DIY Berlin…

I’ve moved a lot in my life – 32 times, or thereabouts. This is literally three times the average for most Americans, of whom (according to the latest Census data) 11.6 percent moved house in 2017, the lowest percentage since the data has been kept. Europeans tend to move far less than that, and while I don’t have the exact numbers, I’m relatively certain this is true. I always wondered why – were they not curious about other cities and towns? Didn’t jobs or relationships drag them hither and yon? Did they have stronger ties to their hometowns than those of us in the Western Hemisphere?

…and now I have, at least, a partial answer to this question. It’s just a heck of a lot of work, more so than in the US. See explanation below…

As noted before, T and I have thankfully landed a flat in Berlin, which in the current real estate climate is somewhat of a miracle and for which we are very very grateful. (This of course means that we are contributing to the increasing prices and decreasing affordable housing for the rest of the population, but there you go.) One cynical graffiti artist put it this way:

Our flat is located in Charlottenburg, a “locality” quite close to the center of the city and filled with amazing architecture and even its own Schloss (castle) which transforms itself into one of my favorite Christmas markets. We’re in a slightly less aesthetically pleasing edifice than some of the “Altbau” (old buildings) that resemble something out of Paris and grace many local streets, but one which is (to its credit) amazingly well situated to shopping and public transportation, somewhere in this general vicinity:

So, so far so good. We took possession of the flat in August and had the walk-through with the management company (the all-important “Hausverwaltung”), which is when I learned that German flats come with…..practically absolutely nothing. Four walls in every room, full stop. Now, we were lucky that our flat had functioning bathrooms, but that was it. No….kitchen, closets, toilet paper holders, cupboards, shelves, washing machine, curtains, you name it. Nada. All to be left to the discretion, imagination, creation, and wallet of the new tenants. There’s a brisk market on eBay in…used kitchens. How weird is that?

Okay, then. Since I have spent much of the past seven years getting rid of stuff and T still maintains the place in Italy, it means we are starting from scratch with this nest, sort of the way you buy new stuff for your kid heading off to college. Our new best friends are now the good people that work at Bauhaus, a German version of Home Depot or Lowe’s. There’s a small but very functional “filiale,” or branch, a couple blocks away. My day is not complete if I don’t stop by for something (or maybe just lunch next door):

Home away from home

So when a kitchen starts with four walls, a radiator, and a couple pipes sticking out of the wall, you have a couple ways to go. There’s the “Pay a lot of money and have someone else do it” approach – very tempting, I might admit, or there’s the “Let’s just go minimal and let it emerge over time” approach, which is what we’ve voted to do. Happily, T’s brother is a carpenter, so probably we’ll end up with something very fine at some point, but in the meantime, we’re batching it a bit. Here’s the beginnings of a kitchen starting to take shape:

When these gentlemen left, we had, courtesy of our landlord who had forgotten he had promised this, a *basic* sink and stove. We bought the fridge (first purchase) and T added some shelves, so we’re in business in the short run. There have also been a few great contributions from friends, including these two stools who have cross-trained to become bedside tables:

Part of the fun of assembling a flat here, of course, is that you can take advantage of all the amazing flea markets and antique stores in the greater Berlin environs, places T and I go regularly in our search for pens and such. Here’s a shot of T fully engaged in his hunting-gathering element:

…and oh, the overwhelming possibilities for home decor….I vacillate regularly between fascination at all the amazing items available from decades of European craft…and wistful reflection and sadness that the inheritors of all this richness were, for some reason or another, unable to hang on to it. There’s also the realization that lives are far different now then they were not that long ago – porcelain, glass, and silver are no long the necessary accoutrements of middle-class life as they had been in the past:

But nesting challenges aside, it’s simply grand to be actually living in this vibrant, diverse, and whimsical city, a place I have loved since my first visit in December 2014. There is a lovely farmer’s market a few blocks away every Wednesday and Saturday, for example, filled with a variety of local delicacies but also a very amusing stand where the egg salesman sets up an electric train — and a bunch of stuffed chickens — to help attract buyers to his stand:

…and in one of the many local grocery stores, one is invited to purchase sausage from a range of local purveyors, a sight that T and I quickly dubbed “The Wall o’ Wurst:”

…and finally, no story about Berlin is complete with some of the local urban art, an exhibit of which has suddenly manifested itself on a construction wall nearby. Not exactly sure what a robed man is doing with a snake-like hookah, but that’s just part of the charm.

