Bye-Bye to Berlin

Dear Followers,

On our last day in Berlin, we started the morning with breakfast at the Coffee House for Literature. Located in a pre-war building on Fasanstrasse just south of the Zoological Garden stop and near the Uhlanstrasses Metro Station, this famous coffee house rivalled that of the Cafe Einstein in Kurfürstendam, where writers, poets and intellectuals gathered over addictive coffee. We ventured into one of the Berlin galleries listed in Art Forum, but the exhibition was very tiny and not as fruitful as our visit to another recommendation at Kunstraum Kreuzberg on Marienplatz earlier in the week.

We made it just in time to Potsdamer Platz to attend a free noontime concert at the Berlin Philharmonic Concert Hall. The symphony was not performing due to the holiday schedule. Instead, we were able to listen to a short Mozart chamber music performance. On the program, parents are reminded that lunchtime concerts are not aimed explicitly at children, and therefore should only bring children who are able to remain “quietly seated for approximately 45 minutes”. That seemed very reasonable and successful as a message.

We battled the elements during most of our short visit to Germany and Holland, and this day was no exception. We decided to take a short walk to the Culture Forum, where the Gemälde Gallery of the Staatliche Museum of Berlin is located. It is a huge repository of art and it held major exhibitions on the Botticelli Renaissance and Albrecht Durer. Surprisingly, we found more Vermeers, Bosches, Brueghels, and Rembrandts here than those in the Rijksmuseum. We realized that the Dutch Masters were scattered throughout Europe and that the paintings by native sons were not necessarily displayed in their host countries.

The Botticelli exhibition compared many other artists’ work that emulated the classical Botticelli Venus. She served as a model and inspiration for many other artists, from Neo-Classicists such as Ingres to Elsa Schiaparelli, a dress designer. For me, I found the latter day 19th Century renditions by John Ruskin and William Morris, early leaders of the Arts and Crafts Movement in England, the most interesting. You can see the rich textures of the Morris tapestry already creating the signature pattern that later became so famous in the Liberty of London wall coverings.

I found myself particularly attracted to exhibitions that compare and contrast two different artists’ work. They seem to provide a lesson in comparative world history and painting that I otherwise wouldn’t discover. I am also becoming more comfortable with and more whetted to art museums as a cultural and intellectual experience. I have an opportunity to learn history in a visual way that is easy and interesting for me. The excellent curating and wealth of material certainly enhance these comparisons in the few museums we visited on this trip.

By the end of the day, we were pretty wiped. Nevertheless, my professional food guide was relentless and targeted a German restaurant as gesture to my insatiable appetite for things German for the finale. Sadly, it was closed for the holiday cleaning! We went to the next best, an Austrian restaurant famed for its Wiener Schnitzel. If you look closely at the photo above, you will notice that the regular fork looks out of scale with the schnitzel on the plate. That’s because the schnitzel was super-sized!


The day before, we beat it back from Amsterdam to hit a local Kreuzberg Turkish restaurant.

Apologies for the delay in this final Berlin post. I will be upgrading my site to continue posting the next trip, but have most likely reached the cap for free webhosting after two years with this posting! Stay tuned for the 2016 upgraded version…

…for now, we are sad to leave this vibrant and exciting city on the move. Until next time…Tschuss!! VV.

PS: Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday from Bodega Bay!!

More Amsterdam and Gent, Belgium

Today’s major events included a performance at the Concertgebouw of Handel’s Water Music by the Berlin Alte Musik Orchestre. The instruments included a harpsichord, lute, and old horns and wooden flutes from the time when the music was created.

Fortunately we sat in the front row for 20 Euros and could hear the delicate instruments while observing the performers on the podium six feet above us and from the feet up! It was very enjoyable and worthwhile to share some of my musical interest with my daughter at a precious point in time.

Our main activity was tackling the Rijksmuseum. Despite our assumption that many Bosch, Breughels and other Dutch masters would be there, there were only a few Rembrandts, Vermeers, and a smattering of landscape painters.

See above, from top left to right:

  1. Vermeer, Woman with a Love Letter
  2. Peter de Hooch, Woman with Child in a Pantry, c. 1656-1660
  3. Rembrandt, Selfie
  4. Rembrandt, the Night Watch
  5. Van Everdingen, Young Woman Warming her Hands, c. 1644-1648
  6. Chinese Porcelains

The day before we drove through Antwerp, a city that was occupied by the Spanish in the 17th Century, to Gent. Melissa worked at De Superette last year doing a stage  and learned how to bake bread. The photos show the head baker putting the bread in the molds that Melissa also used to learn bread making.

See below:
1. De Superette Exteriors
2, 3, 4. De Superette Interiors

5. Bakery Entrance
6,7. Foam Potatoes, pulled pork, and poached egg with marinated shaved mushroom
8. Daughter Melissa, with head chef Rose and Head Baker Biggie

At the end of the day today, we enjoyed signature Dutch hot chocolate and cerise torte at the Rijksmuseum Cafe after a long and productive venture.


Note: we’re heading to Berlin tomorrow, see you there!


As part of our Thelma and Louise descent on N. Europe in the dead of winter, Melissa and I drove through wind, sleet and snow (no hail) to reach Amsterdam. To an art history major like Melissa, this city is the museum capital of the world. The thought of tackling the Van Gogh, Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk, and Hermitage museums in one visit is daunting enough to send you to dreamland or the loo. (More about that later)

In any event, I had plenty on my mind. Our first major stop today was the Van Gogh Museum.

We were lucky enough to descend on a major exhibition between Edvard Munch and Van Gogh. The curators had a field day placing each major Van Gogh next to a relevant Munch and comparing them. The artists’ styles vary greatly but their humanism and emotionally charged social commentary were consistently similar.

