So where have I been since we last touched base? All over, dear friends, all over! In fact, since last Sunday I’ve found myself in Slovenia, Germany, the Netherlands, France, and now Spain.
I left beautiful, quaint, picturesque Slovenia with a single tear rolling down my cheek and set off for Berlin. I jest, but in all honesty after our hectic first days in Europe, leaving calm and relaxing Slovenia was not so enticing. All was well though because we power-napped our way through two six hour long train rides and found ourselves in Berlin! After meeting up with our friend Rebekah at our hostel, the three of us set off for the East Side Gallery, the 1.3 km remains of the Berlin Wall that have since been covered in 105 paintings by artists from all over the world. It’s hard to pick out my favorite painting because each one had something unique and compelling about them because the Gallery is considered a “memorial of freedom,” so most of the artwork has some sort of political undertone. Another interesting part of the gallery is that it’s nature as “street art” makes it inherently vulnerable to vandalism. I, for one, don’t feel the need to graffiti over something I consider to be artwork, but the same can’t be said for many patrons of the East Side Gallery. A lot of the paintings have been scribbled over by angsty teens and tourists desperate to leave traces of themselves across the world. Some of the more popular paintings, like the one of Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev kissing, have been restored, some paintings are in desperate need of restoration, and some look kind of cool with the added names and quotes. I guess the Gallery is just inherently paradoxical, street art is a debatable form of artwork to begin with, and being an outdoor gallery painted on the physical representation of the Iron Curtain contradicts the notion of a gallery being a place to protect artwork. I guess it’s all left up to the viewer to decide how they feel about the Gallery, but love it or hate it, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. There are too many great photo ops.
The next day, Rebekah and I decided to see as much of Berlin as possible, since we really only had one day to explore the huge city. We saw a lot in one day including the beautiful, green copper-domed Berlin Cathedral, the horse and chariot-topped Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, and the Reichstag itself! After waiting in line for an eternity, we got tickets to go up into the dome of the Reichstag where we had a stunning, 360 degree view of Berlin.
Rebekah and I also visited the Judisches Museum. The Jewish Museum is one of the biggest in Europe, and features a controversial design from American-Polish architect Daniel Libeskind. (Sidenote/fun fact: Libeskind also designed the extension to the Denver Art Museum!)
The museum and it’s layout is kind of difficult to describe (zig-zagging lines, lots of metal and “voids” just doesn’t do it justice) so I’ll give you a quote from the architect’s website:
“The new design, which was created a year before the Berlin Wall came down was based on three conception that formed the museum’s foundation: first, the impossibility of understanding the history of Berlin without understanding the enormous intellectual, economic and cultural contribution made by the Jewish citizens of Berlin, second, the necessity to integrate physically and spiritually the meaning of the Holocaust into the consciousness and memory of the city of Berlin. Third, that only through the acknowledgement and incorporation of this erasure and void of Jewish life in Berlin, can the history of Berlin and Europe have a human future.”
The voids I mentioned are empty spaces staggered throughout the museum that are supposed to represent the absence and destruction of Jewish culture in Germany. In Libeskind’s words, they represent “That which can never be exhibited when it comes to Jewish Berlin history: Humanity reduced to ashes.” The most notable void is called “Shalekhet” or “Fallen Leaves” and it’s dedicated not only to the victims of the Holocaust, but to all victims of war and violence. Just like all of the other voids, it is an empty, unlit, unheated and narrow concrete room, but the floor is covered in thousands of faces punched out of steel. Creepy as it sounds, you’re actually supposed to walk across the faces and hear the metal scrape and clang against each other. It’s unnerving, but then again that’s the point.
The next day, we left for Amsterdam where we spent three days completely, utterly, and blissfully lost. Amsterdam is beautiful, with classic Dutch townhouses lining gorgeous canals, antique-looking boats everywhere, and brick and wrought-iron bridges strung with bicycles. The problem is that no matter which direction you walk in, you’re going to reach a quaint canal with quaint houses and quaint streetlights and a bunch of crazy Dutch people on bikes with groceries, three kids, and a new sofa all while facetiming their mother. In other words: everything looks exactly the same. Luckily our hostel, though it lacked standards of cleanliness and instead possessed an over-fondness for black white and rhinestone paintings of Marilyn Monroe (there were two in the lobby, one in the bathroom, and two in our room/shoebox), was a 10 minute walk from everything we needed. After ditching our backpacks, we wandered our way to the Red Light district, which lead to a philosophical debate on the morality of legal prostitution. We treated ourselves to Dutch french fries, which were delicious, and promptly fell asleep. The next day, we went to the Van Gogh museum and laughed ourselves silly when we found Van Gogh’s painting of his bedroom (titled “The Bedroom”) because it was heavily featured in our Hebrew textbooks when we did a unit on furniture and adjectives. In all honesty though, the museum was very interesting for a few reasons. First, it’s VAN GOGH. These are paintings I have seen hundreds of pictures of, and suddenly I was right in front of them, close enough to see every brushstroke. Another thing that made it cool was how the museum’s layout took you through Van Gogh’s artwork in the same way it progressed, and you were able to see how he changed and developed as an artist based on other artists and his period of depression. Lastly, it made me wonder how Van Gogh’s work would have differed if he had gotten the recognition he deserved while he was living. Would he have produced better or worse artwork under the pressure of excellence, or was his unique style a product of being able to do whatever he wanted knowing that nobody was going to buy it anyways? Food for thought.
