November, 2006

Both of My Girls Appear in Local Newspaper

After work I was asked by Erika to go and pick up Vanessa from Art Garage. While I was waiting I decided to head to the local Starbucks and have a Tazo Chai tea to kill some time.

I picked up a local paper called Snap, on page 30, I saw this:

Annie and Vanessa in Snap!
Annie and Vanessa in Snap!

I remember the girls told me that a photographer had taken their pictures and asked them what the favourite thing about having a sister was. I’ve edited what’s shown above, but the other kids that were depicted were all of those who gather at the school bus stop, so they are all friends of Annie and Vanessa.

Will have to get in contact with the photographer and get copies of the originals from her.

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Day of Museums, Part Two: The Egyptian Collection at The Altes Museum

I made the short walk to my hotel from the Pergamon Museum, and promptly put the rechargeable lithium battery in its charger. Then I went back downstairs and headed off to get a quick bite to eat. The museum was set to close at 6pm so I let the battery charge for about an hour and then made my way to the Altes Museum, where the Ägyptisches Collection is being housed temporarily while reconstruction work continues on the Neues Museum, where the whole of the collection will eventually be housed — its original venue in Berlin prior to WWII and the political division of Germany.

The Egyptian collection is located on the top floor of the building, where I paid my admission, doffed my coat and made my way inside.

Despite the lateness of the day, the museum was still busy, though not as busy as at had been at the Pergamon earlier in the day.

The first room is filled largely with the busts and statues of royal or related images. Here’s the photo-tour:

Statue of a Pharaoh Just Inside the Entrance
Statue of a Pharaoh Just Inside the Entrance

This is the first thing you see when you make your way through the entrance to the museum. A crowd of people gathered around it in a mix of awe and appreciation.

Receiving much less recognition was this small, impassive statue described as a baboon god. But in terms of history, this was arguably much more significant than the grand, kingly statue beside it, as it has, scratched in its base the catfish and hammer glyphs that represent the pharaoh Narmer, who is generally recognized as the first pharaoh of Ancient Egypt.

Baboon God Statue with Pharaoh Narmer's Name Etched in its Base
Baboon God Statue with Pharaoh Narmer’s Name Etched in its Base

A significant piece in the collection, and given pride of place near the entrance. I couldn’t help but find it suspect the difference between the quality of the piece and the relatively crudeness in which the name of the pharaoh was carved into its base. Hmmm.

Elsewhere in the room were other famous faces of various pharaohs, most dating to the time of the New Kingdom.

Bust of Sesostris I
Bust of Sesostris I

Fragmentary Statue Head of Hatshepsut
Fragmentary Statue Head of Hatshepsut

Kneeling Figure of Sobekhotep V
Kneeling Figure of Sobekhotep V

There is a division in the room and then you see a collection of statues primarily of private citizens, some with their families, others obviously important officials.

Block Statue of Senemut and Princess Neferure
Block Statue of Senemut and Princess Neferure

This particular block statue (a popular form in Egypt used primarily by non-royals) struck me as particularly interesting, as the head of the young royal girl was also represented. This turned out to be a depiction of Senemut, who was tutor to princess Neferure, who was the daughter of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut. He is also credited with being the architect of several of Hatshepsut’s more impressive buildings, including her funerary complex — and also possibly the pharaoh’s lover.

There is an interesting mix of other pieces in the room, a real jumble of largely non-royals from several different eras and styles.

For example this late period statue of an unnamed official faces the head of Khaemwaset, one of the sons of Ramesses II.

Late Period Egyptian Official
Late Period Egyptian Official

Prince Khaemwaset
Prince Khaemwaset

The real gem in this part of the room was the famous “Berlin Green Head”, a finely crafted head carved in greywacke of some unknown late period official.

The Berlin Green Head
The Berlin Green Head

Just beside this last piece is the entrance to the hall containing the highly expressive art pieces from the Amarna period, which is recognized as the highlight of this museum’s collection.

A German-led expedition went to the long abandoned city of Amarna early in the last century, which was the seat of power for the “heretic” pharoah Akhenaten, who created a monotheistic cult of the disc of the sun god, called Aten. This is the first piece one sees when you enter the room: a broken relief depicting Amenhotep beside a falcon-headed Aten figure. He would soon after change his name to Akhenaten.

Falcon Aten and Amenhotep IV
Falcon Aten and Amenhotep IV

The next depicted was the next thing that grabbed my attention: the head of Queen Tiye:

Head of Queen Tiye
Head of Queen Tiye

This image has been endlessly reproduced, but I was surprised by its size it’s small. I had always thought it was life-size or near it, but the head is perhaps half life-sized, which makes the fine features of Queen Tiye, very much an individual, all the more impressive. Can’t help thinking she must have been formidable in person.

What follows are several plaster heads of Akhenaten and members of his court, presumably artist’s studies that were abandoned along with the rest of Amarna upon the death of the pharaoh.

Plaster Heads of Akhenaten (x2), Nefertiti and Aye
Plaster Heads of Akhenaten (x2), Nefertiti and Aye

They reminded me of the so-called “reserve heads” I had seen at an exhibition of Old Kingdom objects a few years back, and while that wasn’t the intention here, Akhenaten was clearly well supplied with plenty of them for his ba-soul (so the belief went) to find refuge in.

