Friday 12 July 2019

Coffee and the Kaiser's Bathtub

Benedict Ambrose is still asleep, and no wonder. We had a very tiring day.

Yesterday was lovely, warm and sunny. We parted company with our family and struck out for Kreuzberg on our own. Our goal was "Chapter One," the hipster cafe recommended by Polish Pretend Son. We found it without difficulty on one of the more leafy and genteel streets. The cafe didn't have tables, but it did have a few stools scattered around the edges of the dark-and-light grey room. Most customers sat outside under a tree in front of the shop, clearly enjoying the late morning sun. We sat inside looking out at them through the nine-light window, the fake-marble windowsill serving as our table.

A stuffed falcon or hawk perched on a branch over the door, as if to take flight. Three interesting siphons sat on the counter over portable burners: they looked very steampunk.  There were also baskets of delicious-looking pastries. The lemon-vanilla croissant was so delicious, B.A. had two. Our coffees were excellent also.

There was no loo, so we were directed to the nearby Marheinekehalle (a market hall), which wanted 50 Euro cents. I mention this because the traveller needs to know that Berlin is one of those places that constantly shakes you down for loo money. All Poland does, which is why my change purse is currently stuffed with groszy.

Next we popped into the Passionkirche, which is Lutheran, but B.A. is always interested in churches.    A food bank was being set up, and people who looked surprisingly well-dressed were queuing up to get their groceries. We beat a hasty retreat.

We then went straight to Potsdam, albeit in an untutored way: we transferred at Wannsee, buying another ticket because our weekly tickets don't cover Area C, where both Potsdam and the airport live. It would have been a nice day to sit by the lake at Wannsee, but we were determined to see the Neues Palais and then return in time to take a cruise along the Spree with our families.

To get to the Neues Palais without delay, you need to get off at the Park Sans-Souci stop or station. However, we were hungry, so we alighted at Potsdam Hauptbahnhof and made our way towards the pedestrian street with many restaurants. Along the way we visited an important Lutheran Church, which B.A. liked a lot, and also the Church of St. Peter and Paul, which was literally the first Catholic Church we had been inside since we got to Germany. Its wreckovations (or, given historical events, restorations) had preserved a high altar but naturally it had a Novus Ordo altar, too.

Brandenburger Strasse stretched between the Catholic church and the Brandenburger Gate, and we walked along it, looking at the shops and restaurants. At this point we were so hungry, currywurst and bratwurst with chips sounded like a good idea, so we got some from Curry Wolf which, although a chain, is at least a German chain. I enjoyed the currywurst but the chips sat on my stomach like a fleet of torpedoed U-Boats. It is sad to come on holiday and eat bad unhealthy food I never eat at home, but without advance planning, that's what happens. By the way, you can get a bottle of Dom Perignon and four currywurst at Curry Wolf for 225€ although I cannot imagine why you would want to.

We went through the Brandenburger Tor (Gate) in the direction of the Park Sans Souci, and passed another fancy Lutheran Church, which turned out to be in the Park itself. We found the gate to the Park and were charmed to see, two kilometres away, the Neues Palais straight ahead.  If I had been Frederick the Great, I too would have put my grandest palace at the end of a 2 Km drive, the better to impress people. On both sides of the drive were gardens and forests and it was all very lovely and I reapplied sunscreen.

We had been advised to skip the Sans Souci party palace for the Neues Palais to truly appreciate that grandeur that was Royal Prussia, so we gave the Sans Souci building a look in passing and toddled ever onward to the Neues Palais. When we got there, B.A. was professionally delighted by the architecture and I was aghast as it was already 2:20 PM and we were supposed to meet our family back in Berlin at 4:30 PM. (By the way, one whole Euro for the loo in the ticket building for the Neue Palais.) I sent a sad little text saying we couldn't do it.

Onward, into the Neues Palais with its views and massive shell-covered room (very unusual) and its... actually, I cannot remember anything  except the shell-covered room, the turn-of-the-century elevator, and, upstairs, the Kaiser's little bathroom with blue tiles B.A. said were Delft and then the massive marble hall. Oh, I remember the Kaiser's bedroom furniture, and the audioguide mentioning that the Soviets had looted the joint and still had over 3,000 pieces belonging to the Prussian Palaces and Gardens association.

There was a lot of Rococo ornamentation (there, it's coming back).

"I understand Rococo so much better now," cried B.A. when we left.

He was absolutely delighted and charmed with the Neues Palais and thought it both worth seeing and worth going to see, unlike Samuel Johnson re: Fingal's Cave, a story B.A. is wont to retell.

"What did you like best in Potsdam?" he later asked me.

"I liked the Kaiser's bathtub," I said and this is true because, really, Prussian palaces are wasted on me, and my idea of a nice place to visit is the Hotel Adlon when it is cold and rainy and I want some hot chocolate. Although I do not think I will ever like Kaiser Wilhelm II, I do like that he put then-modern plumbing in his Potsdam Palace.

In fact, I would very much have liked to lived in the late Victorian and the Edwardian periods (as a middle-class to upper-middle-class person, naturally) and died the day war was declared. I should have (hopefully) gone to my Eternal Reward confident that the war would be over by Christmas, by which time we would have sent Jerry homeward to think again.

As a matter of fact, we didn't miss the 5:15 PM Spree cruise after all. We got off at the Maerkisches Museum U-Bahn and ran to the boat. There our family was waiting, and as I sat on top of the boat drinking a much-needed cup of coffee, I discovered that this is the kind of sightseeing I liked best. All  Berlin seemed to pass by--the Berliner Dom and the other monumental buildings on the Museum Island, the Reichstag--which we reminded ourselves we are supposed to call the Bundestag, the various new buildings, sprawling parks.... It was very lovely.

The cruise ended after the Moabiter Bruecke, a bridge with amusing contemporary figures of bears. We crossed the bridge to reach "Fischerdorf", a small children's playground beside the Spree. After watching my relations gambol in the gravel, I went for a walk and discovered, just above, the Strasse der Erinnerung (Street of Memory), which was two rows of busts of famous modern Germans known for their defence of human rights and dignity. However, I found that out later. At first all I knew was that for some reason St. Edith Stein's bust had been placed between those of Albert Einstein and Helmut Kohl, across from Thomas Mann. As a great devotee of St. Teresa Benedetta a Cruce, I was delighted. The only other woman featured along this avenue was Kaethe Kollwitz,  an artist whom the guide books say Berliners revere.

From there we walked to the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and saw the memorial, also, to the victims of the 2016 Berlin truck attack. That was rather sad, and I was aggrieved that the terrorist had picked a site dedicated to world peace--that I hadn't known before. (Before I was just furious that it had happened at all although somewhat comforted by reports that victim Łukasz Urban had fought back.)

Then we were very near the KaDeWe department store, and Nulli ran off to by Birkenstocks and MBS went with the children to the Lego outlet Peanut seemed prepared to throw himself in the street to get to, and B.A. and I stood outside KaDeWe, which was closing, thinking only about our stomachs. These were finally filled at an Italian restaurant somewhere around Sevignyplatz because the German pub NS and MBS remembered wouldn't let the children in.

Tonight we are going to an organ concert in the Berliner Dom, and soon we will look for good coffee and pastries, but we have no plans yet other than those.

Update: Apologies for all and any "creative" spellings.

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