It’s been a while since I last posted, but I assure you that it’s been time well spent. I have spent the past week experiencing what is broadly known as “kultur”- I think non-German speakers can guess the English cognate. Here’s a quick run down of all the awesome things I’ve experienced in Berlin in the past week.
Last Wednesday, my program went to the Berliner Philharmonie for the performance of Mahler’s 3rd symphony. Amazing! First of all, the Philharmonie itself is an incredible building. Someone told me that there’s not a right angle in the place- debatable- but it does indeed have crazily angled walls, beautiful wood pannelling, and contains an organ. The symphony itself was beautiful.
On Thursday, we visited the house of Bertolt Brecht and Helen Weigel, full of Chinese literature, beautiful old furniture, and blue-and-white patterned China dishes.
On Friday, we made a pilgrimage to the Haus am Wannsee, where the infamous “Wannsee Protocol” was constructed by the Nazi bureaucrats. Originally built as the private house of a wealthy businessman, the lakeside beauty of the Wannsee Haus became the grim setting where Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichman, among others, determined the precise means by which they could carry out the Final Solution. The question then was not, ought we to execute millions of non-Aryans? but, how can we do it in the most efficient manner? History has some retribution in that this place, where evil men coolly ate and drank and discussed whether someone a quarter Jewish ought to die for the blood of the Jewish grandparent or live for the sake of the Aryan parent, is now a well-designed, informational, and reverent tribute to the resistance of the victims and the presence of the past in German lives even now.
My German class just read Brecht’s play “Aufhaltsamer Austieg des Arturo Ui” (The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui) and we saw it performed at the Berliner Ensemble on Saturday night. The performance of Martin Wuttke, who recently played the role of Hitler in the film “Inglorious Bastards,” was incredible. The play is a satire about Hitler’s rise to power, Hitler’s counterpart being Arturo Ui, a Chicago gangster. The play itself was extremely disturbing, as it ought to be, but Wuttke did a fantastic job of bringing Ui’s character to life. He begins the play shirtless, panting like a dog, licking the floor, and walking on all fours. As the play progresses, he learns to have a human facade through hiring a former actor to teach him to walk, sit, and speak properly, and ends the play in a tuxedo and top hat. If it was not so successfully disturbing the first time around, I would say the play was definitely worth a second viewing to fully appreciate the significance of details.
Sunday brought culture of an entirely different sort: I went to German church in a Mexican restaurant! I’ve been going to an international church in a Berlin suburb that I love, but a German friend invited me to attend a church service at a more typical German Protestant congregation with her last week. The only catch was that their church building is in the middle of construction, so the congregation is meeting temporarily in the Mexican restaurant across the street. When I approached the building that morning to meet Carla, I saw three signs: Sombrero Speisekarte (the menu), Gottesdienst- 10:30 (church service- 10:30), and Every 7th Cocktail Free. I had to laugh! There were no cocktails offered with worship, but a waitress did serve coffee and we enjoyed the German service.
Tuesday brought a regular Duke/Davidson Program event- Stammtisch! We meet every few weeks in a restaurant to talk and eat together, a delightful German tradition. This week we met in a restaurant called Nolla in Friedrichstrasse, very centrally located for all of us, and our usual fun was increased by the fact that one of our group accidentally ordered head cheese, a specialty that tasted (and looked) like pickled ham chopped up and baked in jello.
Today did not bring any new deeply cultural event with it, but the quiet has given me an opportunity to share the many faceted “kultur” of Berlin with you- and, later, to finally do some homework!