Elongated Head of an Amarna Princess
Elongated Head of an Amarna Princess

Theories have abounded on the strange shape of Akhenaten’s face as well as though of his family, including such exotic diseases as the “elephant man’s disease” and Marfan’s syndrome, but after looking at all of the lifelike busts, and the fact that the more exaggerated appearances tend to date to the later part of his rule, I can’t help but think that this was a stylistic difference, intended to make the king and his family appear “otherworldly”, something recognizably human, but exaggerated Don’t get me wrong, am not talking the silly flim-flammery of invoking Velikovskian aliens, but there has always been a tendency in art to emphasize certain physical features (just think of any of the pre-historic “Venus” figurines of Europe as an obvious example) and I would guess that the change in appearance has much more to do with exaggeration (and possibly caricature?) than any actual physical ailment. The mummy of Tutankhamen showed that his head was not markedly elongated, and he was almost certainly a descendant of Akhenaten. Until Akhenaten’s mummy is found (or identified) his ba-soul will have the last laugh.

The centerpiece (literally) of the Amarna exhibit is the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti.

Bust of Queen Nefertiti
Bust of Queen Nefertiti

People Looking at Nefertiti Bust
People Looking at Nefertiti Bust

A small crowd had understandably gathered around it, with a tour guide explaining things in German. The bust is striking, and so realistic that it must have been based on life — not a homogeneous, highly idealized image but clearly that of an individual. Which is why this has become a singular work of art which has been seen to typify that of Ancient Egypt, when in fact the opposite couldn’t be more true — it is a work from a very specific era when individual artistic expression was allowed to flourish. What came before and after did not express the same artistic range seen in the Amarna period.

Clasped Hands from an Amarna-Era Statue
Clasped Hands from an Amarna-Era Statue

There were various other pieces dotted about the rest of the room, but this piece nicely concluded my visit: two hands holding each other, presumably of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, all that is left of some larger statue. At once the fragment is tender and evocative, though still clearly Egyptian in style.

After the highlights of the Amarna room anything else that would follow it would seem anti-climactic, but I was taken aback at the display in the next room of a number of papyri I knew the Berlin museum had these, but I didn’t expect to find them on display, even under the low-light conditions present in the room. Some of them were famous, such as the Papyrus Westcar, in which fantastic, magical tales are told to Khufu, the builder of the Great Pyramid. Then there’s the “Debate Between a Man and his Ba-Soul”, which is basically the first known piece of writing that deal with the topic of suicide (the Ba-soul suggests that it is not such a great idea). Then there are more colourful treatises detailing a soul’s passage to the underworld. I took plenty of (non-flash) photos, and will hopefully be able to stitch some of them together later in PhotoShop.

Westcar Papyrus Photo-montage
Westcar Papyrus Photo-montage (if you look closely you can see me taking the picture in reflected glass, twice

Custodian for Goddess Amun Papyrus Photo-montage
“Guide to the Afterlife for the Custodian of the Property of the Amon Temple Amonemwidja with Symbolic Illustrations Concerning the Dangers in the Netherworld”

Custodian for Goddess Mut Papyrus Photo-montage
“Guide to the Afterlife for the Custodian of the Property of the Goddess Mut Sesech with Symbolic Illustrations Concerning the Dangers in the Netherworld”

The doorway to the next room was framed by a series of mummy masks.

Mummy Masks Flanking Doorway
Mummy Masks Flanking Doorway

The room that followed contained several late period mummy cases and mummies (all wrapped up), including a family dating to the Greek or Roman period. These are the ones that include a painted portrait of the individual family member as they appeared in life. Couldn’t help but think of what my two young daughters would think about seeing mummies of children their age or younger.

Mummies of Late Period Children
Mummies of Late Period Children

Was getting near the end of the Egyptian exhibit at this point, and the most impressive thing at the conclusion were a pair of statues of full-size lion headed goddesses Sekhmet, both clutching a very large ankh, the symbol of life, in their right hand. This particularly formidable-looking pair of goddesses were believed to protect against illness, and I had recently finished reading an article about their construction during the reign of Amenhotep III, who constructed a vast number of these statues. The thinking was that they were made during a time of repeated plagues, these statues ultimately a vain attempt at a preventative health measure against the pestilence which struck the land.

Pair of Sehkmet Statues
Pair of Sehkmet Statues

Close-up of Ankh
Close-up of Ankh

The exit immediately led to the bookstore, which had plenty of interesting titles, only a small portion of which were in English. Was most tempted by a stack of back issues of KMT, but they were all ones I had read at some point in the past. Was also tempted to pick up a plush blue hippo for my daughters, but I remembered the injunction from my wife not to bring back any more stuffies for them.

I thought that that was pretty much it, but it turned out that there were more Ancient Greek and Roman pieces downstairs. Entrance was through a circular atrium filled with statues of the gods. There was a skylight at the top of the dome which would have filled the atrium with light on a clear, sunny day, but it was late afternoon and the otherwise unlit room was gloomy and did not lend itself to picture-taking.

All of the explanatory text in the subsequent exhibit halls were exclusively in German, so I did not linger long over much of the rest of the exhibits. There were a few interesting busts of a few famous personages I either recognized directly or was able to figure out from the German labels.

