Tag Archives: Architecture

Day 45-48: Vienna Schnitzel

Vienna is very deceptive. At first glance, you see alot of well-built, sterile looking buildings that have been well maintained and proud of it. Street sweepers are a common sight so you have to skirt around them more often than you expect. But the endless rows of buildings, ornate details, heavy duty hardware and deluxe glazing make the city seem drab.

By Day Four (today) of my two week stay here, my opinion is reversed. The unbefore-seen Museum Quartier, tucked behind the Volks Theater, was an eye opener and inspiration for a visitor to this historic city. It’s alive with young people enjoying the balmy summer evening, amidst theater, dance, art, spontaneous outdoor performers, and of course, food establishments galore.

Originally a series of small villages, the district has been tranformed into a string of happening event spaces. Outdoor dining seems to be the order of the day. What’s amazing is that these are primarily locals enjoying their new-found urban spaces, with perhaps a dose of savvy tourists to keep the economy thriving.

You would be completely missing out on Vienna if you only saw St. Stephan’s in the center of town, the Opera House (on summer break), and Mariahilferstrasse, the main shopping street. Just like we scoff at tourists in San Francisco who only go to Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s not the current menu. If you inadvertently end up there anyway, the center of town is only used to get one’s bearing for the rest of the city’s bright and newly minted cultural activities.

The Cultural Program

The Vienna Goethe Institute has an excellent cultural program, perhaps the best of any educational program I have joined. We started with a general city tour that gave us a good orientation to the center of town. Intriguing alleyways and amazing historic buildings are tucked behind major thoroughfares, so you almost require a guide to find these hidden gems.

There aren’t as many tourists, thankfully, as in Lisbon. We were only spared for a short time in the morning until we hit the center of town at noon. The St. Stephan’s church was the crowning glory and has been completely renovated for googling eyes and ears. Concerts are held on a regular basis here for eager tourists who take in the musical history of famous composers like Mozart, Schubert and Mahler.

Vienna’s history is shrouded in the Hapsburg reign from about the 13th C.-1918. Thirty Years’ War, religious battles between Protestants and Catholics, Napoleon, and the plague set the backdrop for a violent past. Marriages between royal families in Europe sealed the Hapsburg rule for nearly 800 years, one of the longest standing regimes in history.

The main history of Vienna is focused near the Royal residences and the churches in the area. In addition, the Spanish Riding School where the famous Lippizaner Horses are trained, and the National Library with its fabulous collection, are located in the same vicinity.

An excellent introduction to three historic and beautiful churches on the second day was even more fascinating and helped us to understand the extent of power controlled by church and state. Austria was primarily Protestant in the countryside but Vienna was controlled by the Catholics and the royalty. The powerful relationship prevailed at the expense of the majority. It seemed to be another sad lesson to today’s world politics and the division between the haves and the have nots.

According to tradition, many of the Hapsburg family have buried parts of their bodies in three separate locations. Hearts in Budapest, innards and bones in two other locations in Vienna. The family followed this creepy ritual. The guide savored telling the English pun: “May the emperor rest in pieces”. You can read more about the Royal family’s whereabouts here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_Crypt.

The Class

There are 14 students, most of whom are German language teachers. They come from Ireland, China (Souzhou and Hangzhou), France, Belgium, England, Russia and Norway. I am the only American in the class and I am very happy that it turned out that way.

A word about my German C level class for my German language buddies. I don’t know how I did it but I was put in an advanced class. I figured the director must get a promotion for enrolling more students in advanced levels. We’ll see if he gets his promo after he gets the report on retention.

We have spent most of our time getting accustomed to the class environment. A full program of free guided tours of the city, museums, historic sights, and concerts are offered before and after classes. I am glad that I chose Vienna to study German! My only problem is that I am exhausted at the end of each day and have not had any time to sketch.

Accommodations, in true Viennese style, are generous and adequately stocked. You can see the view of the modern studio apartment below, that costs about $33 a day. It’s a great deal including the cultural program provided in the course.

More later as the class progresses.

Day 41-45: Bom Dia Lisboa!

