Berlin birthday eve eve

It was my (gulp) thirty-eighth birthday on Monday. To celebrate, I awoke at 4.30am and took a small, cranky, newly tantrumming and top-teeth-teething child home from Berlin. I was easily the most popular person on the flight, and am trying to use wine to forget it ever happened (both the flight and turning 38). So let’s flash back and discuss the weekend in Berlin instead.

Prior to leaving, we were once again treated to a stunning Swiss sunrise. I am well aware that snaps of the sky from our window are becoming gratuitous, but we can’t not. I mean, ridiculous.

We’ve travelled a fair bit with the bambino, but the Zurich to Berlin trip was the first flight she and I had done solo. Happily she’s currently into books and goldfish crackers, so between the two a relatively uneventful trip was had (although I can recite ‘What the Jackdaw Saw‘, ‘A Day at the Beach‘ and ‘Hop on Pop‘ cover to cover)(and have developed a taste for aquatic shaped snacks). Tim’s lovely sister met us at the airport, and we stocked up on snacks and wine for the evening ahead and subsequently consumed them.

Winter in Berlin is grim, and Saturday was no exception with grey skies, rain, and wind aplenty. We decided to take an indoor excursion and opted for the Bauhaus archive.

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A hub of German modernism, the Bauhaus was an art school that combined craftmanship (such as woodworking, furniture making, weaving) and fine arts (painting, music, architecture, sculpture) to obtain universal design which was practical yet beautiful. Students and teachers focused on purity of materials and artistry to make common items – buildings, chairs, lights – transcend their previously humble origins. There was an emphasis on creating for everyman: practical, useful design that merged art with everyday life.

The first thing that struck us was how ubiquitous much of the design has become. Familiar pendant lamps, gorgeous 1930s armchairs, tea and coffee and cutlery settings that would not be out of place in the homewares section of a high end department store. However at the time of their creation, such items were novel, risqué, revolutionary. The second impression was an element of 1984 (the novel as opposed to the bad hair era) – generic design for all the people, almost soulless office-like desks and kitchens and buildings. There was a sense of anonymity, an impression that good design and art would compensate for individual taste and expression. This felt incongruous with our identity of self and home now (although Dommie correctly raised Ikea as a comparison and won the conversation).

Musings aside, we embraced two of our era’s design contributions: the selfie and the photobomb.

There was a brief break in the rain, so we wandered the streets (preparing in advance a justification for our nutritious lunch).

Nutritious and delicious currywurst (and hot wine, always).

Wendy's B'day @Berlin 0057 - 20160202We were staying in the apartment of a friend who’d spent Christmas with us (and was currently out of town – which worked out well for digs, but poorly for catching up). We made our way back to her gaff to give the baby some freedom from her aunt’s headwear. (We didn’t stay in the water tower below, but apparently it is now apartments. Funky German apartments.)Wendy's B'day @Berlin 0062 - 20160202Wendy's B'day @Berlin 0066 - 20160202That night the weather deteriorated, and although beautiful it didn’t accommodate my small, overtired (and unbeknownst to us, about to have new teeth) baby. Tim took snaps after which we all adjourned, shivering and damp, to the restaurant on the corner for birthday champagne and flammkuchen.

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A lot like Christmas

Tim’s new job requires him to travel – not as much as we’d first thought (yet, at least) – but every few weeks he scoots across the border to Germany. Waiblingen, to be specific. Just outside Stuttgart, it’s about three and a bit hours from here and so when he had an extended stay last weekend, Adelaide and I hitched a ride.

I confess we had an ulterior motive: Christmas Markets. Found throughout this area, they are renowned in Germany as being epic. I love Christmas and I love markets; it was a no-brainer. We rolled into town on Sunday afternoon and made our way to the Ludwigsberg markets. In the centre of town, they were easy to find, not least because many helpers indicated the way.

Samichlaus 0310 - 20151207They were jammers (and slightly blurry). Samichlaus 0325 - 20151207Samichlaus 0322 - 20151207Possibly blurry due to the Gluhwein (mit rhum) we knocked back. Because Christmas Markets. Samichlaus 0318 - 20151207The Ludwigsberg Markets are renowned for the angels that line the town and light up the night. Samichlaus 0333 - 20151207Samichlaus 0347 - 20151207Angels and, um, other lights. Samichlaus 0329 - 20151207This snap was meant to capture the general vibe of the markets, but turned out to be a tribute to Mr Man in the middle. Clearly we love you the most, whoever you are. Samichlaus 0349 - 20151207Samichlaus 0334 - 20151207Following dinner with one of Tim’s colleagues (an Aussie guy who’d gifted us with not only a Vegemite supply but also a tip off to a German meat wholesaler just around the corner from work), we called it a night. Motsy had two days of work ahead and Laidybird and I had two more days of gluhwein markets.

We hit Stuttgart the following day and stocked up (shamelessly) on Christmas decorations for the tree and (essentially) snow boots. As a city, Stuttgart was fairly nondescript. Perhaps the markets (which of course I loved) gave an unfair focus, but other than a large open town square there was little in the traditional sense of attractions. However, it was a cool, crisp winter day and there was nothing that hot wine and wurst couldn’t take care of. We had a ball.

The following day we canvassed the hotel breakfast room – primarily populated with Tim’s colleagues – for the best way to spend our day. The recommendation was to head to Schönberg, a wee town about half an hour away, as it was a typical village of the area with many traditional buildings. And, of course, more markets.

