Berlin – Bertolt Brecht

IMG_1398In Vienna in 1980, our study-abroad group went to see Bertolt Brech’s play The Caucasian Chalk Circle (Der Kaukasische Kreidekreis). (Fun fact: This play just happened to have its World Premiere at my alma mater – Carleton College – in the theater in the basement of the first dorm I lived in.)

B is working on his PhD and is writing about Brecht’s time in Santa Monica in the 1940s (among other things), so visiting the playwright/poet/theater director’s final apartment appeared near the top of our list of Berlin sights.

One can only see the apartment with a tour guide, limited to 8 people, and when we arrived, I asked if there was a tour in English. There was, just by asking the tour guide. Three other women joined us at the last moment, and they were kind enough to agree to having the tour in English, so we were good to go.

No photos were allowed, so I can’t show you the shelves and shelves of books (about 4,000), nor how big the sitting room was, but this webpage has a photo.

Before the tour, I actually knew very little about Brecht. (Sorry, Anne, if you taught us about him. If you did, I have no recollection.) He lived with his second wife, Helene Weigel, an actress, in this flat in East Berlin after the war. Most people living in East Berlin did not have large apartments, but Brecht persuaded the government to allow his living in such a fine place because important people from other countries would be visiting him, and what would it say to them if he only had a regular, small place to show them?

Brecht and Weigel, instead of divorcing because of their less-than-stellar marriage, lived on different floors of the flat until his death. She moved to the ground floor at that time and created the Brecht Archive, and the apartment has never changed hands since. Even the newspapers that Brecht read on the day of his death still sit on his bedside table.

Brecht and Weigel are buried in the cemetery next door.


Berlin – Prenzlauer Berg

After three weeks of recovery time betweenIMG_1441 our exciting Italian trip and even more exciting visit from oldest daughter and son-in-law, we were ready for our next big adventure. When we asked younger daughter and our Schwiegerfreund (a newly coined German term for an almost-but-not-quite-child-in-law) where they would like to meet up with us in Europe, they thought about it for awhile and decided that Berlin just might be the right place.

After confirming dates with C and B, we immediately started researching where we might want to stay in the city of 3.5 million. So many choices! In the end, we looked for AirBnBs in the Prenzlauer Berg, a neighborhood in the former East Berlin. Described as an area of tree-lined streets, coffee shops, and cute shops, university students, and organic soy ice cream with great connections to the rest of the city, we found a spacious two-bedroom apartment in the middle of things, near public transportation, lots of shopping and restaurants.

Large numbers of kids in Kinderwagens and day cares and moms-in-the-park stroll the neighborhood.  We have learned how to stay clear of the bike paths which run along the sidewalk and carry hundreds upon hundreds of fast-moving cyclists. On Saturday we visited the Farmer’s Market near Kollwitzplatz.

Neighborhood walks included sites such as these:

We decided that if we had to move to Berlin, all of us would be happy living in this neighborhood, especially if we found an apartment with a balcony or terrace.

More Fun with German

When I work on Duolingo these days, Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 12.14.08 PMit now gives me a percentage of how fluent I have become in German, and it hovers around 50%. I’m not sure exactly how you can quantify this kind of information, but I think it seems about right. Some conversations I have feel totally natural to me (at an unsophisticated level), and when other people speak to me, I feel as though I have no idea what is happening. I like reading 20 Minuten and other things in German, and even when I don’t know all the vocabulary, I can often figure out what is going on.

The other day when I was buying coffee in the Migros take-away, the woman asked me what else I wanted. I added two wraps to the order, and she asked me if that was all. I said, “yes, for today.” That is something I would say in the US, meaning that I would be back another time and get something else then. She took it to mean something else, I think. She replied, “That’s not much for today.” I smiled and said, “Oh, well, it’s just for lunch.” I think she might have known what I meant, but, who knows?

Swiss License Plates

License PlatesAlthough we still have three cantons left to visit, I have found license plates from all 26 to photograph. The last one – Appenzell Ausserrhoden – took me longer than I thought it would because I was looking for AA (or maybe AO), but when I looked up the abbreviations, I discovered that I should be looking for AR. For awhile I thought that maybe no one in Appenzell Ausserhoden drove a car.