After spending a week with a dozen companions in the Algarve, it took a bit of adjustment to being alone again. Fortunately sketching buddy Karen accompanied me to Lisbon for her return flight to San Francisco. She adeptly led me to the Neya Lisbon Ecohotel where we were staying. The hotel promotes saving the environment, even if it’s just a marketing ploy.

Use of solar panels, thermal and acoustic windows, separated garbage bins in every room, and reusing towels are commonplace for most hotels, but they don’t advertise it. Every little bit helps, so his hotel has got the right idea. I’m not sure that I can quote any other hotel chain in the U.S. or Europe that includes it in their name. If nothing else, you end up with a younger and more conscientious clientele.

I’m spending a few days here exploring on my own. Lisbon city streets are narrow crooked alleyways that hug the steep hillsides until they burst at the seams with long strings of steps. You are reminded of Telegraph Hill or Montrmartre as you carefully scale the steep paths and are glad that you aren’t sporting five-inch heels from the Ott’s.

The paved cobbles are slippery from hundreds of years of footfall. I wondered how many souls (pardon the pun) it took to shine them. Occasionally a patch of roughed up cobbles provided relief to the attentiveness needed to descend them.

Mentally, I had no trouble skiing down the hill toward town and paused to savor the tiled facades and ironwork that were so compatible with each other. Even the laundry hung out to dry seemed to add an artistic swoop, as if to apologize for the untiled surface.

Castelo S. Jorge

I scaled the top of the 11th Century fortress castle. It was crenillated with lookouts that made shooting from below a challenge. The views from the fort were spectacular and peeking through the openings made you wish could dodge target practice. Other than that…overrun with tourists like me.

Pena Palace, Sintra

Despite being a world heritage site, Sintra was another destination overrun by tourists. It diminished my appreciation of the area’s man-made beauty. Tucked into the hills outside Lisbon, the national park was transformed from a barren hill to lush forest.

The palace itself looked a little bit like Disneyland, especially the bright colors. Its Moorish features and gardens were obscured by short rooms that lacked the high drama normally found in other European palaces. Pena was built by Ferdinand II, who ruled from 1837-53, and his two wives. One was an opera singer so you can imagine the level of high maintenance required on his part.

The Museum of the Orient

Okay, this wasn’t my first goal for museum googling. My first futile attempt was to the Archaeological Museum. The entrance was blocked by a parade for the 150th year of the Police Academy, who were out at least 150-strong: a great time to commit a crime!

The second attempt was to the Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology, located on the port side of a four-lane highway and railway line with no pedestrian crossing. I finally settled on the Orient Museum, that was also on the port side of the same highway and railway line, but WITH a pedestrian crossing!

150th Anniversary of Police Academy

Thanks to Vasco da Gama, who was responsible for the world trade routes to Asia as early as 1511! Macau and the Straits of Malacca were discovered in 1515, so they overcame the Silk Road drudgery of camel packs, winter snows, and sandstorms.

Had I thought about it, my Silk Road research and adventures could have been supplemented by tracing the Portuguese sea routes. Ach! Earlier freighters would have charted a simpler course. But…scurvy and mutinies…water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink…which was worse–the vast desert or the vast ocean?!?

This museum held me captive for over three hours. I read nearly every caption, to absorb the stories they told on porcelain, between the traders and the traded. As the market developed for the silk and porcelains, so shifted original Chinese themes to Western ones. The hunters became the hunted, and vice versa. Maritime prowess, religion, love of nature, and paganism were common topics that eventually drifted into the images depicted.

The Chinese found a liking to tobacco for both medicinal and euphoric purposes. Snuff bottles became popular and coveted. Opium became the new normal.

My HK friends will appreciate the material in this museum as it relates to Macau. Just north of Macau lies my family’s stomping ground in Zhongshan, China. It’s no wonder that the Southern Chinese were commercially influenced by 500 years of Portuguese presence, and they were already well into trading before the British arrived in 1851. A few of the well-curated artifacts are below.