Bust of Pericles
Bust of Pericles

Doleful Looking Bust of Julius Caesar
Doleful Looking Bust of Julius Caesar

Bust of Emperor Arcadius
Bust of Emperor Arcadius

Bust of Emperor Hadrian
Bust of Emperor Hadrian

Getting somewhat museum-ed out by this stage, but still restless, I decided to go for a walk down Unter den Linden so that I could see the Brandenberg Gate. By this point my camera’s battery was on the verge of giving out, but I managed to take a few more interesting shots.

Berlin Cathedral
Berlin Cathedral and the the Fernsehturm (TV Tower)

While this picture above may seem like it was taken in late afternoon, it was taken when it was much darker outside. I managed to prop the camera against a tree and held the camera steady for the second or two it took to get the exposure. Beside me were a couple who taking pictures with a flash camera. Given that the cathedral was across the park, I would bet that my pic came out better than theirs. Visible to the left of the cathedral is the iconic TV tower, the Fernsehturm, made by the East German government and definitely Stalinist in look.

I walked down Unter den Linden, taking in the sights. Past the Crown Prince’s palace, then the historical museum, the State Opera House, Humbolt University (with a statue of the man in front of it), lots and lots of tourist shops, a couple of upscale car dealerships, then the Russian and British Embassies, and just beyond the construction cranes loomed the Brandenburg Gate.

Brandenburg Gate at Night
Brandenburg Gate at Night

Brandenburg Gate at Night
Close-up of the Quadriga on Top of the Brandenburg Gate

These were the last pics I took before my camera battery packed it in. Satisfied, I made my way back to my hotel room for the evening.

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Work Day in Berlin

Monday arrived, which was the day set aside for my all-afternoon meeting with the localization firm representatives I was here to meet. That meant I had the morning to walk around and take pictures, so here’s some of what I saw:

Statue of Bertolt Brecht
Friedrichstraße Station

This is the U-bahn station closest to the hotel I was staying at. From my hotel room I can see the subway trains heading off through the other side of the station. I took this picture while heading to Unter den Linden in order to pick up some souvenir gifts for my daughters.

Closed Off Embassy
Closed Off Embassy

One of the local embassies on a side-street to Unter den Linden where through traffic is not permitted, presumably to prevent would-be suicide bombers.

Man Dressed as Soldier Statue
Man Dressed as Soldier Statue

This was just in front of the Brandenburg Gates, and from a distance I thought that this was a new statue that had somehow appeared overnight. When I got closer, it was obvious that it was a young man made up to look like a statue. Presumably his military garb recalls those who kept watch over The Berlin Wall which was once situated nearby. I took his pic and gave him the suggested donation for doing so (2 euros). He moved and said “Danke” when I deposited the money in the money. Not in the picture and just a few yards down from him was a woman who would strike poses while turning slowly on the top of a small plinth, dressed up as a German princess. There was also a person dressed up in a bear suit (the mascot of the city) who was there explicitly for tourists to take pictures of.

Another Picture of The Brandenburg Gate
Another Picture of The Brandenburg Gate

Another Picture of The Brandenburg Gate Quadriga
Another Picture of The Brandenburg Gate Quadriga

I was in the area by the Brandenburg Gate because I wanted to pick up some presents for my daughters back home. I ended up buying two small necklaces made by a local artisan at the following store.

T.O.T.s on Unter Den Linden
T.O.T.s on Unter Den Linden

Section of The Wall by the Store
Section of The Wall by the Store

The following building was another reminder that I was in what was formerly East Berlin, just up the street from the Russian Embassy

Aeroflot Office
Aeroflot Office

I was disappointed that the Checkpoint Charlie Museum I visited yesterday didn’t actually have much in the way of good books about the history of The Wall, but I had briefly popped into the Berlin Store on my previous peregrinations, and figured it was a better bet.

Berlin Story Store front
Berlin Story Store front

It was, and I ended up getting a decent book on the subject of Cold War Germany, plus a couple of colourful Trabant erasers for my girls. (I never did see any Trabants while here in Berlin). I also caved in and bought a small piece of painted concrete representing itself as part of The Wall. There was a sign in Italian where I could just make out that while the pieces were genuine, the painted colours may not be the original, so someone is taking pieces of concrete with a flat surface and painting them. I had wondered why all of the small pieces I had seen for sale all seemed to use the same three colours — I couldn’t imagine a graffiti artist being bored enough to create random small blotches of colour on The Wall.

For All Your Frederick the Great Needs
For All Your Frederick the Great Needs

The store was also part private museum, and at the back was a small cafe where documentaries were screened in multiple languages about the history of the city, as well as a model of what this stretch of the city used to look like.

Checkpoint Charlie Sign and Cafe
Checkpoint Charlie Sign and Cafe

Scale Model of Berlin
Scale Model of Berlin

Satisfied with my purchases I went back to my hotel, had some lunch and soon after made my way to my meeting in the heart of what had been East Berlin.

Wrought Iron Imperial Eagle on Bridge
Wrought Iron Imperial Eagle on Bridge

Wrought Iron Dolphin - Detail
Wrought Iron Dolphin – Detail

Construction is seemingly a constant in the city, and it was at around this time that I figured out what made up the distinct smell of city: diesel fumes and concrete dust.

Construction in the Former East Berlin and TV Tower
Construction in the Former East Berlin and TV Tower

In addition to the seemingly pervasive construction cranes were the occasional building that had evidently seen better days. The crumbling facade of the following building was distinctive enough for me to reach for my camera and take a picture of it.

