Sunday, July 3, 2011

July 3, 2011: Manchester/Toronto - Flight, Home!

No photos to post for this last day of our trip - we simply flew home! Our sabbatical year has been a fantastic experience, but it's great to be back.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

July 2, 2011: Manchester - Library, Art Gallery, Industry, Steak

Today Mark's cousin, Simon, showed us around Manchester. It may not have the glamour of London, but I found the industrial history of Manchester really interesting. And the prevalent red brick construction of the buildings, contrasted with some very dramatic modern architecture, reminded me of Toronto.

We enjoyed the sunny weather, eating outside at a street festival, and having a pint outdoors at an English pub.

After touring the city we went for a delicious steak dinner with the extended family - a lovely way to finish off our European adventure!

Old Manchester and new

Cousins walking down the stairs: Simon and Mark

A detail of the old architecture

A very striking new building

The Museum of Science and Industry, housed in several old factory buildings

We saw a detailed demonstration of the textile machinery that drove the Industrial Revolution in Manchester

 We also saw a variety engines (many of which were invented in Manchester) in operation

Friday, July 1, 2011

July 1, 2011: Berlin/Manchester - Botanical, Flight, Indian

After checking out at the hotel, Mark and I walked to the nearby Berlin Botanical Garden for a last outing. I cleverly tried to pay with all of our Euro change, but miscalculated, and had to break a bill - drats. It was a short visit, as we wanted to get to the airport in time. So we only saw a portion of the garden, but it was quite lovely.

Since we were already in Europe, it seemed like a good opportunity to stop over in England along the way, to visit Mark's mother's relatives in the Manchester area. Our flight went well, and we landed to beautiful weather - warm and sunny. Mark's relatives kept remarking on how lucky we were. Oddly enough the last time I visited England (11 years earlier) I came during a summer heat wave.

For dinner we had take-out Indian - delicious. The closer we get to home the spicier the food is! It was also really nice to relax in a home, with family, after so many months of being away.

One of the garden's lush greenhouses

At first glance I thought we had missed seeing a zoo-esque garden, filled with moose. After double checking with Google Translate, I realize it was a garden filled with moss. Which I may well have enjoyed just as much...

Thursday, June 30, 2011

June 30, 2011: Berlin - Jewish Museum, Aquarium

In the morning I went to the Jewish Museum Berlin. As with yesterday's tour, there were dire historical objects and stark spaces and art evoking the Nazi Holocaust. But there was also other fascinating and fun history about the Jewish people throughout history, with a focus on their place in Germany - it was nice to balance out the sad with some good.

I was also particularly interested to visit the museum because the architect was Daniel Libeskind, who designed the Crystal addition for the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. I am not a fan of his addition to the ROM - it strikes me as architecture that hates people. There were many similar elements in his design for the Jewish Museum, but here they made sense - a discordant, disorienting, alienating experience is appropriate for a troubled history of discrimination and repression. Transplanting the same design elements to the ROM simply clashes with a museum of natural and general cultural history. It doesn't make me like the Crystal any more, but it isn't as baffling now how it originated.

In the afternoon Mark had some time off, so we visited the Berlin Aquarium. It wasn't the best aquarium we've visited, but it did have a very lively octopus, which we greatly enjoyed. After that we walked about a bit more. I had been hoping we could visit an exhibition by Canadian artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, but our timing was unsuccessful. Too bad - their work is always fascinating.

For dinner we went for Chinese at a restaurant in the neighbourhood of our hotel. Not as good as we'd get in Toronto, but better than in France - not as much fear of a little heat and kick to the flavours!

An art installation at the Jewish Museum - metal disk faces cover the floor, like fallen leaves

A lonely space for contemplation

A memorial garden, with olive trees growing from the top of tall stellae

Like the ROM Crystal, it's the little details that drive me crazy - like this staircase of industrial metal (nice enough) next to drywall (big problem) - so unsuited to the wear and tear of multiple visitors - a public building like this needs more durable finishes!