Chinese Opera Exhibit

A separate permanent exhibit in the Museum of the Orient enhanced my research on Chinese Opera. The curators did an excellent job in presenting the topic to those unfamiliar with this form of integrated music and art. The costumes and descriptions were well preserved and comprehensive.

They clearly identified the four character types: the official, the maiden, the warrior, and the comic. The films that were shown were exemplary, not only of traditional opera, but one also described the complications during and after the Cultural Revolution by a ballet performer in the “Red Detachment of Women”. She was purged after the fall of the Gang of Four.

Shoes were of particular interest to me. Opera performers did not have bound feet, but they imitated those who did. They wore “high-heeled sneakers” with pedestals. If you wondered why Chinese opera performers were so deliberate in their actions, it’s because they couldn’t walk in those damn shoes! They had to balance themselves on platforms or pedestals and could easily trip on their costumes. The good news is that the pedestals allowed the fringes to flop over the edges and shimmy in a beguiling way.

One other note about this fascinating exhibit. Because of their heavy costumes, performers wore a shield of bamboo in between, so their skin could sweat! Just like bamboo mats. See the bamboo curtain below.

There were many other artifacts that mesmerized me for an entire afternoon. Here were just a few of the artistic pieces presented:

My apologies for this indulgence. They connect many dots in my historical knowledge of the Silk Road and the connection between East and West. Coming to Lisbon and seeing the artifacts at this museum was an unexpected delight. The museum gave me a deeper understanding of how two worlds collided and found a purpose.

Etch a Sketch

Just so you don’t think I have abandoned my sketching, here are a few from sitting at train stations and leftovers from Olhao:

Finale in Lisbon

An open air concert with the Portuguese Symphony outside the Teatro S. Carlo! The sound and film crew were more interesting to watch from behind. Apologies for the blocked view of the symphony. (Give the video some time to load).

I’m off to Vienna, so look for my posting from there mid-week!

Day 38-40: Art in the Algarve

The pace of life strikes you as soon as you have contact with the first native you meet here. There’s a natural warmth and friendliness that puts you at ease and convinces you to slow down. Especially in Olhao, grantedly a tourist town, the shopkeepers and service personnel are responsive and eager to cater to your needs.

We are staying the week at Arts in the Algarve, a collection of buildings with hide-and-seek rooms. Courtyards interjected here and there remind you of the warmth of the sun and the incredibly piercing light in this part of the world. You can’t help but feel healthy and inspired here.

Locals seem to enjoy being outdoors and life doesn’t start taking shape until after dark. Music wafts through the alleyways and over the rooftops into our rooms. Both pop music and accordion-style sing-a-longs with smiles and laughter are detectable. Parades and celebrations are a daily activity that bring multitudes of friends and strangers together.

The details and tiled facades of residential buildings allow owners to inscribe their mark, while balconies and connection to the outdoors are always evident. Lush shady trees and parks provide escape from the blazing sun, while artwork and monuments remind us of our fragile existence.

Our group in the art school this week includes four physiotherapists, an attorney, art and ESL teachers, an executive coach, real estate and finance, one with a diplomatic background, and two AirBNB hosts. There are plenty of interesting conversations at each meal as we convene in the school, poolside, and at nearby restaurants. We learn from and support each other as we challenge our artistic abilities.

There’s barely enough time in the mornings to sketch around town, so I took a day off from a planned nature tour to wander around Olhao on my own. Street scenes and people brought me back to ground zero, where art and ideas come together quickly for me.

The afternoons are spent in the studio culminating color, form, composition, and style from the morning’s sketches:

The food served in the school as well as in dining establishments is unadulterated, straightforward and fresh. Everything you need to stay healthy, especially the fish. The wide variety of daily catch includes tuna, halibut, sole, sea bream, sea bass, sardines, monkfish, and skate, as well as shellfish.

Before parking in Vienna for two weeks, I will be spending a few days in Lisbon, Portugal. Look out for a weekend post from there. Let me know if you have been to Portugal and what you find special about it!

