Sunday, October 29, 2006

Zoologischer Garten

On Saturday, we all went to the Zoo, which is right in downtown Berlin. It was opened in 1844 with a gift of animals from Frederick the ?'s animal garden and menagerie. Now there are 14,000 animals in a leafy setting. I think it is the prettiest zoo I've been to. The chickens (yes, chickens) have a half-timbered chicken house, and the giraffes live in a mosaic mosque with minarets. Some other beast has a thatched roof.
This was a black-eared marmoset. We were enjoying them running around and then realized that there was a wee baby, smaller than your thumb, on the back of one of them. We also loved the baby chimpanzee, but decided not to put that picture up, because it looked so much like a little girl in our old ward.
I love our camera! I love the hippos in Berlin! We arrived just at feeding time, but this was afterward, when the hippo was just showing off for Rob. They are a favored animal here, and they have a great big hippodome where you can watch them above and below water. They've got funny hippo names like Bulette (meat patty) and Plumps (the sound they make hitting the water).
Here the kids are sitting on the bronze statue of Knauischke (Squasher), the great hippo granddaddy of them all, literally. When the zoo was almost 100 years old, it was destroyed during the bombing of Berlin, in November 1943. Only 91 animals survived of the thousands they had, and one of them was Knautschke, who hunkered down in the water until it was over. He went on to sire nearly two dozen hippos who are in zoos all over Europe until he died in the 1980's in a Shakespearean tragedy: a fight with one of his sons.
The zoo is huge and we didn't see nearly everything, but we saw a fair piece of it. We finished off with dinner at the zoo restaurant just so we could argue about who got french fries and who had the most ketchup. We went home just as it started to rain, and carved our pumpkins from Quedlinburg.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Preserving the Assets

My friend's husband is a microlender who often uses the phrase "preserve the asset" to mean that he wants her to take care of herself. My parents are both having foot problems, the boys are both having ear problems, and Maddie has bronchitis as we found out from our visit to a cross-eyed doctor on Thursday. So we are very into preserving our assets right now (what's left of them!). On Wednesday, Grandma Shumway and I went up to the neighborhood palace, Charlottenburg, and walked around the grounds. It was a beautiful and unusually warm day and I was trying to get used to our camera again. There is a small French garden just behind the palace, but most of the rest of it is wild, or an English garden with rivers and bridges.
Then my parents rented a nice Volvo and Rob and I drove them down to Potsdam. This is a picture of the Jagdschloss Glienicke or the hunting palace Glienicke. Another gorgeous day.
This is the neo-Gothic Schloss Babelsberg which was designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel (did the man never sleep? He did everything in Berlin!). This one is currently under renovation, and it needs it. It will be a gem someday.

Then we drove through Sans Souci park, stopping and getting out for the palaces. We told my parents that we'd cheated them of the great ascent up to this one, but they said it was worth it to save their feet. It was the most empty I've seen this palace -- even the cover of our travel guide has swarms of people walking around it.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Gorgeous Fall Days

Right now several big buildings and monuments are lit up at night, probably to prolong tourism since it is getting dark at about five now and we're losing four minutes of daylight a day (about two minutes more than most of you). We liked the Brandenburg Gate and we are thrilled that our replacement camera finally arrived, so we were trying it out in low light.
The Grandparents Shumway rented a car yesterday and so Rob drove them through town, then out to Potsdam where we had a whirlwind through-the-park-and-step-out-at-the-palaces tour that lasted until sunset. Then we went home and switched babysitter and drove back to see the lit up things from the Reichstag to the Unter den Linden Opera house and had dessert at the Opera Palace Cafe. This is the New Palace in Potsdam which is incredible, but off the more beaten San Souci path.
Grandma Shumway brought lots of Halloween decorations and the kids had great fun putting them up. Here Will and Grandpa enjoy and other online delights.

