Saturday, May 13, 2006


Here are some pictures I took during Anuradha and Pia's visit!

Memorial to the Russians killed in the battle of Berlin

13m tall statue of Russian soldier carrying a German child and smashing a swastika

Carving on one of marble blocks-- notice the kid with the grenade and woman with a machine gun

Who does this remind you of? A valuable prize will be awarded to the person who comes to the same conclusion that I did!

Pia and Anuradha at the East Side Gallery. The message says, "It is essential to tear down walls."

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Bad Behavior and Good Behavior

That is the best way to sum up yesterday with Anuradha and Pia. I met the girls at noon and we started off on our “the things the Soviets built” tour (bad behaviour.) The first stop was the Memorial to the Soviet soldiers killed during the Battle of Berlin. Anuradha loves all things Russia (except for their human rights record) so I thought she would get a kick out of the park. As I have mentioned before, it creeps me out. A memorial to the troops who died is certainly appropriate, but the park reeks of communist grandeur. A statue of a grieving “Mother Russia” greets you as you enter the park. Next, you walk up a series of stone steps and are greeted by 2 gigantic marble sphinx-looking sculptures that are flanked by 2 kneeling soldiers with giant guns. From this vantage point, you can look out over the rest of the park, which includes a 13m tall bronze statue of a Russian soldier carrying a German child while smashing a swastika, 14 or 16 white marble blocks featuring quotes from Stalin and carvings depicting Russia’s involvement in the war, and a giant meticulously laid out and well-maintained garden.

The aspiring diplomat in me has been trying to think about American symbols of sacrifice and patriotism that might “creep out” the Russians. Some have suggested that the Iwo Jima memorial or the cemetery at Normandy might be similar. Upon further reflection though, I have to disagree. What I dislike about the Soviet memorial is the focus on Stalin and violence. Almost every stone carving features a soldier or peasant brandishing a machine gun. In one carving, a child is playing with a hand grenade. The memorial is also notable because it is located in the defeated and then occupied country, not in the soldier’s homeland. Agree or disagree, let’s discuss. I have visited the memorial three times now, and am still thinking about it.

Anuradha, taking a unique view of the park, commented as we walked to the pedestal of the statue: “this guy is hot—a giant Russian, carrying a child, stamping out Nazism, and has a big sword. And that does have a double meaning.” Thank you for that perspective, Ms. Banerjee!

The other stop on our tour was the East Side Gallery, the longest stretch of the Berlin Wall that is still standing. Graffiti and time have damaged some of the murals painted on the wall in 1990, but others are still fun to look at. Having never walked the entire 1300m stretch myself, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the paintings closer to the Ostbahnhof are in much better condition than the those near Warschauerstrasse.

Good behavior was what we needed last night when we went to the Berlin Philharmonic and got tickets to sit on stage, directly behind the percussion section. For 8 euros, after the city toilette, I think this is one of the best deals and most unique experiences in the city! To see the audience, conductor’s face and the action in the back of the orchestra was not your average symphony experience. The drums and horns were a bit louder than when you sit behind the conductor, but the performance was still great. Last night featured pieces by Martinu, Mozart and Dvorak. If I played an instrument, I would want it to be the triangle or tympani drums. So to see the triangle, kettle drums and cymbals in action was awesome. Last night also featured a gong, which was also totally cool. On the topic of percussion instruments, one of the three of us (who shall remain nameless) was flirting with the kettle drum player during intermission! Cheeky little madam! “You must be so strong to bang on those drums so well.” This may have crossed back over into the “bad behaviour” theme of the day. Then again, he didn’t seem to mind;-) As the ring tone on my cell phone always reminds me, “Girls just want to have fun”…even at the symphony!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Bubbling Banerjee's Besuch Berlin

I have the honor of being the third stop on Anuradha and Pia’s trip around Europe. They arrived on Sunday night and we have been giggling ever since. We spent Sunday afternoon catching up over Apfelschorle on the balcony. For dinner we walked to Weyer’s, a popular (very Wilmersdorf) restaurant on the Ludwigkirchplatz. Anuradha had Maultauschen (German raviolis) and Pia had pasta with asparagus—how very German of them!

Yesterday, armed with Lonely Planet Berlin, bus directions and a cell phone, the girls set out to explore and I went to work. I had a very productive day refocusing my project and confirming a “business” trip I’m taking early next week to DAAD, IFA and the Goethe Insitute. The plan was for me to work and then for us all to meet under the Brandenburg Gate at 4pm. My timing would have been perfect had I not left my cell phone on the bus when I got off at the Zoo (%*!&). Luckily the BVG office was able to call the bus and determined that the phone was still on board! (Germans rock in the honesty dept! I don't think I would have seen the phone again if this had happened in DC.) I had to cab it the B’burg Gate to tell the girls what happened, then take the bus back to the Zoo and catch the 249 bus as it finished its loop. I am sure the driver was thrilled that "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" played on the phone everytime Anuradha called trying to find out where I was! The whole ordeal was a bit stressful, but all’s well that ends well, and the phone is safely back in my possession (though no longer being kept in my shallow pants pocket!)

I met back up with the girls at the Gendarmenmarkt and finished the rest of their walking tour with them. I was very pleased to hear that Berlin has made almost as good an impression on Anuradha as Freiburg did (if only Berlin had fries with good garlic sauce!) We saw the memorial to the 1933 book burning, the Neue Wache memorial to the victims of war, Humboldt Univ, Deutscher Dom and Palace der Republik. But I think we would all agree that the afternoon’s highlight was the “City Toilette.” Simply put, it was an amazing experience! You put 50 cents into a slot outside the pod and the doors automatically open. Sensors know you are inside and the doors automatically shut. Then “elevator music" plays as you are TCB! The soap, water and dryer are all controlled by sensor too. The only scary part is that you are given 20 minutes and told that the doors will open automatically after that time. Should the need arise, you can press a button next to the toilet to give yourself an extra 40 minutes. After that, the doors open regardless. (If you are in the bathroom for 60 min., the doors opening onto downtown Berlin might not be your biggest problem!) My favorite moment of the whole experience was hearing Anuradha yelling from inside the pod, “hurry, hurry, we are running out of time!” Between each use, the floor, sink and toilet are automatically washed and dried. For 50 cents/person, the visit to the city toilette will be cheap entertainment for all future visitors. My guess is that this automatic everything bathroom is a German invention. Germany really is “the land of ideas!”

Knowing that the excitement of the city toilette would be hard to top, we decided to end the day by walking through the Hackesche Höfe and then met my German-English tandem partner for dinner and a drink. The three of us being silly might have intimidated by tandem partner a little bit, but heh, he wants to improve his English (which is already very good) and learn about the States. What better US ambassadors are there than Anuradha, Pia and me?!

This morning, the girls were heading off to Leipzig to see the church where the love of their lives, Johann Sebastian Bach, was the music director. They plan to sing on the stairs on the church in memory of him. I can’t wait to hear all the details!

Here's a picture from New Year's so you can put a face to the stories. Pia and Anuradha are on the left. More pictures to follow soon!