Day 30-33: A Looka at Lucca

Lucca is one of those uniquely protected walled cities, that tells you to go away. Unless you’re inside, of course. It took a bit of battling to get in, with a car (restricted) to an Albergo with private parking privileges. You are acutely aware of harming the environment when you drive a car in this remarkable city.

Everyone moves at a slower pace, tourists and residents alike. Bikes have their place, although scooters are allowed. You wish life could be this way in your part of the world. Everything seems magical–the ice cream shops, the antiquaries, the magnificently preserved churches. Maybe it wasn’t Disney who spread gold dust here, but he must have visited and discovered the qualities that gave him ideas for his magic kingdom.

We were in Italy for a wedding over the weekend. On Elba Island to be exact. After connecting flights in Paris from Yerevan, Armenia, we spent a couple of days in a luxurious villa as our base. Getting to and from the island was another story, but we made it to the wedding in plenty of time.

We treated ourselves to dinner at the hotel’s well appointed facilities, including the original villa’s main house. Needless to say, food here as in everywhere in Italy is a major undertaking and form of entertainment. Here are just a few dishes that refreshingly attacked our palettes:

I’m off to Faro, Portugal for a week filled with art and sketching. Am traveling via Florence and Paris as stopovers. Stay tuned…

Day 26-29: Armenian Rhapsody

The Haghartsin Monastery and Churches range from the 10th-13th Centuries, and are a fascinating example of early medieval/late Byzantine architecture. The heavy basalt walls protected the churches from earthquakes, but a considerable amount of renovation and restoration work was still needed.

The thick walls supported small chapels with heavy domes made of stone. Nevertheless, the simplicity of the structures provided a timeless quality and soothing relief to the 90+ degree weather. The main church is dedicated to St. Gregory. You can read more about it here: https://www.advantour.com/armenia/tavush/agartsin-monastery.htm

Along Lake Sevan, one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world, the Sevanarank Monastery was built in 874. It’s surprising to find these early examples of Christian architecture that never made it into the art history lectures. Our Eurocentric focus has neglected the early beginnings of ecumenical architecture.

I am now customizing my own studies of architectural history and history. By visiting the trans-Caucasus countries, I realize how little we have learned about these countries and the significant roles they played during the “Dark Ages” in feudal and medieval Europe. We could have been learning about what was developing in other parts of the world, especially where it was not “dark”.

Want people?

Followers have noted that my photos are strangely absent of people. I’m not sure whether it is a blessing or a curse, but I do tend to avoid inadvertent passers-by to preserve my architectural shots. It takes some patience but basically a stealth-bomber approach as soon as the coast is clear. That doesn’t mean that I don’t get distracted by interesting people who are the subject matter themselves. And don’t be misled. There are plenty of tourists wandering around everywhere, so I may in fact be distorting the scene. The good news: we have run into very few Americans along our route.

Groups of Tourists descend from the Cascade Monument, Yerevan, Armenia

Food for Thought

With a bit of effort, delicious healthy food such as vegetable plates with presentation flair are inexpensive and available.

Cafesjian Center for the Arts

As part of the “Cascade”, an outdoor stairway system that ascends halfway up a steep hill in the middle of the city, an art museum is located adjacent to the escalator system serving the stairs. Sculpture is placed in layers as one moves along the escalators and views artwork at an enjoyable pace. The Cascade Monument was erected to commemorate the 2780th anniversary of the founding of Yerevan with an equal number of stairs.

Genocide Museum, Yerevan, Armenia

No visit would be complete without learning about the Armenian Genocide in 1915-20. An estim 600,000 and 1.5 million people were systemmatically killed by Turks in three phases: first by forcing men into labor groups without means of survival; next, by decapitating intellectuals and leaders of Armenia; and third, by rounding up women and children and sending them into the desert. The Turkish government has yet to acknowledge its responsibility in causing so many deaths.

All Armenians (3 million) and the Armenian diaspora (approx. 8 million) know about this tragedy. Funds for public and private projects such as the Cafesjian Center are sponsored by Armenians living outside of Armenia to help support the country today.

