Saturday, January 23, 2016

Latin dancing in Germany, Cologne cathedral and Berlin

We spent two weeks over Christmas visiting daughter Bridget in Northwest Germany, specifically Gelsenkirchen (green marker). Took a trip to visit the fantastic Cologne cathedral (yellow marker) and spent three days in freezing Berlin (red marker). (You can zoom in on the map for more detail).

The most fun was getting to see her dance "Swan Lake" (above) in a choreography that she created, and to meet some of the dancers and colleagues.

After the New Year's Eve performance of "Swan Lake", Bridget had a party at her apartment. The Brazilians and the Cubans from the dance company, and their compatriots, got things moving on the dance floor.

Cologne Cathedral attracts tourists from all over the world. Construction started in the 12th century.
The interior is magnificent; restored after heavy war damage.
 The enormous size of the cathedral and the abundance of stunning sculpture, painting, and stained glass make it an overpowering experience. It is a museum in itself, with much history of Germany and northern Europe.

We clambered up hundreds of stairs into one of the church's two towers, and took in the grandly flowing Rhine and the city some 500 feet below.

Dinner cruises on the Rhine are popular in Cologne.

We were in Cologne a few days before the assaults of hundreds of women at the train station. What you notice all over Germany, even in a town as small as Gelsenkirchen, is that the old cultural and national boundaries mean less. People from all over the world live here, not just visit here. Germany is a cosmopolitan country, filled with immigrants from Eastern Europe, Turkey, Africa, and now Syria and the Middle East.

 The MusikTheater of Gelsenkirchen opened in 1959 and is an architectural jewel. You can see what it looks like from the outside on a show night. The opera, orchestra, drama company, and ballet all call it home. It is quite busy and attracts people from all over the Ruhr Valley region.

It seats just over 1,000 people, and we saw three performances of "Swan Lake" over the two weeks we were visiting. Bridget danced the lead in all of them. An injured dancer and a contract issue with a replacement meant that the director-choreographer had to put on her dance shoes. Tschaikowsky's music is wonderful, and it was such a pleasure to see BB dance again. Audiences respond to all of the emotion she puts into the role.

On Christmas day we all had dinner at the apartment of Lynne Charles, who has been a ballet mistress for the company, and some other people connected with the ballet. Lynne is from New York City originally but has worked and danced in Europe for many years.

She made us a great roast lamb and lots of other goodies. The other ballet master, Renato Paroni, from Brazil, entertained us with his stories of the strange people he has known and loved. Renato is one of the best-read, most informed people you would ever want to meet.

We had the pleasure of watching Renato direct class for the dancers; class is like an organized workout with a focus on improving strength, flexibility, technique, and some specific movements. We saw a lot of leaps and turns being practiced. In about 90 minutes, they burn up a lot of energy. And then they can look forward to a couple of hours of rehearsals of specific ballets.

Renato Paroni works with a dancer from the Royal Ballet in London.

Cindy at the Brandenburg Gate. On New Year's Day. The gate divided East and West Berlin.
We had been to Germany many times over the past 25 years, but never to Berlin. Although we certainly knew the history, being there made it tangible. Seventy percent of the city's structures were destroyed in the Second World War.

For centuries, the city has been a meeting place of the cultures of Eastern and Western Europe. And after WWII, it became the focal point of the Cold War standoff between the Soviet Union and the NATO Powers, between authoritarian rule and planned economies on one side, and democracies and capitalist economies on the other.

Part of the Berlin Wall memorial. An imaginary wall of rebar.

In 1945, The Russian army from the East and the Allied armies from the West divided up Berlin. For the next 44 years, the people of Berlin were prisoners of this power struggle -- the Cold War -- and the East Germans put a wall up around their people to keep them from fleeing into West Berlin.

You can see some of the differences in architecture on the two sides. Our hotel was in what was East Berlin, just across the border from Checkpoint Charlie, the U.S. portal between the two sides. Severe Soviet architecture, vacant lots, and, strangely, some well preserved pre-war housing on the East Side. On the west side, lots of modern buildings and shopping centers sprang up to replace what was lost.

Lots of spies on both sides of the divide; lots of drama, prisoner exchanges, double agents. Triple agents. Probably quadruple agents. The Spy Museum had great artifacts. Miniature cameras in cigarette packs, bullet-firing umbrellas, recorders in false bottoms of sprinkling cans...much of the gee-whiz technology that Q supplied to James Bond in the movies, the spies from both sides were actually using in Germany.

Brother Rich spent a year or two in Berlin in the mid-1960s and was a guard at Spandau Prison, whose one prisoner was Rudolf Hess. That prison has been torn down.

At the Spy Museum in Berlin, an actual radio transmitter in a shoe. Maxwell Smart from the "Get Smart" TV show would have loved wearing this pair
The Protestant Cathedral in Berlin. It was about 10 degrees and windy. A good day for private prayer.
We had forgotten what really cold weather feels like, so rather than walk the city, which is very walkable, we took a 2 1/2 hour tour bus ride, saw most of the main historic sites. We got off and checked out some of them, like the church above and the Neues Museum, which had wonderful stuff from ancient Egypt and Greece. We want to go back.


Coal mining and ballet in the industrial heart of Germany
How to spend nine weeks in Europe without losing your shirt
Columbus Day story: How he brought me to Spain
20,000-year-old cave art and the north coast of Spain
Barcelona's art and architecture make it a favorite
Cordoba's main attraction: mix of Jewish, Moorish, Christian cultures 

1 comment:

  1. Loved reading about your trip to Germany. Your blog posts make me smile.