It’s a good question to ask of an almost 3-week in Europe traveler: “What were the highlights?” It’s hard to answer, but I’m going to try.
Links to pictures are below.
1. Of deepest, soul-searching, thoughtful impact to me were two museums we visited.
I wouldn’t expect museum visits would be a highlight at all, much less the first thing I think of, but they are.
The Neues Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) in Berlin, in a beautiful Mies van der Rohe building, featured an exhibition of art from 1900 to 1945 Germany. The pain that the common people felt for what was happening in their country and the world as expressed by the artists’ work was staggering to me.
After an intense few hours looking at the art, that long because we couldn’t tear ourselves away, we went out to the tram stop to go to our next stop. At the tram stop was a placard saying that close by had been a house where the infamous Action T4 project was planned. Gisela said the purpose is to always remind the German people, and visitors, about the evil of 60 years ago so it isn’t repeated.
The second meaningful museum we went to was the Museum of Communism in Prague. Gisela had told us about being in Prague in 1968 with a school group. They woke up to Russian tanks rolling into the city. The Czech team had beat the Russians in hockey, a huge victory for the Czechs, you may remember it yourself, and the next day the tanks rolled into Wenceslas Square. Alexander Dubček was the Czech leader at the time and he had tried to institute reform. The Soviets put a stop to it that day. Gisela and her school class quickly left town and returned home.
So, at the Museum of Communism we could read more about that historic event and the Velvet Revolution, which was a non-violent overthrow of the Communist government in 1989 (the year that the wall fell also). Just 22 years ago, the Czech Republic was communist.
We learned about the daily life under communism, pollution of the land by the communists because they used so much fertilizer, the exploitation of athletes, how plain clothes police attended demonstrations (in Wenceslas Square) and pointed out demonstrators to be attacked or apprehended. We saw a typical interrogation room. We watched a documentary showing attempts by the people to dislodge the communists.
The museums’ displays enriched my knowledge and helped me understand. It was also disturbing — as it should be.
We typically ordered different dishes and tried each other’s dish. Regional specialties include rabbit (very good), schnitzels (the favorite is veal, but also chicken and pork), ribs just like we enjoy here except not barbecued, pike, goulash, and a lot of pork cuts, including pork knuckles. (No one wanted to waste a choice on pork knuckles.)
A cog au vin I had in Dresden was memorable. It came with a basket of very tasty bread to dredge in the juices and two, count ’em, 2 beers. German and Czech local beers are so good. I like pilsner, light beer (in color, not calories), but I hear dark beers are better.
Also memorable were a pork tenderloin stuffed with Gorgonzola and chesnuts, the leetle lamb chops Thies and Caroline served, and the pasta and salmon dish that Karl makes.
There’s just too much good food to be able to tell you all of it. You have to go there. Breakfast alone is worth it.
We usually at a big breakfast at our hotel as we did at the Knoll house, and then had a Kuchen and coffee in the afternoon, and dinner later. (One night, after we’d been to a performance, we didn’t get to have dinner. I ate Goldfish crackers dipped in Nutella. Memorable, but only because it was so bad.)
Gisela would want me to tell you, and we agreed, Czech baked goods don’t come close to German Kuchen. Dry, uncreative, don’t waste your calories. Everything bakery was good in Germany and there’s a usually a Bäckerei close. I know what you’re thinking. How much weight did they gain? The walking seems to balance out the eating.
We saw an opera in Bielefeld that was so shrill, dissonant, abrasive and senseless (it was Alice in Wonderland interpreted even funkier than Lewis Carroll had written it) that we had to stay for the second half just to make sure it wasn’t going to get any better. It didn’t. But we felt we had had “An Experience”. (You know, when somehow even hating it you were glad you saw it?) We’ll not forget it! The singers’ voices were excellent and it was a creative production that was interesting and pleasant to watch. But it was meant to be surreal and it succeeded. It was Jabberwocky alright, a play of nonsense.
We went to a modern dance production in Prague. Stunning. The next night we went to a ballet. We all had the same reaction; this looks, well, silly compared to the muscularity and grace in the modern dance. But then the second act started and we were in awe of the beauty. It was “Giselle” at the State Opera House. Beautiful. Giselle Act 2 (This clip isn’t the production we saw.)
4. And here I have to stop! There are a lot more fun things but I’ll just list them:
- Figuring out public transportation, always a challenge and there’s such a sense of accomplishment when we actually find what we want;
- The escapades in using public transportation such as getting on the wrong tram and rectifying it, and not being able to remember the Czech names so we resorted to “Remember, we get off at the stop with the second M name”.
- It’s fun to ask directions because it’s always nice to meet nice people and they seem so pleased I ask in German (when in Germany!);
- Getting separated on the Charles Bridge. (A famous landmark in Prague and it was a holiday weekend with lots of people in town.) Lessons from that are bring your phone IF it’s the European system as mine isn’t, and, if you’re with more than one other person and you’ll be in a crowd of people, decide ahead of time what your plan is to meet up.
- Walking everywhere. Miles and kilometers of walking. Walking is such a pleasure;
- Being with my traveling companions, Gisela, Lynn and Jenny, and laughing a lot;
- Enjoying the wonderful hospitality of the Knoll family;
And, last but not at all least,
- Being home again!
Thanks for sharing the trip with me. Now it’s back to work.