Nablowrimo is back. Now with even more low quality filler words! Can you tell I’ve gotten a bit behind in my dissertation writing? Including this blog post, I’m at 49.4% of my goal and I should be at 60%.
Today I chronicle two previously unchronicled trips. The first was with two of Rachel’s brothers to the capital of Serbia, and the second, just Rachel and I, to the capital of Germany.
Belgrade can be added to the list of towns in which I have gotten lost. And this time I even had a map. At least I could pretend that not having a map was my problem in Bratislava. Maybe it’s something about the letter B. This disorienting city brought to you by the letter B. Yep, it could be. The shame of getting lost may be part of why it has taken me so long to write about visiting the fair city whose namesake borders Bozeman International Airport. Or maybe not.
Probably the thing that I remember most about Belgrade is the popcorn. There were popcorn stands all over the city. It’s not something I’ve seen in any other European (or American) city. I’ve seen them at fairs and such, but I don’t recall seeing them on the streets. Or maybe just not in the numbers they are found in Belgrade. They also had other vendors of course, like ice cream and hotdogs, but I do love me some popcorn. Especially when you can put fancy spices on it. My only regret is that I didn’t get to try all the different spices—even if it would have meant trying the pizza spice.
One of the strangest things about Belgrade was the alphabet they used. Or should I say two alphabets. With both Latin and Cyrillic alphabets being actively used (adjacent movie posters were in different scripts), Serbian is the only actively synchronicly digraphic European language (Hindi-Urdu being another–coincidentally part of the Proto-Indo-European language group). Geographically the closest to most of my readers will probably be Inuktitut. Malay and Japanese (actually digraphia+trigraphia) are the other examples given on Wikipedia. See I saved you the time needed to click on the link. That’s how thoughtful I am. It also shows just how far I’m willing to go to meet my word count for NaBloWriMo.
We saw the (sadly yet unfinished on the inside) largest Orthodox church in the world. We also saw several other orthodox churches. Mostly we’ve seen Roman Catholic churches, and so it was an interesting change. They were much more colorful than we were used to. I really like the blue that seemed popular. Also, they aren’t in the shape of a cross, but rather sort of square-ish. The fortress, which is now a large park, was also very pretty.
Probably the highlight for Rachel’s brothers, and myself, was visiting the Nikola Tesla Museum. It was smaller than I thought it would be and I would have liked more biographical data. Nevertheless, they had some very good demonstrations of his most important inventions. They demonstrated the lighting of fluorescent tubes with out wires, and had a replica of his Columbus egg, built for the 1893 World’s Fair. One of my favorite demonstrations was the miniature replica of the electric grid with a water powered generator, transformer, transmission lines, another transformer, and a light bulb. The other was a replica of the first remote controlled vehicle (a boat) in the world. Apparently people thought he was controlling it with the power of his mind rather than the radio waves he claimed. I’m not sure why that’s more plausible…
On the way to the train station to leave we bought a bunch of pastries. Then I went back in and bought some more. I think the lady may have asked at one point if I wanted one of everything. I probably should have told her yes since it would have saved us time. We still didn’t spend of all our Serbian money though, so we have several bills left.
Rachel and I left the kids with some friends and went to Berlin. The kids loved their few days playing with friends and new toys. For us, Berlin was fun, but seemed to be one just-too-late adventure after another.
We took the night train but didn’t get much sleep due to the car being quite cold. On the way back we got the couchette which was much nicer and we slept quite well. We arrived in the morning and walked from the train station, past the parliament, down the Unter den Linden to Museum Island. We didn’t eat breakfast and I was very hungry. I kept thinking I would stop and buy some curry wurst (a famous Berlin food) but the current stand was always too expensive, or closed, or this, or that, or the other, and so we made it all the way to Museum island before we ate anything. We eventually ate at a cafe which was more expensive than I would have liked, but I was desperate at that point. Anyhow, they didn’t take a credit card and so I went to look for an ATM. They told me where one was, but it was out of order. So they told me where another was and I trekked over to that one. I saw a man wearing a Frankfurter grill, so I had to eat one of those too.
After lunch we went to the Pergamon museum. It was amazing. Unfortunately, we were tired from not getting much sleep. They reconstructed the faces of several buildings inside the museum. The first, and most famous, was the Pergamon altar. This was a “temple” taken from the ruins at Pergamon in the west coast of Turkey. There was a frieze around the entire room consisting of larger than life statues of the Gigantomachy (the fight between the Giants and the Olympian gods and not to be confused (like I did) with the Titanomachy).The next was the market gate of Miletus, a Greek city also on the west coast of Turkey. Something about seeing building faces reconstructed inside makes them seem bigger. The Mshatta facade was another, but my favorite was the Ishtar gate from Babylon. It was largely reconstructed from new material, and you could tell which pieces were original because they weren’t as bright. It was huge and imposing and bright indigo. It was built at roughly the same time as the Israelites were taken into captivity. The museum was also home to an impressive Islamic art collection. One thing that I sometimes think about is that rich people used to have incredibly ornate and detailed furniture and such. I don’t know any super rich people, but it seems that now they just have expensive stuff. On the other hand computers are some of the most intricate objects ever made and we take them for granted.
