Friday, December 30, 2016

Day 105: Over the hills and far away... (679.8 kilometers, specifically)

Oh man! This blog post is late because it's a doozy. Last week of work, first week of break--so lots and lots of pictures to share and stories to tell!
Hands-down, the best city trash can ever.

A little brunch at a local eatery begins this missive. My roommates and I got a reservation at Pure Living Bakery, which is a "California-style" restaurant a short tram ride away. The decor was cute even if it wasn't 100 percent "authentic California," but I could certainly have envisioned it in Santa Monica or maybe even Venice Beach with a few tweaks--not expensive enough to be in Beverly Hills competing with Urth and the like. I had a smoothie and a bagel, while my roommates partook of the amazing-looking Nutella-laden pancakes and a fancy bagel sandwich. 
It is a really cute place and it definitely made me think of home.
A little New England thrown in, maybe, but also quite a few NYC subway photos: a truly American pastiche!
Writing this post is making me really hungry!!
We also went to a flea market, where I purchased an outfit for our upcoming party. I also saw this really small Christmas tree (with my leg in the picture for reference) but alas we did not buy it.

Before the break began, my roommates and I decided to have a little holiday party in our apartment, where we invited other Fulbrighters and teaching assistants. Since we are each a member of the Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Muslim, Christian), we decided that that would be the selling point of our party. There were about sixteen people in all, of whom fourteen or so exchanged gifts via "White Elephant" (aka "Yankee Swap" for those who have seen The Office's US edition), where we all brought a present valued at no more than ten euro and then drew numbers; based on the order of the numbers we picked out a gift and opened it in front of everyone, and then the next person could either steal it or pick a new one. I picked undoubtedly the best gift from my friend AJ: a handmade friendship bracelet and a copy of Why I Am So Clever by Friedrich Nietzsche, which I will, of course,  use to learn the secrets of how to become "so" clever. Other gifts included pashminas, sweaters, a Swiss army knife, chocolate, a hand-knit ear warmer-headband-thing, and a little tea-mug lid with a penguin on it (from me) and more. We did a round of "stealing" after everyone had opened the presents, so it got a little intense (in a good way). But no-one stole my perfect gift, for which I am glad, and the gift I brought was stolen in the last round, which was extremely gratifying because it meant that aside from being so clever, I am also so good at picking out presents.
What photoshopping skill from Talia (on the right)!!!
This is what winning looks like.

The night before I was set to leave, one of my roommates and I went to the massive Christmas market at the Schönbrunn palace complex, where I partook of some delicious heated spiked apple cider and a pretzel the size of my head. We then went to the movies, where I saw Arrival for the second time, while she saw it for the first. When the *twist* is revealed, she turned to me with her face completely in awe--she really liked it, I think, which was really vindicating because since I had endorsed Arrival so highly, it probably said a lot about me that I really liked it, so it was almost like a little test. Luckily, I passed...
This is not photoshopped, y'all.

On Saturday, I took a TEN-HOUR bus ride from Vienna to Berlin for the better part of the next week. I had wanted to go to Berlin at some point during my Fulbright year, and I figured if I went on Christmas, fewer tourists would be around and I wouldn't have to wait so long to get into the museums and attractions. This assumption was, happily, correct. But I do not recommend taking a bus ride for that long, even if it stops every few hours (which I'm pretty sure is mandated by law so the driver can take a break). Even though it was a Hellö bus, which had (intermittent) wifi and working electrical outlets, a bathroom, and a vending machine (which I had never seen on a bus before), it wasn't really comfortable. I tried to sleep here and there but since it was an all-day bus ride, I mainly found myself listening to music and reading books on my Kindle app. (In particular: Britney Spears' "Overprotected," a radio staple from my tender youth, is really disturbing in terms of the way the music and the lyrics undermine one another, and, overall, it sounds like a cry for help--to be released from her image, her record label, her tightly-managed life. LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!)

When I got to Berlin, it was, of course, dark, since it was after four in the afternoon. It was quite warm compared to Vienna--the whole trip, actually, it was a solid ten degrees Fahrenheit warmer, even if it was windier and rainier for much of the time. I lugged my stuff down the straight shot to my hotel, the Berlinerhof Hotel, which, of course, had a McFit gym in the building. I can never escape McFit, and of course I didn't have room for my sneakers, so I couldn't exactly take advantage of my membership and use the gym conveniently located four stories beneath my room. Oh well.
 I walked through the Christmas market to get to my hotel since it was directly on the path. The lighting was really beautiful, and there were a few memorials to the victims of the attack laid about here and there.

