Still on the island

Day two started pretty much like day one really. I rang Mirinda to wake her for work, drank an instant coffee then headed out for Starbucks.

Though, rather than go to the same Starbucks, I headed up towards Alexanderplatz and found a closer one. It looked deserted but it was open and they made my latte almost as good as they do in Farnham so I sat down and read for half an hour before leaving for the Alte National Gallery.

I don’t normally start an entry with a video but given I took two today, I thought I’d put one here, at the beginning. This is on the pedestrianised bridge that links the museums with the mainland. There was a guy playing a saxophone on the bridge and it sounded beautiful. Sadly the video doesn’t do him justice.

There wasn’t a lot of art yesterday so I more than made up for it today. The national gallery has an enormous amount of paintings including a few Constables, surprisingly. I spent three hours there, wandering around, seeing everything, being photographed by a strange Japanese tourist. I didn’t mind except when he insisted I pose on the lap of Psyche.

Pan comforting Psyche by Reinhold Begas (1857-58)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone just take photos of everything without really looking at it. No, wait a minute, I have. In the art gallery I visited in Beijing. The students there just went from painting to painting taking photographs then left. It makes no difference to me, obviously, but it’s a shame they don’t get to appreciate the art properly.

The Alte National Gallery (Alte meaning old, of course) was originally based on a sketch by King Frederick William IV of Prussia. It was taken up by architect, Friedrich August Stüler who turned the sketch into something more workable. Sadly he died before planning was completed. Eventually it was completed by Carl Busse, who didn’t die, and the place opened in 1876 with the Kaiser in attendance.

Since those heady bygone days, the place has expanded to include a number of buildings. The Alte National Gallery is just one though being as it’s on the Island and the others are not, it’s the only one I’ve visited this trip.

Wandering around I saw a lot of paintings; many I loved, many I wasn’t that keen on. It’s difficult to choose a favourite so I’ve decided to choose an artist I didn’t know and a painting I’ve never seen before as my favourite at the Alte National Gallery.

Snow White by Victor Muller (1862)

I like the ethereal quality of it, the fantasy aspect. It speaks of fairies and magic and evil apples. I found it quite arresting for such a small painting. His Wikipedia entry states that:


All of his works are distinguished by a certain literary or poetic character which appeals to the fancy like a strain of lyric music, although the coloring sometimes runs in its vividness to the verge of extravagance.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_Müller

I think that just about sums up the Snow White above.

A big bonus was finding the first of many St Sebastiens. This was the one in the Alte but the Bode had millions. I’m not going to include every St Sebastien I saw today. In fact, I’m only going to include this one. The rest are on Flickr.

St Sebastien by Friedrich Overbeck (1813-16)

I rather like the way Friedrich has painted the saint’s name in his halo. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. I love the softness of this painting as well.

Anyway, having spent the good part of three hours wandering the many, many rooms, I settled down in the cafe/bookshop for a coffee and a bit of a rest for my tired old legs. But there wasn’t time for too much of a rest as I headed out for the Bode Museum.

Like paintings, it’s difficult to pick a favourite museum (obviously because they’re all different) but if I had to, I’d choose the Bode. I thought it was lovely and manageable and had a lot of St Sebastiens. Mind you, it is quite a walk from the Alte National Gallery.

The walk is mainly due to the extensive building works going on at the Pergamon. Mind you, it does force one to breath some fresh air while moving between the two buildings.

The Bode is named after the man who was the director of the sculpture collection from 1885. He was to go on to become the Director of the art collection in 1890 and then, finally the Director General in 1905. His name was Wilhelm von Bode. Prior to the name change, the museum was named after Kaiser Friedrich but in 1957 it became the Bode. And so it remains.

There are some exquisite statues in the collection: Some so beautiful they defy description. Like this tiny Adam and Eve where they both look more than happy to leave Eden and set out on their own without a domineering and unreasonable father.

Adam and Eve as lovers by Zacharias Hegewald (1530)

Though, I have to say, I’m not sure why they needed the nails.

Halfway around there was the opportunity for a sit down and refreshment break at the delightful little cafe. My salami salad and bottle of Berlin Pilsner were just what I needed to refuel ahead of the next section.

