Due to cold weather, even after postponing the birthday party for 2 months, G’s soccer-in-the-park party turned into bowling at Timber Lanes. Complete with Aaron-made team shirts.
The last days in Berlin broke my heart.
I don’t know what else to write. After three years in Berlin, it was no longer a life away, but rather a life. I miss it.
There is a quiet and beautiful part of the world where these three countries meet. Places that people who live near know about, but that I had never really paid much attention to before moving to Berlin. During our time here, we have had the fortune of driving a mere 3-4 hours to vacation at each.
Poland: Silesia, Summer 2009
This was perhaps the most beautiful of the three (maybe because we were there in the summer). The houses we stayed in were huge and very inexpensive. The grass was brilliant green, the hills rolled, the water ran under old pedestrian bridges — all of the colors sort of glowed in the sunshine.
At the same time, the affordable prices of these holiday homes owned by foreigners, the crumbling buildings in town centers, and the stern faces of the locals provided a very real reflection of the unsettled past of the region. Boundaries and dictators have changed frequently for hundreds of years, and the area was especially wracked during the two world wars. I recently got Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, to understand a little better. After WWII, all Germans were forced out of the area by the Soviet Union and Polish living in the Ukraine were moved in. The first placed we stayed in was owned by a couple from Norway who told us that German school books are still found in the attics of old barns and houses. They said the older generation at least still don’t consider the area home or their life there permanent.
Germany: Bad Schandau, Fall 2010
Some friends asked us to go on a little weekend trip to hike around in the leaves in this area known as the Sächsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland), which runs along the Elbe river. We stayed in a giant converted barn/farmhouse, with bunnies, chickens, sheep, and a monster bonfire pit in the yard. Even with four kids in tow, it was possible to hike up some mountains that had stunning views of the rock formations, the leaves, and the river.
Czech Republic: Northern Bohemia, Winter 2010
Other friends asked us for a ski vacation in the Czech Republic, where skiing is just considered a way of life as opposed to any sort of privileged extravagance — cross-country skiing was like winter biking to get around and two-year-olds were expert on the slopes. Prices of lift tickets, ski rentals, and lessons reflected this attitude. We went at the end of the season, to a town where glass blowing and wooden toy factories have fallen into disuse and the boarded up art deco hotels are glimpses of a more prosperous past. Both here and in Poland the currency is not yet on the Euro, as the countries struggle to reach a level of financial stability. The house was heated only by a wood-burning stove and terribly smokey, but it was cozy and Greta learned to ski a bit!
Last week Greta’s kita had a sweet end-of-the-year party for the kids in the Cat group. For most of the class, this meant a graduation of sorts as they move on to different neighborhood primary schools in the fall.
When she she first started at Berlin Kids, Greta was relatively shy and quiet, tending to watch the other kids or asking if she could join in. But somehow over these three years she managed, all on her own, to learn German, navigate new social and cultural spaces, and become a major member of not only the Cat group but the entire kita. I am really proud of her.
At the party there was even surprise performance by Greta’s band, The White Tigers.
Song lyrics (they tell me they are currently working on some other numbers):
Hey. Yo. Walking down the street.
One last tip. Then I fall down.
Hey. Yo. Walking down the street.
One last tip. Then I fall down.
I saw an old lady, walking down the street.
She had my purse. She got on my nerves.
My skills for costuming Greta and Simone on important holidays can really coast along at a bare minimum of throwing together something that glitters on the morning of. But there are those few times that things just come together — I feel the spark! This year, happily, was one of the latter. Certainly due in part to Greta’s enthusiasm and myth fascination which had her thinking and talking about her fasching costume for months. Once I got the gold spray paint in hand, we were good to go.
Photos are not great, but here are some things of particular note: her gold wrist cuffs, Medusa’s head on her shield (apparently it is supposed to be mounted on the breast plate, but it just did not fit), her owl emblems. No weapons allowed (sigh), or she would have had a large spear.
Some music for page viewing (Recently found out this song is about Theresa Russell!):
I had been to this museum once before with the girls on a crowded weekend and was happy about Greta’s interest in dinosaurs, but (embarrassingly) mildly disappointed in the lack of dioramas. The Buffalo Museum of Science (housing the closest thing to a natural history collection) in the 1970’s was built around the diorama — at least in my memories — and I loved them. Rooms upon rooms of tiny models of animals and people with authentic-looking resin water and glowing fires. I remember them crumbling a little even then, and I am pretty sure most are no longer there.
So for my latest visit to Berlin’s Museum für Naturkunde, just Simone and I went on a weekday morning (part of our campaign to play hooky on Fridays to save her from the freezing cold trip to the sport hall).
This time I stopped looking for dioramas and instead appreciated this museum for what it is — truly an archive not only of natural history (biggest dinosaur skeleton in the world!) but also of an institute of research. Everywhere, the craft of the collection is present.
It has quite the history, more of which can be found here. But briefly, in 1889 three separate museums founded in the early 1800’s as part of Berlin University merged to form the Museum für Naturkunde: the Anatomical-Zootomical Museum, the Mineralogical Museum and the Zoological Museum. Bombing during WWII ruined parts of the building and collection (a whale hall like the one at the Museum of Natural History in NYC, was smashed to bits). It was the first museum in Berlin to reopen after the war and remained an East German institution until the wall came down in 1989.
Somehow, in my quest of the diorama, I missed one of the most impressive things in the museum — a dark climate-controlled room (freezing) with floor-to-ceiling shelving of jars of shriveled things floating forever in formaldehyde.
There is a room dedicated to taxidermy, showing some early missteps (terrifying lopsided eyed wild-cat; for some reason I don’t have a picture). Throughout the exhibits, video and pictures show the scientists at work.
Though they seem to be enjoying their work (love the guys on/in the ox!), questions about the state of their world at the time of such documentation are sort of inevitable. Walter Arndt, a zoologist working at the museum was executed in 1944 for badmouthing the regime. During the GDR times, though Western scientists were allowed to work at the museum to ensure advancement of study, the East German scientists working there were not allowed to travel to the West, instead expanding the collection with trips to Cuba and Russia.
On the upper floors, there are semi-empty rooms too damaged to open to the public where one can see bits and peices of collections from days past. The huge jar behind the table has some horrifying specimen trapped in there. Perhaps too large to move downstairs?