It was everything that was promised, and the girl and I spent the morning moseying the streets listening to jazz Christmas carols played by a three piece street band while snacking on clementines (her) and stollen (me).

A few days after returning home, we had our best early Christmas present: my sister, her husband, their lovely lovely boy and equally lovely baby bump arrived to play, for a whole month. As they managed their jet lag we dressed the tree in the spoils from our mega market spree, getting increasingly excited for the upcoming festivities.

On history

I studied modern history for my higher school certificate, and was taught for several years by Miss Stroud. Her name somehow suited her: she was short, sturdy, brusque. She had harshly bobbed dark hair and was rumoured only to have one ear as nobody had ever seen both of them. She was also one of the best teachers I ever had, and made history – a subject I didn’t really wish to take, but I was even less attracted to geography and it was a case of one or the other – a thing of intrigue and fascination. Through her enthusiastic and critical tutelage I learned about China’s Cultural Revolution, the throb of USA and Soviet relations, a serial killer course popular with students (which I suspect she loathed to teach), and both World Wars. Miss Stroud was the first person I’d ever come across that took holidays to see places she had a historical interest in – the idea of taking a vacation to learn was incomprehensible to me at that time. She also, despite her brusqueness, telephoned every one of her class on the day that our HSC results were announced and congratulated us individually on our efforts.

The World War classes included, of course, the role of Germany both through the Weimar and the Nazi years. While not initially as fascinating as – say – Jack the Ripper, the rich detail espoused by Miss Stroud converted a room full of teenagers. I remember many heated discussions throughout the semester, not only about the actual occurrences but causation, society and legacy. Impassioned as teenage debate can be, it remained theoretical and abstract, hard to align with mid 90s rural Australia.

I’ve been to Germany a few times, a solid decade ago now, and these trips were memorable (or not, as the case may be) only for their intake of beer. Thus, when given the chance to head there this weekend to meet up with Tim’s sister and her partner who are currently living in Berlin, we jumped at the opportunity. We decided to meet in Nuremberg, about halfway between our two surrogate homes. A prominent city in the middle ages and Roman times, Nuremberg also has significant history for Nazi Germany, being the site of Nazi party annual rallies, then a battlefield, and later where the post war trials were held. Word on the street was that there were three main things to experience: the rally grounds, the medieval castle and Nürnburger Bratwurst. We rolled into town on Friday (some later than others, due to an erroneous train connection) and bright and early the next morning, thanks as always to our daughter, we made our way to the rally grounds.

Located slightly out of town, the incomplete Kongresshalle reminded us (on its exterior) of the Colosseum. Intended to host 500,000 people, the structure was never completed but is now a museum capturing the history of the site and explaining the rallies that were held for over a decade nearby. As I have previously mentioned, our girl does not care for The Cultures, and as such she commenced wailing right about the same time I started viewing the introductory video. She and I legged it through the vast building and wandered outside while Tim, Dom and Ro took it all in.

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Apart from the impressive venue, and intricate explanation of history, Tim found that the exhibition made comprehensible the transition from a somewhat-out-there right wing state to extreme facism. Tucked away in our high school classrooms, the horrific outcomes of the Nazi state are incomprehensible, almost a caricature. It’s so hard to understand how not only a country but a considerable part of a continent can transform in this way; yet this exhibition explained the social and cultural changes that both led and allowed this to occur. It did not undermine or deny the wretched outcomes but it allowed an insight into how they occurred, making it no longer an abstract notion but something of which, under the right circumstances, any society could perhaps find itself. The other intriguing aspect of the rallies was their purpose. They were not used for education as such, but rather for the experience, a propaganda fuelled hedonistic mob, implying other parallels with the Colosseum.

Following the reasonably heavy morning’s excursion, there was nothing for it but a beverage. Happily, we had lunch planned – a belated birthday celebration for Dom – which we backed up with Delicious Gin (and Nürnbergers, which when covered with mustard and curry ketchup were delicious).
Nuremberg 0149 - 20151108This morning we arose – happily not as painfully bright and early – and decided to tick off number three: the castle. Our wee tour guide rallied us together. Nuremberg 0168 - 20151108

It had rained overnight, but the morning was clean and clear, and the sun shimmered off the streets as we made our way into the old walled city.

Nuremberg 0180 - 20151108 Nuremberg 0181 - 20151108 Nuremberg 0184 - 20151108 Nuremberg 0186 - 20151108 The castle, although unclear as to exact time, dates circa 1105. Guarded by a wide moat and solid walls, it sits atop the city and boasts a beautiful view.
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The castle is apparently considered to be one of Europe’s most formidable medieval fortifications. Frankly, anything boasting a double-headed bird would keep me at bay.
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We spent the morning strolling around its grounds, and wandered home through the Old Town.

Nuremberg 0204 - 20151108 Nuremberg 0206 - 20151108 A starkly different experience from the rally ground the day previously, it emphasised the richness of German – and indeed all – history, the same richness and complexity enthusiastically shown to me in a classroom some twenty years ago. Not for the first time, I wished that when Miss Stroud called me to wish me well for my future I had thanked her. Not simply for teaching me about Jack the Ripper (because I was totally the student that loved it the most) but showing me a love for history, for places and people and events and motives, that continues to influence me – and, it turns out, my holiday destinations.

Our three Nuremberg must-dos complete, and a hearty German breakfast consumed, we went our separate ways. Hotel, Laidey and I returned to Rotkreuz – where we only have two more sleeps until we move to our new home – via Rheinfalls in northern Switzerland, where we watched the water flow.
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