Fernsehturm – Berlin’s Famous TV Tower

There are about 30 towers with heights above 250 meters around the world, each with their own unique claim to fame. I’ve been to New York’s Empire State Building and Seattle’s Space Needle, and now I can add another to the list – the Berlin TV tower. 
Next to the Brandenburg Gate, this tower is the most recognizable landmark in the city and is used on just about everything from advertisements to clothing. It costs a pretty penny to go up the tower (EUR 13), but it’s not so bad when you’re only paying for yourself rather than a group. 

The tower was built in 1969 and is 368.03 meters  (1,207.45 ft) tall. Visitors can go up to 203 meters to the observation deck that has windows 360 degrees around the spherical section of the tower. You get to the observation deck by taking a special elevator from the base of the tower that takes guests to the top in 40 seconds and has an observation window on the top to allow riders to watch their progress as they scale to the tower’s heights. 

If you really want to treat yourself, feel free to go up a few more meters to the tower’s restaurant. I’ve been told that reservations for this place sometimes have to be made a year in advance – I’m not quite sure that’s true, since I believe I saw a family that had come up the elevator with me simply ask and enter. Regardless, it’s not a cheap place to eat. 

The view, however, is priceless. You can see almost the entire expanse of the city from the tower. At each set of windows are plaques that give a general idea of what direction of the compass you’re facing, important buildings that are within your line of vision, history and facts about sightseeing locations in that general direction, and cities from around the world that are on the same longitudes. 
The Spree graceful slides through the city and sets the sun sparkling into different buildings. Far across to the Southwestern part of the city, almost in Potsdam, is the other tower that calls Berlin home. Several key structures are easy to see, other required more searching. Overall, it is a great way to have a bird’s eye view of the city. If you’re ever in Berlin, be sure to take a chance to see visit the tower – you won’t be disappointed. 

-Wandering Minstrelette

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Star Power

It’s not often that one gets to share a space with a living legend, but on Thursday night last week I was in a room full of them. 

  
The Berlin Philharmonic is one of the greatest symphonic orchestras of the world, and is most certainly the most well-known. Their history is interwoven with pride and disappointments, but there is no doubt that they have managed to make themselves the golden standard by which nearly every orchestra measures themselves. 

I had heard the Berlin Phil once before at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. How cool would it be, I had thought, if one day I could see them on their home turf? 

   

One of the first things I planned to do when I knew I was coming to Berlin was to go see a performance. However, tickets tend to go fast, especially when you have well-known conductors thrown into the mix. 

Gustavo Dudamel, another living legend (and quite a young one, for that matter), was going to conduct this amazing ensemble in a performance of W.A. Mozart’s Serenade for Posthorn and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Dudamel is especially known for his remarkable interpretations of works by Mahler, so I’m pretty sure that everyone in town who cares about classical music (which is actually quite a lot of people here) knew and planned to attend. 

The performance was completely sold out, but I was able to purchase a standing room only ticket for €10 by waiting in line for about an hour and half just before the concert. There were plenty of others with me, too, hoping that they would have a spot for the concert. 

  
Never in the States have I ever heard of people scrambling to get a ticket to attend a classical concert. Do we even have standing room only options available? Of the entire Philharmonie Großer Saal, which holds 2,440 people, I saw 4 empty seats. Even those were filled in the second half by those who had originally been standing. I am pretty sure that the major orchestras in the area where I live – the National Symphony and the Baltimore Symphony – would love to have that kind of ticket available if the demand was high enough.  

Anyways, there I was at the very back of the hall, standing. The first musicians began to appear and the audience began to clap. They just showed up and they were being praised! This city truly loves their orchestra. 

I also was able to make out that the first flute player was Emmanuel Pahud, a brilliant performer and one of my musical role models. I totally fan-girled. I think the other people around me must have been wondering if there was something wrong with me. His playing was so beautiful, so effortless… There is definitely a reason why he is the principal flute of this renowned ensemble. 

Then Dudamel appeared. For a few seconds, I wondered if I was in a rock concert instead. This young conductor has nearly single handedly changed the perception of what classical music can be and every one loves him for it. 

First, the Mozart. It was instantly recognizable as a work of Wolfgang from it’s style and almost happy-go-lucky sound. Dudamel seemed to be barely doing anything, so as not to distract for the glorious work the orchestra was producing. The players seemed to me to work as one giant instrument – even from where I was standing, I could see that everyone moved together and even breathed together. The Posthorn soloist appeared only for one movement of the work, and did a great job at showcasing this unusual, and I am sure rather difficult, instrument. Overall, the entire work sounded like velvet to my ears. Smooth,comfortable, approachable. At the end, a great applause erupted – and it was only intermission!

