Happy Times in Berlin

Germany again; we can’t stay away. During this brief springtime visit, we

  • spent time with interesting friends,
  • stayed in our favorite hotel,
  • ate delicious food,
  • visited a wonderful small museum, and
  • attended an orchestral rehearsal of classical music.


We did more mundane things, too, like riding the U and S Bahn networks while absorbing the energy of one of Europe’s most animated cities. We were even able to retrieve our cancelled passports, the ones that were stolen and later returned to the police in Hamburg. They ended up at Berlin’s U.S. consulate.

Hotel experiences vary widely, of course, but some add up to more than the sum of their individual features. These are the hotels we seek to return to time and again. The Hackescher Markt Hotel in East Berlin is one for us. Its helpful staff, the quiet comfort of its rooms, and its location near an S Bahn station, the city’s Museum Island, and the great avenue that is Unter der Linden make it ideal for us. And I mustn’t forget to add the pleasure of its wonderful breakfasts.

Jupp and Karin with Kay

The day of our arrival we were met by Jupp and Karin, German friends we hadn’t seen since last July.


They guided us to Augustiner am Gendarmenmark, a favorite Bavarian restaurant near the beautiful and stately square where in an earlier age the royal gendarmerie would muster and parade. At Augustiner, we ate our fill of sausages, dumplings, and sauerkraut. Augustiner has been a brewery since 1328; it knows how to make beer.

Dussmann on Friedrichstr is the kind of store the world needs more of. With three floors of books and music, it is large and comprehensive. It is said to have the widest selection of classical music of any store in Germany. Although its book offerings are principally in German, the store does contain a large English-language section housed in its own separate store within the larger store. With our friends, we spent a very pleasant hour at Dussmann, buying books and CDs.

The Bröhan Museum in the lovely Charlottenburg district was everything we had hoped for and more. Its specialty is furniture, art glass, posters, and other artifacts from the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods. The Art Nouveau collection is extensive and brilliant.

We never tire of looking at these objects that appear so beautifully strange and otherworldly to our modern sensibilities.

Watchers by the Sea

At the time of our visit, the museum hosted a temporary exhibition of the work of Jan Toorop (1858-1928), a Dutch symbolist painter whose diverse work was an exciting surprise for us. His path began in impressionism and moved through pointillism until he arrived at his mature style in the Art Nouveau period. Toorop was a consummate draughtsman whose expressive human figures are drawn with great clarity and psychological insight.

Kay met Orhan Çelebi first in our Moda neighborhood. To her eyes, dressed as he was in motorcycle gear, he didn’t appear to be the master of the viola that he is. When he was introduced as a musician, she thought rock and roll. In fact, Orhan has been playing classical music in different European orchestras for quite a few years. He has a winning personality, and since he would be in Berlin at the same time as us, he invited us to a rehearsal in the new Pierre Boulez Saal designed by Frank Gehry.

Our new friend is a member of West-Eastern Divan Orchestra formed by Daniel Barenboim and the late Edward Said as part of the Barenboim-Said Akademie, an innovative project in musical education and cultural exchange. Its music school has a component in which the students attend classes in the humanities in addition to their performance study.

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra at Pierre Boulez Saal

The Divan is a large orchestra of at least 100 men and women, most of whom come from Israel, Palestine, and other parts of the Mid-East, including Turkey. Although young, they are already accomplished musicians, and as Barenboim rehearsed them in Don Quixote, a tone poem by Richard Strauss, we could sense the warmth of his admiration for them. In the first rehearsal segment, he worked in detail on a few brief passages; then after a short break, he had the orchestra play through the entire piece with only a couple of interruptions.

Don Quixote is subtitled Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character and, though only forty-five minutes in length, it has strongly contrasting colors and powerful solos for cello, representing Don Quixote, and viola for Sancho Panza. Kay and I felt privileged to be there and see this maestro at work in a new hall whose acoustics have been justly celebrated.

Altes Museum on Museum Island

Berlin is one of those European cities like London and Paris that will always offer up new experiences for us. We’ll return at every opportunity.