Berlin to Prague – December 30, 2013

As the Americans left for the airport, we left for the Berlin Hauptbahnhof.  This is Berlin’s main train station and is considered Europe’s largest train station.

We decided to take the train from Berlin to Prague with a stopover in Dresden.  Our train left around nine am and we arrived in Dresden around eleven am.  As much as I was dreading dealing with our luggage on the train, I didn’t want to rent a car as I’ve done the drive from Berlin to Prague before and it’s not an easy drive.  The roads in the Czech Republic are not well maintained and forget about any sort of Autobahn type roadway.  The train allowed for Mr. MM and myself to pack snacks and relax during the journey.

Mr. MM on the train to Dresden.

Mr. MM on the train to Dresden.

While Mr. MM planned our time in Dresden, I relaxed and watched the landscape pass by.  After maneuvering our luggage off the train, we went directly to the storage lockers located in the station.  The luggage lockers are a little tricky to find.  Make your way to the model train.  When you are facing it look left and you will see signs for the luggage lockers.  We were able to store everything in one large locker for the day.

We made our way to the S-Bahn platform across the street (Altstadt side of the Bahnhof).  Our plan was to make our way to the farthest destination and work our way back.  We took the S-Bahn across the Carolabrucke to Albertplatz where we switched to a tram that would take us east along Bautzner Strasse.  It took us about 20 minutes to get to Brauhaus am Waldschlosschen.  The Brauhaus is located at the top of a staircase off the street.  There’s a decent size beer garden in the front with a wonderful view of Dresden.  I imagine this place is great in the warmer months.  It was too early for lunch so we just had a couple of beers and made our way back to the Altstadt via foot.

L:  Brauhaus menu.  R:  View from the Brauhaus beer garden.

L: Brauhaus menu. R: View from the Brauhaus beer garden.

We walked back to the Altstadt so that we could explore Dresden along the way.  Our first stop was Molkerei Pfund.  The ground floor cheese shop is covered in hand painted Villeroy & Boch tiles.  Obviously this is a big highlight on the Dresden tour bus circuit as two were parked outside.  This tiny establishment was packed to the gills so we took a quick peek around and took off.  We had hoped to buy some cheese for the next leg of our train journey but it was pricey and maddening with all the other tourists.

I appreciate that Dresden still reflects its communist past in the residential neighborhoods.  There’s a worn patina to the architecture.

L:  Shopping.  R: Graffiti.

L: Shopping. R: Graffiti.

After turning toward the Altstadt at Albertplatz, we walked along the Neuerstadt Markt, a pedestrian tree lined shopping street.  We stopped in a couple of stores along the way.  Crossed over the Augustusbrucke into the Altstadt.  In front of the Katholische Hofkirche we made a left to walk up the stairs to Bruhl’s Terrace, “The Balcony of Europe”.  This terrace runs along the river Elbe and was such a lovely walk with plenty of people watching.  I can imagine how nice it would be in spring to stop and have a coffee outside.

One thing I like to do when I travel is take a picture with my foot on a city street grate.  The street grates in Europe tend to be nicely designed and contain the name of the city.  They’re not at generic as ours are.

L:  Katholische Hofkirche.  R: Dresden city grate.

L: Katholische Hofkirche. R: Dresden city grate.

When we saw Munzgasse, we knew that was the street we should take on our walk back to the train station.  They still had their Christmas Market in full swing.  Such a charming little street and being able to walk through one more Christmas Market made it all that much better.

L:  Munzgasse from Bruhl's Terrace.  R:  Munzgasse at street level.

L: Munzgasse from Bruhl’s Terrace. R: Munzgasse at street level.

As we walked past the Frauenkirche, I asked Mr. MM if he wanted to go inside any of the historic buildings.  I’ve been to Dresden with my Mom so I’ve seen everything but he hasn’t.  Unfortunately, the line to get into the Frauenkirche was so long that he decided to keep on moving.  I guess once you’ve seen the Berlin Dom, it’s going to be pretty much the same or less.

L:  Frauenkirche.  R:  Musicians in front of Frauenkirche.

L: Frauenkirche. R: Musicians in front of Frauenkirche.

We continued on to one more beer place that Mr. MM wanted to check out:  Watzke am Ring.  Mr. MM does a bit of writing himself and I think his review of Watzke am Ring is spot on.  While he enjoyed beer, I went in search of a soccer scarf to ready myself for the upcoming World Cup.  Success.  Per the recommendation of the Watzke am Ring bartender, I found one at a sporting goods store right around the corner.

Soccer hooligan accessory.