This is the Glienicke Bridge which was on the border between West Berlin and the East and was used for the exchange of spies and military/governmental people. I wanted a picture of the bridge when we visited it last, but we were on it, and you can't get a picture of the side of it when you're standing on it. A great photographic truth, methinks.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Grandparents Have Landed

For those of you concerned, the Shumways arrived today on time and in good shape. Good enough that they survived several hours of incessant talking and enthusiastic bouncing by their grandchildren and a dinner of wurst and kartoffel puree.
Now they are off to their own apartment (in our building) with more African knickknacks and animal prints than you ever thought they could withstand. Sweet dreams on the savannah!

Two Car Garage

Here are the current McFarland family vehicles. The stroller is for Sebastian when he deigns to ride in it, and for all of our sightseeing stuff when he doesn't. The other thing is a shopping cart so we can load up all the heavy groceries and not pull our arms out on the walk home. Rob said today that it's the best 10 euros we've spent since we got here. If you're not Sebastian or a grocery, you're on your own two feet.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Pod Toilet Erlebnis

This post is dedicated to Kathryn Isaak, who didn't get to one of these during her short stay in Berlin. This is a public restroom. Like lots of WCs in Europe, you must pay to use it. Maddie is navigating the sensors for the faucet, soap, and hand dryer here.
The difference is that this is entirely automatic and self-cleaning. It gives each customer up to 20 minutes and then it cleans itself (unless you are handicapped, and then you get 40 minutes). The toilet seat rotates around and gets cleaned, the floor gets cleaned, etc. There is space age music, which I wasn't expecting.
Usually there are women at each restroom who keep it clean and you give them some coins in exchange. I would think that the union of toiletten damen would be up at arms about this, because it might threaten job security if robots were doing what they do, but so far I have only seen five in Berlin, so perhaps it isn't an issue.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Laterne Saturday in Prenzlauerberg

Today was one of those days that we couldn't have planned, and if we'd planned it, it would never have worked out. We had no plan this morning. I scrubbed the bathroom floor and Rob went shopping, but not only did he do the family shopping, he invited Maddie and Will to come with him. This boggles my mind. I would rather have minor dental work done than go shopping with my children, not least because Will always talks me into something overpriced and unnecessary. Rob came home with a box of Frucht Tiger, which is a juice drink of dubious nutritional value, so I think he got off light.
I will note here that Maddie and Will have been playing beautifully for the last week. I don't know what changes, but now they will go off for hours and play royalty or rescue heroes and I'll see them both sitting fully-clothed in the bathtub making up stories. Yesterday Maddie found a "chip" which she used to determine Will's makeup. She said that Will is "one percent evil and ninety nine percent hot gas" and I told her she ought to patent that thing quick.
By the time we were all dressed and whining at the front door, it was noon and we still didn't have a plan. We got on the S-bahn and rode around to the eastern section of the ring, because we have not yet been able to get east of Alexanderplatz with the kids. We talked about going three different places, and ended up in Prenzlauerberg walking up to Kollwitzplatz.

Kollwitzplatz is named after Kathe Kollwitz, the wife of a doctor who did charcoal drawings and sculptures with a strong mother/child theme and a strong pacifist bent after she lost a son in WWI and a grandson in WWII. Her plaza now happens to be the heart of the neighborhood, which is the section in Berlin with the most children. There were sidewalk cafes and restaurants everywhere and we could not walk more than a block without running into a playground. The one in the middle of the plaza advertised that today was a special kids day where they had puppet shows of Peter and the Wolf and The Very Hungry Caterpillar and booths where you could make your own lanterns (which is what Rob and the kids are doing in the first photo). Lining the plaza was this great bustling market where people were hacking pumpkins and searing fish and making and selling all sorts of great stuff. It is what we desperately miss in Grandview, so we walked up and down it several times today and bought random things.
This is a water tower nicknamed der Dicke Hermann or the Chubby Herman. First it was a water tower, then it was converted into apartments in the 1920's, then it was a place to torture communists during the third reich, because what is a Berlin building if it doesn't have a dark side? Rob made the kids find this while we were in the neighborhood and right at the foot it had --another playground! So we intended to do all of this great sightseeing and really we spent hours at three separate playgrounds, but it was another stolen sunny day and the kids loved it. Sebastian spent the longest time putting sand through holes into a metal pipe that would fall down on the ground again. He also said "I am putting sand in the holes!" which is the most grammatically correct sentence he has said to date. We did not make it to the adventure playground, which is overseen by a social worker and was a reunification project (play therapy for the East Berliners -- not going to ask) so we'll have to come back and do that another day.

