Jul. 11th, 2012

abouthalfthree: black on white lino print of a domestic street (Köln)
Have been in Berlin for more than a week now, and have worked out the correct exit from the underground for both the place I'm staying and the Goethe Institute summer house.

I went to the opera on Saturday night. The Mastersingers of Nuremberg. Wagner. Interesting, but opera is still not really my thing. It was on as part of a festival, a week where each of the year's new productions is performed. So they were giving out wine when I got there. I had, between class and the opera wandered through the local galleries and had lunch, so I had not had time to change.

It was not a modern staging: the costumes were all period. But the set was just a whole lot of plain looking box-house things, with big doors so the cast could go inside them. And they could be moved around the stage so that were in the square or in the street or a lane way. Everything was in white and grey during most of the opera, because it's set at night. Everything was brilliantly coloured for the day scene.

They had captions in the back of the seat in front you. High tech. I mostly had the German captions because then I could hear what they were actually singing, rather than trying to translate the English back into German. But it also meant that I didn't always know exactly what was going on. That's not really a problem at the opera.

I thought it would finish about nine. But the curtain didn't come down til quarter part ten. I snuck out during the clapping.

Sunday was the trip to Potsdam. Potsdam is nice. Old. Most of it was okay and most of what was destroyed during the war has been restored. The whole area around Berlin has a lot of a ground water, so the administration decided to bring in Dutch builders, because they would know how to deal with that. So there is a Dutch quarter in Potsdam. And then a lot of castles in the park. We got to go a little tour of the guest chambers - a separate castle because the first, main one was too small for guests.

On Friday (don't think that this will be in order. I started writing this post a couple of days ago and won't post it until tomorrow morning, Wednesday.) I went on a boat trip on the Spree, which was good. Then I recovered from the sun by eating a large chocolate ice cream sundae. (Ice cream is also a recurring theme.)

Then I spent some time in the Bode Museum. It has the sculpture and figure collection. It is, on the one hand interesting and on the other creepy. It's creepy in different ways. A lot of the figurines are carved from ivory, so admiring the craftwork and aesthetic is tinged with horror. The Southern German Baroque and Gothic religious figurines and statues are all about Death. Like, personifications of the death coming for people. Then there was a Nürnberg jointed doll of a woman. And a crucified Mary Magdalene (I think it was MaryMagdalene, it wasn't always clear which card described which piece).

So that was all interesting. After Thursday night at the Gemäldergalerie, I'm getting the hang of wandering around museums and stopping to look at particular paintings (which turn out to the Rubens or Claude Lorraine and Gainsborough, or, very annoying Bruce Naumann who I thought I could write off, but apparently not).

The culture programme yesterday (which was Monday) and today were tours of particular quarters of Berlin. Very interesting the different histories, characters, people the different quarters have. Gentrification is a hot topic here. They kind of hand 20-30 years of infrastructure work, renovation and updating in the few years immediately after the wall fell, so it's not surprising the tensions are pretty high, but they are pretty high. I'm sure no one is against having modern wiring and an inside toilet, but the fact that people who have lived their whole lives in an area can no longer afford it is certainly a thing. About 80% of Berliners rent. And legislation about rents and landlord rights and responsibilities are set by the federal government, not the state. (Berlin is, obviously, a city, but it is also, constitutionally its own State.)

I think that is enough to keep you all going. I have booked tickets and accommodation for Kassel to see dOCTUMENTa. Now I've just got three nights of not knowing where I'm going to be sleeping. Somewhere quiet, I hope.

The city of Sophronia is made up of two half-cities. In one there is the great roller coaster with its steep humps, the carousel with its chain spokes, the Ferris wheel of spinning cages, the death-ride with crouching motorcyclists, the big top with the clump of trapezes hanging in the middle. The other half-city is of stone and marble and cement, with the bank, the factories, the palaces, the slaughterhouse, the school, and all the rest. One of the half-cities is permanent, the other is temporary, and when the period of its sojourn is over, they uproot it, dismantle it, and take it off, transplanting it to the vacant lots of another half-city.

~ Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino