Berlin: Many thanks to Kat and Thomas!

kat and thomas

Many, many thanks to my lovely hosts Kat and Thomas. Kat is Melanie’s older (/wiser/more worldly) sister and while we were in Greece Melanie basically offered me their second bedroom before totally confirming it with her sister. So, thank you for letting a relative stranger into your home and thank you for letting me explore the city with you and based on your knowledge. I can’t wait to come back to Berlin and eat and explore even more.

P.S. Kat writes a food blog La Vita Cucinare which you should totally check out. Everything that came out of the kitchen while I stayed with them was DELISH. Please believe this rhubarb G&T is getting pinned and tried back in Seattle.

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Berlin: Capitalism vs Socialism

I love department stores. The windows, the selection, the shiny displays, the well cut clothes. It’s atheistic heaven. Ka De We is the largest department store in continental Europe and doesn’t disappoint.

20130709-223653.jpgHello, beautiful

Located in West Berlin, it was clearly maintained as an outpost of capitalist choice and prestige. A reminder to the “lucky Berliners”. I’m attending a wedding shortly after I return to the States so I was on the hunt for a dress. Ka De We is too rich for my blood (think Bergdorf’s) but the area around it has great shopping so I spent a good part of my afternoon in various dressing rooms.

And for some balance, on my way home I stopped and said hi to some old friends who did some pretty awesome things in their time and got streets named after them. Hey, Karl. High five, Rosa.

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Berlin: Sunday Flea

Sundays are great in Berlin. Most shops are closed so many people have the day off and with so many parks in the city people of all stripes gravitate toward them to relax with friends or family.

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Mauerpark (Wall Park) contains a stretch of the former Berlin wall and was quickly claimed as public space following its collapse. On Sundays, a giant labyrinth of shops, stalls, food stands, resellers and crafty folks set up and hock their wares. You can find anything here.

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20130708-082018.jpg(Yes, I was totally plotting how to ship that furniture to America.)

But the BEST part was the karaoke. Hosted by an American expat, every Sunday there is by donation karaoke. People sign up to sing all sorts of 20th century popular music (in English and German) and about 2,000 people hang out and cheer them on. It’s Germany so there are young people, three generations of families, tourists, expats, students enjoying a cheap day in the park. And everyone is noshing on currywurst and a whole bunch of folks have a cold beer in hand.

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Berlin: Beach Day

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Berlin has been enjoying a stretch of nice weather. And while there is a river running through the city (like all European cities) it’s too cold and dirty to swim in.

20130707-195320.jpgMy ride for the day, so blog chic, I know.

Kat and Thomas had been meaning to check out this barge beach club so we biked over. Biking in Berlin is great. Lots of bike infrastructure, lots of people riding and lots and lots of flat terrain to cover. Seattle, whatcha gotta say about those hills?

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I never thought I’d like Vegas but if its anything like this place, sign me up, I’m going every February. For €3 we laid on the sand, listened to a live DJ set, soaked up some serious rays and took a dip in the 6 foot plunge pool. The pool had a bench ringing the outer edge so you could sit and enjoy the view. This is plush living, folks.

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Berlin: Sachsenhausen Memorial Site

The decision to visit a concentration camp while in Germany was a difficult one for me. On one hand, it is historically important and I deeply believe that knowing and understanding our past helps us chart a better future. I had asked around and confirmed that the German government has taken great care to present the sites in an educational while appropriately solemn manner. On the other hand, whoa depressing.

Sachsenhausen is about 30 minutes by train outside of Berlin. Built by prison labor in 1936, the camp served as a model for the expanding camp system. Originally, the camps were designed not to kill Jews but as hard labor camps and heavy punishment for the Nazis’ political rivals, chiefly members of the Social Democratic Party (SPD in German) and the Communist party (KPD). For the first four years of the camp, the majority of prisoners were political prisoners.

All of the concentration camp sites are free and Sachsenhausen had several really clear educational exhibits in addition to the remaining buildings. The exhibit on the history of the site did a great job incorporating primary source documents and materials found on the site. I found that much easier than walking through the prison and barracks. Being in the actual buildings used for isolation and the most inhumane conditions for the “general population” was too overwhelming, especially since I was there by myself.