Oh! And we bought Maddie a felted wool hat, which cannot be construed as an impulse buy, because I wanted to buy her one in 1998 when we came and I never did, and so this still counts, right? Even though that hat would have been an extra small, and this one is extra large.
Once it got later, we were hungry and decided on falafel for dinner. If it weren't for our middle eastern brethren, I would not get any vegetables on this trip. They did up their vegetables so nicely that Will wanted a vegetable plate for dinner (?!) and he actually ate most of it (not the eggplant). Will also ordered a soda pop that tasted exactly like baby aspirin. Then it was time to head back to the plaza for our Lantern Parade.
The lanterns are a tradition where children carry around lit paper lanterns and sing at dusk. There is probably more to it than that, like someone's saint day, but I don't know it. Since it was dusk, the pictures are crummy, but I think you can get the idea. I just couldn't picture a bunch of children with lit candles in flammable lanterns walking around, so I wanted to stay and see it as much as any of the kids.

Indeed, it was quite a sight. We had two police escorts who stopped traffic each time we crossed a street and made everyone walk their bicycles by the kids. We also had a woman who accompanied us on the accordion. Her favorite piece was "When the Saints Come Marching In" and I would really like to talk to the person who is in charge of the soundtrack for my life, because it just didn't go with my conception of a lantern parade. Despite that, it was charming to see the kids walking down the streets of Prenzlauerberg with their lanterns. Sebastian couldn't keep his eyes off his and kept saying "feuer!feuer!" (which, being interpreted, is "fire!fire!") as if he couldn't believe that we were letting him walk around with a candle. I couldn't believe it either. It is a lovely way to celebrate the days growing shorter wandering around at twilight with bright lanterns.

Konzerthaus on a Friday Night

So this week has seen yet another crisis that took up too much time. It would bore you, but it is important to know that we are still scrubbing bathroom floors and grocery shopping and standing in long communist-era lines and dodging doo-doo on the sidewalks.
Unlike when we have a stressful situation at home, we can escape here and let Sarah play poker with the kids while we go out to a concert at the Schauspielhaus. This was a building designed by Schinkel (you will remember that he is the architect/decorator/set designer who put his neo-classical/neo-gothic mark on Berlin). It sits in the middle of the Gendarmenmarkt between the French cathedral and the German cathedral and the whole plaza was memorialized in a story called "My Cousin's Corner Window" written by ETA Hoffmann, whom you know because he also wrote the story upon which the Nutcracker was based (and while we are way off topic, you should know that the story is a lot more bizarre and has a lot fewer corps de ballet and pas de deux than you might think).

We sat down not ten seconds before the Konzerthaus orchestra started filing out to their seats. The room was magnificent, and didn't appear to have a bad seat in it, proving that Schinkel was more than just a pretty face who enjoyed curlicues. There are life-sized busts of the great composers on the walls -- the major German ones on the main floor and the lesser/non-German ones above the top balcony. We sat nearest Beethoven who had the most reasonable hairstyle of any of the greats. We heard an overture from Schumann's opera "Genevova" which was fantastic, and then a cello concerto in A opus 129 which was also fabulous.
This was the conductor, Marc Piollet, who reminded me of Dean Criddle only taller and wearing tails. I have become more particular about my conductors in recent years. I balk at anyone who could be replaced by a metronome or one of those flapping bird toys -- I really don't like those. Herr Piollet was worth his salt. He danced, he jumped, he had staccato seizures -- he looked like Dick Van Dyck swinging around so loose-limbed it appeared that only his jacket was keeping him together. This was most evident in the second half, after we'd all filed out and gotten drinks next door and admired more of Schinkel's basilisks and griffins.