So, to all my fans who have requested pictures from the new place, the bad news is…that will just have to wait a bit until the rooms are street-legal ready to be shown off. I will confirm that there is a bed in place (thank god; only three trips to IKEA so far), there is a desk for my general sanity and continuing German studies, and there is the beginning of a workshop so T can do basic repairs and mailings. *And there is a guest room, ready and waiting for the first intrepid soul to come a’visiting.* When that happy day arrives, there will be something cozy waiting for you as well. Wish us luck on all the rest. I’ll keep you posted.






Posted in Berlin | 6 Comments

New name, new game

Dear Readers,

By now you’ve seen a picture of the Brandenburg Gate at the top of this blog for some time. This has reflected, as I’m sure you’ve surmised, my deep regard for this particular city and my hope to spend more time here, even though the blog name reflected my former cities of Portland, Oregon and Portland, Maine. Well, sometimes dreams actually do come true, and I have one of these to share with you now. My dear spouse and I have acquired a permanent perch in Berlin and I am now able to settle in, put down roots, and really try to gain some kind of control over German declensions. So I am not starting a new blog yet, but just changing the current name to reflect my new venue and the happy opportunity to begin to make this fascinating urban landscape my own.

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Light at the end of the tunnel…

I’m just wrapping up another summer session at the International University of Japan where I am fortunate to teach and work with students and fellow/fella faculty from around the world. Since I finished my Phase 1 evaluations yesterday (yay) I was free to accept an invitation from colleagues G and J to go for a drive through the beautiful rural countryside of Niigata Prefecture and visit one of Japan’s most famous landmarks, the Kiyotsu Gorge. Now, if you know me at all well, you’ll know that doing the nature thing is not my strong suit, but G sweetened the offer by telling me that a young Chinese architect, Ma Yansong of MAD architects in Beijing, had recently transformed a tunnel that runs through the mountains and turns viewing of the gorge into…an edgy art exhibit in its own right. Pretty durn cool, thought I, and off we went on a steamy Sunday morning. Here are G and J strolling down the main street that leads to the tunnel:

A short distance ahead one finds the actual entrance to the viewing tunnel/exhibit. The whole complex is part of a larger art exhibit held about now in Japan in multiple venues spread over multiple municipalities. If and when I stop teaching at this time of year, I really have to check all this out – apparently the exhibits are world-class and definitely worth exploring. But in the meantime, I gots to grab my culture as I can among teaching academic writing and the joys of reference citation.

It was definitely a relief to walk into a darkened tunnel and know we’d be cool/er for as long as we were there. Japan, like most of the Northern Hemisphere this summer, has been sweltering with unexpected numbers of heat-related illnesses and even deaths. That being said, the Japanese are an intrepid clan and the site was busy and full. After we paid our 800 yen (just over seven dollars), we encountered a nearly kilometer-long set of hallways that looked much of the time something like this:

In typical Japanese fashion, the whole site was clean, level, relatively well-lit (variously colored lights were part of the attraction), and even complete with various geological notes and hyper-hygienic restroom facilities. A prehistoric shark tooth was found during the construction of the tunnel and passersby are given a slightly terrifying projection drawing to let us know how totally classed and outsized we were by the previous inhabitants of the region, the Carcharondon megalodon:

Once at the first viewing station, I stopped to snap a shot of the amazing streams of clear mountain water and well-worn basalt formations of the gorge that ran below the balcony:

…but equally enchanting to me, my talented and photogenic friends:

A little further on we found another part of the art installation, which consisted of cunning placement of lights and mirrors:

Another viewing area included a mirrored restroom in the middle of the space, which allowed yours truly to try some photographic legerdemain, including both myself and the gorge in the shot, all reflected off a curved surface:

At the final viewing room, we were rewarded with one of the most spectacular views of the gorge, simply breathtaking, looking back towards the direction we had walked. This trick gave us the impression the river itself had changed course:

This view, worthy in an of itself, was framed by a space that included a wading pool that ran nearly to the edge of the platform…a brilliant feature that brought out the inner child in all of us:

G, J, and I all appreciated that the audience was invited, nay, expected, to pull off one’s socks and shoes and wade about in the chilly but very refreshing shallow pond. Needless to say, my dogs thanked me for the rest of the day:

After this grand finale, we walked back down the series of tunnels and their various colored lanterns and back out into the swampy August weather. On the way to the car, I managed to have a very short visit with a somewhat shy local resident, the Anotogaster Sieboldii or golden-ringed dragonfly, according to J, a serious naturalist as well as a superlative English teacher. This transparently winged visitor, the largest native species of its kind in Asia, was nearly four inches long (100 mm) and departed abruptly before J could property document him with his professional equipment, much to his dismay:

This coming week I exchange the heat of Japan for the heat of Germany and return to language study and preparing for the fall season of pen shows and general mayhem. Thanks as always for accompanying me on my rambles and stay tuned for more adventures to come.

Posted in Travel - Japan | Tagged | 3 Comments

Lovely Leiden

Okay, so the language sounds like gargling and the regional food is inedible. Those are good reasons for avoiding a whole country for the entirety of one’s existence, right? Wrong. Dead wrong. How could I be so stupid? Based on my single experience (three days) in one city (Leiden) during a celestial stretch of warm dry sunny weather, the new conclusion is – the Netherlands are great! Incredible! Amazing! Just avoid the mushrooms in Amsterdam, according to one Hamburg cabbie.

My sister D had the chance to come to Europe for the first time ever (yay!) so she met me in Berlin and we spent a couple days there before moving to Hamburg and thence to Leiden. The choice of location was a shot in the dark for me, but I was looking for a place I could use as a base to explore this part of the world, and this little city, a historic university town, seemed as good as any. In addition, we were fortunate in our selection of hotel, the delightful Boutique Hotel d’Oude Morsch in a converted barracks (just go). But I just hadn’t quite clued into how lucky we were going to be.

Historic overview: Leiden began around 860, and like most of Europe, has been subject to all manner of indignities including a sacking by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry III in 1047, a massive canon attack by John of Bavaria in 1420, and a two-month siege by the Spanish in 1574 which has resulted in an annual holiday where the inhabitants eat raw fish and bread in honor of the resistance. But things really began to get interesting in the 17th century when Leiden, along with the rest of the country, entered their turbo-charged Golden Age.

For starters, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born in Leiden on July 15, 1606, the ninth child in his family (ultimate total unknown). His birth home has fallen to the wrecking balls of history, but several plaques and a lovely garden commemorate the spot in the alley directly to the left of this building where he drew his first breath:

Although Rembrandt only lived in Leiden until around the age of 25, he studied there in a Latin school (still standing) and the University of Leiden as well as began his own painting school. But by 1631 he had moved to Amsterdam, following, as it were, the money that was rapidly being generated there. And for the rest, see the Rembrandt House museum website

At roughly the same time, though, Leiden welcomed a band of English Calvinists. Famous for its textile industry at the time, Leiden was known as well for religious tolerance, and it was for this reason that these pilgrims, soon known as The Pilgrims, perched there from roughly 1609 to when they set forth to the New World in the Mayflower in 1620. The Pieterskerk, a huge Gothic pile dating from roughly 1100 and now a busy community and concert venue, houses a lovely small exhibit honoring these brave souls.

Fascinating to me was learning that no fewer than nine presidents of the US can trace their antecedents directly back to this intrepid group of 100 travelers. Among them are John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses Grant, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, both George Bushes…and Barack Obama, a direct descendant of Thomas Blossom. Ya gotta love those DNA tests….