Armenia was the first countries to adopt Christianity as a state religion. Unless you majored in Religion or Theological Studies, you probably would not be familiar with the numerous stories fron the Old and New Testament quoted when visiting the early Armenian Christian churches. They helped to shed light on the activities of about 1100 years between the 3rd C CE and the 13th C. CE of devout Christian belief and that continues today.

Coincidentally, Gregory “the Illuminator” had a lot to do with the designating of sites or inspiring a number of them.

The Holy See of Armenia was the residence of the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, a monastery, and cathedral. It contained a museum in which the hierarchical aspects of the Catholica, archbishop and bishop, such as vestments, decorative items and tapestries were preserved. One of the most interesting was a reliquary covered by a piece of petrified wood purported to be from Noah’s ark.

Zvartnots Cathedral

What appeared from a distance to look like a version of Stonehenge, the ruins of this round cathedral served as the holy see, until an earthquake collapsed the stone dome above it. Only the arches and columns remain, as well as remains of the dormitories for monks and communal spaces.

Geghard Monastery

This UNESCO listed monastery and church complex was started in the 3rd C CE and was partly carved into the mountain. Many small caves behind the monastery were used by the monks for individual meditation.

We’re very sad to leave this part of the world behind. The wealth of UNESCO world sites speak for its significance in the development of mankind and societies. Politics reign above all and challenge our knowledge of these misunderstood countries. While we were only able to digest a few statistics and a small portion of its legacy, we are inspired to pursue further studies about the Caucasus.

Day 23-25: Georgia on My Mind

Sandwiched between Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Russian Federation lies the country of Georgia. We nearly crossed the entire country in a day trip east to west, stopping in a couple of significant Georgian Orthodox churches and towns along the way.

Gelati Academy

Built by King David the Builder in the 12th Century, this UNESCO protected pilgrimage site served as a scientific and spiritual life in Georgia. The church has been rebuilt with private funds after the earthquake.

Mtskheta Cathedral

The robe of Christ is purported to be buried here, after a Jewish monk purchased the garment and brought it to Georgia. Many pilgrims come here to worship and consider this 12th Century Cathedral a sacred place. The impressive Byzantine frescoes told the story of Jesus and his disciples on the walls of the main apse. The Mtskheta religious buildings are designated a UNESCO world heritage site.

Kudaishi Market

Sandwiched between a visit to the local food market, we were able to stop along the highway to try Georgian homemade bread and cheese. Earlier, we tasted wine in the famous Georgian wine at Khareba Winery in the massive valley that bisects the country.

Soviet era mural outside the market

Our car slammed its brakes to stop in time for bread and cheese being sold along the highway. Bread stuck on the sides of concrete ovens took about 15 minutes to cook. Wheels of fresh sheep’s cheese were wrapped in plastic bags ready for purchase. Our second roadside stop was another version brushed with honey and egg before it was covered with an old coat and blanket and cooked.

Georgian Dishes may leave the culinary skills behind flowery English descriptions. Our order for “Mushrooms in Clay Pan” was….mushrooms in clay pan. Fruit plates are….fruit plates. No inflated language necessary.

Master Cooking Class in Tbilisi

Our master cooking class at the Tabla Restaurant introduced us to a few classic Georgian dishes that we had already tried. Starters with walnut paste rolled in red pepper and eggplant were supplemented by walnut paste patties mixed with beet leaves, leeks, and spinach

Architecture and the Streets of Tbilisi

The huge time expanse transcends everthing from the 4th C. BC to the present-day, so many buildings appear to be dilapidated, neglected, or poorly maintained. There are a healthy addition of modern buldings that are flamboyant and daring to contrast with the crumbling old ones.

It didn’t help that there was a major earthquake of about 7.0 in 2003, leaving many of the cracked brick structures in the Old City crumbling and in dire need of attention. Owners and their descendants hold out for the big hotel developer to make them an offer to make them rich for the rest of their lives. In the mean time, the neighborhood suffers with blight and tenants who continue to risk their lives for cheap rent.

