatin, another layer of sponge cake, and second layer of the mousse, and then finally topped with glazed raspberries.  The side of the cake was covered in toasted, sliced almonds.  It was very good and I made sure not to rush eating it.  Reading my novel and part of the paper, I managed to stretch this one cake and coffee into an hour. Finally, around 4 pm, when almost everyone who had been seated near me when I sat down had already left, I asked for the bill.  And now my troubles began.

I’m being melodramatic; it wasn’t that bad.  The waitress asked if I wanted to pay with cash or card and I said “cash.”  Then she left.  After about 10 minutes, I began to wonder when she would come with the bill.  When she had brought the cake and coffee she had said something that I didn’t quite catch.  When I asked her to repeat herself she said in a much louder voice that she forgot the coffee spoon and would be right back.  I thought, “God, am I losing my hearing.”  Now, though, when she hadn’t come with the bill, I started to wonder if she disliked me.

About ten minutes later, a couple who had come in after me and were served by the same waitress, went up to the maître d’ to pay their bill, saying they didn’t know where their waitress was.  At that point, I realized it wasn’t just me.  She came back from wherever she was and apologized to them.  Then as she walked by she saw me, nodded and touched the side of her nose with her finger, and then walked to print out my bill.  She came over, handed it to me and apologized, saying that she had forgotten it.  I paid and left.

A short U-Bahn trip later I was in Potsdamer Platz.  I checked out the Film Museum to see if they would be open tomorrow (it’s a Christian holiday called Christi Himmelfahrt  - the Ascension of Jesus – and all government and state offices are closed).  While I could have found this out online, when I went in person I was told that not only will they be open, but admission will be free after 4 pm). 

It’s not far from there to the Neue Nationalgalerie, but as I approached I could see that I won’t be visiting it any time soon:  the whole area is a construction site, as Mies van der Rohe building is refurbished.  I noticed a very contemporary building behind it and the Berlin Philharmonik; this turned out to be the Kultur Forum, which has been around since 1998.  How have I missed it? I wondered.  Because it’s dedicated to art from the 13th through the 18th centuries, and my preferences are for modern.

I walked again, past the T-4 Memorial, noticing a text I hadn’t seen before a little further down, along with an earlier metal memorial.  I need to find out more about this older memorial.

From there I walked to the Brandenburg Gate and down Unter den Linden.  I wanted to pick up the schedule for the Komische Oper and the Deutsche Oper, which I did.  Finally, at Alexanderplatz, I took the U-Bahn back up to the pension.

For dinner, I decided to stay local and went to a Bavarian restaurant nearby.  It was such a pleasant evening, I sat outside on the patio.  I saw they had a special Spargelkarte or “Asparagus Menu,” so I ordered the cream of asparagus soup, and an order of asparagus with hollandaise sauce and salted potatoes, along with a small beer to wash it all down.  The soup and asparagus were delicious (not so much the boiled potatoes), but it started to get chilly as the sun set, so I requested the bill.  And waited.  And waited.  And waited.  After 15 minutes, I again signaled for the bill, and the waiter came back with it and apologized, saying that he forgot.  I never have this happen, but it happened twice today.  Apparently, I’m very forgettable.

I’m going to pack up most of my stuff tonight.  With the archives and the state library closed tomorrow, I can have a relaxed morning changing hotels and then it’ll be off to the galleries. 

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