Soccer hooligan accessory.

Now for our 10 minute walk back to the train station to retrieve our luggage and board the train for Prague.




Berlin – December 29, 2013

Our last day in Berlin.

Everyone decided to hang out at the Germans’ house while Mr. MM, Texas, and I got our wires uncrossed and headed into Mitte to see some art.

We took the S-Bahn to Potsdamer Platz and walked west to the Neue Nationalgalerie.

Neue Nationalgalerie.

Neue Nationalgalerie.

Opening in 1968, this was Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s final major built project.  Mies is known for creating fluid open spaces that are inherently perfect for art exhibits.  The interior can be manipulated to showcase the art.  I would love to see a Richard Serra exhibit in this pavilion!   Can’t you just picture his Cor-10 steel torqued ellipses in contrast to the slick finishes of Mies’s design?

I did enjoy the ‘Expansion of the Combat Zone.  1968 – 2000. The Collection Part 3’.  One artist assembled vintage radios that played sound bites from former ‘East German’ propaganda programs.  This was one of my favorite pieces from the exhibit.  Vintage radios — love them.  And I have some sort of weird nostalgia for the Cold War with all its rhetoric.

Vintage radios blaring propaganda.  Cabinet of curiosities.

Vintage radios blaring propaganda. Cabinet of curiosities.

I have a mild obsession with ‘cabinets of curiosity’. Orderly chaos.  I do not recall what this piece was but I love the Louise Nevelson quality of the storage shelves.

Louise Nevelson US Postage Stamps.

Louise Nevelson US Postage Stamps.

I fear that I may wander off the path and start gushing over Ms. Nevelson.  But don’t you see the similarities between her sculpture and the piece in the Neue Nationalgalerie?

People watching in the Neue Nationalgalerie proved to be entertaining …

Neue Galerie Interior.

Neue Nationalgalerie people watching.

We then walked to the Berlinische Galerie via the Topography of Terror, lunch at a small beer bar, and Checkpoint Charlie.  I had no idea that we enjoyed our lunch while overlooking the site of the long demolished Nazi SS headquarters.

Wow.  Checkpoint Charlie has completely changed and now is just a mere tourist trap.  I remember visiting Berlin when the wall was still up and how weighty this site felt.  And how un-touristy this site was.

On October 22, 1961 there was a dispute over whether East German guards had the authority to exam the passport of an American diplomat passing through the checkpoint to attend the opera in East Berlin.  Within five days 10 Soviet and 10 American tanks stood 300 feet apart on either side of the checkpoint.  Thankfully the standoff ended peacefully by the end of the month.  Did Americans even realize the threat that loomed?  I know Berliners did.  I know my mom did.

This is what I find so fascinating about Europe.  You can’t help walking through monumental history.  It gives one pause.

By the time we arrived at the Berlinische Galerie, I was cranky but I don’t think that had anything to do with my unimpressed view of the Franz Ackermann exhibit.  Should one really paint in neon colors?  I wasn’t expecting much after walking through this first exhibit.  Then we walked into the ‘Vienna Berlin: The Art of Two Cities — From Schiele to Grosz’.  And who should have a nice presence in this exhibit?

Hannah Hoch.  As I’ve mentioned before, I love collage.  A German DaDa artist, she was one of the originators of photomontage.

I really like this description from Michael Kimmelman’s NY Times article about the Ms. Hoch:

A visitor once described her studio in Heiligensee. In the middle was a big table, nearly invisible beneath cartons of old newspapers, mounds of clippings from magazines and brochures, pots of glue and a pair of scissors. When the visitor reached for the scissors, Hoch reacted more or less the way Heifetz might have if a stranger had suddenly picked up his Stradivarius, which is to say not well, and the scissors were swiftly put back on the table.

The exhibit showed several of her colleges and several dolls.  Just enough work to make the visit well worth it.

Her self portrait photomontage below makes me think it might be interesting to do my own self portrait.  Hmmm …

Hannah Hoch self portrait.

Hannah Hoch self portrait.


Hochzeitstag (Wedding Day) – December 27, 2013

Heute ist unser Hochzeitstag.

Today is our wedding day.

Around Thanksgiving 2012 the Germans came over to visit my mom and experience an American Thanksgiving.  After the holiday, they flew north to New York City.  Mr. MM and I met them there for lunch and sightseeing.  All through lunch they kept telling us that we should really visit them in Berlin … especially at Christmas time.  We told them we would consider it especially if my mom was on board with the idea.