With over 1 million people, Tbilisi is home to nearly one quarter of the country’s population of 4 million people. There’s much work to be done to develop the city, and I remind myself not to expect all the conveniences and solutions of more well-developed countries.

We are able to see the country before major development take over. And yes, there are still many evident flaws and cracks in the system such as broken sidewalks, collapsed structures, and traffic accidents. The Georgians have suffered from failed and impovershed governments.

Georgia has been bombarded with invasions and systemmatic loss of its borders at the whim of leaders inside and outside the country. It is a small country that has been used as a political football for its neighbors. The capital city of Tbilisi has been sacked 27 times since it was moved from Mtskheti. Despite that, its people look to its future and hope that Georgia can soon join the EU and NATO. You can read more about this fascinating country in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgia.

Addendum: We had been hearing about the active protests against the government after the Chairman of Georgia’s Parliament allowed a Russian MP to sit in his seat and deliver a message in Russian. Georgians were protesting the government for succumbing to Russian influence.

Day 20-22: On the Trail of the Silk Road

Tracing the steps along the Silk Road– Samarkand, Bokhara, Isfahan–the namesakes of Oriental carpets–has formed the basis for my travels through Central Asia. Throughout Azerbaijan, the trail of the ancient route is evident, as traders plied the same track we are traveling, between Dagestan (part of Russia) and Iran.

We traveled through the baby Caucasus mountains northwesterly towards Georgia. Because of border disputes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, neither jurisdiction will allow direct access across their border. Tourists must transit through “neutral” Georgia to the other country. What’s bad for Armenia and Azerbaijan is good for Georgia.

Silk Road Caravansary

Similar to those in Iran and Uzbekistan, the caravansaries were stopping points for traders along the Silk Road. Camels were housed on the lower floor and provided heat for travelers who lived above. The central water fountain was used for cooling the space and was connected to the ventilation system. Traders could set up instant pop-ups to sell and barter their wares, before moving onto the next station.

In the nearby town of Lahij, local items made of wool, herbs, and copperware are sold similar to those traded along the Silk Road in the 5th Century.

Petroglyphs, Gobustan National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site)

from the Neolithic period, these petroglyphs may not be as elegant as those in Alta Mira or Lascaux, but the 6,000 petroglyphs in this area certainly were evidence of man’s need to communicate. Animals being hunted, a focus on females for child bearing and men hunting were typical images carved into the sandstone rocks where they lived.. I was excited by the chance to see these markings by our ancient artists, carved en plein air in a spectacular setting.

Yanardag Mountains

For several hundred years, natural gas burned openly and continuously in the Yanardag Mountains. It’s not surprising that religious rites sprung from man’s early encounter with these unexplainable phenomenon. In the town of Surakhany, the Ateshgah Temple was used for fire worshippers. Zorastrians and HIndus travel from India to visit the temple. You can read more about it below.

This temple reminded us of our first introduction to the Zorastrian religion in Iran (Thus Spake Zarasthustra!) as well as the Fire Temple in Yasd.

Juma Mosque

Considered the largest mosque in Azerbaijan, its sandstone walls were a contrast to the blue mosaic decorations more commonly used in mosques I visited in Iran and Uzbekistan. The mosque was rebuilt after earthquakes and fire damaged the building.

Miscellany

Day 19: Baku, Azerbaijan

City Sights

We headed to the high point of the city for an overview of the city skyline. At -28m below sea level, it is inperceptible that the area was covered by water, then receded multiple times in the past. The Caspian is called a sea for this reason–that the salt water from what was once part of the ocean differentiates it from from a fresh-water lake.

The Martyr’s shrine commemorates the 200 fallen rebels who led the second revolution in 1990. While being freed from Soviet rule and becoming independent, this was not the first attempt. Azerbaijan was established as a nation in 1920 as told by the Ali and Nino story I mentioned in the last post. Its success was short-lived however. The Russians came back and dominated the country for another 70 years before they relinquished power.

The Flaming Towers are Baku’s latest hotel, office, and condominium high rises that proudly display the city’s oil wealth and future. The capital of Azerbaijan was moved to Baku in the 12th century to this prominent peninsula on the west side of the Caspian Sea.