After visiting the Pergamon we went to Check Point Charlie and spent several hours in the museum learning about the Berlin wall. After a few hours we were completely worn out and hungry. We decided to hurry through the rest of the museum and we realized we had only made it about half way through. The last part was about the aftermath of the fall though, so perhaps it was less interesting. At least that’s what we would like to believe.
After we got out of the museum we decided to eat at a Thai restaurant near the museum. We hadn’t eaten Thai food for several months at least and it was great! Then we went back to the train station to pick up our luggage which we had left there in the morning. Sadly, we were about 10 minutes too late and they had already closed. We went to check in to our hotel where the clerk said he had been a little worried that we were so late and he couldn’t call our cell phones (they only work in Hungary).
The next morning I went get our luggage and noticed there was an Oktoberfest market open in Alexanderplatz. We stopped through after taking showers and I was seduced by a cheese seller. I couldn’t resist buying a few different cheeses. I bought beer cheese (red wine cheese being one of my favorites) and I can tell you that you needn’t do so. Of course, if you’re the sort of person who was considering it, you probably won’t take my advice anyway. It’s extremely strong and should never be eaten alone or it will upset your stomach. It does make a reasonable grilled cheese sandwich, but there are other types of cheese that work just as well and with less stench.
We came back to Oktoberfest later and bought some street food: Currywurst, hashbrown things, glazed nuts, etc. Rachel also bought some earrings. There were several Latin Americans there selling Native North American jewelry (e.g. dream catcher earrings). It was kind of weird seeing them selling things that weren’t even typical of their country of origin. In fact there were so many of them that whenever I think of Berlin now, I think of Spanish. Rachel thinks of cranes, I think of Spanish.
We took the S-bahn to Potsdam to see Sans Souci (French for Without Cares), and the other palaces of Friedrich the Great (whose name is much cooler in German: Friedrich der Große). Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by Topkapi and Schönbrunn, but it didn’t seem as grand as either of them. I think we didn’t see the most impressive palace, so that may have tainted my thinking as well. It was still far too grand for me to actually want to live there. We got to see much more of the grounds than we did at Schönbrunn though, and Topkapi doesn’t have large grounds since it’s in the middle of the city. The grounds were huge and we got to watch them mow the grass with tractors. I wonder how they did it hundreds of years ago–maybe they just had long grass. We briefly stopped by an old wind mill that I would have liked to take a tour of, but we didn’t have time.
Back in Berlin, our next stop was to try and find the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. In the end we couldn’t find it so we decided to walk to the Ritter store and make our own Ritter Sport chocolate bars. On our way there we ran into the Memorial and so we walked through part of it. It was late enough that the visitor center was closed. It consists of a 2711 of concrete pillars (don’t worry, I didn’t count them) in a rectangular grid. Individually they were boring, but together they were impressive. You could walk between them and easily get lost. It would be a great place to play some sort of game if that wasn’t so disrespectful. When we got to the Ritter store it was closing. Too late again. Instead we went back to the Oktoberfest market and then home.
The next morning we took a commuter train to Dresden. It was one of the doubledecker trains I’ve been wanting to ride on since I first saw them. We had to change trains two thirds of the way through and so we changed from riding on the top deck to the bottom. The bottom is lower than a normal train and it gives a different perspective. Sometimes I really worry that I like trains to much. What kind of a person likes trains?
The reason I wanted to visit Dresden was the Dresden Codex. It’s one of the 3 remaining Maya codices, and is housed in the treasure room of the Saxon State Library Museum. I was a little worried that I might have built it up too much in the decade since my mission in Guatemala, but it didn’t disappoint. It’s amazing to think of something made of (fig bark) paper lasting that long including through the firebombings of WWII. It did sustain water damage then. It was also really neat to see it in color, albeit faded. Of course, you can find high resolution pictures of it online, but it’s not the same as being there. Since it was painted on both sides, they use mirrors to allow you to see the back side as well as the front. My ability to read ancient Maya is limited to numerals but I did at least recognize those.
The museum’s treasure room also contained a number of other gorgeous manuscripts, mostly from Germany. Outside the treasure room, they were exhibiting hymn books starting from the early reformation era. The musical notation was quite varied and often wasn’t used at all. In the end I think it was one of the most interesting and beautiful collections I’ve seen, even though it was only two fairly small rooms. Of course, if you don’t like books, it’s probably not the place for you.
After visiting Saxon State, we walked to downtown Dresden. On the way we saw a cute little church which I can only assume was Russian Orthodox based on the stereotypical domes. We went inside the Cross Church which had an art show going on in one wing. We were about 15 minutes late to go in the Frauenkirche. Are you sensing the pattern? We were really sad about this because Rachel’s high school German teacher watched its rebuilding via webcam. It had been destroyed in the war and wasn’t rebuilt until 2005 (well, that’s when it was finished). We then walked down to the river and took some pictures. Dresden’s skyline is quite interesting. We mostly walked around outside, but we did go inside a mall to buy some hot chocolate (Rachel’s drug of choice) and look at some wooden Christmas decorations.