Brick walls and limestone facades, bridges sculpted in concrete and wrought-iron, lions and angels chiseled into railings, ceilings and awnings. Berlin’s architecture traversed the line between old world and new modern seamlessly from cathedrals and museums to daycare centers and office buildings. Cranes and scaffolding dotted the skyline, alight with orange-vested men constructing the new and restoring the old; their screeching saws and jackhammers collided with the booming voices of street opera singers and the soft, soothing melodies of string instruments. The city hummed, bustling in an endless rhythm.
The bridges that crossed into Museumsinsel, the columned walkways that connected each of the five museums, and the structures themselves were works of art in their own right. I photographed dozens (more likely hundreds) of sand-colored Corinthian columns, rows and rows of limestone archways, and grand marble stairways.
Fat, inverted balloons of rain dropped from the smattering of grey clouds overhead and collected in the cracks of cobblestone paths. We ducked into Berlin’s storied museums, a planned excursion after a day of exploring the alternative art scene and the prior knowledge of undesirable weather (I still somehow managed to forget my umbrella; never forget an umbrella.).
The shadow-infested Nefertiti room with its encased bust, a smaller artifact than imagined but no less striking (Neues Museum); the reconstructed Market Gate of Miletus, its grand size hovering over me and the rest of the room, and the detail of carved faces and missing limbs of sculptures in the trim-work that far exceeded me in height (Pergamonmuseum); the collection of Greek and Roman goddesses (especially Aphrodite) and ancient garments for battle, each with an explanation of how it was used or came to be defective (Altes Museum); and the opulent architecture of the Bode-Museum that, in my humble opinion, surpassed much of the too-similar artifacts within it. The shadow-play and sheer darkness of Caravaggio and the octagonal Rembrandt room that I revisited three times, not quite wanting to let go (Gemaldegalerie); and the Labyrinth, its sketched maze on four separate sheets that the artist matched up in the tiniest details of shadow and leaf (Kupferstichkabinett).
Get a Museumpass (not the Berlin pass – more on that next week) and enjoy. The remarkable histories, beauty, and sheer size should not be missed.
We saw the monument in the distance: either it wasn’t that far away, or it was enormous. It was the latter, and honestly, it was nothing in comparison to the park itself. We entered Tiergarten under Brandenburg Gate, lulled into a state of relaxation by a cellist and his singing counterpart, both dressed in tuxedos and carrying on as though they weren’t performing in the drizzling rain.
We pressed past the tour groups, some riding the mechanical wonder that is a six-person spinning bicycle, to a lesser used path (read: not the concrete sidewalk). It weaved through imperfect lines of trees, blooming yellow and red flowers, numerous statues, and two more-green-than-blue ponds. The sun greeted us through the leaves, its first appearance in nearly two days, and guided us through forking pathways that bridged manicured lawns and unkempt weeds and wild trees.
Check back tomorrow for the Best Of: Berlin.
-M. Ray Hall