Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Berlin, Day 2.

Headed to Museumsinsel in the morning. Three of the 5 museums there are open to visitors at the moment (the other two are closed for renovations), but luckily the Pergamon Museum (probably the most famous one of the bunch) was one of them, and so here I headed for first.

Now, the Pergamon Museum is well known because of its fantastic architecture collection. Yup, inside the halls of this museum you can see entire walls, gates, facades of not just buildings, but entire cities: the stunning Gate of Ishtar only one of the most famous ones here.

How exactly is it, than whole sections of buildings from faraway lands end up indoors in a hall? Plundered as conquest trophies, perhaps, like Napoleon did for France? If this is so, it is then shameful, and exhibiting them in the plundering country is no cause for pride.

But in the case of many things on exhibit at the Pergamon, is the history of rich yet poor countries like Mexico: rich in history and culture, but too poor to find resources to fund excavations. Going back to the Gate of Ishtar, for instance, it was discovered by a German excavation of Babylon throughout 1899-1977 (and as you may know many of the excavations in Mexico--especially in the Yucatan penninsula--are being done by US Universities these days). And then somehow, Germany kept the discovery, and no less than took it home. If the effort is to preserve and reconstruct, it would've been more beautiful, to leave it at home in Iran, take the museum to the art, not the art to the museum. But then again, maybe there is no glory in a job like archaeology, if the archaeologists cannot keep what they find, and if there were no foreign teams excavating your poor country, your poor country may remain poor culturally as well, since there are be no means of funding your own excavations and thus giving you the possibility to discover neat things about your ancestral culture. Tough quandry.

But the saddest part of all: when you, as the reigning Sultan Abdul Hamid II, give away part of your country to another to exhibit for the masses: in this case, the entrance Façade of the Palace at Mshatta, given as a gift to Kaiser William II. What is this? An attempt at expounding how rich your country is, "Oh, don't worry, we have so many of these cultural treasures, that one won't be missed?". What a way to steal from your own people. How....angering, really.

By the way, I was in the middle of these musings, writing some notes in my journal, when I got scolded yet again by these Germans with their rules. My crime? I was leaning my shoulder against an unpainted, drab, not part of any exhibit cardboard-like plaster wall of the museum, right next to the restrooms (i.e. part of the restroom's wall structure). Leaning not allowed, apparently. Amazing. Honestly, probably the guards have nothing to do and they have the most boring job in the universe, if they pick on people for things like this.

Anyway, moving on to the rest of the exhibit, random notes:

1. Cuneiform writing looks kinda cool. Seems very practical.

2. The scale of the Temple of Marduk in Babylon---huge, judging from a diorama at museum. How many steps were there to the top?

3. Neat to see the excavations of Uruk (remember? this is the city where Gilgamesh came from. We had to read sections of the story of Gilgamesh in translation for Spanish literature class. Yeah, our Spanish lit curriculum that year was kinda cool. :)). Neat to see that those mythic-like places actually existed. Cool also, the round tiles making colored patterns decorating the walls of Uruk.

4. Take a look at the placement of the flowers painted on the glazed bricks of the Gate of Ishtar. Since glaze needs to be baked in an oven, it had to be placed on the bricks before they were laid to make the wall. Now, since the flower petals do not always fall on the same brick every time (see for instance, in the pic, the third flower center, the yellow part, falls on two bricks, while on the other flowers, the yellow center is completely included in one of the bricks), because the spacing of the flowers is not a nice integer multiple of the length of the bricks, then it follows that one had to know where each brick would be placed on the wall before the glazing was baked. In other words, you had to keep track of which brick went where on the wall, before, and after glazing the design onto the bricks. Or at least, that's what it seems like to me, unless I'm missing something (unless the glaze was done later, and then fired/baked at height, but that seems complicated given the height of some of the designs). These complicated trains of thought were in fact what required me to lean my shoulder on the plaster museum wall with the unpleasant consequences I just related to you above. But moving on....

5. It would be cool to visit Iran...

6. Someone should build a city from scratch using only all modern architecture a la Calatrava or Frank Gehry, etc. Wouldn't that be kinda cool?

7. Faith in humanity restored! How much we have learned from all those cultures that are so different from us! May it remain so.

8. But even so, in this museum a latent cloud of darkness remains, a bit of a "Spring with a Broken Corner", if you will. Yes, humanity creates, but humanity also steals away, gives away, devalues and much of what humanity creates is with the purpose to subjugate another (i.e. technological progress through weapons development, religions used as excuse for wars, etc. and on and on and on). {shrug}.

