Martin-Gropius-Bau (R.W. Fassbinder) + Musik-instrumenten-Museum (Chopin Recital)

Took the S-42 to Wedding station and transferred to the U-6 to  U-Kochstrasse / Checkpoint Charlie. From there I walked about .5 km through the Topography of Terror exhibit once more to see R.W.Fassbinder’s life and films exhibit at the magnificent Martin Gropius building. A small show really (no pictures allowed), a 4×4 matrix of screens with random excerpts of interviews join a display of his very careful notes for films. In order to secure financing and work out his films, Fassbinder story-boarded his films very carefully and just as meticulously prepared the budgets. The costumes, mainly for the actresses and especially his muse Hanna Schygulla, are in a room adjacent. It’s always a disconnect to see the implied size of the person through the dress – we are so used to seeing the actors on the big screen. My takeaway: while visual art has an element of play in its creation, the storyboard tool can be really helpful to working out ideas in advance.

I walked from there to Unter den Linden and then on to Potsdamer Platz and the Sony Centre to the Musikinstrumenten-Museum on Ben-Gurion Strasse, a distance of about 1 km. In the sticky, summer heat of Berlin (33C), it felt longer. A fascinating museum of historical musical instruments (no touching allowed) followed by a Chopin recital in the museum by a very talented, very experienced student (e.g., BBC Young Musician of the Year, international prizes and so on). So it was a pleasure to sit back and take in the recital. Two favorite pieces were on the program (Op 55. No 1 and 2) along with a couple of Scherzi. The pianist, Melissa Gore, certainly has formidable technique and her own take on Chopin. It was interesting and a real treat in this city of so many chromatic hues.

Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie: Renaissance nirvana

Rogier van der Weyden, Rembrandt, Cranach (elder + junior), van Eyck, Botticelli, Tiepolo, Rubens, Titian….the Renaissance hit parade. All at the Gemäldegalerie in beautiful rooms filled with northern light, where the paintings are given plenty of space around them. The iphone is not the ideal camera for these  paintings—it tends to add contrast and has limited dynamic range. However, by editing the image in place through a change in exposure (typically a drop), sometimes with highlight corrections, what’s on the screen approaches the painting. We tend to add contrast in photography. What struck me over and over was the extent to which these masters kept contrast well under control, edges are soft, in a way that suggested the light was coming from within the painting.

Rembrandt up close is one thing and further back is another. The former are like abstractions, textures from the brush and colors without discernible form. Further back, the image becomes apparent. This idea of abstraction within figuration is something I want to think about more.

(images coming)

Dark history: A visit to Grunewald Gleis 17 and Wannsee

History is everywhere in Berlin, sometimes a testament to the heights to which mankind can attain and equally the depths of cruelty and horror. Today, more of the latter and the impossibility of understanding man’s seemingly endless inhumanity. Gleis 17 is the railroad platform at Grunewald station in Grunewald where Berlin’s Jews were transported to their death in the camps. Located to the southwest of Berlin in a sleepy, almost picture perfect little town is a memorial that in its subtle simplicity rends the heart and fills the soul with despair and fear.

After disembarking from the S1, steps lead down to a passageway under the railroad tracks to the town.


Just before the end is a sign that says Gleis 17, to the left are stairs leading out onto a shuttered railroad platform.

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A little further, a few steps on the right lead down to another platform.

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On both, at their edge are weathered iron plates. Starting in October 1941 and ending in February 1945, each plate shows the day, month and year, the number of persons and their final destination.


Destinations that ring of unspeakable horrors through the decades: At first Theresienstadt and then as the concentration camp system developed following the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, the other infamous destinations of Auschwitz and Riga. peaking somewhere around 1944, is the depressing inventory of those murdered by the Nazi regime. Throughout the war, even when it was clear they were losing, the search for Jews, along with Roma and political prisoners, continued relentlessly. There is madness in man.

To its credit, the German government has not stinted in its acknowledgement of the past, either through the number of museums, memorials and exhibitions that, with great detail, document this horrific period. Nor through the directness of the exhibition text that doesn’t try to sugarcoat anything. The trip to Wannsee was the logical next step.

This beautiful villa, with its stunning IMG_8621grounds and view of the lake, became theIMG_8653

the headquarters for SS planning and implementation of the mass killings.