Bode cafe

Sadly, a few items from the collection didn’t managed to survive WWII but the bulk of the priceless artworks were saved and are now gloriously on show for all and sundry. Even strange Japanese men who seem to follow me around with their cameras.

After the Bode I wandered back up the river to the Altes Museum. And while I really, really liked the Bode, the Alte was somewhat more up my alley with tons and tons of Roman, Greek and Etruscan antiquities.

The museum itself has been there since 1830 though not as exclusive as it has now become. The museum provides a chronological tour through art from the 10th century BC to the Romans in 200 AD. It is all glorious. It even includes a sexy section similar, though not as extensive, to the one at the Naples Archaeological Museum.

I really enjoyed the Etruscan stuff. They were such an advanced race (a matriarchal society for one thing) and could have created such a brilliant world had they but lasted. Rome managed to subsume them and while I do have a rather big soft heart for the Romans, I really wish they hadn’t. I reckon life as an Etruscan would have been pretty good. (Okay, Mirinda, not if I was a slave.)

Cinerary Urn – reclining young man

This was made around 460-440 BC and is a young man reclining for the banquet after the Greek fashion (the Etruscans were a sort of break away group from the Greeks). He may have sat in the middle of the table during the wake. His head would have been taken off and the burnt remains of the dead person put inside. So it was as if the deceased was taking part in their own wake. You just have to love that idea.

Anyway, the only bad part of the Alte Museum was the fact that the bookshop was closed when it was time to leave. This is just outrageous. I have managed to get a small guide book from four of the five museums I visited and all I have from this last one is the paper handout. It’s very, very annoying.

Disappointed I trudged back to the hotel and collapsed onto the bed. For a bit.

Then, after a suitable rest, I headed out to the State Opera House to see a new opera called Violetter Schee (Purple Snow). I was wanting to see My Fair Lady in German but that was on somewhen else. Still, I’m always up for something different so a ticket I bought and front up to the theatre I did. (It helps that the opera house is just over the two bridges and about a 15 minute (for me) walk away.)

Now, there are times when you go and see something at the theatre when the time just flies and suddenly you are applauding and it’s all over. You want it to start again, to prolong the delight and joy you’ve just witnessed. The last thing you feel like doing is getting up from your seat and leaving the theatre.

I would love to say that the 105 minutes of Violetter Schee flew by. I would love to say it was one of the most entertaining things I’ve ever seen. I really, really wish I could. Sadly it was diabolically awful.

Mind you, a lot of the people in the audience (and it was pretty full) seemed to think it was fantastic judging by their non-stop applause at the end. At first I thought it was an expression of relief but I think people really did enjoy it. It’s beyond me how.

The opera is sort of about a Pieter Bruegel painting; Hunters in the Snow.

Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Bruegel (1565)

In fact the first 15 minutes sees us having the whole painting explained to us by one of the characters. Not singing, mind. No, she told us in a monotone while the scrim lit up with various blurred and focused images from the painting. She is in an art gallery having just looked at the painting hanging on the wall.

At this point everything seems quite normal and, while dull, it’s easily understood. All sense departed after our lecture.

I should stress that I am not criticising the singers or the musicians. No, they all managed very well in what can only be described as very trying conditions (and I don’t mean the constant snow fall). It’s the piece itself I’m criticising. It is dull, dull, dull!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it has to have pretty, toe tapping songs in order to get me hooked or a tragic love story based in the France of the Belle Epoch. I’m up for anything. I love Lulu which is far from catchy song filled.

This was just dire. It was the visual expression of the composer’s worst dream inflicted on the audience as some sort of penance. It was boring and relentless with it. It made no sense. It was awful.

Not only was it appalling but the set was more entertaining. Up and down it went, stairs going on forever, rooms appearing, street lights flickering. Snow, endless snow.

As soon as I could I left as the applause continued behind me. I walked out into the bitter cold streets of Berlin, welcoming the frozen blasts in pretty much the way the characters in the opera didn’t.

I’m glad I saw an opera at the State Opera House but I wish it hadn’t been Violetter Schee. Possibly it should have been called Gelb Schee.

I’m NOT clapping any more!
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2 Responses to Still on the island

  1. Mirinda says:

    What does gelb mean?I love the first museum – that statue the saint seb and especially Snow White. Though I only count 6 dwarves

  2. Josephine Cook says:

    I am with Miranda but not keen on there art ugly . love mum

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