The orchestra performed a Brahms piece which was originally for four pianos, and had been orchestrated by Arnold Schoenberg. It was phenomenal. I liked the first two movements, loved the third, and was absolutely bowled over by the Hungarian dance at the end. I can't say that Brahms would have been behind the use of a euphonium in his work, but who knows? One critic wrote that it is too bad for Brahms because once you hear the orchestrated version, you'll never want to go back to pianos.

After the concert, Rob and I walked around that end of town and saw a few of the buildings that are lit up artfully for the next couple of weeks: the French cathedral, the Altes Museum, the Berlin Cathedral, the TV tower are a few. If I can get some pictures, I'll put them up. There are rainbows, stars, and some sort of kokopelli thing on the Dom.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Glienicke Summer Palace and Bridge

Now that the kids are back in school, learning to write their ones and sevens strangely, Rob and Sebi and I tried to get in another palace on Wednesday morning. Weather here was still gorgeous and we rode down to Wannsee, which is this lake, as seen through the pergola.
This was a Venetian/Byzantine 'curiosity' on the palace grounds. It was right next to the Orangerie where the head gardener let us peek in as they were bringing all of the palms and citrus in for the winter. She said that it was state of the art for the 1830's and had radiators inside to keep the plants warm.
Rob and Sebastian checking out the perpetually spitting lions.

This shot shows the historical pieces that they bought up and hung on the walls as decoration. This alone explains why Athens looks like it does these days (and, by extension, what anyplace might look like after a few centuries of tourism).

This palace is right next to the Berlin city limits, and the bridge (Glienicker Brucke) where the east and west exchanged spies and military people.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Gardens and Trains

Last Sunday, we took a walk next to our house. I couldn't believe it, but we are only two blocks away from a garden colony and the S-Bahn tracks. They're hidden behind some apartment buildings, but I have never heard the trains going by. The kids were very excited to watch the trains go in and out of the station, and they tried to get the drivers to wave to them as they left. Eastbound drivers are more likely to wave from our short experience.
On unused train rights of way, people can buy leases and have a small garden plot which is called a Schrebergarten. These had obviously been around for a long while and most of them had a teeny house too. This allows the trains to get rent money out of the real estate while they're not using it, and makes it easy to use it when they need to. It also lets people get gardens and second homes and the land looks a lot better than it would if it were left unattended.
The garden colony had a lot in common with our neighborhood in Grandview. There was the avid gardening/avid pruning element, a strong Christmas light presence, and a high Fiberglass Lawn Ornament Quotient, or F.L.O.Q. We were amazed at how much gardening they could get out of such small lots -- some were masterpieces.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

To Quedlinburg and Wernigerode

On a tip from John and Tania Lyon, who came here with their two daughters last year, we decided to drive down to Quedlinburg on Saturday. This is a little town in between Leipzig and Magdeburg whose old downtown district was all put on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1994 because it is all halftimbered and crooked and darling. My dad would get "quainted out" pretty quickly here. We started out at a market outside the city wall where we bought pumpkins for the kids, some vintage postcards for Rob, and a Playmobil castle for only 10 euro (these are pricey toys, and MA had been thinking of spending too much money for a castle, so it was a great financial boon to have found one for so little). Once everyone was happy with their chattelizing, we wandered through town.
Part of the charm of this place is just that it isn't yet all prettified. As we were driving up, most of the signs had little additions stuck onto them saying "and Quedlinburg!" as if the new tourist office had been hard at work to keep up with the visitors. I would characterize plenty of the residents as stunned at the number of people who now want to walk around and spend money and take pictures of everything. We had brought a lunch, but decided to eat at a pub on this square just because it was so inexpensive. Turned out to be good too!