I wanted to see the location, the very room, where senior executives of the Nazi leadership met to develop the bureaucracy for the ‘final solution’, one whose written goal was to kill 11,000,000. The number of men with advanced university degrees, particularly in law, who participated at this meeting, who planned the killings who developed the most sophisticated logistical and operational procedures, defies comprehension and, if it were not shown in images and words, almost too fantastical to be real. In spite of all the words and attempts to understand, to explain, in this exhibition and the Topography of Terror, I am not sure that insanity can ever be understood.

And yet, it is equally clear that great organizational skill is required to plan, harness the resources and implement corporate (public and private) programs, for good or evil. If ideological ends redefine morality and ethics and thus the laws that spring from them, any society can be reconstructed. A new religion is born. Democracy is a fragile thing and easily usurped if taken too much for granted. The power of the state rests on the belief by the individuals in it that no single person has the means to challenge it. And a system of coercion and spying ensure that the individual is isolated unless willing to become part of a new community.

Individuals whose primary desire is to make laws to suit ideological ends, for whom career and ambition trump consequences, is there a difference between then and now? Tragically, it is easy to make a seemingly endless list of contemporary examples. The grotesqueness of the Nazi regime is significant because of the civilization that lay behind it, in particular the number of lawyers at the most senior levels. After all, one must have the law on one’s side and who better to ensure that than a lawyer. But that is as far as it goes. Man’s capacity for cruelty and self-justification continues unabated, from messy divorces to religious beheadings. The differences are merely ones of scale and savagery.

The exhibition includes many, many official documents and an exhaustive chronology of events. The drawings made by artists in the camps, at great risk of torture and death moved me deeply. And in combination with some of the photographs documenting the savagery, I could no longer stay in that place. The perversion I was exposed to was too much. I left very much with the feeling, now more reinforced than ever, that Man will never change.

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Hamburger Bahnhof Museum für Gegenwart

Berlin’s museum of modern art is a joy, like all of the museums in the Berlin museum system (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin). Starting with antiquities (the Pergamon, Neues Museum) to Rennaissance (Bode Museum), 19th Century (Alte Nationalgalerie + special exhibition of Impressionist and Expressionist painters), Dadaism and Surrealism (Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg), mainly Picasso/Matisse (Museum Berggruen) and today Pop Art and the post-modern.

Below is Self-Portrait in Rauschenberg Mule Deer Spread.



Oh happy day at the museums: Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg + Berggruen Museum

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Until now, my visits to galleries had been, with the exception of a couple,  rather disappointing. Many were closed for the summer and there was little to draw my attention among the others still open. The magnificent Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg Museum on Schlosstrasse in Charlottenburg, which houses a superb collection of Dadaist and Surrealist art however, was a revelation.

IMG_8120I had only seen these works as reproductions in books. Here I saw  original works by Max Ernst, Hans Bellmer, Hannah Höch, Kurt Schwitters (a couple of the Merz collages), a superb and amusing 12 panel polyptych by Max Klinger (Fantasies about a found glove dedicated to the lady who lost it) and Dubuffet.

The very famous collage by Hannah Höch in 1919, Cut with the kitchen knife Dada through the beer-bellied culture of the late Weimar Republic (Dadaists loved long titles!), was much, much larger than I had expected. A sense of its size can be seen when compared to the caption beside it.

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Equally interesting was the materiality of the image: its wrinkled shapes and surprising textures given that all the picture elements were made from commercial, mass-market publications. The large format works especially well for the depicted chaos, spiced with many humorous touches.

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Below, a ready-made worthy of Duchamp by Arman, Une Cuillière pour papa, une cuillière pour maman (left). On the right, Jean Dubuffet’s 1953 Nez d’Apollo Pap made from butterfly wings (not good).

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Across the street is the Berggruen Museum that specializes in Picasso, Matisse and Giacometti. With a beautiful winding staircase capped by a cuppola that provided beautiful even north light, the museum was yet another of the architectural beauties that are part of the Berlin museum system.

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As with the work I had visited earlier, it was a revelation seeing the original version of art work that I had so admired in books. For example, Picasso’s line drawing of the Neapolitan Woman is quite small.  I had always seen it in enlargement. At its original size, there is an intimacy and a delicacy to the line that is lost in reproduction. Of all of his works, I would say Picasso’s line drawings are the most satisfying to me. There is a directness, a tenderness and the sure touch of a master draftsman in his observations that become, in my view, obscured in many of his other works.