Since it was Christmas eve, I had to walk around for a bit after checking in to find something to eat. Every supermarket and restaurant and cafe was closed, even McDonalds, so I was extremely pleased to find a currywurst stand open across the street. Currywurst is a popular, though much-maligned, street food in Berlin which consists of a hot dog sprinkled with ketchup and curry power. I'm not the biggest fan of curry, but when you're really hungry and it's the only option, currywurst is amazing. I also found a small convenience store near the movie theater where I bought some juice and crackers to eat in my room, because I am super classy like that.

On Sunday, I pulled up my list of museums that promised to be open on Christmas day and got going! My goal for this trip was to use no taxis and as little non-walking transit as possible, so I plotted the route from my hotel to the Museumsinsel (moo-say-ums in-zel), or Museum Island, which holds a few of the more famous museums in the city. I walked along the Tiergartenstrasse, which is the home of many embassies from all around the world, all with really cool architecture inspired by their country of origin. I saw the South African, Turkish, Indian, Saudi Arabian, Italian, and Japanese embassies all along that route, and there were other countries' embassies located on some of the side streets or around corners, such as the Egyptian and South Korean embassies. I felt a little embarrassed that I didn't recognize the flags and had to look for the signage telling me what country's embassy was which in some cases, though for the Saudi Arabian and Turkish embassies, I recognized some Islamic architectural motifs which helped me narrow it down.
I passed through the Brandenburger Tor to get to the main part of the city, where they had a giant menorah because it was the first night of Hanukkah!!!

When I got to the Museuminsel, I had to turn right around and find another way onto the island because there was very significant subway construction that Google Maps neglected to prepare me for (curse you, Eric Schmidt!!!!) and because it's an island, the Museum Insel is really only accessible by some bridges, many of which were blocked off. So finally I made it through the (beginning) rain, which forced me to buy a giant umbrella along the way, and went into the Altes Museum (ahl-tes Moo-say-yum), which holds Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities. Because I'm a student, I was able to get a three-day pass to all the state-run museums in Berlin for only 12 euro, which is an amazing, amazing deal. 
This baby was my true love for the three days it was valid.

Antiquities aren't my favorite, even though I'm familiar with the mythology and styles, and I wish my brother had been there with me at the Altes Museum, because he and I would have had fun talking about the sculptures of gods in relation to Percy Jackson and the Olympians (which I introduced him to, thank you very much). After the Altes Museum I went across the way to the Alte Nationalgalerie (al-tuh nat-zi-oh-nahl gah-leh-rie), which, despite having a similar name, has extremely different types of work on display. The website of said museum cites its Romanticism and Impressionism collection, but unfortunately, the amount of interesting Romantic and Impressionist paintings on display was minimal. There was a Monet or two, a strangely flat Renoir (that would have given Clement Greenberg a field day, for those fellow art historians reading this post), and some pre-Impressionist works by Manet and Courbet, but mostly it was all German paintings of the Romantic and Realist style, and few of them were memorable. Luckily it was basically free!
It's a beautiful area and I'm sure it's better in the summer!

After grabbing a quick lunch at a restaurant nearby, where the waiter told me I sounded French when I spoke German, I walked to the Berlinische Galerie, hoping for some cool German contemporary art to lift my spirits. I was not disappointed. After gamboling through some smaller exhibitions of German artists I didn't know about, a magnificent installation dating from 1963-1977 by Edward and Nancy Kienholz called "The Art Show" caught my fascination. I didn't know it until I looked Edward Kienholz later that evening, but I had seen "Five Car Stud," his most famous work, at LACMA several years prior. "The Art Show" consists of nineteen life-size figures, cast by the artists, who are placed around the gallery space looking at works on the walls (also by the artists), standing in clusters, dressed in 1970s clothes--basically, being spectators at an art opening. I won't spoil it all here because I'm writing a proper review of this show later, but suffice it to say that "The Art Show" really effectively plays with the idea of the spectator as art object and as viewer.
You can't tell which people are the real ones with only peripheral vision. So creepy!
And they have no faces!!

The upper level of the Berlinische Galerie focused on German art movements from 1880-1980, acting as a complement to the extremely contemporary art on the main level. I'm including this photo of a painting that I took because it reminded me so strongly of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo's Two Women at a Window (1655-1660) in terms of the composition! The top is Georg Schrimpf's Two Girls at the Window from 1928, and I've included the Murillo below for comparison.
I love these formal connections my brain makes out of nowhere...

The last stop on my first day in Berlin (so full!) was the Jewish Museum, which was around the corner from the Berlinische Galerie. Unfortunately, after the highs of the installation at the Berlinische Galerie the mix of ethnographic, historical, and artistic on display at the Jewish Museum was just not as compelling--an issue, I think happens, when non-European or non-Christian cultures are included in museum displays. It's something I hope to address in some way, shape, or form, in graduate work (send me good wishes so I get into a program!)
These were in the Jewish Museum gift shop. Believe me, I was tempted.