Of course the most charged painting was the “Scream” by Munch. Sure enough, it was on display. This was the first of four versions of the subject matter, in pastel in 1893. You can read more about the exhibition here:

Borrowed from the Museum in Oslo, the Munch collection was vast. It saved a trip to Oslo in this exhibit alone, but the two artists’ work side by side was overwhelming.

The painting itself was described as a sudden turning of the sky to blood orange. The subject was reacting to the scream caused by the sky and by putting his hands to his face. He was not the creator of the scream, as most of us would think, but it also has that effect.

Van Gogh had a completely different version of a similar setting. (See below, an example of the comparisons and contrasts between these two famous painters’ work).

Van Gogh scene adjacent to Munch’s Scream

Aside from following intricate comparisons, I was having my own wonderings. Did Klimt borrow the Kiss from Munch? Munch’s piece, also entitled the Kiss, comes from 1902, followed by Klimt’s piece around 1908. What’s your guess?

The deep dark leaves depicted by Van Gogh reminded me of one of Melissa’s paintings. Similar in color and cool density, the leaves seemed to reflect the mood and style of Van Gogh’s masterpiece!

Another jog in my now cluttered memory bank was the recent Asian Art Museum exhibition of Western art influenced by Japanese artists. The Van Gogh Museum version contained a room with a Van Gogh painting juxtaposed next to Hiroshige’s bridge. Very similar to the recent Asian Art Museum exhibition. Hmm, not bad for making connections…one of my favorite pastimes.

The takeaway from this museum is the vastness of Van Gogh’s efforts to learn and do art. His strokes convey his internal struggle to communicate and reach the viewer. His subjects command awareness and commitment. His peasant families, landscapes and simplicity in living demonstrate his earnestness and conversion from living a bourgeois life (his father was a pastor and his brother a successful art dealer) to becoming an active conveyor of life and living. Here’s one guy who made his avocation his profession!

You can read more about the exhibition here:

And now about the loo. Grubby hubby Gee Kin gets museum sickness whenever we spend too much time browsing and pausing in museums. Initially, he made a dive into the men’s room after about twenty minutes of forking over his hefty share of the entrance fee. Slowly, he is overcoming his immun-deficiency and increasing his brain mass (not tolerance) for visual institutions and the intellectual challenges they offer. After a successful visit to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg last summer, he can proudly claim that he is in remission.

Sadly, I discovered a device at the Van Gogh today that might have saved Gee Kin his misery. It’s known as a Stendhal box.
Developed for museum goers in ecstasy, this chair with a shroud around it (there’s a wooden door to cover your view after you sit inside) can help you to decompress at the end of a raptured experience at the museum! While some may believe this to be comic relief, the confessional certainly could have treated Gee Kin with a refuge from torture and spared him another trip to the loo.

Our fruitful day ended with dinner at De Kas, located on a lake in town. The greenhouse and lab environment was an unusual setting to showcase its hydroponic food production that short-circuits farm to table in an entertaining and palatable way. The single menu included vegetable forward and crunchy appetizers, mushroom consommé, field fowl, and cheese plate or tarte tatin for dessert.


Ich bin eine Berlinerin

OK, this was an unplanned visit to my favorite adopted country. My daughter Melissa is between jobs and after contemplating Morocco or Mexico City, we agreed that Berlin was not a bad option for interesting food, art and culture.

Our first of two weeks revolved around a number of upcoming new restaurants, galleries that are open over the holiday break, and special performances.

After stalking many of Europe’s best venues, I learned that there are impresarios who descend on famous sites such as the Berlin Philharmonic. When the orchestra is off, they lease the facilities. Many of the promotions cater to local tourists from France, Italy and Eastern Europe.

The usual Swan Lake, Mozart masterpieces, and Strauss waltzes are offered, but are not part of the regular program. While we did partake in a Russian ballet company performance, it takes a bit of close navigation to understand who is producing what and when.

Nevertheless, we enjoyed seeing a bit of traditional ballet contrasted with a modern version by Duarto/Kylian, two contemporary choreographers. The latter audience was much younger and local, while the former was stocked with a mostly tourist audience.

There are museums and galleries galore here, probably too numerous to count. For that, Berlin beats Mexico City hands down. We tackled the Pergamon earlier over the weekend with friend Vladimir from Meissen with some difficulty, as the Museum Island is still being renovated and access to each museum is limited.

Yesterday we covered art galleries in the Prenzlauer and Kreuzberg areas that included the Institute for Contemporary Art and the Kunstraum Kreuzberg. Old schoolhouses have been repurposed for gallery use as well as after school music and arts programs. A decent cafe in each allows visitors to enjoy the environment while warming up to the cold chill (and now snow) outside.

The Kennedy clan are well known to Berliners, almost more than to Americans. Aside from JFK’s famous quote, he was known to protect West Berlin from succumbing to the Communists in East Berlin. A small but significant historical detail.

The Xmas Markets were fun to explore and finally experience. The “gluhwein” tastes better than it sounds, and is merely what we call mulled wine. And the stollen or Xmas cake leaves a bit to be desired, particularly when traveling with a pastry chef.

The hip new food fare here, however, has been delightfully innovative, inexpensive, and thoughtful. While not always successful (veggies a bit on the raw side), the intent on making food healthy, delicious and beautifully pleasing to the eye is very evident. While not a foodie myself, I am swept up by the company I am keeping. Traveling with one can cause you to get into the picture pretty fast. Take a look at some of the plates: my favorite was the avocado and red beets on toast. Easy enough to make me want to make it as soon as I return home..

For the wannaknows, we hit Lokal, Industry Standard, and Horvath.

Viewed at the top, Swan Lake x 2.