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Matisses’s cutouts in his Jazz series get flattened in reproduction as well as lose colour. I could see the layering, the cut edges and the sheer energy of the original. There is a considerable flattening that happens in photographic reproduction. It is not an issue if one is interested in the image only. As an artist however, I appreciate very much the layering and the corrections  to make the final image. For example, Matisse’s The Dragon shows this issue well. On the left is the image as a whole. On the right is a close-up showing the layering and the handiwork required to make the final image.

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After that I wandered around in the Charlottenburg neighbourhood, allowing myself the joy of getting lost and with it some discoveries. Of course, being a foodie is about experiencing new tastes too! I came across Cafe Wendel in the Richard Wagner Platz where I had a truly memorable meal of in-season Pfifferlinge mit Semmelknödel (Chanterelle mushrooms [my absolute favourite] with bread dumplings in a cream sauce [memories of my mother’s cooking]) and a delicious alcohol-free Erdinger wheat beer (absolutely essential for the 34C day). All in all, a really wonderful day.

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Checkpoint Charlie + Topography of Terror + Memorial …

It is hard to walk around Berlin—it is a city of walkers and cyclists—and not see and feel its history at almost every turn. Today, I wanted to see the famous Checkpoint Charlie, the preserved remaining Wall and the exhibition devoted to the machinery and its ravages of the Nazi reign of terror. And then to see the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This was an overwhelming day. It didn’t start that way.

I had some fun at Checkpoint Charlie, now history


embedded into an amusing tourist experience.

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Up and over two blocks is the The Topography of Terror museum, constructed on the site of the Gestapo HQ on Wilhelmstrasse, and across the street from Hermann Goering’s Air Defence Ministry (now the Ministry of Finance!). It shows and documents both a portion of the Berlin Wall and the Gestapo and concentration camp system during the Third Reich.

The preserved Wall in a surreal moment:


Below are pics of some of the ministries and their street addresses from the Third Reich. Just the titles alone are chilling.


While the museum is extremely well done, with many photographs and original documents recounting the rise and activities of the Gestapo, it was reading the biographies of its leadership that underlined the already deeply distressing and depressing exhibition. One could see the number of lawyers and individuals with university degrees who became monsters, staring at me in the face, the portraits of men (mainly) who perverted what we value most in civilization. As if I needed to be reminded once more that an education is no guarantee of humanity. I couldn’t help but think that blind ambition, talent, ideologically driven conscience and hatred combine and continue even now around the world to create so much savagery and suffering. I had to leave and the scene below was a welcome respite.


The old Trabant from the days of East Germany, poorly made, hard to get and now a collector’s item. How any government could believe that the ideology behind such a product would persuade people of its validity is simply incomprehensible. It did so however by virtue of brute force, and by converting neighbours and children into police informants (1 in 10 provided info, willingly or unwillingy, to the Stasi – East German secret police).

I decided to do it all in one day and so marched on to the Holocaust Memorial (Denkmal für die emordeten Juden Europas). Nothing more needs to be said except this: while I was there exploring its streets and shadows, parents were playing hide seek with their children. And this is as it should be: children bring innocence into the world and live in the here and now. We must too, but remember as well.



Finally, on my way back to the hotel after an exhausting day, I found this cheery scene, a delightful collage I’ve entitled Roses and Strawberries on the S7 at Friedrichstrasse Station.


Neues Museum + Bode-Museum

Museum madness day 1!! The Neues, Alte Nationalgalerie and the Pergamon museums are all co-located on Museuminsel in the heart of Berlin. It’s cheaper buying a pass to all of the museums. A line-up for the tickets and then line-ups for each museum. Indeed, for the Pergamon they post signs along the line-up indicating the number of hours remaining before entering. Since there was no line-up to the Neues I started there.

Housed in a superb building constructed in the early 19th century it houses prehistoric objects, antiquities and Egyptian art. The most famous of the latter being the portrait in sculpture of Queen Nefertiti (no photographs allowed, images below copyright Neues Museum).


Kalkstein, Stuck, bemalt (Amenophis (Amenhotep) IV. / Echnaton (1351 - 1334 v.Chr.)) von   Thutmosis   Objektmaß 49 x 24,5 x 35 cm  en face  Inventar-Nr.: ÄM 21300  Grabungsort (Ortsteil): Anwesen / Raum 19 (7) / P / 47.02  Grabungsort (Land): Ägypten  Grabungsort (Ort): Amarna  Person: Nofretete [14. Jh.v.Chr.], Königin von Ägypten, Gemahlin des Echnaton (Amenophis IV.), 18. Dynastie  Motiv 35 von 47  Systematik:   Personen / Antike / Porträts / Nofretete / en face