On Monday, I had to be strategic about the art I went to see because a lot of major museums in Berlin are apparently closed on Mondays. I ultimately ended up going to the Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle, the Checkpoint Charlie Black Box, and the Bauhaus Archive. The Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle was a cool venue, but the show on display was not really memorable. The Checkpoint Charlie exhibit was, surprisingly, not state-run, so it cost money to visit. It was pretty interesting for me because the night before, I had watched Charlie Wilson's War, which details the American involvement in arming Afghanistan victims of Soviet imperialism. It was written by Aaron Sorkin, but it wasn't as sparkling as his usual scripts are, and even though Philip Seymour Hoffman was stellar as always (RIP), it wasn't amazing. But it did put the audience (namely me) in the position of agreeing with American interventionist aims to some degree, even though we all know how arming Afghanistan fighters against the Soviets turned out for us--a wholly strange experience. So seeing the German side of the Cold War conflict the day after watching this movie was pretty engrossing. 
Love me some old-timey propaganda art!
I wonder how soon they'll update the "future" section after the events of 2016....

The Bauhaus Archive was also pretty cool if you like the Bauhaus style. I'm not totally in love with it, but it was a great collection of photos, designs, posters, paintings, and objects from the original Bauhaus school and traced its development over the 20th century.
It's such a weird building but it's very imposing and austere with the gray sky.

I also went to the Jewish memorial site, which is an important tourist spot, but is also really popular because it's so effective. The way it's laid out allows the observer to control their own level of engagement because as you move towards the center, the ground slopes downward and the stones grow higher, so you envelop yourself in the experience with as much intensity and solitude as you want. It's so much more powerful than just a statue or plaque, because in order for the viewer to make meaning, you have to take a little risk of making yourself uncomfortable.
When I took this, it was very empty, but later in the week there were plenty of viewers and tour groups waiting in line.

On Tuesday, many more museums were open, so I did another four(!). In the morning I headed west rather than east to the Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg and the Museum Berggruen, which are right by the Charlottenburg palace and across the street from one another. The Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg had a show installed called "Surreal Objectivity," which was an extremely well-designed and appealing array of surrealists set in an old building, which is the kind of juxtaposition I love. While they had a Magritte and a Dali, the focus wasn't on the heavy hitters but on Surrealist artists I wasn't even familiar with. The biggest surprise in this show, and in the collection as a whole, was Hans Bellmer, who was new to me until that day. Additionally, I found myself surprised that I enjoyed the collection of Paul Klee grayscale works so much, since I'm not usually so enthusiastic about Klee. But I think works with strong draftsmanship and limited color really appeal to the analytical part of my brain, because it shows the artist's drawing skill within strict parameters.
The red walls and the barrel vault just pop!
Hans Bellmer's self portrait--this is paint! Not sculpture! Just blew my mind.
Paul Klee, also blowing my mind.
Hans Bellmer, at it again!
Hans Bellmer! What a guy!!
Get out of here, Hans Bellmer!!

The Berggruen Museum, on the other hand, was less exciting to me, because the show on display, "George Condo. Confrontation," which juxtaposed this contemporary artist with Picasso, just made Picasso look impossibly brilliant and Condo look less so. Placing any artist alongside Picasso is risky business, because Picasso excelled regardless of medium--drawing, prints, paintings, sculpture--and style--abstract, figurative, realistic, "Blue Period," and there are really only a few artists I would even put in the same room as him. I wasn't familiar with Condo before that day, but this wasn't a particularly impressive introduction in any case.

Next, I walked back east to head to the C/O Berlin, a photography museum. At this point my feet had begun to hurt, yet still I pressed ever on. The main show, "Kreuzberg-America," detailed the cross-pollination and exchange of knowledge and creativity between Kreuzberg, a section of Berlin known for its artists and young population, and the United States during the years 1976-1986. Included in the display were photographers from both sides of the Atlantic, including Diane Arbus, Wilmar Koenig, Robert Adams, and Larry Clark, mostly working in black-and-white, though a few sets of photographs were in color. The top floor of the museum had a show of album covers that used photography in some way--both famous ones, such as the Beatles' "Abbey Road," and albums for musicians I had never heard of before. For albums I had heard before, it was interesting for me to able to think about said music while looking at the imagery, but I would have wanted there to be an option in the show proper to put on headphones and listen to the appropriate record for a song or two while considering the cover. That probably wouldn't have worked logistically, but maybe creating an app for this exhibition would have been an interesting way of including the music itself.
This room reminded me of the Peter Fetterman Gallery at Bergamot Station. Same basic lighting.
I just really liked this cover. They sure don't make 'em like this anymore...