Shirvan Shah’s Palace and Museum

Architecture Inside Baku’s Old City Walls

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the old City in Baku has renovated its historic buildings for public view.

Miniature Book Museum

Founded by an Azerbaijani woman, this museum contains over 8,000 volumes of miniature reproductions from books collected throughout the world, including Western, eastern, and local literature. This museum is cited in the Guiness Book of Records!

Baku’s Friendly People

Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid

This new building designed by Zaha Hadid, the world-famous Iraqi architect, has won numerous international accolades for its sweeping bold design. The museum displays Azeri culture and commemorates Azerbaijan’s former president, Heydar Aliyev.

Hadid created a vision and inspiration for the next generation of architects. Its womby curves and vast proportions offers a three-dimensional fly-through in real time. From the exterior, the building looks like a huge beached whale.

Museum Collection and Interior Details

Art Doll Collection

I couldn’t help but become fixated not only by the historic costumes and expressive faces of the dolls in this collection, but also by the exquisite, life-like hand gestures.

Days 10-14: Pfingsten Fling

Pfingsten stands for Pentacost, the Christian holy day celebrated on the seventh Sunday after Easter. Germans have a good excuse to enjoy the summer weather, join friends for barbeques in their community gardens, play music, and of course, drink beer. The extended three-day holiday gave me a chance to take day trips from Dresden, soak up more cultural events, and to hear music, music, music in the span of a whirlwind weekend between classes.

Hellerau, Germany

Hellerau, one of the first planned unit developments in the world, lies just north of Dresden. We found an excuse to visit there to celebrate the long holiday weekend and to see an open interactive dance performance in the festival hall.

Generously proportioned single family houses are tucked behind tidy gardens surrounded by fences. Each prominent sloping roof was built with design and care. Skylights not only provide light into the deep interiors, but some are also roof hatches. Newer codes require a landing outside the roof hatch if it is accessible, and a ship’s ladder provides access to the rooftop chimney. It seems like alot of getup just to solve a maintenance issue. Older houses do not have such complicated construction. And newer modern buldings are, yes, a showpiece in the neighborhood.

The Hellerau murals from the Forties show the Russian influence and the movement of troops through Moscow to Germany and Poland.

The Altstadt Music Crawl

Performers at the All-Day Musical Event in Altmarkt during Pfingsten weekend showcased numerous musical groups and genres. Music is everywhere in Dresden and delightfully unavoidable. We raced around the Residenz Schloss, the Kulturepalast, and the Japanese Palace, all within a stone’s throw of the Elbe River, to see a Brass Ensemble, rock bands, and choral groups (including featured image above) making music throughout the city center.

Handel’s Birthplace in Halle, Germany

About two hours west of Dresden lies Handel’s birthplace. The Handel Museum contained many unique historic instruments including organs, pianos, and wind instruments. A stirring poster advertising Handel music demonstrated the simplicity and power of propagandistic advertising. While the museum is not as informative as those in Leipzig for Bach, Mendelsohn and Schumann, it was still a worthwhile and pleasant excursion.

the Border between Poland and Germany (Görlitz)

Our German friends Hanne and Jens planned a special outing by car to Görlitz, about an hour east and outside of Dresden. They met me and Vladimir, a classmate from my first German class in Dresden, outside my Neustadt apartment. Being a holiday on Monday, it appeared that most of Germany was still working off the hangovers from too much beer the night before or was busy getting grills ready for the barby.

The town turned out to be a collection of historic buildings, lovingly restored to its 16th Century splendor. The St. Peters and Paul’s Evangelical Church on the German side was a massive building graced with many decorative elements. Artwork and sculpture complimented the sturdy structures thoughout the town.

Another Night at the Semper Opera, Dresden

A final performance of Carmen at Semperoper included a cast of thousands, modern clothing, and lackluster singing. The evening air outside provided lovely views of the city center and a refreshing pause between acts.