Crumbling Facade in Former East Berlin
Crumbling Facade in Former East Berlin

I had my meeting and afterwards made my way back to my hotel. The following was the final picture I took for the day, taken while walking over the bridge spanning the River Spee, looking to the dome of the Bode Museum with the Berlin TV tower in the distance.

Nighttime Scene on Spee River Bridge
Nighttime Scene on Spee River Bridge

A quick dinner afterwards, then to bed for my early-morning flight back to Frankfurt, then home.

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A Rainy Day in Berlin

The rainy weather which had been predicted for Berlin for much of my stay finally came in spades this morning. But I was determined to do something out of doors so that I could say that I had had a good look around the city, so after my breakfast I ventured out.

My original plan was to head to the Zoo, but the crummy weather — cold rain and a driving wind — quickly scotched that idea. Instead, my curiosity was peeked by the rotating “Berliner Ensemble” sign directly across the river, so I made my way over to it.

I had thought when I arrived that this was a musical ensemble, but the large bronze statue of Bertolt Brecht told me otherwise: it was a playhouse dedicated to performing his plays. The current run included “Mother Courage”.

Despite the weather I wasn’t the only one in the small square beside the playhouse, as two elderly German women each took pictures of the other standing beside the statue of Brecht. And when they had moved on, I took mine:

Statue of Bertolt Brecht
Statue of Bertolt Brecht in front of the Berliner Ensemble Building

Boats looking like converted barges plied the river with tours, and I briefly thought about taking one as I sheltered under a train trestle from Friedrichstraße station, but I was intrigued by the glass-domed building not far in the distance. So I pressed on in the wet weather and found out that this was in fact the Reichstag. Couldn’t help but think of the famous war footage (restaged after the fact for propaganda purposes, but no less iconic) of a group of Red Army soldiers planting their flag at the top of this building, long ago but still within living memory

Looking at the Reichstag from Across the River Spee, with a Tour Boat in the Foreground
Looking at the Reichstag from Across the River Spee, with a Tour Boat in the Foreground

I also took some detailed shots in the rain of a decorative lamppost with various figures on it.

Lamp Post at the Reichstag
Lamp Post at the Reichstag

Lamp Post at the Reichstag - Detail
Lamp Post at the Reichstag – Detail (Yes, it was very wet)

I then stopped by the fringes of the Tiergarden by a row of white crosses, erected in memory of those shot while trying to escape East Germany over The Wall. An odd memorial, looking at once both impromptu and permanent, from the text typewritten in several languages, most of them quick biographies the victims, but also mixed in with messages asking for vengeance against certain individuals who had worked for the Stasi (the infamous East German secret police) and even contractors who had helped to build The Wall. In memory of those who died I left a Euro to help pay for flowers.

Part of the Memorial to Victims of the Berlin Wall
Part of the Memorial to Victims of the Berlin Wall

The Brandenburg Gate on a Very Rainy Day
The Brandenburg Gate on a Very Rainy Day

I went to the Brandenburg Gate and took a few more pictures, and then looked up the street and saw some memorial within walking distance. I made my way over to it, and it turned out to be the Russian war memorial. Two (name) tanks flanked the entrance, then two artillery pieces, all leading to the central grand figure of a common foot soldier. All grandiose in a Stalinesque way; impressive but impassive.

T-34 Tank Flanking the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin
T-34 Tank Flanking the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin

The Central Pillar and Statue of the Soviet War Memorial
The Central Pillar and Statue of the Soviet War Memorial

ML-20 Artillery Piece at the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin
ML-20 Artillery Piece at the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin

By this time I was beginning to feel thoroughly drenched, so I headed back to the Brandenburg Gate to where I had seen several tour buses parked.

Cheesy yes, but I wanted to see more of the city and so shelled out the 20 euros for a seat on the upper deck of the bus. I found a pair of headphones in front of me and switched the playback to English. The volume control was long gone, but I didn’t mind the volume much as I ended up sitting in front of a bunch of very loud Italians. Not knowing what “shut the hell up” was in Italian, I hunkered down, kept my peace and enjoyed the tour as best as I could. Which wasn’t really a whole much — in addition to the annoying passengers the tarpaulin over our heads leaked, and the people in front of me had to fight with the front of the lashings a few times when the wind or acceleration picked up. I did get to see more sights of the city however, including a royal palace, found out where the Holocaust Museum is and also where the local Cirque du Soleil show was playing. Most interesting was the short stretch where one of the last remaining sections of The Berlin Wall still stands.

Segment of the Berlin Wall (Seen Through the Bus Window)
Segment of the Berlin Wall (Seen Through the Bus Window)

I got see a fair bit of the city on the bus, though the rain drops on the window meant I couldn’t do much photography. I have a much better idea as to where to head the next time I am here – hopefully when it is not as drizzly as it was today.

Then the bus turned a corner and I could see Checkpoint Charlie at the end of the street. If I couldn’t get to the zoo this was my second choice for a place to stop. It was still pissing rain, but I had to get out of the bus and check out this landmark from the Cold War.

Looking into the Former Communist Zone from Checkpoint Charlie
Looking into the Former Communist Zone from Checkpoint Charlie

The Famous Checkpoint Charlie Sign
The Famous Checkpoint Charlie Sign

The Other Side of the Famous Checkpoint Charlie Sign
The Other Side of Checkpoint Charlie Sign (Once I got here I had to find out what it said on the other side. Now I know).