The third cool 17th century miracle for Leiden was…tulips, of course. Although the first bulbs and seeds were were sent to Vienna from the Ottoman Empire in 1554, the effort was greatly aided by the Leiden botanist Carolus Clusius (1525-1609) who established the Hotus Botanicus, one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world. At his urging, the Dutch East India Company brought back plant samples from their contacts in their colonial empire resulting in a extensive and international plant collection nearly unrivaled at the time, and only recently so. Wiki tells us, “By 1636 the tulip bulb became the fourth leading export product of the Netherlands, after gin, herrings and cheese. The price of tulips skyrocketed because of speculation in tulip futures among people who never saw the bulbs. Many men made and lost fortunes overnight.” Sic transit gloria…tulipi…

So you really think D and I spent all our time on the history channel? No way. In truth, we spent many happy hours in sybaritic pleasures, among which we could count one truly glorious canal boat ride:

We had a terrific bi-lingual tour guide who helped us enjoy a lot of the wonderful scenery and history, as well as gave us the chance to capture pictures like this. Ya know you’re not in Kansas anymore:

Yup, this is all real, and we enjoyed a full hour of it, pausing only to duck our heads under the lowest of 88 bridges in town (yes, and 28 kilometers of canals, second only to Am-dam). I was particularly amused by the *artistic* rendition of some previous inhabitants:

…and happy not to have met these four-legged citizens in person, we enjoyed watching the antics of some of the live two-legged variety:

But mostly we did a good bit of this….and for the record, Heineken draft beats the bottles/cans any day of the week, as does the other local brand, named, helpfully, Brand:

But all good things must end and today I had to kiss D off at the airport into the hands of her waiting posse, off to Bruges for some wedding shenanigans. Sister trips – highly recommended. I heart you, D.


Posted in The Netherlands | Tagged | 3 Comments

An instant in Innsbruck

Since the last entry in Ravenna, your faithful correspondent has been moving around at a pace that even she is finding a challenge. But since I am fortunate enough to be in phase where this is not only allowed but even demanded, I am just hanging on to the magic carpet for all it’s worth and being grateful for the ride. Just recently, I returned to Berlin from my shared “country estate” in Abruzzo, treating myself to one of what must be the most beautiful train rides around – that from Bologna to Munich through the Tyrolean Alps. Now, since the closest I’m ever going to get to those peaks is probably through a train window (what? me hike?), I try to stay somewhere nearby just to enjoy them with my eyes. Last October I visited Bolzano; this time the stop was Innsbruck, Austria, a city I had last visited in 1974. On the way, I was treated to stops in unpronounceable villages like this:

Worgl Hbf

But before too long (four hours from Bologna), we pulled into Innsbruck on a beautiful warm spring afternoon. (Dear readers, I’ll spare you the long history this time; I’ll just remind you that it was the site of the 1964 and 1976 Olympics, the 1984 and 1988 Paralympics and the first Winter Youth Olympics in 2012). After dropping my bags at my hotel, I hastened out to enjoy the passing scene, heading straight for the scenic-beyond-belief Altstadt (Old Town):

Altstadt 2

Frankly, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of seeing scenes like this and poking around them like a visiting field anthropologist. And not surprisingly it seems a few hundred others share my passion. Nearby a local member of the chamber of commerce, I believe, was handing out brochures inviting one and all to an upcoming late shopping night. She was hard to miss, and was particularly kind to submit to my photographic impulses:

Inns tall gal

As I strolled through the Altstadt, I was pleasantly astonished to see how the locals had dealt with the vexing problem of how to include global franchises with the toothsome local ambiance. Here are a couple examples:

Inns McDonalds

and nearby…


Inns Hard Rock

What do you think of this, Led Zeppelin?