This is just a random street in the old town but off the beaten tourist track. The town owes a lot of its existence to a Frauenstift built by the Kaiser for widows and noble daughters. Quedlinburg actually ruled the Reich of Saxony for a brief period through two women who were caring for the child-King Otto III. Their names were Theophano and Adelheid (and you'd have to have a really substantial-sounding name like that if you're going to be taken seriously as a ruler). It was also where Germany's first woman doctor was born and worked. Dorothea Erxleben lived from 1715-1762 and was granted a special dispensation to receive her diploma and practice. I will here make a prediction that because there are good female roots, that it will become a big feminist and lesbian tourist site. This is the town hall and it was beautiful. If I were living in Germany now (permanently -- I mean I know I'm here) I would like to become a restorer, and more specifically I would like to do gold leafing. There is so much being done everywhere we visit that I would have no shortage of work and with gold leafing, I'd get to go to all the most fun places. But I would love to know how in the world they're restoring these daub and wattle places -- I just wouldn't have the nerve and wouldn't even know where to begin when there are no right angles remaining! The real estate is currently very reasonable for anyone looking for a European home. I'm still trying to talk Rob into it.
The kids are all pointing here to a small dog on the shield which is called Quedel. He is the city's mascot and is said to protect all under him. One last thing, I'd recommend wearing really really good shoes -- the cobblestone streets haven't been smoothed out in many years. In fact, skip shoe leather all together -- wear all-season tires instead.
We decided to Wernigerode which is only about 15 miles down the road and has obviously been overshadowing Quedlinburg for years. It is well-polished and has plenty of tourists and well-kept half-timbered houses, and a much grander castle on the mountain. Maddie and I walked up to the castle, but by time I got there, I so desperately needed a restroom and the nefarious castellans had put them inside the courtyard where we needed tickets and didn't have money or time for them, that I could only hop around taking pictures before we had to run down the hill again so I could relieve myself! It will give us a reason to come back and visit again.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Day Trip to Dresden

On Wednesday we gave the kids a break from the car. We stuck around the house, went to the park, used the car to drive to the store and buy lots and lot of heavy things, and then drove around Berlin in the evening. We visited Rob's other Berlin mission area in Neukoelln and Kreuzberg and then went out to dinner at a great Turkish place and had wicked good doener kebaps. Mmm.
So on Thursday we got up and drove down to Dresden. It was about two hours, depending on the vagaries of traffic, construction, and thinking that you left the camera at home only to find that you'd packed it in the backpack after all.
We wandered into town just as bells were playing "Oh God the Eternal Father" across the Elbe river. Rob informs me that Mendelssohn wrote the music, though I don't know what the German title is.
We started off next to the Semper Opera, which was burned, bombed and flooded in that order. Now it is famous throughout Germany because it's in a beer commercial. We meandered through the humungous Baroquelicious Zwinger museum complex and ate lunch up on top.

This is the Frauenkirche. It was bombed in the last days of WWII and 35,000 civilians were killed -- many of them refugees who had come to Dresden from other places. The rubble was left as a war monument throughout the GDR, and then after reunification, there was a grassroots movement to rebuild it. They did extensive archaeology so that they could use original pieces in the original places, as you can see from the picture. The inside is just amazing. I don't even know where to start with it. Kind of like the Tabernacle only round, with at least three balconies and each balcony has three levels. The cupola also has three levels, and the whole thing is very light for a Baroque church.