Each plate has a two-letter abbreviation of the canton as well as a shield of the Swiss flag and the cantonal flag.

One interesting fact about licensing cars in Switzerland is that if you have two cars, and you only drive one at a time, you can buy insurance and plates for the more expensive of the two cars and switch the plates back and forth (apparently this is quite easy) between the cars as needed. You just need to remember to do so!

What I Will Miss, Part Four: The Architecture

I know that the people who live in any IMG_8350place become so used to their surroundings that they really don’t notice them anymore, but I still have to look at all the buildings in all of the old sections of the cities in Switzerland and Europe. I love the architectural details. I love the modern shops in the old buildings. I love the cobblestones, the rooflines, the clocks, the doors, the stained glass.

* * *

What I will not miss: the white walls of our flat (although they do make the rooms brighter on cloudy days)

The Husband of the Woman in Gold

So, I’m not completely current with Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 8.17.24 PMmovies these days, but I know that Woman in Gold is in theaters here and in the US (or it was recently). If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I am a pretty big Klimt fan, but I thought I would wait until I got home to see the movie (as movies in the theater here run about 20 CHF).

When I got the book on library e-loan (titled The Lady in Gold), I read it over the course of about four days. While I don’t particularly recommend the book, the content interests me a great deal. The storytelling leaves a great deal to be desired. It tries to be too many different stories all at the same time with so many characters who enter and exit at a whim. The myriad of details do not add to the narrative, and often the thrust of the story is hopelessly buried beneath trivia.

Nonetheless, I learned things about this painting that I saw when it was first moved from Vienna to Los Angeles. You can see as many photos of this painting as you want, but when you see it in person, it is breathtaking. Stunning.

When I saw it at LACMA, I vaguely knew that it had some sort of history as a stolen painting, but I didn’t know anything about Adele Bloch-Bauer, the subject. What I now know is that there is a Zürich connection to Adele. When her husband Ferdinand left Austria after her death and during the war, he moved to the Hotel Bellerive on Lake Zürich.

Oskar Kokoschka (one of the other Viennese Secessionist painters) painted a portrait of Ferdinand in lederhosen with a hunting rifle which Bloch-Bauer chose to donate to the Zürich Kunsthaus. When I read that, I decided that I needed to revisit the art museum for a look-see, especially since I can find no picture of that painting on the internet.

Art museums cannot display their entire collections, and though I found about five Kokoschka works at the museum, I did not see Portrait of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer as a Hunter. I probably should have asked someone about it, but I decided that if was going to be on display, I would have seen it there.


The Knight, Death, and the Angel 1


Portrait of Else Kupfer, 1911

City Views from the Grossmünster

IMG_1264A sunny day overlapped with some free time, and I took advantage of it to climb the Grossmünster tower for Zürich views. I plunked down my 4 CHF at the desk and headed up the 190 or so steps. The first 50 or so are very narrow and curved, but then it opens up into straight and wider, though still steep, stairs.

At one point there is a landing with old pictures. Here are a few of what Zürich looked like back when.

At the very top you can step out on a platform at each of the four corners (and still feel safe since the stone wall is high enough, but not too high to obstruct views for adults).


This small explanation of the flags I’ve seen several times on top of the towers reminds me that I don’t want the job of putting them up there. (Click on photo to enlarge.)


As I came down the steps, a couple greeted me with a grüezi as they huffed and puffed. I replied to them that es lohnt sich (it’s worth it) and that produced a little laugh.


As mentioned during my last Grossmünster post, there is a cloister to visit, and this time I actively sought it out and found it. It’s not well marked, and the closed door looks uninviting, but the sign said open until 17.00, so I pushed open to this view.

It doesn’t take long to walk the perimeter, but there are some very interesting decorative elements around the garden in the archways.

Now, if all my visitors will come back, I will show them this, too, since we all missed it the first time.