Overall, I am glad that I went. I’m also really pleased with the diligence paid to all of the Nazis’ victims as often times the political prisoners and so-called “social undesirables” (gays, the mental handicapped and Roma) are overlooked. As the Wall Street Journal calls for a fascist dictatorship in Egypt, today was a somber reminder of the political tasks at hand and the necessity of challenging all forms of oppression.

20130705-195223.jpg Panoramic of the memorial site and former concentration camp.

Berlin: Expat Fourth

It’s funny. The Fourth has never been a Big Holiday for me. I, obviously, enjoy a day off and a barbecue as much as the next person but I definitely don’t dress up in a flag and shout “‘Murcia!” all day long. So I was sort of ambivalent about being out of the country. But the day of I was sort of nostalgic. Probably because its just another Thursday in Germany. Or maybe it is because I realized I’ll be home in four weeks and that seems really close to me (but no one else).

20130705-075722.jpg Kat and Thomas, my lovely hosts, took me to the “Bushwick of Berlin” for a outdoor party. This was organized by an English speaking group of internationals but had absolutely nothing to do with the Fourth. Very hipster Berlin. My European cool points are sky-rocketing.

20130705-080014.jpg We were all kind craving burgers but good ones are actually kind of hard to find outside of the US. Thankfully, these two are in the know and we all scratched our burger itch. I upgraded to chili cheese fries for us to all share. Because what’s more American than gluttony?

20130705-080423.jpg Enjoy the long weekend, friends!

Munich: Day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle

The lovely Camille suggested I take a day trip through the Bavarian countryside to Neuschwanstein. About 2 hours south and west of Munich, the castle was the second castle of King Ludwig. He didn’t find the first one to be awesome enough so he gave it to his parents and built a better one higher up the mountain. Rough life.

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The scenery is stunning. You just keep looking at it and blinking. It can’t be real! It’s just too picturesque. It’s so perfect that Walt Disney used Neuschwanstein as his inspiration for the Cinderella Castle in Disneyland.

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Unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to take any photos inside the castle but the interiors are very interesting. The castle isn’t terribly old, only built in the 1880s. Ludwig was a big Wagner fan so the castle is a tribute. Each room is decorated with murals for one of Wagner’s operas or legends. The castle was also modified with the latest devices for the time. He even had a two line telephone. One line for the post office and the other line to his parents’ castle.

Special shout out to my new friends, the Roades family of Winston-Salem, NC. We met on the train and ended up spending the whole day together. I was appointed Chief Christmas Card Photographer and took my position very seriously. They were taking a ten day trip through Munich, Salzburg and Vienna to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary and decided to bring their sons along for a family vacation. Happy anniversary, Lori and Scott!

Munich: Alte und Neue Pinakothek

The Alte (Old) and Neue (New) Pinakothek are sister museums originally founded by King Ludwig I. Well actually, Luddy acquired Ruebens’ “The Last Judgement” (seriously spectacular) and decided to build a whole museum to accommodate it. Over time the collection expanded and the Neue museum was built to cover art from the 19th century onward.

After all my kvetching about how expense Italian museums were, I just about cried when I discovered that the large museums in Munich were €1 each on Sundays. Done and done.

The highlight of the Alte is obviously the Ruebens rooms with “The Last Judgement” as the centerpiece. The canvas is one of the largest ever painted. You have to stand about 20ft back to be able to take it all in. I probably stared at it for half an hour. Then came back around before I left. 20130703-143446.jpg
Ruebens also does the best devils. His depictions of hell are just so…terrifying and horrific. 20130703-143823.jpg(L) The Last Judgement (R) The Apocalypse

The New Pinakothek had a large collection of European art, including a good amount of the Flemish masters, but I am an Impressionist fan through and through. The brush strokes! The color! The suggestion and saturation of light! Be still my heart.

20130703-144316.jpgVan Gogh’s Sunflowers

20130703-144354.jpgRenior, with details (that rainbow!)

20130703-144445.jpgVan Gogh cloud detail