Sunday, October 24, 2004

A Berlin Travelblog

I'm posting a link for a blog I found that gives some good insight into life these days for visitors to Berlin. Two years ago this week I was in Berlin for two days and three nights just to have a look around. At that point I was only beginning to develop an interest in family history. I had located the cemetery and the census records for Tilden and Chippewa Falls that are mentioned on my webpage, but that's as far as it went. I had yet to find the German emigration record or the Civil War roster that enabled me to locate and reassemble the first generation of my father's ancestors in America.

My visit to Berlin made Germany much more real to me as an actual place anchored in space and time. I think my most lasting impressions are of visits I made to the Bauhaus Museum in downtown Berlin and to the Schloss Charlottenhof in nearby Potsdam. The remarkable thing about the Bauhaus is how utterly unremarkable the items that are on display seem at first glance. Anyone who is old enough to remember the fifties and sixties in America will see a collection of furniture and furnishings that are terribly familiar. It's all worn out stuff that someone forgot to throw out. But in the museum these items are all things that were designed in the twenties and were the height of fashion in the Nazi era before they became fixtures of the American commonplace. The displays strip the film of familiarity from things that otherwise seem perfectly ordinary. The Museum itself is situated on a street that once contained a stretch of the Berlin Wall, one of the best places in Berlin to cross back and forth between the former East and West Berlin.

I got off the train in Potsdam and walked to the Schlossen which I reached by following Zeppelinstrasse much farther than I should have. The street borders an abandoned navy base that hasn't been maintained or in use since reunification. The startling thing was that the street was so wide and had so little traffic; a street that was clearly once a major thoroughfare is now used mostly by buses that have no reason to stop. When you enter the Schloss district from this side you have the best access to the Roman ruins that made the area suitable as a park for Prussian palaces when they first went up three centuries ago.

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