At this point Mr. MM and I were engaged and were infrequently talking about our wedding.  My father, whom I was very close to, passed away in 2009 so walking down the aisle was out.

I wanted a handcrafted vintage wedding but I knew I would not be able to pull off the wedding I would want.  Leaving me to be disappointed.  A co-worker and his wife had the wedding that I dreamed of.  But I didn’t want to copy someone else’s memory maker.

Old enough to know our strengths and weaknesses, Mr. MM and I went back and forth about our wedding plans and finally decided on quasi eloping … in Berlin … during the Christmas holidays 2013 … with the Germans, mom, and sister.  Texas loved the idea and said she would join us too.  Everyone was on board.

Two Americans, who live in the United State, getting married in Berlin is an oddity or so it seems.  The Germans went to their local Standesamt (civil registration office) to find out what we needed to do.  Starting in June of 2013 we began the process.  The process included one trip to the German consulate in New York City for passport review, a letter of intent, and a sworn statement that we are able to marry each other.  Birth certificates.  Divorce papers and settlement (Mr. MM). Notarized letters.  All of these items had to be translated by a certified German translator.  $3,500 later … we received approval from the German government that we could get married on December 27, 2013 at 1 pm.

The day started with all the girls going to get there hair done.  Then donned our wedding costumes and proceeded to the Steglitz-Zehlendorf Standesamt for the ceremony.  We had to show the officials that we could understand enough German to  follow the proceedings.  We got through it by the skin of our teeth!  At one point the officiant asked us if there was any reason why we are not allowed to get married such as having already been married in Las Vegas.  We answered Ja (yes) and all the German speaking family members yelled Nein (no)!

Wedding papers signed by Mr. MM, myself, and our witnesses (Sister and Texas).  Rings on.  First married kiss.

The sweetest moments were yet to come.  The Germans set up a table outside the Standesamt with champagne and treats.  A local played a vintage calliope.  We walked out to a spray of rice followed by a champagne toast.

Just across the street was a very small Christmas market so after the toast we walked over for more toasts with Gluhwein, Eierpunsh, and beer.  On to a lovely cafe for wedding cake and coffee followed by a late dinner at a traditional Bavarian German restaurant.

L to R:  Mr. & Mrs. MM in front of the Steglitz-Zehlendorf Standesamt; MM Family; Christmas Market Wedding

L to R: Mr. & Mrs. MM in front of the Steglitz-Zehlendorf Standesamt; MM Family; Christmas Market Wedding Party

Berlin – December 24 and 25, 2013

Christmas Eve started very early for me.  We had a friend arriving from Texas at 8 am.  By the time baggage was collected, customs was navigated, and we drove home it was around 10 am.

The Germans’ Christmas Eve tradition is that they go to the Budvar bar at KaDeWe.  Several family friends join them in this tiny bar enjoying Czech beers with a great view over the city.

Budvar at KaDeWe

Budvar at KaDeWe

Mr. MM and most of the Germans arrived at the Budvar bar around 10 am to secure the back corner of the bar.  I took the double decker bus to KaDeWe with Texas.  The rest of the Germans, Mom, and Sister met us there after a bit of shopping.  So glad that the Franziskaner bar is just across the aisle from Budvar.

Several beers and a bratwurst later, it was closing time.  KaDeWe closes its doors at 2 pm on Christmas Eve.

The rest of the day found us gathered around the Christmas tree, drinking, and snacking. I find the structure of German Christmas trees very appealing.  Sister, Mom, and one of the Germans in front of our tree (See below).

Look at the spread for snacking!!!  Smoked salmon and trout, deviled eggs with caviar, potato salad, various salads purchased at KaDeWe, various stinky and non stinky cheeses, salted butter (with big flakes of salt) and wonderful crusty bread.

Family and Food

Family and Food

The evening rounded out with presents being exchanged and schnapps being poured.  Growing up, we followed the German tradition of exchanging/opening presents on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Day morning, we all gathered in the Germans’ dining room for a satisfying German breakfast.  The Americans left for 10 am Christmas Day service at the Protestant Berlin Cathedral.

Berlin Dom: After WW2 and Christmas Day 2013

Berlin Dom: After WW2 and Christmas Day 2013

The Cathedral suffered major damage during the bombing of WW2.  The restoration is amazing.  I can’t even imagine the amount of money and manpower it took for this restoration.


Berlin Cathedral (Dom) interior

Christmas Day service was accompanied by the full choir and was broadcast live on the BBC.  Although the majority of us could not understand everything, it was very moving to be in such a wonderful space for Christmas Day service.