It turns out that the Checkpoint Charlie booth depicted today is a recreation of the original military checkpoint from the era when U.S. and Soviet tanks stared down at each other from the early 60s.

The Wall of course is long gone (other than for increasingly rare isolated patches of it, such as the one I passed earlier on the bus), and now tourist shops and cafes line both sides of the street (on the former U.S. side; there’s nothing much on the former Communist side, though the rain was so miserable I didn’t explore far), and cut flowers now lie on top of the sandbags in front of the outpost. A tall square sign at the end of the street depicts a young man dressed in Soviet military garb facing the Western Zone on one side, and on the other side facing the former Communist Zone is a picture of a man in a standard U.S. army uniform. Tourists lined up to have their picture taken in front of the sandbags in front of the checkpoint.

After taking some snaps of Checkpoint Charlie myself, I went to the entrance of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum just up the street.

Facade of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum
Facade of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum

I knew from my tour book some of the history of the place: it was a private museum opened up by a West German resident as his own form of personal protest against the wall. They unfortunately had a ban on photography in the museum, and given that there were security cameras all over the place, I thought it best not to defy the ban.

The museum is in a former house, and when you go inside the original amateur, ad hoc nature of the place is immediately evident. The initial exhibits are clearly in areas that used to be a former storefront and dwelling area, with labels written in German, English and French (and occasionally, for a new class of tourist, in Russian as well), looking like they were written up using one of those old large-text typewriters long before the age of personal computers. But the information and exhibits are fascinating, most detailing how people attempted to escape from East to West Germany. There are several cars where you can see the hiding compartments where people would be smuggled out. Or the pair of suitcases where a man managed to smuggle his petite girlfriend out of the country as she lay across and inside them adjacent to each other on the luggage rack of a train. This trick was later updated in the 80s by using a pair of hollowed-out surfboards mounted on top of a car’s roof rack. There was also parts of a balloon that smuggled a couple of families out in the 70s, and the ultralight aircraft — along with video footage of the escaping flight from the plane’s vantage! — where a young man managed to ferry himself and a companion out of the GDR.

There were also exhibits detailing what people were up against as well, including the mechanism the automatically fired bullets at would-be-escapees when a trip wire was hit, the bloody clothes of at least one person who survived such an assault, and the near-iconic black and white pictures of those trying to escape from the East, not always successfully. The saddest such picture to me was that of a young dead boy who had drowned in the river — it was considered to belong to the East Germans, and West German guards were not allowed to try to save those who may have accidentally fallen in. Underneath this were some life-saving equipment and a short piece about an accord that permitted rescue efforts by the West in the latter part of the communist era.

In addition to what had obviously been the original house that contained the collection was a new wing that detailed the struggle for freedom in other countries. From the description in the Lonely Planet guidebook I had I wasn’t expecting much, but instead this was where the amateurishness of the previous exhibits went away. Starting off with a section on Ghandi’s resistance and peaceful protests against the colonial British in India, it continued to look at various uprisings in the former Soviet-controlled nations, including all of those that led to the collapse of the Eastern Block countries. Everything was well-arranged in museum quality, and the labeling professionally done. Impressive and well-organized, though most visitors seemed more interested in the previous materials on display.

I managed to sneak a picture of the following slogan, which made me laugh out loud when I read it:

Stalinism is Dead. Long live its Junk!
Stalinism is Dead. Long live its Junk!

Surrounding this were examples of Soviet-era posters and knick-knacks, including jumbles of medals like so much candy wrappers, a candle shaped like Stalin, and the stuffed badger found in the office of the former head of the East German secret police. Other exhibits in this area, obviously gathered together since the fall of The Wall, including chilling pieces, such as sections of Stasi files where neighbours had spied on each other, and other tales of personal betrayals.

Scattered throughout the exhibits were various pieces of art, most donated to the museum over the years. Frankly, most of it is indifferent in terms of quality or artistic nature — there’s nothing quite as iconic as Picasso’s sprawling Guernica here. For the most part I wouldn’t miss them if the majority went into storage should the museum ever undergo an overhaul. Some of the better examples were those that were painted directly onto the wall itself, a few samples of which I did manage to take some pics of in the concluding gift shop of the museum.

Art on a Piece of The Berlin Wall (from the Museum Gift Shop)
Art on a Piece of The Berlin Wall (from the Museum Gift Shop)

More Berlin Wall Art
More Berlin Wall Art

More Berlin Wall Art
Even More Berlin Wall Art

Photo Essay Showing How They Make 'Wall Art'
Photo Essay Showing How They Make ‘Wall Art’

The Piece of Art from the Photo Essay
The Piece of Art from the Photo Essay

Information on How to Distinguish Fake GDR Plaques
Information on How to Distinguish Fake GDR Plaques (again from the Museum Gift Shop)

By the time I was done it was dark, and time for dinner. Though the tour bus I was on earlier made regular stops in front of the museum, I hadn’t seen one stop by outside the widows of he museum for a while, and concluded that they end their tours in the evening. Even the Starbucks at kitty-corner to the museum was closed. It was a Sunday after all.