There was even Innsbruck’s own special variety of locavore – a “Speckeria,” mashing the German/Italian word for bacon or (probably here prosciutto) “Speck” with, obviously, the name for a place where such a product can be obtained and consumed. T, this one’s for you, my favorite gourmet:

Inns Speckeria

I was totally amused by the sight of a group of Indian tourists, following their guide (and flag) with the same duckling-like attention that characterizes the Tilley-hatted clusters of paler complexioned tourists in Florence and elsewhere. Incongruity reigns, cultures clash, and we all become richer for the mix:

Inns Indians

So by now you may be lulled into thinking that Innsbruck is all Imperial architecture and La Dolce Vita, and that is certainly in the case in this neighborhood. But on the way to the train station the next day (far too short a stay – looking forward to a repeat visit), I was reminded of another side of Innsbruck and Austria itself – a region and a country that still holds to long-held social traditions as well as a significant history of military and political might. I passed the Liberation Memorial at Landhausplatz, a commemoration to all those who died in the “battle for freedom 1939-45,” intriguingly (as far as I can tell) paid for by the French occupying forces of the time. The memorial itself is the thing with the eagle on top of it – it’s not part of the building behind, and it has, in many languages, sentiments for those who gave their lives for the country:

Inns - war dead

Further on, just because I chose to leave the hotel at the right moment, I encountered a parade in honor of Corpus Christi, the national holiday celebrating the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Newly baptized children, folks in national dress, loads of ecclesiastical types, some olde-style military marchers – this was a celebration of Austria’s deep religious and community roots:

Inns Corpus Christi

and the featured guest Himself:

Inns CC body

So with that I finished my own march to Innsbruck’s cheery newish train station and found my way onto my ICE to Berlin. It was a pleasant trip, if longish, spent in the cafe car for easy access to local cuisine and beverages as the perfect accompaniment to the rolling countryside beyond the window and the good book on my Kindle. I could get used to this….so until next time, “Ciao,” as they say in Austria…

Posted in Austria, Uncategorized | Tagged | 9 Comments

Rambles in Ravenna

Dear readers, the muse has been a bit silent of late, certainly not for lack of topics, but rather because I have been sucked up into the sizzling writhing morass that currently passes as politics in my country. Quoting from Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness, “He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable. And it has a fascination, too, that goes to work upon him. The fascination of the abomination  (emphasis mine) – you know, imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate.” Anyway. I’ve been glued to MSNBC and basically every other news outlet I can get my electronic fingers on of late, and my writing (to say nothing of my sanity) has suffered a mite.

But time to get back on the horse, as it were, and what better place to start than Ravenna, Italy, where I currently find myself. My goal was to spend some serious time (a month) in a small Italian city where I could get a better sense of the culture and to use it as a base to explore a part of the country I don’t know well. Ravenna is home to about 160,000 gentle souls and lies within shooting distance of Bologna, Venice, Ferrara, Modena, Parma, and a number of other interesting spots in the northern area of the country, plus it is interesting  in its own right. So here I am for a spell, and let me share a bit with you.

Ravenna is best known for its amazing mosaics that are contained in eight early Christian monuments collectively proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 as well as a diverse collection from the Roman era. But what has come to me during my walks over the past week or two is the wistful sadness of a place that was REALLY SOMEWHERE VERY IMPORTANT FOR A LONG TIME but is now a modest one-or-two day flyby on an alumni arts and architecture tour for well-heeled tourists. Odd how one (I) pick up these feelings, but there you are.

But before I completely succumb to the nostalgia of the place, a few pictures. Here’s the view out the window of my lovely little AirBNB flat. I am staying just a block south of the historic city center in a little neighborhood with lots of lovely little shops and businesses:

Where everybody knows your name

A short walk away (everything is a short walk away) is the Museo TAMO, “Tutta l’Avventura del Mosaico,” a good place to start to understand the breadth of the mosaic culture  in Ravenna and indeed all of Italy. Set in a historic building itself, the church of San Nicolò, it is a ode to this beautiful and historic art form:

…and while I really enjoyed this overview and initial insight into the world of mosaics (about which I had known zip nada before this trip), the best part is seeing the work in situ, as it were, integrated into buildings that can take advantage of the size and impact of the materials. Here is one shot of the mosaic decoration on the interior of the Basilica of San Vitale, the most impressive of all the monuments. The building was completed in 547. Let that sink in. 547.

Reminiscent of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

There really aren’t words to describe this. I plan to go back again and again. Because of its date of construction, the building contains Roman elements, Byzantine elements, and some of the earliest examples of flying buttresses which later made their way into Gothic architecture. Google this thing if you don’t believe me, it’s amazing.