The Albertinum Museum, Dresden

The Albertinum was one of my “Go-Backs”, after German partner Jim reminded me that this museum contains paintings by one of my favorite artists–German Expressionist Otto Dix.

In addition, the Albertinum has impressive representative works of Chagall, Gauguin, Monet, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso, as well as those by German favorites such as Gerhard Richter and Max Liebermann. The slide show gives you a feel for each of these works.

And below are just a few of the random collection of works that I particularly liked. Portraiture and hands are appealing to me as I learn to draw and study the human figure.

Day 4-6: Pictures at an Exhibition, Dresden

Although I am primarily here in Dresden for a German course, I feel like I am leading a double life. I have been researching Music Festival concerts being held for another week here, and I have managed to squeeze three in three days while attending classes. If you were ever contemplating how to take a music course by hearing performances, this is the place to do it.

Prices are reasonable and with student “rush” tickets, you are in business. I paid 20 Euros for “Pictures at an Exhibition”, a piano recital at the Albertinum Museum. It turned out to be a double bargain, since access to the museum was free immediately before the performance. 

In a fascinating program combining music and art, Tokarev first  played Tsaichovsky’s  “Character Pieces for a Year” for piano. Each month’s themes portrayed different moods and feelings, from romantic songs to grand celebrations. The second half was followed by Mussorgski’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”. The tunes were skillfully enhanced by a video installation.

The program certainly increased my appreciation of the two composers and communicated the beauty in their work. Kandinsky’s “Large Gate from Kiev” painting from 1924 was featured in deconstructed movement and timing. Everything was seamlessly coordinated into an exquisite visual and musical experience.

Nikolai Tokarev, the soloist, has won numerous European piano competitions, performed alongside many European orchestras, and produced CDs interpreting beloved Russian composers. 

The Albertinum Museum exhibition, “100 Years of Bauhaus” was the second windfall. Created in Germany in 1920s, the Bauhaus included members shown in the exhibition such as Maholy-Nagy, Feininger, Klee and Kandinsky. It was a good warm-up to the performance.

The teachings of the Bauhaus formed the foundation for my undergraduate training in design at UC Berkeley. The Bauhaus developed design concepts and tools for mass production. Art, technology, architecture, painting, sculpture and construction were integrated from this movement.

Two-dimensional geometric lines and color like those by Piet Mondrian evolved into three-dimensional shapes. It is easy to see how industrial design and furniture like those by Marcel Breuer were an extension of isometric details and design.

The attendees at the exhibition of the Exhibition were exhibitions themselves. One woman wore a tastefully chosen black and white polka-dotted dress with red heels and accessories. Another more casually dressed gentleman clad in classic German black pondered in front of a textured wall. It served as a backdrop for artwork designed in the 20’s as part of the Bauhaus movement.

Last but not least, a quick rip through the classical section of the Albertinum revealed many forgotten items in storage and on display–a sad reminder of the dilemma of wealthy collectors.

After the end of the performance and three encores, the warm evening air outside reminded me of what a special place Dresden is in place and time. The view below is photographed from the Albertinum in Altstadt. Frederick Augustus, Elector of Saxony and the King of Poland, built most of Dresden’s original Baroque buildings here in the late 17th and early 18th Centuries.

Here are the other two concerts:

Grigory Sokolov Piano Recital

Born in 1950, Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov can still apply all faculties and fingers to a long and rare public performance. The audience was extraordinarily attentive, reflecting the pianist’s skillful yet delicate playing.

The Germans, as I have mentioned before, are stingy with kudos but you know you have seen something worthwhile when the audience gives multiple standing ovations (after stamping their feet). Sokolov showed his gratitude by performing several encores. It didn’t hurt that the newly renovated Concert Palace in the heart of Dresden is acoustically perfect. Musicians travel to the venue by bike and tourists arrive by public transportation at the front door.

Dresden High School for Music

The Dresden High School for Music demonstrated its mettle with a high quality string orchestra consisting of 11 to 19 year olds. The serious students and the attentive audience work hand in hand to promote a strong future for classical music in Germany. The building was beautifully and acoustically designed for occupants and visitors.