On my way back east, I walked through the Bikini Berlin mall, which has the dubious honor of being the only hipster mall I've ever been too: even though it's laid out like the Beverly Center or Westside Pavilion, almost all of the stores were independent little artsy boutiques with local designers and "curated" jewelry and home furnishing sections. It was frankly almost too much for me, because it was like the most extreme example of Abbott Kinney in Venice, but also amplified by a million...

My last stop on Tuesday was to the Gemäldegalerie (geh-meld-uh-gah-leh-rie), which holds an amazing collection of the European masters: Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Botticelli, Vermeer, and more. Some of the lighting in the rooms was weirdly dark, which made it hard to appreciate some of the displays, but it was just fantastic to be able to see all these artists I'd studied and read about--often on my own time--and so it was like revisiting old friends.
Love me some Hans Holbein and German portraiture!

Since the Gemäldegalerie and other art museums in the area, such as the Print Cabinet, Costume Museum, and Art Library, are all connected through a partially-underground building, I also dipped below the surface to take in a brand new show of the results of the recent design competition for a new museum of twentieth-century art in the same plaza as the other museums. While more space was given to the first-, second-, and third-place winners of the competition, there was also space given for many of the other competitors. Among the designs I noticed that the trend for museum designs seems to resolutely be the box--I'd say two-thirds of the choices in this show were simple rectangular boxes with a few levels, which is kind of disappointing. I really dislike Peter Zumthor's LACMA redesign proposal, for example, but you have to admit that he went for it and was determined not only to honor the settings of LACMA next to the La Brea Tar Pits, but also seemed resolutely against the simple box. I've included photos of two designs that I thought were more interesting.
The view of the whole thing!
This design was by Max Dudler, and even though it is kind of boxy, I personally loved it because it recalls the Italian campanile structure but with a modern twist. It made it to the second round of decisions, but didn't get any further, much to my chagrin.
This design won third prize, which I was very pleased with, because it's also just wacky. I'm not in love with the interior, which you can see in the link, but at least it's not a box!

On Wednesday, I decided to walk on over to Kreuzberg, which is now the gentrifying-hipster area of Berlin. I walked in and out of a bunch of shops and had some delicious Milchkaffee (meel-kh-kah-feh), the German take on cafe au lait. It tastes much better than just coffee with milk, though!
Rainy day intersection... it rained on and off. I didn't have an umbrella because it was also windy...
Many of the buildings in Kreuzberg looked like this... lots of great color and paint!
Very Impressionist!
I loved this one. Must have taken forever to do!

On my last day, I went to one last museum before I got on my TEN-HOUR bus ride back to Vienna: the Hamburger Bahnhof. While the museum itself was a wonderfully-updated older building that had some truly impressive works by artists like Beuys, Warhol, and Rauschenberg, the layout was not exactly ideal, since you had to go through the gift shop in order to access half of the museum, and you had to check your bags on the other side. Additionally, even though I use my phone in general to take notes on shows so I save myself the time of typing up handwritten ones, I was told by a rather condescending guard that I needed to put my phone away to "concentrate on the art". I had been considering writing up the show, but being treated this way kind of put me off the experience altogether. I guess the image of a young person with a smartphone in a museum still rings alarm bells, because heaven forbid we use our phones to look up further information about the artists on the walls or send a photo of a sculpture to a friend!
I loved the bright lights on this historic building!
Eerie... time for a mystery to solve?
I really liked this Rauschenberg, but of course I forgot to take a photograph of the label...
Not exactly an innovative display strategy, but bright and airy and crisp.
Every time I see a poster like this I want to roll my eyes. Apparently out of about thirty modernists, only three women make the grade. It's like the MoMA history of art shirt... where are the ladies! And people of color (because only knowing Frida doesn't count)!

So that was my trip to Berlin! I hope reading my summary of my experience was interesting for you! I wish I'd had more time to explore restaurants, cafes, and independent art galleries, so I guess this means I'll have to take another trip. But this time, I think I'll find a cheap flight instead of a TEN-HOUR bus ride...

Random photos of the week: BEARS IN BERLIN!


(As always, if you want to express your love for me with material goods, my Amazon wishlist is here, my main site is here, and if you want to see many, many photographs of me and of Vienna, my Instagram is here. Also please send me good vibes so I get into graduate school with a good stipend!)

1 comment:

  1. I love how you write about what you saw and then, when applicable, how you would do it differently! Also love how you mix the museums (academic stuff) with the culture (street art, chocolate, and bears..oh my). Very full week!