The rain had by now thankfully lessened considerably, so I started trudging my way back. I started walking away from Checkpoint Charlie, thinking I would be walking more or less straight to my hotel, but when had a harder look at my map about a half hour later realized I was in fact heading further away from where I wanted to go. I had inadvertently been tracing the path of the U-Bahn subway system, so I located the nearest station, bought myself a ticket on the platform, and tried to sort out which way I needed to go. From the range of tickets offered by the ticket machine I figured out that I needed a single-journey ticket (an Einzelticket), and turned to a map to figure out how I needed to get to Friedrichstraße, which was the terminal closest to my hotel. I was lucky in that this station is at the terminal of several lines, and I was close to an interchange to led to it. I got to Friedrichstraße in under half an hour, went to a pizza place close to the hotel to get a quick bite to eat, and then made my way back to the hotel soon afterwards.

I did investigate the possibility of heading to a show, but soon realized that my English-language options were severally limited. There were two sets of cabaret shows just up and down the street from my hotel, but both were in German, and both satirical of the current government. Since I knew little of either I decided to simply stay in my room and prep for my business meeting the following day.

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Day of Museums, Part One: The Pergamon Museum

I woke up later than I intended, just shy of 10am. In the end I decided I liked the room, loved the view, and the difference between staying at the Vivaldi or the Melia was a matter of only a few Euros, and they threw in breakfast to boot. So instead of packing up and heading back to the Vivaldi I made my way to breakfast at the Melia instead, after having re-checked in until Tuesday at the front desk.

After breakfast I headed out to Museumsisel, or “Museum Island”. A grey day, hinting at possible rain later. I was practically on top of the museum already from the hotel, and it was only a short walk before I could see a long line of tour buses lined up along the side of the street, and I could see an equally long line of people in front of the Bode Museum, with banners flying alongside proclaiming its recent re-opening.

The Bode Museum
The Bode Museum

Bode Museum Banner
Bode Museum Banner

Upon taking a closer look at the sides of the building I could see that chunks were missing here and there, giving The Bode and the building next to it a somewhat ragged and worn look. And then I realized that they were the remnants of old bullet and bomb shrapnel “wounds” to the building, likely from WWII.

Along the way there were also a multitude of vendors who had set up stalls hugging sidewalk directly across the river from the Bode Museum. There were used booksellers, used CDs/DVDs, and endless trinkets and souvenirs from the Communist past – I was walking through what used to East Berlin after all. Medals, buttons, military hats with insignia, there was even a gas mask which some reseller had put over a red bi-valved emergency water pipe that emerged from the ground, which added an extra layer of creepiness to the whole thing. There was a small gold bust of Stalin I looked at for moment that I though would make for a good bookend, but the kitsch value was outweighed in my mind by the thought that someone might mistakenly think I somehow revered the man, so I left the hollow golden visage of the man on his table, leaving him to guard his thin metal trinkets from another era.

First stop, the Pergamon Museum. I shucked off my coat and dumped my back-pack in a small locker, since the coatrooms was full. It was a popular day to visit the museum. Bought my ticket, picked up the audio guide that was provided free, and made my way into the museum. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw next: a full recreation of an ancient Greek Temple, and friezes of battling giants and monsters, gods and goddess, all larger than life. I knew that the Pergamon Museum had a world-class set of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures, but this single room easily rivaled the size and scale of Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon currently held in the British Museum. The thing was absolutely massive, with people staggered on the rows of steps leading to the top of the temple, and all enclosed, a diffuse glow of outside light filling the entirety of the room.

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The Great Hall in the Pergamon Museum

So I started taking pictures. I ended up taking series of pictures that could later be merged into photomontages, but here are some highlights from the main room:

Pergamon Frieze Detail
Pergamon Frieze Detail

I then headed to the left, and entered a room with more monumental architectural elements, clearly meant to impress. It still works.

Temple Facade
A Temple Facade

Looming Facade
A Very Tall, Looming Façade. Sheer Height Designed to Impress

I then entered a display of Ancient Greek statuary, starting with the archaic era. These are all highly stylized, the figures of people appearing somewhat stiff, seemingly with traces of Egyptian influence to be seen in its formal nature and the way they seem configured to the shape of a large rectangular cube.

Archaic Statue of a Woman
Archaic Statue of a Woman

Detail of an Archaic Statue of a Resting Lion
Detail of an Archaic Statue of a Resting Lion

Then there was a room filled primarily with funerary monuments from a slightly later period that had largely moved beyond the formal stiffness of the archaic.

Ancient Greek Funerary Stele
Ancient Greek Funerary Stele

A Guardian Lion
A Guardian Lion

Man Taking Leave of His Wife in Death
Taking Leave of His Wife in Death

After this was a room filled with Roman statuary, all copies of earlier Greek works that had been cast in bronze and are all now lost.

Woman Holding Cornucopia, Thought to Depict the Face of One of Julius Caesar's Daughters
Woman Holding Cornucopia, Thought to Depict the Face of One of Julius Caesar’s Daughters (Julia, if I remember correctly)

Wounded Amazon
Wounded Amazon (with Three Small Droplets of Blood Trickling from her Armpit

Hermaphroditus
Hermaphroditus

I did a double-take when I first saw this last statue

In the next room was a section devoted to busts of Ancient Greek philosophers, and other Hellenistic sculptures, which was followed by Roman sculptures.

Busts of Three Julio-Claudians
Busts of Three Julio-Claudian Emperors (Germanicus(?), Tiberius, Claudius)

Standing Statue of Emperor Hadrian
Standing Statue of Emperor Hadrian

Bust of  the Severe-Looking Emperor Caracalla
Bust of the Severe-Looking Emperor Caracalla

This was then followed by details from Roman funerary monuments and sarcophagi.