Nearby was an intriguing little pool, still inside the building. My pagan impulses immediately thought that this edifice may have been built on the spot of an earlier sacred site, as often happens with Christian encroachment. A more practical idea is that it may have served as a baptismal pool. In any event, here’s someone else puzzling over its function:

Ravenna has a charming center city that mostly consists of a couple piazzas and the streets that connect them to each other and to the monuments. Outside of that carefully preserved historical bubble, it’s a unprepossessing little burb with some truly unhappy architecture from the 1960s and 1970s salted amid the renaissance palaces. But if you stay on the path, it’s nothing but La Dolce Vita. Here’s the Piazza del Popoplo on a mild April day:

Enough culture, where’s the gelato?

A short walk from here (see above on short walks), one finds Dante’s Tomb. Yes, that Dante. In exile from his hometown of Florence, Dante died in Ravenna in 1321. After a couple hundred years when tempers had finally subsided, the pope ordered the bones back to Florence but the wily Ravennians *sent an empty coffin,* Dante’s bones secretly hidden in a monastery for safekeeping. His remains only found the light of day again in 1865 or so during some renovations and now they are peacefully reposing on a quiet back street:

Speaking of tombs, the other biggie in Ravenna is the Mausoleum of Theoderic, located just outside the city. Now here’s an interesting dude that I had never heard of, but yowza talk about someone who lived at the crossroads of history and culture. Born in 454 in what is now eastern Austria near the Hungarian border, Theoderic was, according to Wiki, “king of the Ostrogoths (475–526), ruler of Italy (493–526), regent of the Visigoths (511–526), and a patrius of the Roman Empire.” Now that’s some resume. He died in Ravenna which had been his captial and was buried in the structure he had previously designed, but at some point his actual tomb itself was opened (the bathtub-like object below) and his bones scattered to the winds. Sic transit gloria mundi…

So Ravenna….significant for centuries as the site of a Roman seaport, a center for ecclesiastical Byzantine monuments, the capital of the Lombards, Dante’ home in exile, a province of Venice. Many famous writers have visited the city and fallen under her spell, including Oscar Wilde, Henry James, Lord Byron, Carl Jung, T.S. Eliot, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Hermann Hesse. Yet now she sits as if like Miss Havisham, dressed in the decaying gowns of yesteryear and waiting expectantly for another groom to come. In the meantime, Sister Immaculata prepares her youngsters for their First Holy Communion and the cycle of the year continues…

Vade in Pacem…

Posted in Italy | Tagged | 7 Comments

A Peek at Poznań

It’s been a while since I have headed off to explore a new city so when my dear Polish friend M from Batumi days suggested we meet up for the weekend in Poznań, a city located basically smack dab between Berlin and her current home base of Warsaw, I couldn’t say “nie.” So last Saturday morning I hopped on an express train and soon found myself pulling into the local glowny:

Poznań, like so many sensible European cities, is arranged so that the transportation hub, a huge complex including both train and bus stations as well as a monster mall, is within easy walking or tram distance of most of the central city. I walked to my hotel, found M, and before you could say “Adam Mickiewicz,” (a famous Polish writer and activist), we  were strolling down the long and charming pedestrian shopping street to the Old Town Square. Thankfully we had a little guidance…

Even though she’s Polish, M had never been to Poznań, so that made it even more fun, particularly because she could pronounce (and I could hear) the names of things and places which otherwise look like…a lot of really unrelated consonants. As we entered the square and prepared to circumnavigate it, we were halted in our tracks by the sight of children getting photographed….with goats….