I think the fish is more excited to meet Mark than vice versa

Playful octopus

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

June 29, 2011: Berlin - Insider's Tour, Topography of Terror, Spree, Holocaust Memorial

In the morning I went on an "Insider's" tour of Berlin. It was led by a woman originally from Sweden, but she'd lived in Berlin for a number of years, so I guess that qualifies her as an insider. The focus was on the history of the Berlin wall and the division of the city into East and West. From today's vantage point it seems utterly improbable that a city could have been divided up so suddenly and thoroughly. That being said, I've visited the divided capital city of Cyprus, Nicosia, in 2000, so maybe it's not so improbable after all.

At the end of the tour I visited the Topography of Terror museum, which exhibitions about the division and the Nazi regime. It's built on the site of former Gestapo headquarters, with a large segment of the Berlin wall preserved.

In the evening Mark and I took a boat tour along the Spree river through the city. It was a beautiful evening, with warm weather and sunshine. Many people were hanging out along the river banks at the beach bars (imported sand, palm tree and beach chair lending a resort-like air). Berlin is a pretty diverse mix of old and modern architecture side by side - with all the warfare, there have been plenty of holes to fill with new buildings, unlike other cities we've visited in Europe.

Mark and I also went to visit the Holocaust Memorial, designed by architect Peter Eisenman (also the designer of the City of Culture in Santiago, Spain), which I'd seen earlier that day on the tour. It's such a striking design - as the height of the walkway changes, the stelae transform from horizontal grave-like slabs to tall, forbidding structures, and you feel lost in a city emptied of people. It was a very powerful and affecting experience.

Checkpoint Charlie - a somewhat Disneyesque re-creation of the crossing point from East to West Germany

A very moving combination of lonely sculpture, with exposure to sun and rain

The wall at the Topography of Terror

Classic East German Trabi cars for rent by tourists driving about Berlin

A plaque memorializing the location of the wall that divided the city

An overhead view of the Holocaust Memorial

And the oppressiveness from within the Memorial's depths

Beach bar along the Spree

A classic brick bridge over the Spree

Berlin's modern architecture

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

June 28, 2011: Berlin - Potsdam, Olive Wood, Caspar David Friedrich, Biergarten

Today I took the train out to the town of Potsdam, which had been recommended to me as a must-see while in Berlin. It has many preserved historic buildings, both palaces and townhouses.

I opted for a guided bus tour of the town, since the major sites were fairly widespread. We had a chance to get out at all the stops and walk around, which was nice, although I didn't really get to see any of the downtown. The train station, unfortunately, is on the outskirts.

Happily, however, I did accomplish a shopping goal while in the train station - I purchased a lovely olive wood salad bowl set. I'd been looking for one for ages, convinced I would find one for sale in France, but never did - any olive wood bowl I found was very small. Somehow Mark and I had gotten fixated on the idea that this would be the perfect wedding gift for friends of ours, but I'd given up hope we would find it. But there, in the station, was exactly what I'd been looking for. Turns out all the big olive trees (or at least the ones being cut down, rather than harvested for olives) are in Africa (Tunisia, if I remember right).

After returning to Berlin I stopped in at the Alte Nationalgalerie, because it has paintings by a favourite artist of mine, Caspar David Friedrich. It was smaller than the museums I'd visited in the days prior, which is probably just as well, as I was starting to get a bit museumed out.

In the evening I met Mark and his colleagues from the university at one of the local Biergartens. There's certainly something a lot less formal about eating out in Germany, compared to France, that reminds me of being home in Toronto. It's just about time to return to Canada...

Sisters (but not, I think, twins) on our tour, dressed identically

Edible chard in the ornamental flower border

A roof with "eye" dormers

One of several palaces that we visited

Potatoes left at the grave of King Frederick II, who persuaded his subjects to eat them by setting up "guards" around his potato patch (making a formerly suspicious new plant suddenly desirable)

 Caspar David Friedrich "The Lone Tree" 1822

A detail of the painting - such a diverse array of colours in the green meadow

Monday, June 27, 2011

June 27, 2011: Berlin - University, Dom, Neues

Another day of museum-going for me.

I visited the Cathedral (Dom), a beautiful building, with a rooftop tour route that gave me a great view over the city. They also had an interesting exhibition about the various designs for the cathedral over the ages, with detailed models.