The Mahler was absolutely glorious. Once again, Dudamel seemed to be doing as little as possible (which was a surprise, I expected him to be a bit more showy…) but was pulling amazing sound and emotion from the orchestra. It had been a long time since I had felt so moved and elevated by a live performance, but there was no way that anyone could not have felt something. Each movement was more wonderful than the last and the different sections all had a chance to be showcased throughout the work. 

Pahud sounded amazing (How I would love to play like him…) and his teamwork with the principal oboe player to make what we call the “floboe” sound was true perfection. Honestly, the whole orchestra was the sound of perfection. 

When the last sounds of Mahler faded away, the packed hall burst into cheers, whistles, applause, and shouts of “Bravo!” This lasted for at least 7-8 minutes. Dudamel had to appear three times (the last with the orchestra already off the stage) before people would subside and start making their way out of the hall. 
  
When a long-held dream of yours finally comes true, things can seem a little surreal. But it was true – I had seen the Berlin Philharmonic at their resident performance hall, with their principal flutist in the ensemble, performing amazing works, and being conducted by one of the greatest conductors of our time. Living legends with a ridiculous amount of star power – and I was there. 

I can actually say I was there…

What an amazing night!

Do you have a have an experience of encountering a living legend or another influential figure? I’d love to hear about it. 

Until next time – happy travels.

-Wandering Minstrelette

Nostalgic Weekend

This weekend was like stepping back into time. 

It has been six years since I was last in Austria. Six years ago, I had come to the Bogenhofen/Salzburg region with a group of 40+ individuals on the first major orchestra tour of my college career. That tour is still the one I tend to speak about most often, and it started in Austria. 

It was here that I saw cute houses around every corner. It was here that I really fell in love with German. It was here that I knew I wanted to be a musician for the rest of my life. It was here that I met my best friend and brother from another mother, Michael. It was here that I knew I would some day return to. 

Bogenhofen Seminar Scholss is a school where high school students and theology students come to learn while living in the beautiful “heart of Europe.” The school also has a language program where international students come to learn German. I had wanted to come during my college years, but sadly it never happened. Perhaps it still will? We’ll have to wait and see… 

 

Schloss Door in 2009
  
Schloss Door, 2015
 The campus was more beautiful than I remembered. Ever corner brought memories of different antics and stories from my time there with the NEYE. 

I also had the chance to visit Salzburg, which had been a highlight of the NEYE tour. In this place where Mozart was born, lived, and worked, music seemed to seep from every stone’s crevice. 

The orchestra had had the honor of opening the famous international music festival in the gorgeous Salzburg Dom. Walking through those doors, glancing up at the five organs and beautiful art all around, it was like I could see us all again, performing under the Kappelmeister who held Mozart’s old job. Dr. Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse, our late director, would be bobbing around to make sure we were all in our places and letting us know if any of us were off pitch. The younger faces of all the people I know and love and call family kept appearing before my eyes, and nostalgia swept over me. 

   
 The Fortress was the other must see site of the city, one that I had failed to appreciate fully the last time I had come. Being in poor physical shape is never fun, but especially when it keeps you from enjoying memorable experiences. Also, I had chosen to rest instead of climbing to the top because I didn’t want to exert myself too much, as I was expecting to perform later that evening. I didn’t perform and ended up having missed out on the amazing view – and it was time to rectify the latter. 

  
With a little encouragement from my friend, I was able to make it all the way to the top of the Fortress and my, Salzburg is beautiful from above. 

It was amazing to remember the good times once had, but it was even more amazing to think of all the memories I was making now. 

On this short trip, I also had the chance to: meet and play with a giant 6 month old Great Dane puppy, walk through the overgrown forests and fields of the countryside, ride a motorcycle (essentially for the first time), see the Inn river, practiced my improvisation skills, explore places in the Dom and the Fortress I had not seen before, attended a fail jazz concert (but we had fun anyways), and had some long, awesome conversations with a good friend. The only thing I could have asked for more of was time.      

Let’s just hope it won’t be another six years before I return. There are too many memories waiting to be made. 

-Wandering Minstrelette

(Pictures to be added later)

Deutsche Orchestervereinigung (German Orchestra Union)

Some may have been wondering what I’m doing in Berlin. Despite the pictures and stories so far, it’s not simply a pleasure trip of exploring the city and neighboring countries – surprise! I’m actually here to work.

I may have mentioned sometime back that I am studying Arts Management at George Mason University. Part of the program requirements are that I have to fulfill a certain amount of hours participating in internships. There are many ways that those hours can be accomplished, but with my love for travel and desire to one day move overseas, I decided to maximize on the requirements and complete my internship hours abroad. If you remember my blog posts from last summer, I was in Niterói/Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for an internship (check out some of those stories here and here). There were still some credits I needed to complete and thus was born the idea to come to Europe. And boy, is it a different world from the US.