Our initial confusion quickly gave way to a little context. It turns out goats are *a thing* in Poznań. I’m learning about this European city mascot concept. Berlin has bears (I think Bern does as well), Wroclaw has dwarves, Krakow has dragons, and Poznań has….goats. The short version of the long story is that the two original goats escaped the clutches of a chef in the 16th century, scampered up into the town hall tower, and proceeded to duke it out in full view of the surprised diners. These days, during warmer weather, they mark the noon hour with 12 head butts — but in January, it seems, they are enjoying a bit of a rest in the nice warm town hall musem:

Baaaaad behavior…

This town square, like several others in Poland including Wroclaw, Krakow, and Gdansk, is truly beautiful. Yes, it was bombed back to the stone age during WWII, but it’s astonishing how the careful restoration allows one to feel that the place still retains its original charm. Here’s a shot from out of the town hall museum window:

Like a fairy tale

…and here’s an interior glimpse of the main meeting room in the town hall:

These pretty pictures are all well and good but you knew you couldn’t escape the history much longer. Since I’m in a charitable mood today, I’ll keep in short. Among the oldest and largest cities in Poland, Poznań (at 550,000) figures high in Polish “trade, sports, education, technology, and tourism.” The city’s origins are lost in its pagan and preliterate past, but it came into prominence in the 10th century when the cathedral now known as the “SS Peter and Paul Archcathedral Basilica” was established in the Ostrow Tumski area immediately east of the town square, known in English as Cathedral Island. Many of the early rulers of Poland are buried here as well. I captured a shot of the back of the edifice at dusk framed by a walkway from the nearby interpretive center:

Inside the cathedral, a priest ministered to the faithful:

Germans were invited to come to the city as early as the middle of the 13th century, under the Magdeburg Law which granted a measure of autonomy to the local leader to develop his area as he saw fit. As a result of these and other settlers, the city became a major trading center in the region but, like most of Poland, suffered greatly during the 17th and 18th centuries under the onslaught of multiple wars, plagues, and fires. During the 19th and 20th centuries the city was variously under both German and Polish rule, with the expected massive expulsions and relocations resulting from every trade-off.

What I wasn’t expecting was the astonishing collection of Polish art at the National Museum (the MNP), one of the largest museums in Poland. I was ready for the usual array of goodies from the Bronze Age through the military uniforms and swords to the gramophones and typewriters. Instead, M and I were gobsmacked by the size and quality of paintings on display, from the 16th through the 20th century and exhibiting pieces I had never imagined by people I had never heard of. This is in fact a serious crime. The works in this museum should be on multiple international tours, to be shared with a much wider audience. I could do a whole blog on this museum, and maybe I will, but for now I have to content myself by showing you just this one:

This is (English translation) A Hutsul Funeral, painted in 1905 by Wladyslaw Jarocki (1879-1965). The Hutsuls were “highlanders of the Eastern Carpathian,” and this painting is intended to show that death is a part of life for these people, and funerals were a time of communion and cultural solidarity. I just like the way the artist conveyed the folk art in the women’s clothing and accessories. But speaking of crimes, it is important to note here that after the invasion of Poland in 1939 by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, it is estimated that a half a million art objects were taken by the occupying powers. A half million pieces. Work is still underway to return as much as possible as it is identified.

So by this point you might be lulled into thinking that all of Poznań is a homage to the past or to a museum celebrating the gods of art. But of course this is not the case. Outside the historic inner city, Poznań is a vibrant metropolis, pulsing with life and commerce. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 160,000 students study here, there are frequent trade shows, and the area sees a good bit of tourism as well. One of the most recent and well-known developments is the Stary Browar (Old Brewery), a huge mall/entertainment/business/art gallery complex built on the site of, you guessed it, an old German brewery. It is jinormous and multi-storied. Here’s a shot of some of  it (I couldn’t fit it all in) from our hotel window, with new(er) Poznań in the background:

Well, after all this dogging around town, you can imagine we were really hungry. M cleverly spotted the Gramofon Cafe and we dug into some really yummy local treats:

Can you say “Naleśniki?”

Sadly, before too long it was time to run for our respective trains and head back to our respective world capitals. I was fortunate that there was room in the club car on my train and I was able to enjoy some additional Polish hospitality with the hope of more to come in the future.

Net-net – Poznań is a place I look forward to seeing again; I feel we barely scratched the surface and that I have not yet begun to understand the stories that so clearly linger here But if you ever get a chance to see this museum – it’s a must do.

Posted in Poland | Tagged | 2 Comments