9. But, so long as people still visit museums (which are living libraries!), there is hope, that we can grow, and learn, and strive for greater and nobler things. :)

10. Quote (from whence I don't remember): "Science teaches us how to think. Art teaches us how to feel".

Visited the other open museums at the Insel. But in these last two hours, I got scolded no less than....5 times, to wit:

1. It was hot inside the museums. Took my sweater off and hung it off the straps of my purse. Got scolded by museum woman guard. I should put the sweater inside the purse or check it at the coat check, according to her. "Why?" I asked (hey, I figured, if the rule is absurd, question it. Maybe you're missing something and there is a good reason). Didn't understand explanation. I said can you repeat the explanation a bit slower, please. Spoke louder and faster and about something else, then repeated the prohibition. "O.K., can I tie it round my waist, then?". "No, put it in the bag.". So I did. These Germans sure are strange.

2. In the 3rd museum (the Nationalgallerie), I had to check the bag (i.e. I was not allowed inside the exhibit upon presenting my ticket due to my bag not being checked--another scolding). Why? Because it was apparently too bulky. This was, of course, due to the fact that I had to place my sweater inside (it is a fleece sweatshirt and folds up bulkily). Nevermind that I had had no problems with the size of the bag before, and had had no need to check it at the other two museums I had just visited. Fine. Here you now have me carrying: my sweater, my notebook, the Lonely Planet guide, the Museum guide, my wallet, the camera, a pen, and coins in my bare hands now (my pockets were too small to fit most of these items). Will this thrill with rules never end?

3. Since I was carrying so many things due to the bag check, I put my sweater draped on my shoulder. A guard on the first floor wanted me to tie it around my waist (so, the first guard says it is bad fashion to tie it round your waist, to put it in the bag instead, now this guard says it is bad fashion to carry the sweater, to please tie it round the waist instead). "Can I tie it round my shoulders?". "No. Please tie it around your waist," says the fashion police now. "Why?" "In case you come too close to a picture, your sweater can disturb the paint". "I see." I look around. I see a lot of other people with a)bags, and b) at least 2 other women with sweaters tied round their shoulders. No one has hassled them. Obviously this (bags and sweaters round shoulders) is a fashion statement allowed only to those older than 40, then. Interesting.

4. I approach a painting (A Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, the "Annunciation" It is a cool picture because he even painted the dirt on the tile floors!). I like looking at some paintings up close, as you know. Gives you opportunity to observe the brushstrokes and therefore deduce how the painting was painted: how the colors were loaded, what was outlined first, are there charcoal or pencil marks, is there texturizing going on, was the paint laid thick or thin, etc. Immediately a guard starts walking towards me and stands behind me about 2 feet away. Obviously afraid I may touch something, or worse, I am carrying a pen on my right hand, for note-taking, of course, especially when looking at pictures up close. Perhaps he is afraid that I will scribble on the picture. But take a look at me. Do I strike you as a vandal, someone who would scribble in blue ballpoint pen at your precious National Gallery paintings? Hmmm?

Nah, I didn't think so either.

Given that all these scoldings have by now ruined my enjoyment of the museum, I now purposely try to push rule boundaries, to annoy them only, on purpose. Seeing the gentleman "don't touch the paintings guard" approach me, I come even closer to the painting, so much so that my nose is only centimeters from it. Guard realizes what I am doing, takes a few steps away from me. I take a few steps away from the painting. Repeat the process for all the paintings in the room. He finally gets the hint, stays at his designated corner. But he watches me closely, ignoring the people taking photograps in the other corner of the room, in spite of the signs at the entrance forbidding this.

I mean, they can't be picking on me, can they? Do they have a prejudice against teenagers, perhaps I look too young (I've been told that before), and my behavior cannot be trusted? A person that takes notes in museums, perhaps, is that so rare, that one needs to be suspicious of such behavior? Do I smile too much? Enjoy myself too much at these boring exhibitions for the norm? Or do I smile too little? I don't know! I just know, that other people are not being picked on, and in 2 hours, only 2 hours! I have been scolded no less than 5 times!

I mean, what is so valuable here? Not even at the Louvre, were they so uptight!


In the afternoon, I head over to the Berliner Mauer Dokumentazionszentrum, on Bernauer Straße. I arrive there late, near closing time, so right at closing time I head for the exit door. Just when I am about to open it, right at the time my hand had barely touched the handle and was about to push the door, I see the curator rush vigorously at me and in a loud, almost shouting voice exclaims: "No, no, no, no!". He then approached the door, displacing me, and said, in an angry English: "PUSH, not PULL!!", as he opened the door for me.

I didn't quite get why he was so angry. It is just a door, after all. {shrug}

Anyway, since I couldn't really look at anything displayed at the Dokumentazionszentrum I headed over across the street to see the remains of the Wall (see pic above) and the Jewish cementery, but as I headed there I couldn't help thinking, that with all these memorials and monuments, there's a bit too much of a cult of "death" here in Berlin. Enough already! Look to the future, now! If you ever lose hope, it would be good to simply remember: in the end, the wall fell. Erfreut dich!

Blech. To top it off, heading back towards the city center, where my hostel is, I discovered that the Berlin Metro tickets cost no less than 2 Euros and 10 cents for a single trip. How depressing in itself.

All in all, a strange day, today.


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