Friday, April 24, 2009

Arm aber sexy (Poor but Sexy)

(A winning description of Berlin and your favorite blogger, right?)

(The Berlin photo album, also attached to the end)

Every year the German Fulbright Commission convenes a conference of all the German Fulbright awardees. They also invite Fulbrighters from each of the other European commissions. The goal of the conference is to foster inter-Fulbright relationships and to learn a little bit about the wider mission of the Fulbright as we act as ambassadors to our home countries. I was mostly excited to visit Berlin again and reconnect with many of friends I haven’t seen since leaving Marburg at the end of September.

You may remember that I visited Berlin last December, but it’s such a vast city with so much going on that I knew I would need to check it out again, and the conference was the perfect opportunity.
One of the icons of Berlin, the Fernsehenturm (TV tower), that was set up right outside our hotel. Location, location, location.

The conference itself offered interesting insights into German history and culture. We were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 60th anniversary of the German constitution so there was a panel of experts (including the former head of the Green Party) who discussed how a united Germany has been getting along for the last two decades. The consensus is it’s doing pretty well, but isn’t perfect (what else is new).

A window at the Humbolt University. It was built up in the East. What was your first clue?

We also had smaller discussions about academic differences between the U.S. and Germany and how the city of Berlin is going to dig itself out of bankruptcy. The plan is to market it to companies and investors as a poor but very cool place to live. We’ll see how that pans out. I’ll admit my skepticism. I was curious what the other non-German Fulbrighters gained from these programs. I have a pretty solid working knowledge of modern German history and politics, but I suspect that isn’t the case for someone studying in Budapest or Madrid.
Some of the Fulbright musicians were able to perform for the rest of us. Everyone groaned when they found out it might be three hours, but the time flew by in the hands of these incredibly talented folks.

My favorite part of the conference was getting all the Marburgers back together again so we could compare experiences gained in our respective new homes. We also shared a few travel tips, German terminology, and German alcohol (both beer and wine), much of it provided through the conference (this Fulbright scholar thing has its perks). The experience was capped off with a Fulbright sponsored good bye party at the Kulturbraurei (Culture Brewery) where it was confirmed that German DJ could maybe learn a thing or two from their American counterparts such as 1) 90s pop is a lot of fun, but it won’t crowd the dance floor, 2) if you’re going to play techno, make sure it moves and if it doesn’t, two songs in a row will do it, not six, and 3) listen to requests when they’re suggested, not three hours later.
Happy to be back together.

I also had a chance to explore more of the city including a second, less harried visit to the Pergamon Museum where I spent some quality time with fellow Fulbrighters and epic friezes of Greek gods and the entry to Babylon. Keith, Shane and I also swung by the Berliner Dom, a massive Protestant church in the center of town. The soaring dome is reminiscent of St. Paul’s in London. The interior doesn’t share St. Paul’s restrained Renaissance austerity. It’s an orgy of Neo-Baroque. Everything that can be covered in marble or gold is. Around the nave, supporting the soaring dome mural are statues of the great reformers including Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. They’re all angrily scowling in disapproval either at the congregation or the ornate trappings they are ensconced in, or both.

Luther on a pedestal he probably wouldn't want.

I also visited the Gemäldegalerie which features art from the 13th to 18th centuries (the “Old Masters” though calling stuff from the 19th century “New” seems a little odd). The museum is divided into three long halls that are subdivided into smaller galleries. One hall contains “Southern” European art from the French and Italians. The opposite hall contains “Northern” European art including Flemish masters and Germans. If you like pastels and warm light, check out the Italians. If you like shadows and moralistic images, head north (exceptions made for Rubens).

Ruben's and St. Sebastian. The martyr really doesn't look that upset about the whole arrow thing.

This is why I love to travel with these people.

The final day of the conference, after a trip to the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag, we flashed forward to the 20th century at the Neue Nationalgalerie. Somehow I always manage to miss the Impressionists (this would be remedied with a trip to Paris). The museum itself is famous, let alone the art it houses. The architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed a glass and steel entry hall. He’s considered one of the fathers of modern architecture, emphasizing function over style, and he gave birth to the Chicago style. Think of the IBM Plaza in Chicago, think of the CN tower in Toronto, think of any blocky glass and steel structure. You’re thinking of Mies. Personally, I’m over the functionalism and glass thing, but maybe you aren’t.

Back at the museum, you then descend a stairway from the bare entrance to the art of Picasso, Munch, and Miro. It wasn’t a terribly large gallery and we soon found ourselves lost in the Berlin Metro system on our way to meet Miya for coffee. There, at the one coffee shop in Berlin that offers free wireless internet, the Copenhagen Crew convened - Erin, Marty, Miya, Ashlan and I – to discuss our adventure in the frozen North...

until then, Tchüss!

The photos again

No comments: