Berlin…art and memorial

Today was another massive day in Berlin. In contrast to Brussels which felt edgy and uncertain, Berlin feels edgy and certain, a city that doesn’t care what others think, a city where people can be themselves. A city that is comfortable in its dishevelled exterior. It has been rapidly rebuilt after the destruction of WW2, it has been divided severely by ideology and then spontaneously rejoined back together overnight. On the surface it seems to have processed and accepted to a point its turbulent and divided history. This acceptance does not seem to be something that is being done to them or forced upon them. They seem to be in control of the process and are able to take their time and feel the way forward. And it feels OK, this way that Berlin is going. Berlin has an attractive vibe about it and many people are attracted to it if a multitude of ways.

We began the day at Checkpoint Charlie…only because I had been an avid reader of spy novels in my youth, particularly John Le Carre. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The site was, of course, touristy but interesting anyway.

Then we walked to Potsdamer Platz, an important public square and traffic intersection in the centre of Berlin, for a coffee, and for the Dali museum. Some interesting new buildings…

I had wanted to visit the Salvador Dali exhibition because I thought I was familiar with his work. Like most people in the 80’s I had a poster of his Persistence of Memory on my wall…

At the museum, after paying the exorbitant entrance fee, I realise I don’t know much more about him other than he is Spanish, he has a weird moustache and he did that weird surreal poster of the melting clocks that I had on my wall.

However, I now know he is an amazingly talented artist, who tried out a wide range of genres and whose brain is full of outrageous ideas and imagery. He did sculpture, filmmaking, lithography, printmaking, pencil drawings and more. He had an infatuation with ants…often coming out of hands, long thin people, drawers in people, nails, crutches holding things up, disembodied bodies…to name but a few of his crazy concepts…

After a picnic outside the Dali museum we walked up to take a look at Brandenburg Gate. This is an 18th-century neoclassical monument synonymous with Berlin, built on the orders of Prussian king Frederick William II after the successful restoration of order during the early Batavian Revolution. During the division years it was in no-mans land.When the 1989 revolution occurred and the wall was demolished, the gate symbolized freedom and the desire to unify the city of Berlin...thanks Wikipedia.

Then it was onto the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, or the Holocaust Memorial. A maze like structure of 2711 concrete blocks of various heights with an uneven flooring. The feelings that you get as you walk through this structure is beyond words. The blocks start off small and you have no idea that soon they will be twice your height and you feel so insignificant. According to Wikipedia, “The abstract installation leaves room for interpretation, the most common being that of a graveyard.

After this sobering experience we headed past the government offices to the river Spree and Museum Island.

I had initially intended to write about art galleries as powerful state run institutions that dictate what is acceptable, and therefore unacceptable, art. And how art is political, and how traditionally art gallaries have the same feelings of power and wealth as churches and how this serves to make ‘unsuitable’ people (lower class) feel unwelcome and inferior, to know their place in society, to be subservient to the wealthy, powerful classes. This feeling is put forth, not just by the very imposing size of the building, and the massive pillars, but also the guards everywhere and alarms going off if you get a fraction too close to a painting to examine it…but anyway, I won’t write about this because I got too caught up in enjoying all the fabulous at the National Art Gallery, Alte Nationalgalerie

We saw an exhibition called Wanderlust, artworks all to do with humans wandering and exploring in nature. It was an interest display of different artists and genres and it was nicely interpreted. I snapped my favorites but now I can’t remember if they belonged to this exhibition, or the general exhibition…

We then headed to the Impressionist floor, stopping randomly when something took our eye. For me, I realise I have a definite taste in art… something a little surreal, abstract… probably impressionist but not always, usually light and lots of colour, not always the ‘right’ colours but something like them. And mostly I recognise the names of the artists of the ones I like. People such as…Renoir, Baum, Beckman, Cezanne, Vlaminck, Toulouse-Laufrac, Monet, Manet, Gauguin, Sisley, Leiberman…these are what caught my eye…

[gallery type=”rectangular” ids=”2870,2869,2871″

On to a brief stop for a beer in a deck chair in a park listening to distant music to rest the legs before heading home. On the walk home we notice some of the individual name plaques commemorating Jewish victims of WW2. These are stolperstein meaning literally “stumbling stone”, metaphorically a “stumbling block” or a stone to “stumble upon”; a cobblestone-size (10 by 10 centimetres) concrete cube bearing a brass plate inscribed with the name and life dates of victims of Nazi extermination or persecution.

“The stolperstein art project was initiated by the German artist Gunter Demnig in 1992, and is still ongoing. It aims at commemorating individual persons at exactly the last place of residency—or, sometimes, work—which was freely chosen by the person before he or she fell victim to Nazi terror. According to Demnig, large memorial sites can be easily avoided or bypassed, whereas stolpersteine represent a much deeper intrusion of memory into everyday life, because they are everywhere and you come across them accidentally.” (Thanks Wikipedia)

If only it where possible to do something similar in Australia with victims of the Stolen Generations and our own Holocaust of the Indigenous people.

A little further on we meet and chat to a young Canadian who is cleaning and polishing the memorial stones. She has links to the Halocaust through family in Poland. What a humbling experience it was to witness what she was doing…


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