After the service we made our way to the Bundestag (Reichstag) via lunch at Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt. This one was a stop for Mr. MM so he could try beer he hasn’t had before.

Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt

Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt

I had the Berlin Curry Wurst.  As a huge fan of curry wurst, I still prefer the version from a little stand on the Ku’Damm.  The food was decent.  Beer selection was good per Mr. MM.  The prices were what we expected for Berlin Mitte.

Our bellies full and ready to go, we walked to the Brandenburg Gate.  Is it terrible that I kinda miss the ‘cold war’ Brandenburg Gate?  Now it’s just a tourist trap filled with faux Russian soldiers harassing tourists to take photos.  The only decent photo I took of the Gate is below … because you don’t see all the nonsense happening in front of it.

Brandenburg Gate.

Brandenburg Gate.

We arrived at the Reichstag for our 2 pm appointment to explore Lord Norman Foster’s dome.  Wow.  Intense security and screening.  One of my favorite moments was looking at all the historical photos with Mom and hearing her comments / opinions.

L:  Reichstag after WW2 / R: A smooch between Mr. MM and myself

L: Reichstag after WW2 / R: A smooch between Mr. MM and myself

Again, I’m amazed at the restoration of the Reichstag.  On our walk back to the Brandenburg Gate U-Bahn station, through the Tiergarten, we passed another memorial to loss of life due to Hitler’s atrocities.  Texas asked “How many times does one country have to apologize?”.  I would add, why don’t humans learn from their mistakes?  Sigh.

We made our way back to the Germans’ house in twilight.  Upon arrival we were greeted with amazing aromas of Christmas Day dinner.  Traditional German Christmas Day dinner:  roast goose, red cabbage, green cabbage (looked and tasted similar to collard greens), boiled potatoes, potato dumplings, and lots of wine.  Another evening of great company, our wacky mix of translated conversation, and schnapps.

Junk Box

That’s what Mr. MM calls the indoor flea market I drag him to during the winter months.  I refer to this bi-monthly flea market as methadone to my flea market addiction.  Held in a warehouse building at 9th and Spring Garden, it hosts about 50 vendors.  Decent assortment of vintage goods.  Nothing to go out of your way for but desperate winter months call for desperate measures.

Yesterday a vendor was selling printing blocks three for $5.  That’s a good deal.  He had a nice collection and I brought these three home with us.

Three printing blocks.

Three printing blocks.

The bottom left block is 1″ x 1″ — for scale.  I particularly like the text on that one:  Loyalty Mercy Humanity.  A quick Google search of that ‘motto’:

Volunteer Medical Service Corps (VMSC).  In 1944 the VMSC moved from a paramilitary organization to one devoted to emergency medical care.

According to their website:  The insignia of the Corps was designed by Dr. Boston, assisted by Mr. Herbert Ruthrauff, Sr. an artist. The VMSC crest is a white shield superimposed on a caduceus, the wings and heads of the serpents extending above the top of the shield and the bottom of the staff the tails of the serpents below the shield. The shield is edged with blue and gold, the colors of the state of PA. It is divided into three fields by a green chevron with its point upward, green being the color for marking medical installations, for instance, the broad green stripe around hospital ships. In the upper left field is a gold Maltese Cross, in the upper right a Fleur-de-Lis, the insignia of scouting and placed as a tribute to the Boy Scouts of America. In the lower field is the Geneva Red Cross. This was changed in 2001 due to “Copyright” laws with the American Red Cross. The crest now bears a Gold cross in the bottom field. Across the bottom of the crest is a scroll with the motto of the VMSC in gold letters, “Loyalty, Mercy, and Humanity”.

Oyster Plates

I’ve become interested in oyster plates.  Do I need another ‘item’ to collect?  No, but they are so cool.  Mr. MM (aka 10 Ounce) and I recently went to the Oyster House and loved the interior design, especially the oyster plates hanging on the wall.

Oyster House interior.

Oyster House interior.


Oyster House collection.

During the 19th and into the 20th century oysters very abundant therefore inexpensive.  Every socio-economic group ate them.  They were prepared every which way from raw to pickled.  Oysters were at their height of consumption from 1810 to 1870 and through World War I.  Like all good things, we over harvested them and destroyed their natural habitat.

oyster pile

oyster pile

Although we’re used to having oysters served on the half shell resting on a bed of crushed ice, Victorians did not like the mess melting ice created.  They preferred to serve oysters on a plate, either in the shell or just on the plate.   And given that Victorian hostesses loved all the accouterments associated with entertaining, the oyster plate was born.

oyster plates in action.

oyster plates in action.