After the Dom I visited another of Berlin's famous museums, the Neues Museum. Evidence of the damage from World War II has been preserved throughout, with bullet holes and patches missing from frescoed walls and ceilings, which gives a fascinating contrast of recent history compared to the ancient items on display.

In the evening we went for dinner with one of Mark's colleagues from the university in Berlin. It was a casual little place, where we sat on an outdoor patio on a more residential street - it felt more like being at a restaurant back home in Toronto than anything we'd experienced in France, and it made me a little homesick. After dinner we took a stroll past one of the nearby preserved palaces, which was lovely at night.

The Dom

A view of nearby green roofs from the top of the Dom

Clever Berliners made a giant heart

A detailed scale model of the Dom, complete with mirror to reflect a view of the domed ceiling

Statues atop the Dom

Damaged walls and pillars inside the Neues

A display of German prosthetic glass eyes from the 1800s

Pair of Ancient Egyptian sculptural hands

One of the museum's most famous artifacts - a calendrical Bronze Age gold hat that enables counting of years, months, days and a a 223-month cycle of lunar eclipses

 Charlottenberg Palace

Sunday, June 26, 2011

June 26, 2011: Berlin - Signage, Pergamon, Kangawurst

Mark's schedule at the university would keep him quite busy through the week, so I was on my own for sightseeing during the days. Since Berlin has dozens upon dozens of museums, what else could I do but go on a museum binge?

I found my way downtown, using the conveniently located subway system (there was a station just across the street from our hotel, which was not particularly central). Although the subway itself was easy to use (and by the way isn't it ironic that I can buy any kind of transit ticket I want in cities all over the world using my credit card and an automated machine, except in Toronto?! And a week-long ticket starts on the day I purchase it, not limited to the calendar week?!), I found the signage frustrating - I was constantly setting off thinking I was headed in the right direction in the station, but along the way would miss the turn-off, or end up with no indication of where to go.

When I got off and started walking through the city it really wasn't any better. The worst was Museum Island, an island with several major museums. Unless you take the right bridge, you can't get to the museum you see on the map, since there aren't any internal connecting pathways - each museum fills its block of space right to the island's edge. I must have spent 30 minutes walking in a giant circuit around the island before I hit upon the Pergamon.

However, the Pergamon was worth it - a fantastic collection of antiquities from the East, a museum of Classical, Near East and Islamic antiquities. Although, once again, the signage to get into the museum was perplexing - there is construction on the front of it, so you have to walk in on the correct side of the bridge. And if you pass through the entry/gift area, looking for something to eat before going in, you end up directed back outside, where you have to cross that same bridge again on the other side, then return across it once more to get back to the entryway. Argh. But after a quick wurst (sausage, in a bun - better than a hotdog) and a drink I was refreshed and ready to tackle the museum.

The Pergamon was huge. It has Roman-style classical sculpture and architecture familiar to me from my art history studies, as well as unfamiliar ancient Eastern and Islamic art. Whole buildings, walls, gates and other mammoth structures have been dismantled and installed in the museum (usually when the local government couldn't maintain it in good condition, and requested its safekeeping - the museum was fairly scrupulous about detailing how the pieces came into its collection). Seeing whole architectural structures inside a building was quite extraordinary - even the Met and the British Museum don't have anything quite on that impressive a scale.

I went back to the hotel to meet Mark after his day at the university, and we headed back downtown for dinner. I'd spotted an Australian-German restaurant that intrigued me. They served a uniquely Australian version of the famous Berlin currywurst - kangawurst! Yes, a kangaroo sausage, with a curry-flavoured ketchup-like sauce. Quite tasty!

Looking across the river to museum island

One of the many "beach bars" bordering the river - lounge hairs, potted palm trees, and happy revelers

Enormous ancient stairs and an arcade, inside the Pergamon

A fantastic frieze from the Pergamon Altar

A model of architecture in its original location

Fantastic glazed tiles creating animal decorations on the Ishtar Gate

I love this system of modular bricks, each one with a different part of the animal - make multiple copies, and you've got many identical animals decorating your structure

A terrible modern-day fire shattered these ancient statues into a multitude of pieces...

and yet, years later, they've managed to reconstruct them remarkably well