We also visited the Anne Frank House. Oy, it sounds like all I’ve done on this trip is go to museums, but that’s not true – I’ve also taken many a train nap and hiked and bicylced through Vondel park and drank cappuccinos and wandered my way towards whatever looked the most famous and gotten really lost in foreign cities and not cared in the slightest because it was so beautiful, but I digress. Seeing as I was roughly 75% through reading Diary of a Young Girl when we went to the museum, it was really interesting to see the layout of the Secret Annex and contextualize the space that Anne had written about. It’s also fascinating to me to see how Anne Frank has been martyred for being ordinary. I don’t mean that offensively at all, the opposite is true, it’s weirdly beautiful. Anne Frank was a girl who showed remarkable insight and thoughtfulness, as well as a a true talent for writing, but above all else she was a normal teenager who longed for normal things – romance, freedom, adventure, etc. The tragedy of her situation in tandem with the simple fact that she took the time to write it all down and juxtaposed against her sheer averageness is what makes her compelling. I find it wonderful that people have done for Anne what she couldn’t do for herself, which is create a legacy. At the end of the museum, there’s a multimedia presentation where people from all over the world are quoted about who Anne Frank was and what she means to them, My favorite quote was from a speech by Emma Thomspon that reads “All her would haves are our opportunities.”
The next day we set off for Paris to break up the train ride from Amsterdam to Barcelona. We got to our hostel, dropped our things off, and found the Eiffel Tower all lit up with flashing and twinkling lights. Since it was already dark and we hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, we didn’t linger for too long before we wandered off to find some overpriced food stat. The next day the three of us split up and wandered Paris. After being advised to take the wrong train and wasting roughly 1.5 hours of my time in my first misadventure of the day, I finally made it to the right metro and to the Louvre! I’m sorry, I’ll say it one more time for dramatic effect – THE LOUVRE!!!! Wow, I really have been to a lot of museums thus far… it’s okay, I have a not-so-secret love for nerdy and/or educational activities. True to touristy form, my main mission was to find the Mona Lisa, which I did right after getting lost and meandering through the reconstructed and opulent apartments of Napoleon III. I finally got to the room with Mona Lisa and pushed my way through the crowd of people taking selfies with Her Coyness and saw her for myself. After that, I found myself in the Ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian sections. I saw an overwhelming amount of famous paintings and sculptures and if there’s one thing I regret about my trip so far, it’s that I got lost on the train and lost an hour and a half at the Louvre. Afterwards I sat outside the Louvre and people-watched for so long that eventually even the pushy men selling tiny Eiffel Towers and bottles of water for one euro knew not to ask me for money. I walked across the Pont des Arts footbridge and laughed at the juxtaposition of the “#lovewithoutlocks – Our bridges can no longer withstand your gestures of love.” sign with street vendors selling locks and tourists gleefully adding their own to the already covered bridge. On my way home, I got lost for the second time. I got on the right metro and got off at the right station, but I guess I exited in a weird place and I had no clue where I was. I looked at a map for the street our hostel was on but since it was a tiny side street, it wasn’t anywhere to be found. I wandered around in circles forever before I finally found something I knew – the Novotel! Our hostel was right across the street from the Novotel! Except no, it wasn’t, apparently this was a different Novotel. So I continued to wander. It was incredibly frustrating because I knew where I was….ish. And I knew that I knew, in theory, exactly where I was, but I had no clue which direction to go in. Leave it to me to get really lost going to exactly the same place I’ve been before! Anyhow, after a more than solid chunk of time being really really lost, I went into a Subway where the cashier and two trendy French teens helped me figure out where to go. The trendy French teens – one of whom was named Igor and I didn’t catch the other one’s name, but it started with a J – spoke basically no English, but between the two of them it was enough to figure out where to go and have a basic, albeit hilarious conversation where they debated which one of them was more “Spanish” despite both being born and raised in Paris. They walked me all the way back to my hostel, even after I knew where I was going. And who said the French were rude?
This morning Ginsey and I boarded our train to Barcelona, which we were told was full when we booked our reservation. It was far from full, in fact there were so many empty seats that Ginsey and I each had two to ourselves to sleep across. We were also told that we could only take it to the Figueras-Vilafont station, despite the final destination being Barcelona. Don’t tell anyone, but Ginsey and I decided to test our luck and stay on the train despite not having tickets to Barcelona. There we were, busy concocting a cover story (Option 1, after letting the ticket-taker gently wake us: “Oh! I’m so sorry! We must have slept through our stop. Shucks!” Option 2: “Oh! I’m so sorry! They just told us to board the next train to Barcelona and this was it!”) when we realized that nobody cared. Nobody ever checked our tickets and we made it to Barcelona in possibly our smoothest travel day yet! We really haven’t seen much of Barcelona but what we have seen we’re in love with, and we have a map chock full of “Must Sees” and “Must Dos.” Needless to say, I’m sure the next few days will be very, very busy, but I’m super excited for paella and sunshine and dusting off my ancient Spanish skills.
Until next time!