This saying originated from Berliners, denied alcohol on land, who took to their boats, virtual speakeasies, on the Spree River.
Now, the Islands on the Spree are more refined: Museum Island houses the Berliner Dom (cathedral) and 5 museums. I only had one day to cover them all, and since I took the morning off, only an afternoon. Could it be done?
I started with the Pergamon Museum, the most spectacular museum I believe I’ve ever visited. It houses Berlin’s collection of Babalonian and Islamic art. It has huge installations including the Pergmon Alter, an entire market, parts of palaces, and complete rooms. All stolen, of course, but preserved at least, and what a wonder to see!
Next I hit Alte Nationalgalerie, a collection of art, mostly German. Nowhere near the depth or quality of the Russian State Museum, but I never found Freidrich’s famous The Monk by the Sea. One famous and beautiful sculpture was the sculpture “The Prinzessinengruppe,” of the two daughters of Charles II, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The sculptures were commissioned of Johann Schadow to portray his beautiful daughters in the hope of marrying them to kings or princes. The elder sister, Frederica, eventually became Queen of Hanover and her sister, Louise, Queen Consort of Prussia. And I particularly liked the painting of Frederick the Great playing his flute at Sanscoucci, where I am going tomorrow. Also in the gallery were a few wonderful portraits and landscapes, and the Impressionists’ collection contained several Renoirs, Cezannes, Monets, Rodins and a Gauguin.
Next, the Neues Egyptian Gallery where I saw the precious head of Nefertiti. The beauty of this sculpture leaves you breathless. It really can’t be described, and photography was not allowed, so I could only photograph different model versions which do not capture the exquisite beauty of the original: the vertebrae below the swan neck, the profile, the cheekbones, the eyes. And the age of the piece. I marvelled at the opportunity to see her. Also fabulous about this gallery was its reconstruction after being badly damaged during the war. Starchitect David Chipperfield designed the renovation and retained much of the scarred evidence of its history. Soaring ceilings and staircases were modern additions; the renovation was entirely sympathetic both to its history and to the collection.
I still had time for one more museum. Since I had seen the ancient relics of Babylon, Islam and Egypt, I passed up the Greek collection of antiquities and opted for the Bode Museum housing the country’s sculpture collection including pre- and Renaissance sculpture. This ancient, classical building was as stunning as its collection, inside and out. The religious work was, surprisingly for me, beautiful for its time – brightly coloured and lighthearted – far from the dark brooding religious paintings that came out of Amsterdam or Florence before the Renaissance.
By now my feet were killing me and it was almost 6pm. Just enough time to make it over to the Berliner Dom for a 20-minute service which allowed me to rest my feet, reflect on all I’d seen and have a great look at the beautiful cathedral without paying an admission fee. Magnificent interior and organ.
I made my way home with tired feet, but I can’t believe that by focussing on the major pieces I wanted to see and with lots of time for more, I made it through all but one of Museum Island’s museums in a single day.
Having been instructed NOT to leave town without tasting currywurst, I stopped off at what looked like a Parisian brasserie for currywurst and sauerkraut. It tasted delicious as wurst goes, and the kraut was loaded with bacon. (I may develop scurvy here.) There are many versions as to the origins of currywurst and our tour guide had told one version in the guided walk yesterday that it originated in Berlin during the war to mask the fact that the sausages were made mostly with bread fillers. I prefer the version Bonnie introduced me to in The Invention of Curry Sausage, to wit: in Hamburg, during the war a German woman was a cook at a local Nazi dining room. She met and fell in love with, and BTW had a steamy relationship with, a young German soldier who was deployed but had AWOLed mainly out of fear. She took the soldier in, who expected this to be only a delay, he intended to appear for service eventually. She had very suspicious neighbours and he had to hide inside the apartment and couldn’t go out. When the war ended just at that time and Americans had occupied the city, she couldn’t bear his leaving and and she neglected to inform him of these events. While he was with her, she invented currywurst to improve the flavour of her meagre ingredients; she knew her cooking was her way to his heart. It wasn’t long before he learned the truth, and he left, still wrongly believing the battle may have been over but the war was still to be won. Her husband, whom she did not love, never returned from the war, and she went on to spend the rest of her life making currywurst at a food cart in the square. That is where I will leave the story off, but this story, my preferred version, certainly made tasting currywurst for the first time, in Germany, a very rich experience.