See the turquoise and orange plate to the left?  For ages I thought that style was for clams.  I was wrong.  I saw a set of six of these in excellent condition for $300 at a flea market in upstate New York this summer.  Well worth the price, now that I know more about oyster plates.

oyster plates!

oyster plates!

I just love the variety of shapes, sizes, configurations, and design!  I would love to hang a few of these in our kitchen.

Oyster plates styles:

1.  Geometric:  a circular plate with six oyster molds around the perimeter with a space in the middle for sauce. (See the two outer plates in the middle row.)

2.  Kidney-shaped plate with an asymmetrical configuration of oyster molds that are shaped like real oysters.  These were produced most often by Union Porcelain Works.

3.  ‘Turkey’ plates by Haviland & Company (Limoges, France) contain five oyster molds configured in a pattern that resembles a turkey.  I’ve read that Rutherford Hayes (19th president) commissioned Haviland & Co to produce this style of plate.  (See the first plate in the top row.)

Majolica oyster plates can be identified by the use of intense color.  George Jones and Joseph Holdcroft first made the style popular in 1851 and Wedgwood followed in 1860.

If an oyster plate has a hole in the back for hanging or some other integrated hanger, it is most likely a reproduction as these plates were created as serving pieces.

Most oyster plate dealers strongly discourage hanging the plates on the wall as the hangers can stress the plates leading to damage. As with most of the items I collect, it’s not about resale value as it is about personal value.  I love the look of the Oyster House and would display my collection in a similar fashion.

oyster plates!

oyster plates!

September 11, 2001 – My Memorial

As I sit here on Amtrak headed to work in our NYC office, it’s hard not to think of this day 12 years ago.

September 11, 2001 was a beautiful cloudless day in NYC.  It was a typical day for me as I walked to the Lorimer Street subway station in Williamsburg to begin my commute to Allen Killcoyne Architects.  I arrived early as I had a meeting to prep for.  My co-worker (and roommate) called to ask me I had seen the smoke coming out of one of the World Trade Center towers.  Steve (Killcoyne) and I went out on to Fifth Avenue to see what’s what.  At that point, a few other co-workers showed up.  We were all standing on the sidewalk outside of our building on Fifth Avenue and 21st Street with a clear view down Fifth to the Financial District and the World Trade Center.  One of my co-workers commented that it looked fake.  That may sound crass now but at the time, with the cloudless blue sky and the sharpness of the view , the smoke looked so odd.  Dan (Allen) reminded me that we had a meeting in mid-town.  Keep in mind that at this point we had no idea what was going on.  We thought it was a fire on one of the floors.  We took the subway up to our meeting at Fifth Avenue and 37th Street.  When we arrived at the construction site of this floor through gut renovation, everyone from the sub contractors to the executives of the company were huddled in a future conference room along the Fifth Avenue side of the building.  Smoke was now coming out of the second tower.  I saw the first tower fall from that construction site.  We left the building in complete shock.  We still had no idea what was going on.  Traffic on Fifth Avenue was at a standstill as everyone stopped and got out of their cars and taxis to stare in disbelief … one tower down and the second one on its way.  We walked back to the office.  Empty.  Everyone was out trying to withdraw money as we didn’t know what to expect.  No cell phones as the cell towers were on top.  Finally, my dad got through to the office.  He told me what was going on.  The partners closed the office.  We all left to find our ways home.  Public transportation shut down.  No way off the island unless you walked over a bridge or took a ferry.  My co-worker/roommate and I started walking toward the Williamsburg bridge.  We stopped at a bar so that we could watch the news.  People started walking past covered in soot.  You could taste it in the air … metallic.  We finally made it home … safe.

How do I memorialize that day?

I’m not one to hang up museum exhibition posters but when the MoMa hosted a Mies van der Rohe exhibit of his work in Berlin, I changed my mind.  The exhibition poster is a work of art in itself.  Against a white background, bordered in red:  red and black vertical and horizontal bars (plan of the Brick House?) organize a collage of Berlin map pieces, photos of the architect, a detail of his drawing for an early skyscraper, a chair design elevation at the upper right, a red “G” (for “Gestaltung”?).  The collage is by Elaine Lustig Cohen.

Mies in Berlin

Mies in Berlin

This framed exhibition poster is hanging at the top of our stairs.  Depending on the day and my mood, I either see the collage or I pause and think about 9-11.

June 21 - September 11, 2001

June 21 – September 11, 2001

The exhibition closed on such a beautiful day in NYC that was filled with such tragedy and changed all of our lives.  September 11, 2001.