Detail from a Roman Sarcophagus
Detail from a Roman Sarcophagus

Detail from Another Roman Sarcophagus
Detail from Another Roman Sarcophagus

In a complete contrast to this, what followed was an exhibition of some of the works by Heinz Mack, which couldn’t be more different from what went before.

Heinz Mack: From a Set of Desert Installations
Heinz Mack: From a Set of Desert Installations

Heinz Mack: A Metallic Wall Display
Heinz Mack: A Metallic Wall Display

A painting of a well-known optical illusion:

Heinz Mack: Cinetic Painting
Heinz Mack: “Cinetic Painting”

I laughed out loud when I saw the detail in this piece:

Heinz Mack: Cinetic Painting
Heinz Mack: “Cinetic Painting” – Detail

He had painted small white spots in the interstices of the white lines. And still that part of our visual perception that enhances contrasts still makes darks spots appear in the junctions where none exist.

After this I had to backtrack my way through the previous galleries in order to make my way over to the other side of the building. This is where I ran into the other impressive large-scale display, which is a recreation of the Gate of Ishtar.

Gate of Ishtar: Looking Back at the Entrance
Gate of Ishtar: Looking Back at the Entrance

A Side Gate of the Gate of Ishtar
A “Side Gate” of the Gate of Ishtar (notice everyone looking towards the entrance to the Main Gate, which also gives a sense of scale)

Almost without exception, everyone was looking up, impressed by the sheer scale of the gate, and honestly my camera was not up to the task of taking a picture of something so large in an enclosed space. This was the entrance to the Assyrian section of the museum. Here are some of the highlights I was able to capture:

A Guardian Griffin
A Guardian Griffin

A Colossal Statue of the Weather God Hadad
A Colossal Statue of the Weather God Hadad”

A Cuneiform Tablet
A Cuneiform Tablet

Relief of the Royal Bodyguard
Relief of the Royal Bodyguard

On the whole though, I found I wasn’t as captivated by this section of the museum as I was with the Ancient Greek wings. Admittedly my grasp of its history is weaker, but with few exceptions the works are designed to impress rather than to evoke sympathy or any emotional or sympathetic response, so I found most of the pieces cold and impassive when compared to the Greek pieces.

At this point, the battery in my camera was beginning to fail, and in all I managed to take over 400 pictures with my camera. Not bad for a single battery (no flash). My own “batteries” were also beginning to fail at this point, as I had been in the Pergamon for just shy of four hours at this point. There was still a wing on Islamic art that I decided to bypass, as well as the section at the top of the stairs of the Pergamon altar. And so I left in order to recharge the battery of my camera and get some food. The Altes Museum (“Old Museum”), which is the current exhibition hall for the Egyptian Museum, was my next target for the day.

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Day One of the DITA Europe Conference in Frankfurt: Part One

The “day” really started at some point during the flight, as I arrive at Frankfurt airport at about seven in the morning. I find my way to the front of the taxi stand, am greeted with a gruff “Morgen”, by the taxi driver, and subsequently take off at breakneck speed for nearby Raunheim where the NS Frankfurt Rhein hotel is located, which is also where the conference is being held. Once there, I check in, make my way to the room and immediately have a shower. Once changed I manage to take stock of my new surroundings: the room is somewhat Spartan but functional. The bath tub I take the shower in a narrow and small, the duvet on the bed is not quite 6ft long, so I will need to sleep at an angle onto the other double bed so that my feet don’t stick out in the open, and the swank-looking leather chair is in fact too low to the ground to be either relaxing or useful. Okay, I might seem to be grumbling here, and in the end it was comfy enough for my needs. The view from the window looks into the inner courtyard of the hotel, and trains occasionally whiz at high speed in the near distance. Still somewhat wired, I settle in and end up watching the British-produced version of CNN until the keynote speaker launches the conference just after 9am.

My Room at the Frankfurt Hotel
My Room at the Frankfurt Hotel

A few minutes before the start of the conference I make my way down to the reception area, sign in and get my speaker’s tag and the thick book containing all of the conference proceedings. In the conference room I immediately see my colleague Graydon S., and soon after I am flanked by France B. who is also there as a co-presenter at our presentation, as well as another one she is giving by herself. The room rapidly fills up, and soon somewhere over a hundred people are filling the conference space. This conference is much small in terms of attendance than the last one I attended in

JoAnn Hackos launching the DITA Europe 2006 Conference
JoAnn Hackos launching the DITA Europe 2006 Conference

First JoAnn Hackos stepped up and welcomed everybody to the conference, and gave a brief speech on how DITA has progressed and seen greater adoption. She also remarked on the number of people in attendance (might have to hold it in a different venue next time, since we collectively just about filled the available conference space), and how far afield some of them came from – there was at least one fellow from Australia, and someone from China in attendance as well as people from all over the European Union and North America. She also talked briefly on the relatively rapid uptake of DITA in the industry and expressed personal interest in several of the talks to come over the next couple of days.