It has quite a following. I've never seen a church so crowded with sightseers anywhere. It has also started archaeological work in the surrounding plaza, and three more big projects are planned to bring the area back to its former glory. Will decided after watching them work with their shovels and brushes and rulers and conveyor belts to take away dirt that he wants to grow up to be an archaeologist.
This is the Golden Rider, and he stands just on the other side of the river in Neustadt (new city). He's had a new coat of gold for the 800th anniversary of Dresden in 2006. Rob says that Dresden was bleak when he was last here in 1992, but it feels revitalized and is very pleasant now.
This is the Hauptstrasse in the Neustadt. Despite the fact that this street was hit hard with the Communist ugly stick, it is a really pleasant place to be, proving my theory that neighborhoods with big trees age well, and that landscaping can hide architectural flaws like clothes can hide figure flaws. We spent the late afternoon here, getting dinner at the market hall and eating it on benches in the middle. We found a section of handmade art stores with a playground behind, and the kids took a break before we headed back to the car for the ride home.
Three kids dancing under the back end of a horse. On the way home, everyone whined and fought over iPods, and then Sebi started singing "We Are The Champions" again. They do a great rendition of it. Then we got a simultaneous medley of three Queen songs by three kids. It was a great cacophony, but if they're happy, we're not interrupting.

A Day at Warnemunde

So I realize that it isn't an obvious solution, to stick five coughing, barking people in a car and drive to the end of the continent, but it worked. On Tuesday we took off for the Ostsee and went to the beach just above Rostock. We managed once again to cheat fall, and had a few hours more of summer temperatures and even some sun.
The kids had a great time splashing in the water and squealing and playing in the sand. Sebastian found this beach easier to deal with since the waves were only about six inches high. He also decided to throw all the sand back into the water, which was a nice project that kept him busy. It doesn't look like it, but there were lots of people on the beach playing volleyball, swimming, sunning, and promenading up and down.
In the meantime, Rob rented a Strandkorb or beach basket. You open them up and they recline and have footrests and you turn them toward or away from the sun but are sheltered from the wind. They're very handy and they'd be great at most beaches in Northern California.
We stayed for about six hours, getting pizza for dinner, and then drove home in the dark. I know we'd never have woken up in California and decided to drive to Monterey for the day and back that night, but it was just what the kids needed to do.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Punting and Pickles

So as part of our Preserving the Sanity in Herbst Ferien, we rented a car for a week. On Monday we drove about an hour southwest of Berlin and visited the Spreewald. a forest that contains the Spree river delta. Historically, it was where the farmers would load up their harvests and then punt up to Berlin to sell their goods (it took two days to punt into town). Luebben, is a cute town crossed by waterways and bridges.

This was our kahn or punt just as we were taking off. I can't think of a place in the US that would come up with these details like tables and lap blankets and centerpieces on a boat ride. It is so German and so charming. The boat ride lasted about two hours and the kids were into it for about five minutes. To be fair, anyone who has ridden a punt before knows that it is peaceful, relaxing, and a good way to rest your feet. Anyone who has ever seen Sebastian at naptime when he is not asleep knows that this was an explosive combination. The nadir was probably when I consented to let Will listen to an iPod at one point. Less pathetic parts were when we got to go through the locks or schleusen and when we got to punt to a Spreewald version of a drive thru.

We bought the local specialty, pickles (Spreewald pickles are featured in Goodbye Lenin) and they were phenomenal! I am not even a lover of pickles, but these were really yummy and crunchy. I bet that they would light up really well if you stuck them into an old lamp cord and made an electric pickle (but perhaps you wouldn't do that with 240 electricity, no?). We also got the kids ice cream, and as you can see, ice cream and pickles is not just for pregnant women any more. The kids loved this part of the ride, and if that wasn't enough, they found that their popsicle sticks contained gum inside them (as I told Rob "That's just what this trip was missing. Gum." Gum has been strictly verboten in our house since I started finding it stuck under the counter several months ago). But we survived the rest of the trip without getting it in anyone's hair or dropping it in the water. We drove home and shared plum cake and Spreewald pickles with our students for FHE.