You see, in Germany, culture and the arts is viewed as an inherent part of its citizens’ identities. Thus, there is a strong point of view that permeates the nations arts and culture policies – the government should be responsible for supporting and promoting that which makes Germany German. Therefore, the vast majority of arts and culture organizations gain their primary funding from government sources, but not the federal government.

As a result of the two World Wars, there is a fair amount of distrust in the national level of government. The authority and responsibility, then, to disperse funds to arts organizations belongs to the state and local governments. In fact, when breaking how much level of government contributes, one can see that arts organizations tend to receive the greatest amount of their contributed funds from the local level of government (numbers are roughly: local-45%, state-43%, and federal-12%). This is beneficial in many ways, and lower levels of government would be more aware of the needs of a particular region and would have better knowledge of what to support and how. However, it’s not uncommon for some of these funders to feel overwhelmed or like they could use the money elsewhere.

Enter the DOV.

The Deutsche Orchestervereinigung (roughly translating into the German Orchestra Union), is a labor union that advocates and lobbies for the rights of orchestras and their musicians around the country. They work primarily with publicly (government) funded opera and symphony orchestras, although they also work with publicly funded chamber ensemble and radio orchestras/choirs. They act as the voice of the people in orchestras to orchestra management and funding government agents.

DOV Logo

When government officials threaten to shut down or merge groups in an effort to save money, the lawyers of the DOV come to remind them of the great cultural value these groups have to the region and the nation. These efforts were started in earnest especially after a study showed a 33% decline of publicly funded opera, concert, and radio orchestras from 1992 to 2010. Groups either have to seek ways to gain private funding (as arts organizations do in the US) or close their doors. The DOV’s position is that this is not good stewardship of these important cultural heritage. Remember, in Germany culture should be supported by the government. They have won many cases over the past several years and have dramatically slowed the decline of publicly funded orchestras around the nation. They were even responsible for helping the orchestral landscape of Germany to be recognized by the national chapter of UNESCO as an intangible heritage site this past fall and hope to achieve international status in the near future.

View of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra in the congress hall in Bamberg (Bavaria), Germany. Photo from http://www.germany.info.
View of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra in the congress hall in Bamberg (Bavaria), Germany. Photo from http://www.germany.info.

The new major battle they are now facing, however, is the potential trade agreement between the US and the European Union know as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Essentially, this pact would create the world’s largest free market sector between the world’s two greatest economic superpowers. ‘Barriers’ to imports and exports would be removed in order to increase commerce and standards of things such as health care, food, and energy use would most likely have to be leveled (meaning, they will end up being lowered rather than raised…).

This agreement could mean disaster for European cultures because, like Germany, the majority of EU member nation’s view culture as a government responsibility while the US is very much against that idea and chooses instead to have arts and culture funded by private donors and regulated by the free market. There is great fear that much of what is currently available to audiences would not be able to survive or be as easily accessible to the public if Germany had to put it’s arts sector on the open market.

Photo from http://www.wwf-jugend.de
Photo from http://www.wwf-jugend.de

Overall, TTIP doesn’t sound like a good idea for either party, no matter the side of the Atlantic. There’s a lot more to this idea and debate and I would encourage you to take some time to read about it and make your opinion known. Click here and here to learn more.

I’ve already learned so much from my time at the DOV about policy and international relations, as well as national support and promotion of the arts. I’m looking forward to what the weeks ahead have in store.

If you want to learn more about other things that the DOV is a part of or does, please check out their website which is mostly in German, but does have some English (part of my job is to expand on this).

So now you know – I’m not just here for fun. 🙂 I’ll be sure to write another update about the DOV or my wanderings soon.

Until then – bis später!

-Wandering Minstrelette

Gates of History

From the moment I started announcing to my family and friends that I would be going to Berlin, the single-most popular phrase I heard was, “You MUST got to the Pergamon Museum!” This past Sunday, I finally made the pilgrimage to this exalted space.

The Pergamon Museum, located on the Museum Island near the center of Berlin, specializes in artifacts and original-sized monuments and buildings from the ancient Near East. Some of the most popular items Byzantine mosaics, the Aleppo Room, and the Pergamon Altar. The pieces here are magnificent and truly bring the visitor back in time to ages long past.

My first attempt to visit the museum was in vain – I was rushing to the Island from the DOV office where I am doing my internship (more on that later) and was majorly confused by the distracting signs attempting to redirect the museum traffic due to massive reconstruction efforts. There seems to be construction every where in Berlin right now, but Museum Island was definitely the most concentrated. By the time I found the temporary entrance (around the back and by the Old National Gallery), they had stopped allowing visitors to enter. I also discovered that two-thirds of the museum was also under reconstruction, not just the facade, meaning that several of the exhibits were temporarily closed until 2019.

