Friday, January 05, 2007


Day 1 – Thursday - Boys in Berlin

Annual trip by Donald, Miguel and Ken with this year’s special guest – Toots. This is fortunate as toots speaks fluent German having lived in Berlin for a number of years. He worked in the US embassy in Eat Berlin when the wall was up as an information officer. He had to deliver parcels to official buildings is a huge American car, with fins. This, he explained, was more than novel in a town where the only other cars were Trabants.

Only in Berlin would the taxi driver have to shift his electric guitar to make room for his passengers. Nice guy who had been to Ireland that year and found it too expensive. Beer in Berlin, he assured us, was dirt cheap. That’s exactly what we wanted to hear.

Toots had arranged a Hotel just south of Potsdamer Platz at an amazing £50 per night and it was a fine choice – huge rooms, very colourful. He knows someone who books rooms for the embassy. Toots was waiting and we headed out for something to eat and drink – Italian! That was after an unplanned visit to the former Gestapo building’s ruined cellar – grim.

By U-Bahn to the Agyptiches Museum – it had moved! So we popped into Schloss Charlottenburg Palace across the road. This huge Baroque and Roccocco palace was badly damaged during the war but had been restored and was a riot of gold, green and silver.

We walked back along the banks of the Spree past table-tennis playing dossers (and fine backhands they had) to Zoo, where we got the U-Bahn back to the hotel.

That evening we ate in a German restaurant with a couple of Toot’s friends. Ken had something that translated as ‘slaughter on a plate’. When Miguel, who was starving, asked for the largest meal on the menu, she pointed to the meal Ken had just chosen. I had Wiener Schnitzel and Apfel Strudel, which I mistakenly took for German fare – Austrian apparently.

Day 2 – Friday – Thane of Fife arrives

Up and off to the Gemaldegalerie. I was told off, rather officiously, by the girl who hands out the audio machines. My crime had been to place my wet umbrella on her desk. She lifted it, wiped it dry, and only then decided to deal with us. When I went to stuff the umbrella in my pocket, she informed that I’d get my pocket wet.

Thankfully the gallery was full of great things. The Cranachs - long limbed, white skinned Venuses. Holbein’s Portrait of Georg Gisze, with its distorted table, showing, according to Hockney, that he used optical devices to define shape and detail. The Franz Hals Crazy Barbette and Boy with Feather Cap was another highlight. The Dutch paintings such as Vermeer’s Glass of Wine, Breugel, Durer, were a real treat. The Caravaggio (Cupid) is no longer here. This is a huge well-lit gallery and demands a second visit.

Back to the hotel where we met Ronnie, the Thane of Fife. Urgent municipal business had meant delaying his trip by a day. Birnam Wood had not marched on Dunsinane, so he was free for some ambassadorial sport.

Day 3 – Saturday – Sweet victory

A walk through the new Holocaust monument to the Brandenburg gate, popped in to see the Ghery construction inside the bank, sitting like a lively fish in a too tight tank. Then along Unter den Linden past an amazing billboard, all naked butts, and into the worst ,museum in Berlin, the Berlin City Museum. Confusing layout, dull exhibits and altogether dull.

After a coffee we hit the Pergammon. This was altogether different. The Pergammon Altar, a building within a building, the market gate of Miletus all witness the German love for classical Greece and Rome. Islamic art includes the Aleppo Room from Syria and the palace façade from Jordan. But it is the Ishtar Gate that really impresses. Largely reconstructed the Assyrian collection is superb.

As if that wasn’t enough we had a fun visit to the DDR Museum. We sat in the trabant – very tight, and drove it down a projected street. We sat in a reconstructed living room that looked very similar to the rooms we all had in Scotland in the 60s and 70s. The Stasi listening gear sat there, reminding us of Robin Pearson, the Stasi spy I shared a room with at university. This was fun.

Lunch in a Tapas bar set us up nicely for a rather surprising afternoon.

We decamped to an Irish pub to watch Scotland v France, as sure of defeat as Hitler in his bunker. The first half was so one sided the Scots were chanting a sarcastic ‘easy, easy'. Easy’ when we managed to get a solitary and lonely corner kick. They swarmed over us like a Mongolian horde. All seemed lost when we suddenly grabbed a lucky goal from our only foray forward. The pub erupted and the ‘easy, easy’ chant was sung with fervour. The joys of a small nation in sport are rare and short-lived. The unexpectedness of the victory was made even more surreal by the Berlin context.

Off we went by tram in great spirits ready for a celebratory feast. The restaurant Restoration 1900 had been chosen and a fine choice it turned out to be. We had foolishly agreed a wager with the Thane of Fife, promising to pay for wine if Scotland won. No one was more surprised and he drove the dagger in by ordering several expensive reds! The food was fulsome and tasty – a banquet worthy of a group flushed with victory.

We walked back to the U-Bahn, being propositioned by a man promising nude women in his nightclub. We declined. What a day.

Day 4 – Sunday – Nefertiti and Brecht

Tried the Reichstag again, but queues too long so we walked through the Tiergarten to the Russian Memorial with its two tanks, bronze soldier and heavy-handed soviet design. On the way back to the hotel Ken decided, bizarrely, to forgo the wide boulevard to walk between two metal posts holding up a road sign. He scraped his skull on the bottom of the sign and started bleeding from the top of his head. Our concern was drowned out by our laughter. After buying some ointment and rubbing it on his head, he looked as if someone had wiped their arse on his bald patch – it was a shitty brown colour.

We visited the Antique Museum to see the Egyptian exhibits and saw the famous Nefertiti head – astoundingly beautiful, possible the finest piece of Egyptian Art ever found. The head was a model for other sculptures, hence the unfinished second eye. It was found in Tutmose’s workshop in Armara, Akhenaten’s short-lived capital and smuggled out of Egypt. Other heads of her daughters are also spectacular. There are many other fine pieces here.

That night we went to see some Brecht – in German! This was in the famous Komiche Oper, formerly in East Berlin. We were so tired and phased by our inability to understand what was going on that we all fell asleep in the theatre. It was late when we emerged but managed to find a good Italian restaurant. Watered and fed, we wandered home, only after getting hopelessly lost. At one point we got slightly weird and started to simulate the mood going round the earth using our bald heads to explain the seasons.

Day 5 – Monday – Sweet art

The combined age of the group was over two centuries! However, the mood of the group, as always, was of boys in our 20s. We had breakfast at the Café across the road.

Ronnie departed and we got the U-Bahn to the Hamburger Hof to visit the modern art museum. Some Gonzalez exhibits were carpets and piles of sweets on the floor and piled up against walls. Once Ken found out that one could help oneself, he was stuffing them into his mouth and pockets. A huge number of short films were being shown, mostly rather conceptual and boring. The bright primary coloured US work from Warhol et al eclipsed the dark post-war German works, no matter how conceptual and surreal. We had a rather fine meal in the museum restaurant then walked some distance then got the U-Bahn back to the hotel.

Goodbye Berlin.


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