Michael Priestly Gives the Keynote Address at DITA Europe 2006
Michael Priestly Gives the Keynote Address at DITA Europe 2006

Then Michael Priestly from IBM came up and delivered the keynote presentation, entitled “DITA Evolves“. He was one of the original people responsible for drafting the 1.0 specification, and works out of the Toronto IBM lab. I note that he is dressed in a tie – which might seem typical for an IBM representative but is in fact the first time I have seen him in decidedly non-geek attire over the several times I have run into him. He talked about its current capabilities, how it has been adapted to suit many different uses that were not originally envisioned, and how the upcoming 1.1 specification will include better books, be more extensible, will handle automatic image scaling and better translation support.

His talk was solid and interesting, but I found that during his presentation my lack of sleep was catching up with me, despite knocking back a coke for a shot of caffeine prior to keynote. I made my excuses at the end of the talk, headed back to my room, and crashed out for a few hours.

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Day One of the DITA Europe Conference in Frankfurt: Part Two

I woke up a few hours later, having unfortunately missed lunch and a few presentations in the process. I ended up seeing two further presentations that day: “Moving to DITA – An Engineering Case Study” and “Best Practice for Global Industry: DITA as a Competitive and Strategic Advantage”. Both presentations were good, but neither of them told me anything much that I didn’t already know, having already been working with DITA professionally for some time now.

Before I knew it was time for dinner, and there was a group heading to the nearby Corner Steak House. Their specialty was servings of various types of steak cuts served up sizzling on a slab of hot lava rock. So about forty of us descended on the place, with the intention of talking about semiconductor specializations for DITA while we waited for our meal. With forty of us there, we ended up waiting a long time; it was a full half hour before our beer orders were filled, and well over an hour before we got our particular pieces of sizzling steak (mine was the spicy hot pot variety, which was excellent, though by the time I got it I was ravenous). Met some interesting contacts both in the semiconductor business as well as a couple of the organizers for the conference.

The Corner Steak House, Frankfurt
The Corner Steak House, Frankfurt (Picture Taken the Following Day)

Waiting for the Food at the Corner Steak House
Waiting for the Food at the Corner Steakhouse (with Michael Priestley, sans Tie and Suit, at the Head of the Table)

At dinner’s conclusion I headed back to the hotel and gratefully went to bed for a full night’s sleep.

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The Flight to Germany

Today is the day I fly out to a conference in Frankfurt, Germany. I am co-presenting at the DITA Europe 2006 conference there, along with a colleague from work. He left yesterday, but I stayed behind an extra evening so that I could take the girls trick-or-treating for Halloween. Both of them look forward to the event and it didn’t seem right not to have one of their parents around for the big day (Erika was working on a film and couldn’t make it). I will probably for it later in terms of jet-lag once I arrive, but it was well worth it.

The almost 8-hour long flight is aboard an Air Canada Airbus A320. I savour the relative luxury of being in business class for the flight there and back, and for the first time in ages I have appreciable leg-room and elbow-room. Champagne was served while we were still on the ground, and the food was definitely much better than average, but I most enjoyed the luxury of space.

While I had loaded up my video iPod with a number of TV shows and movies, I needn’t have bothered, as this plane is equipped with a personal display touch-screen, and I have whiled away the time playing chess and watching “The Prairie Home Companion” starring Garrison Keillor and directed by the Robert Altman (while relatively low-key compared to previous films like Nashville or M*A*S*H*, it still very much shows his influences, and the solid ensemble cast makes it a fun thing to watch, though still it is ultimately not one of his best. Never knew before that Lilly Tomlin couldn’t sing; now I know).

I picked up a copy of Dava SobelsThe Planets before heading out. I end up getting to the beginning of the chapter on Mars by the end of the flight. I very much enjoyed her biography on Galileo as seen through the letters of his daughter the nun, and considered picking this up when I first saw in hardcover. It was an immediate purchase when I saw the softcover version. She is a long-time science writer and has a certain verve for description and evoking vivid memories from her childhood that impinged upon her interest in the planets, though I find the occasional Christian religious reference (straying beyond the obvious ancient Roman personifications for the planets) jarring and cloying. I know the book is aimed at the general reader, but there are numerous times I keep thinking about other related things that she spends a bare paragraph on, or other interesting tangents which may only be hinted at.

After the first in-flight movie ends (some non-descript thing starring Keanu Reeves and a familiar-looking female co-star who end up emoting endlessly in and around a country house built by a bay; I didn’t don my headphones for it but I suspect that this film’s silence wouldn’t have been improved by dialog), the lights were dimmed and most people ended up putting back their seats and drifting off to sleep. I ended up having a look at the print-out of my portion of the presentation, cribbing notes to the pages, and was amused to look around me to see three others working on their own PowerPoint presentations, either by the glow of their notebook screens or on paper, like the fellow beside me. Thanks to the presentation text size I can make out that one young lady to the left and forward from me is presenting on a radiological test machine (medical? industrial?) of some sort, the fellow beside me is doing something relating to mining engineering, and a professorial-looking sort of man is working earnestly on something to do with improvements in electrical engineering processes (according to one slide, there have been significant changes since 1987, apparently).

Later, after watching the conclusion of the film, I try to fall asleep. Despite the relative comfort of the seats – they recline to a near-vertical angle, plus a motorized footrest – and the sleeping blindfold I brought, I just cannot fall asleep. I toss and turn for about an hour before giving up and returning to my book. The lights slowly come back on, creating a false dawn, and breakfast is served soon afterwards. The plane arrives slightly ahead of schedule at Frankfurt airport and I debark.

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