I was a little wary – the whole reason I truly wanted to visit was to see the Ishtar Gate, which were the beautiful decorative gates and entryway into the city of Babylon. Would they be in the part of the museum that was shut down?

Unsure of whether or not I would get to see the Gate, I decided to go ahead and try again to visit the museum on Sunday. Thankfully, there was no waiting line and I even was able to get a discounted ticket by showing my student ID (Tip: Always bring a student ID when traveling!) and was directed down a hallway into the exhibition hall.

Before I realized where I was, my eyes were filled with a dazzling blue and gold, flecked with green and dotted with white daisy-like flowers. Proud bulls and dragons seemed to strut mightily before me. They climbed ever higher in a towering facade that was obviously meant to intimidate as well as display the wealth and power the king of Babylon.

The Ishtar Gate in all its glory.
The Ishtar Gate in all its glory.

Gazing upon the Ishtar Gate, tears involuntarily welled up in my eyes. I allowed myself to be overwhelmed not only by the beauty and size of this magnificent structure, but by the sheer fact that through this Gate King Nebuchadnezzar had walked, and most likely so had the prophet Daniel and his friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. My eyes were gazing the same facade that people of ancient Babylon and the captives of ancient Israel had looked upon centuries ago. I felt a strong connection with the past at that moment, and suddenly history became very, very real.

Model of Ishtar Gate, displaying what it most likely looked like when entering into Babylon.
Model of Ishtar Gate, displaying what it most likely looked like when entering into Babylon.

When I was finally able to pry myself away from the Gate, I wandered around the adjacent halls to see the amazing artifacts from Babylon, Assyria, Asher, Mesopotamia, and Medo-Persia. Truly, I felt as if I was walking through the Old Testament. On the other side of the Gate was the original entryway to a Roman market, with artifacts dating back to the time of Emperor Justinian who ruled several hundred years after the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Even so, it was like stepping into New Testament times walking around in this “market square.”

What an amazing feeling…

Ishtar Gate Bull
Ishtar Gate Bull

Figures of a passage way Ancient Near East Text

Unicorns? Hmm...
Unicorns? Hmm…
This guy was translating the cuneiform from the tablets onto his iPad - which I guess is also a tablet.
This guy was translating the cuneiform from the tablets onto his iPad – which I guess is also a tablet.

Symmetrical Designs

Roman Market Entryway
Roman Market Entryway

There was also an exquisite exhibit on Islamic Art that did not cease to amaze. The detail, color, and quality of the rugs, paintings, dishware, clothing, architecture, and more was simply astonishing. Wandering the exhibit also helped me realize how much modern society has to thank the ancient Middle East for, because in many ways they were far more advanced than their European counterparts.

Muslim Ivory Carving Details of a Muslim art work Near Eastern Islamic Rugs

Mughal ladies on a lake terrace during a nocturnal firework display India, early 18th century
Mughal ladies on a lake terrace during a nocturnal firework display
India, early 18th century
The Aleppo Room
The Aleppo Room

One quirky example of something unexpected was the combination of blue and white in dishware. The Middle Eastern merchants were seeking to compete in the trade markets with the Chinese, who had created an excellent method of developing porcelain. Middle Eastern merchants decided to take the white porcelain and add designs in the deep, rich blue of cobalt to raise the value of their items. The Chinese were so taken by the simple and elegant beauty of the combination, they ended up copying it, developing what we know today as “china.” The Europeans, in turn, fell in love with the works from the Chinese and would trade and eventually learn how to manufacture their own fine china for a variety of things, not the least of which would be British tea sets.

Near Eastern Porcelain
Near Eastern Porcelain

Don’t you love history?

I’m so thankful to everyone who told me umpteenth times that I had to visit the Pergamon – it truly was not an experience to be missed. In fact, I’m thankful for museums in general because they truly are important institutions that help expose us to the new and the old, the familiar and the foreign, the past and perhaps even insights for the future. I wouldn’t be a true Washingtonian without recognizing this most important fact: Museums are the gates of history.

If you have never been to a museum, or at least haven’t been a while, make a point of checking one out sometime. Especially here in Berlin there seems to be a museum on just about anything, so search for something you’d be interested in and immerse yourself in the experience. You’ll be glad you did.

As for me, I hope to have the chance to visit some of the other museums on Museum Island at some point and will certainly make plans to return after 2019 to have the full Pergamon experience.

Do you have a favorite museum? Let me know about your experience.

Until next time!

-Wandering Minstrelette