Gems of Berlin

Yes, I’m back in my happy place this fall, yes, I’m studying German again yet still (I WILL learn the possessive pronouns, I WILL I WILL I WILL), and yes, the place is casting its seemingly eternal charm over me anew. Since I’m back at the same school I attended in May (I was actually trying to enroll in a different one but it didn’t work out and my former school took me back at the very last moment), and my friend FB is not around to distract me with long walks and beer-trinken study breaks, I really do plan to get down to the serious work of learning this language. (Short form: there may be fewer blogs. Or not. Who knows?)

But before I disappear into a grammar-infused haze of irregular verb endings and youtube chants to learn the Dativ, I wanted to share a few great pictures from my first week back in Germany. I flew back from Riga just as dusk was falling and caught this lovely shot shortly before we landed at Tegel Airport:

Ordentlich even from the sky

Ordentlich even from the sky

This trip I was fortunate to snag a little place of my own courtesy of, a housing resource for academics and related professionals who need accommodation for odd periods of time around the world. My flat is located in the Neukölln section of town, southeast of the city center. Formerly part of the American sector, it features a lot of wonderful architecture and sports one of the highest percentages of immigrants in all Berlin. This makes for truly amazing strolls along the main drags, predominant among them being Karl-Marx-Straße. You want African food, Vietnamese food, Bulgarian food, Turkish food, German food, Thai food, Turkish food, or even American fast food? No problem. It’s all here. This shot is the aforementioned K-M-S, looking a little more respectable near the old Rathaus (City Hall):

The world shops here

The world shops here

One of the reasons I decided to come to Berlin NOW and to stay for so long (returning just before Christmas) was because the American election season has become toxic to my soul and it’s an act of self-preservation and protection that I choose to live away from that fray for a bit. Thankfully, this sign makes me feel right at home:

Even if you is only fleeing the orange menace

Even if one is only fleeing the orange menace…but you can’t beat those prices, either

So in the few days I had before classes began, I did my usual running around trying to see new places as well as visit some favorite spots. Top of my list for this trip was a visit to Hel’s Pond, one of the rare still extent sites of pre-Christian religion in Germany. Hel is the daughter of Loki in Norse religion and her domain is death and the underworld, hence the origin of the expression “Go to Hell.”  Her pond and small park surrounding it are located in the Tempelhof neighborhood, so named because of the historic association with the Knights Templar, the fighting order of the Catholic Church who existed for several centuries during the Middle Ages doing battle against the infidels in the Middle East in the name of Christ. (The historical and religious ironies certainly aren’t lost on anyone who takes the time to dig just a bit.)

But as I walked about this lovely little park shown below, it appears that no one knows or cares about the antecedents of the park. It is interesting and slightly curious to me that there are no signs or explanatory materials whatsoever anywhere in the park. All one sees is the pond…


Still waters run deep

…which is  believed to be the entrance to the underworld and is rumored to have been a place of human sacrifice in earlier times.  On the opposite side where you see a strange gray form with pink graffiti is a large unmarked statue of a bull…

Way before Merrill Lynch

Way before Merrill Lynch

…representing, according to one blog, the “black bulls Hel used to send from the lake up to the surface. The bulls helped the pagan priest who tended her altar – to toil the land and feed himself.” Naturally, none of this was taken kindly by Charlemagne and his minions who converted most of Germany (the Franks at that time) by the sword in the early ninth century. Hel and her lot were consigned to the dustbin of history *except that she regained her glory under the Nazi regime and was used as some form of inspiration to them.* Perhaps that explains the lack of signage – Berlin wants to keep the park free of politics — and the neo-Nazi demonstrations in Dresden. But it is a fascinating site nonetheless.

Another unique treasure I discovered this past week is the Golden Hat, housed in the Neues Museum:

Hat, HAT I tell you, hat!

Hat, HAT I tell you, hat!

Standing nearly a yard high (745 mm or ~30 inches), this object was made in the late Bronze Age (ca 1000-800 BCE) and is composed of thin gold leaf on some organic material. This is one of four found so far in southern Germany and France and Wiki tells us “it is generally assumed that the hats served as the insignia of deities or priests in the context of a sun cult that appears to have been widespread in Central Europe at the time. The hats are also suggested to have served astronomical/calendrical functions.” Well I never. How cool is that?

Moving just slightly north, the Pergamon Museum is also a favorite of mine. I’ll probably do a whole blog on items from these museums, but this is just a teaser. Located in the Pergamon are entire facades of gates reconstructed from mounds of blocks found in the Middle East. When I first saw these artifacts several years ago, I was incensed that colonial powers had stolen and imprisoned these cultural treasures so far from home. Now that ISIS on one hand and the war in Syria on the other are doing their own fine job of destroying what historical remnants remained in the country itself, I have a slightly more charitable view of the colonial borrowing. In honor of the destruction that has occurred in Syria, and most recently in Aleppo, I post this picture of a reconstruction of a banquet hall (dining room) located in an early 17th century home from the Christian section of the city:

"By the waters, the waters of Babylon We lay down and wept, and wept, for thee Zion"

Aleppo House: “By the waters, the waters of Babylon
We lay down and wept, and wept, for thee Zion”

A sign near the exhibit says that many of the buildings in the area where this room was found have been destroyed; the fate of this particular house is unknown.

Saying a quick prayer, we move on.

These last two I’ve posted on Facebook so you may have seen them, but they bear repetition. The first one offers sounds advice in these challenging times:

Harry would get my vote

Harry would get my vote

…and then a sign so chilling it stopped me in my tracks yesterday on my way to school:

Ah, for the chance to explain the present continuous!

Ah, for the chance to explain the present continuous!

Finally, a shot from the U-bahn which sums up a lot of what makes this place so enchanting for me – and an ad for how I will reward myself when and if I get my homework done on time:



So now, back to the books. Bis später – thanks for reading, as always.

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4 Responses to Gems of Berlin

  1. Janet Stebbins says:

    The Pergamon gate (pictured) from the Christian section of which city?

  2. arleebug54 says:

    The GATE is not pictured The inside of the ROOM (red) is from Aleppo, Syria.

  3. Rachel Drummond says:

    I’m so glad you can get out of the country during election season. It is so icky. Can you vote from abroad? Also I want to eat all the things on your street! Yumm!

    • arleebug54 says:

      Yes, I can definitely vote from abroad – absentee voting. It’s a bit of a hassle – I have to receive a physical ballot and send it back – but in terms of how important this election is, that is NOT A PROBLEM.

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