Thursday, 11 August, 2022
Daniel and I went out to breakfast in the Literaturhaus. Michael was feeling a bit under the weather. Until that moment, it had not occurred to me that one of us might get Covid on holidays but it occurred to me pretty strongly at that point. You will be relieved to hear that his symptoms were not Covid like (he had a bit of an upset stomach – perhaps the influence of the Currywurst of dreams?) and was better by the evening.
Those of us who were well enough went to the KaDeWe for an air-conditioned lunch. Very nice actually – top floor, good views, not too dear and the food good in an upmarket self-service kind of way.
My mother always spoke very fondly of the wonderfulness of the KaDeWe. She was not wrong. I enjoyed the food hall and, in particular its truffle based offerings.
Michael having perked up somewhat when we got home, we went to dinner across the road to a lovely Italian restaurant.
Also food related I was gutted to see on our friend the internet that my favourite place for breakfast in the world – the Crawford gallery cafe in Cork – is closing down. They certainly knew how to charge and seemed to have a very loyal customer base so I am a little baffled. Alas.
Friday, 12 August, 2022
Leaving the menfolk at home to entertain themselves, I set off on a frolic of my own with only my mobile phone to guide me. Interest in Berlin’s art gallery was limited. Their loss.
Unlike many other museums in Berlin, the Gemäldegalerie is not on the Museum Island. I began my journey by getting the S-bahn two stops in the wrong direction. Then I had to go out on to the sun-drenched streets to find the U-bahn and I passed an air-conditioned shop. I went in. I bought a pair of jeans. It was hard to imagine ever wearing jeans again but I am wearing them as I type. They were a good buy but then I had to cart them around all day in 34 degree heat. Overall, perhaps not my brightest move.
Anyhow, I ploughed on. According to google maps it was a quick ten minute walk from the metro stop to the gallery. It was more than 10 minutes. It was beside a wide unshaded, busy road and 2 in the afternoon. I honestly thought I might die from heatstroke as I struggled along with my newly bought jeans. When I got to the place that google assured me was the Gemäldegalerie there was no sign of it. There were a couple of other cultural buildings but the place was basically deserted. I was in a wide barren plain with no hint of shade (technically a very large surface car and bus park). I asked all three passersby that I saw where it was but no joy. There seemed to be some kind of philharmonic orchestra place and a thing called the culture forum or something but of the Gemäldegalerie there was no sign. I was trotting around on the verge of collapse in an increasing state of desperation (of course still carrying the wretched jeans) when I met a dapper older gentleman in neatly ironed trousers and a blazer. He was going to the Gemäldegalerie and he would take me with him. Sadly not without standing in the sun for a further ten minutes pointing out other cultural glories within spitting distance. He was from Munich and also had a flat nearby from whence he had come to see the glories of the gallery. “I’m sorry,” I said, desperately, “I have to get out of the sun.” We went to the culture forum place. The Gemäldegalerie was inside. Honestly the signage left a lot to be desired. I scuttled to the bathroom to wash my face and hands.
Here is your correspondent upon gaining access to the bathroom. You might have thought that the gentleman from Munich should have known that I needed to get out of the sun without me telling him.
However, my suffering for art was totally worth it. The place was deserted – maybe because tourists can’t find it? – and it had a wonderful collection.
Lots of northern European stuff (Dürer, Van Eyck, Vermeer, Rubens) as you would expect but plenty of Italian paintings as well (Caravaggio, Botticelli, Titian) and ones you’d recognise.
I spent two very happy hours there. A friend of mine describes visiting the National Gallery in London as like going to a party and finding an old friend in every room. It was like that. If you are interested in art, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Here is your correspondent after two calming hours in the gallery.
It was still toasty enough when I emerged and I decided to try out the scooters with which Berlin is so plentifully supplied. I was able to practice in the large car park before scooting back to the metro by a slightly quieter road. Delighted with myself.
I have no recollection of what the menfolk said they did that day, possibly skulked at home like vampires trying to avoid the 34 degree heat (something to be said for that) but that evening, Mr. Waffle and I went out a walk around our lovely quartier and an ice cream and it was a very satisfactory conclusion to the day.
I also got a message from our Airbnb host asking if I could water the plants on the balcony. I obviously had been doing so all week because I’m not a monster. I asked whether he had a watering can. He did not (somehow unsurprising) and he referred me to the 500ml carafe in the kitchen. No wonder his plants had been wilting. I think I came just in time to save a couple from death. We spent a bit of time on the small balcony early in the morning and late in the evening when it wasn’t too warm. The street had lots of trees which provided a certain amount of protection and made for a lovely view.
Saturday, August 13, 2022
Mr. Waffle and I went for breakfast on the Kurfürstendamm and I felt like a Mittel Europa sophisticate. We decided to tackle the Pergamon museum. We schlepped in to the Museumsinsel only to find that the tickets were sold out for the day. Alas.
Were we downhearted? A bit, to be honest. We went to the Jewish museum instead which I would recommend but sad in parts as you can imagine. However, the story of Jews in Berlin is about more than than the holocaust. Did you know that Felix Mendelssohn’s grandfather was a famous Jewish philosopher?
