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Berlin Brief

Berlin Brief

Berlin should be a major destination for lovers of art. The museums are spectacular and the best part of Berlin by far. We’ll cut right to the chase in that regard. We ran to the Pergamon Museum upon arrival. It is incredible to view Schliemann’s archeological discoveries, or should we call them spoils, from Troy. Great Babylonian artifacts as well. Close to the Pergamon, you’ll find the AlteNationalgalerie, well worth a visit. That night we went to the Opera for a performance of Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde.” The performance was superb, though seriously marred by an assault on one of our party (a hard knuckle in the woman’s back by a man we refer to as a “Wagner Nazi”). The cause? She dared to whisper two words during the overture, when the curtain rose to a stunning stage set. The words? “Anselm Kiefer”, a German artist whose work she admired and whose style appeared to have influenced the stage design.) When confronted during the intermission with a “How dare you?” his response was “How dare you speak during Wagner?” We found that something similar had happened to a friend’s acquaintance when her husband rustled his program—an elbow in the ribs. So be advised, if you choose to see Wagner performed in Berlin, sit very still and very quiet.

The second day, we were blown away by the Gemaldegalerie. Apparently, when Germany became a unified nation under a Kaiser in the latter part of the 19th century, he sent out emissaries to various parts of Europe to purchase art. And did they ever purchase. Rembrandt, Vermeer, Raphael masterpieces, to name a few. It is a veritable treasure trove. Allow 2-3 hours. Then there is the Bergruenn Collection (19th and 20th century masterpieces), and across the street, The Egyptian Museum and Nefertiti, which all of us studied in Art 101—alone worth the visit. If you are a fan of contemporary art, The Hamburger Banhof (in what was once a railway station) is a must see. It has an international collection of fabulous contemporary art, beautifully displayed.

Allow an entire morning for your visit to The Jewish Museum. More than a museum it is an experience. In addition to the traditional museum spaces which exhibit the history of the Jewish role in German life from the 9th century, the architect, Daniel Liebeskind, has created spaces that evoke the horrific nightmare of the Holocaust as you pass through them. I will not attempt to describe these spaces that speak to the persecution of the 1930’s under Nazism, exile (for the fortunate ones) and the concentration camps with their genocidal aim.

If you have sufficient time, take a taxi to Potsdam and SansSouci (the Prussian Palace and gardens of Frederick the Great). Allow an entire afternoon. You’ll be back in Berlin in time for dinner. Our taxi was owned and driven by Manuela Hazrat, a Berliner woman, mother of four daughters and quite a lovely person. She speaks English very well and knows her Berlin very well. She told us a deeply moving story about separation from her grandmother following the Berlin blockade. Grandma was in the Russian zone. She could also serve as a day guide to Berlin itself. Her telephone number is 0163(251319).

KaDeWe, Europe’s largest department store is fun to visit—their food court is fantastic and you can choose from a variety of lunch options.

Fodor’s guide to Berlin is excellent—and has some tips we did not find elsewhere (the location of Hitler’s bunker, for example, where the tyrant committed suicide and was buried under the rubble.

Where to Stay and Where to Dine

We highly recommend The Four Seasons Berlin, a superb hotel. It possesses all the attributes of the Four Seasons formula: great staff, location, service and dining. We had a splendid tasting dinner with regional wines to accompany each course. We paid a visit to the Adlon, a landmark Berlin hotel, but did not find it particularly appealing, though we did have a pleasant lunch in the grill room. A dinner at Vau, (Jagerstrasse 54/55; Tel: 202-97-30) Michelin starred, did not disappoint. Service was professional, décor attractive and the cuisine first-rate. For a Bohemian experience, lunch, drinks or dinner, try Lubitsch, an artist’s hangout.

Recommendations from one of our physician correspondents in Munich:

Borchard - (Franzosische Strasse 47, Tel: 20-37-71-10): French cuisine a la Berlin, great ambience, many chic people; nice area in middle of Berlin, former Eastern Germany.

Adermann - (Oranienburgerstrasse 27, Tel: 28-38-73-71): Ask for a table on the first floor at the window. Excellent cuisine, great ambience and a great view upon a mix of “working girls, “post-existentialists” and all kinds of ethnic populations. Located near the synagogue.

Al Contadino Sotto le Stelle — (Auguststrasse 34, Tel: 281-90-23): Souther Italian cooking. A typical upscale neighborhood restaurant. No tourists.Great atmosphere. My absolute favorite.

Paris Bar — (Kantstrasse 152, Tel: 313-80-52) In Charlottenburg, close to Kurfurstandamm, this is an instsitution where mostly artists and would-be artists enjoy a great atmosphere. A must. Food is okay.

After dinner:

The ultimate after dinner experience is Kafee Burger, Torstrasse 60. This is how entertainment in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) looked like before the wall came down. Its worth having one or two beers here. Doesn’t start before 10 or 11PM.

My favorite bar is the Bar am Lutzoplatz (Lutzowplatz 7). Very hip, interesting people. Not before 11PM.

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