I liked this picture by Joseph Oppenheimer of two gentlemen heading to the opera.
However, it was not all opera. One of the many things I found disturbing was a room where all of the anti-Jewish laws from the 30s and 40s were listed on long sheets of paper from floor to ceiling. You could flick through them like large posters in a shop and there were so many of them beginning with small changes and ending with destroy all records (at the end of the war). There’s something about the way the law was neatly used to limit and confine and eventually kill millions of people in a controlled and orderly fashion that I found particularly depressing.
There was some information about Kristallnacht and I noticed that a furrier’s shop which had been targeted was around the corner from where we were staying in chic Charlottenburg.
Sunday, August 14, 2022
August 15 is the Feast of the Assumption (in Italian it’s Ferragosto and marks the middle of the holiday season – and every year it reminds me of au pairing in Naples in the summer of 1988) and in German, it is, as we were reminded at Mass, Mariä Himmelfahrt which, I kind of find hilarious. It’s a bit like Cinderella (you know, Cendrillion in French, Cenerentola in Italian and Aschenputtel in German). Anyway we learnt that it was the 300th anniversary of Catholic emancipation in Brandenburg in a way that I don’t fully understand this seems to be thanks to the Belgians (which was pretty forward looking of them as their country didn’t yet exist). I have to say, I was quite surprised; it seems a bit late.
We went to the Pergamon Museum. It was very satisfactory. Part of it was closed. That was a definite win as there is only so much of antiquity you can take in on one trip. I thought that the Ishtar Gate and the Gate of Miletius were amazing. Huge and transported brick by brick to Berlin. And, although there was loads of other stuff to see, it didn’t feel overwhelming. We all really liked it.
We went to the museum cafe after and a robot waiter (basically a tray on wheels with cat ears) was supposed to deliver our order. The human waiting staff seemed to find it very tedious. It was absolutely useless and slowed everything up. I think it’s a while before the robots will be coming for the service sector jobs.
That evening is was a balmy 31 degrees and I managed to persuade Mr. Waffle to go for a scooter ride with me around the streets of Charlottenburg. Although we have a combined age of 105, you will be pleased to hear that no accident befell us.
Monday, August 15, 2022
I went for a solo breakfast to the ludicrously named “What do you fancy love?” Grand but not sure it was worth the online enthusiasm. Breakfast featured the ubiquitous quark (described by our German teacher as a German cottage cheese which it is not at all but that’s the best I can do for you) which I hadn’t even thought of in years. Still a bit of an acquired taste if you ask me. I enjoyed ordering in German and engaging in mild small talk with my waiter. Unlike the French, the Germans are very encouraging when you speak their language and do not wince if you make a mistake.
It was our last day in Charlottenburg and Mr. Waffle and I decided it was now or never for Schloss Charlottenburg. We left the boys at home (we are sometimes merciful) and slogged 2kms from the S-Bahn stop to the castle in the hottest part of the day (no I had learnt nothing from my Gemäldegalerie debacle and, as they say, I will not be taking questions at this time). As we got out of the train, I noticed a lady behind us looking a bit feeble and using a walker and puffing vigorously on a cigarette. There is a lot more smoking in Berlin than in Ireland. Anyway about 500m into our walk I saw her ahead of us. I know the heat slowed us down but still and all. I think there must have been some better exit which we failed to find, due to heat exhaustion. Like all of Berlin, the area was littered with scooters but, as I had forgotten my phone with its scooter unlocking app, they were sadly unavailable to us.
Anyway we arrived eventually. Sweating but with our marriage intact. People, what day of the week was it? When I used to go on holidays in France with my parents as a child they used to say often, like very often, “fermé lundi”. And they imported it into day to day speech and expanded its meaning to cover the idea of an annoying yet explicable closure of any establishment. You would think therefore that I might have remembered it and spared us the pain of a 4 km slog in the hottest part of a hot day to go to a closed monument. Sigh.
When we got home, the boys were cool and refreshed in the house. Daniel agreed to go for a walk in the Tiergarten with me. It is in the middle of Berlin and I heard a man on the S-bahn describe it as like New York’s Central park: a green lung in the centre of the city 5kms long and 2kms wide. Since then I had been desperate to go. It’s fine, nice even, but, you know, a park. We had a cup of tea in the English tea house which was pleasant but as Samuel Johnson said about the Giant’s Causeway worth seeing but not worth going to see. Or maybe I was just too hot to appreciate it fully.
We travelled on to the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtnis Kirche. A ruined church in the centre of Berlin, it’s been preserved as a memorial to the war. I don’t know that I was totally able to appreciate it after my long day of touristing.
That evening it rained. A real thrill. We had dinner in a not very nice restaurant but it was lovely not to be sticking to our chairs in the heat. Over dinner I remarked that something was being thrown around “like snuff at a wake”. “What?” said the boys in unison. Apparently I had never said it before in their hearing. Perhaps an Irish phrase – it implies a slightly reckless plenty. I’ve passed it on to the next generation now anyhow, hard to see them using it. Still, I never thought I’d use this old person’s phrase myself and here we are.
Stay tuned for the next Berlin installment when our plucky band decamps to East Berlin. “More?” you gasp in horror. Yes, more.