Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Berlin, Copenhagen, Stockholm

In Fall of 2016 I found a wonderful excuse to travel for a couple of weeks. Allie had just finished up a month of work in Southern Spain and was looking to extend her trip abroad. (Phoebs was also in Spain studying for the summer, but try as we might we couldn't work our schedules to get us all in the same place at the same time.) So Allie and I met up and set off, packed each day to capacity, covered a lot of ground, stayed sort of mostly warm, and had a great time.

First up, Berlin. What a big, fascinating city. The young, international, creative community has fingerprints all over the city in the forms of visual art, music, design, fashion, cuisine, and culture, but these flourishes overlay a foundation heavy with historical burden. We saw a sampling of both perspectives and while I felt like we made the most of our time there, I would love to go back just to be in the city more; to see more of the angles.

We spent our first full day on foot, hitting some major sights.

view of Berliner Dom from Friedrichsbrücke

Checkpoint Charlie

remembering the site of the Berlin wall

a section of the Berlin wall at the Topography of Terror exhibit
(built on the original site of Secret State Police and Schutzstaffel headquarters, as well as the Reich security main office)

the personal narratives and newspaper clippings in this exhibit made it incredibly moving

 building used as one of the first concentration camps ("Gutschow-Keller") in 1933 - marked as such by a small sign on the opposite side of the street

Brandenburg Gate

Reichstag building, home of the Bundestag (parliament)

360-degree views from the dome show how expansive (and flat) the city is

the mirrored cone at the center directs light down into the building

double-helix ramp

We had beer and brats for dinner at a street fair in celebration of German Unity day then walked to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. (Aside: This memorial has received some criticism (for being too vague; for using a controversial company in construction), but criticism is also due visitors of the memorial in response to their behaviors here. Surely, part of the problem is that people stumble upon the installation unaware of what it is and unaware of the intended symbolism, in which case it would be easy to see this as an oversized jungle gym. Playful behavior in a setting that should elicit reverence is incredibly distasteful, though, and the criticism is directed at the plenty of people who have knowingly disrespected the people and the history remembered here by climbing on, doing yoga on and taking selfies with the stelae. An Israeli-German writer starkly illustrated the detestable absurdity of it all in a project called Yolocaust. The creator replaces the symbolic coffins with historical images of murdered Jews in Nazi extermination camps. The results are disturbing.)

The next morning we started our day at House of Small Wonder cafe. It was almost unbearably cool.

then on to the Eastside Gallery

After taking in the wall we walked to Friedrichshain, where Allie may well live one day. This was an industrial/working-class borough back in the 1920s and was strategically bombed in WWII. After the war the area was slow to rebuild and attracted squatters who repeatedly fought eviction by the government. Today the area has a young, counter-culture, communal feel.

After daydreaming about Allie's apartment, job, coffee spot and everything else we wandered back across the Spree River and found a park with a free little petting zoo, penned in by a quaint wooden fence with a hand-painted sign reminding visitors to close the gate behind them. We stopped again shortly thereafter for beers at an outdoor amphitheater where a school marching band graced us with some elaborate drum beats. It was a fine Fall afternoon.

finished the evening with dinner at Clärchens Ballhaus where we were both treated to salsa dancing with a German gentleman

The next day we walked through the Tiergarten (with Rufus Wainwright on repeat in my brain), stopping for a bit in the sunny Rosengarten before heading on to the Victory Column.

busker in the underground tunnel connection to the column 

I was and still am obsessed with this tile mural at the top of the column. It's so detailed and realistic. Artist: Anton von Werner, 1874

just LOOK at it. obsessed.

great views from the top

Next we walked to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church. The old section was built in 1890s and survived a 1943 bombing. (This was also the intersection where a man deliberately drove a truck through a Christmas market in 2016.)

new section completed in 1963

We slowly made our way back to the hostel and I took a nap because my young companion had big plans for us that night. We had dinner at a Thai place then went to check out Minibar, a cute bar with lots of small rooms covered in fanciful decor and hand-painted murals.

After Minibar we made an attempt to get into the exclusive dance club Berghain. I say attempt because the place is so cool that we could have very well been turned away by the notoriously selective bouncer. (What's more likely - the one of us dripping with self-consciousness would get turned away while the effortlessly cool one would level up in coolness by spending a night there...alas.) As it was, our attempt involved walking along a narrow chain link fence-lined dirt path into the poorly lit industrial park where Berghain stands (it's in an old power plant). As we approached the dark building and realized it was closed I was equal parts disappointed and happy - I had been looking forward to the experience but nervous about the rejection I knew was coming.

grainy proof that the attempt was made

Not wanting to let all our pent up dance moves go to waste, we headed to Suicide Circus instead (and got right in). It was a fun club with wonderfully beat-heavy electronic music. We stayed until about 2:30am and passed a growing entry line on our way out. We didn't have enough cash to buy bus tickets home and the U-Bahn had stopped running (who knew!?) so we hopped on the streetcar without tickets and hoped we wouldn't get caught. The fear of being fined overcame me a few stops from our destination, so I made Allie get off with me and walk the rest of the way which ended up being annoyingly far at that hour and that temperature and that level of exhaustion. The next morning we got up at an indecent hour to check out of the hostel and catch our flight to Copenhagen.

We settled ourselves at the cutest lil apartment in Nørrebro and rested for a bit before heading out to Superkilen, a 1/2-mile-long park recommended by our hosts.

I didn't get as many pictures of Superkilen as I should have, but we walked the length of the park and played on swings, climbed ropes, and watched people at the skate park. The creative humans of Superflex (who worked with landscape architects to create the park) say on their website that they used "what they defined as ‘extreme participation’ as a strategy to engage residents around the park, an area known as one of Copenhagen’s most diverse neighborhoods." They asked residents living close to the space to nominate objects that had geographical or cultural meaning to them and ended up importing or recreating over 100 objects from over 50 countries to include in the form and function of the park (manhole covers, trash cans, play structures, etc). It was an interesting, incongruous hodgepodge, but clearly a community gathering place. Really neat!

The next day was dedicated to visiting Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk.

Daniel Richter's Tarifa, featuring figures (refugees?) in an inflatable boat atop dark water was one of my favorites.

Poul Gernes

serene landscaping, trails and sculpture gardens surround the museum

rolling hills and a view of the Øresund

After spending most of the day at the museum we caught the regional train back to Copenhagen and spent the early evening wandering the streets until Allie noticed a charming courtyard full of young people. We walked through the courtyard and into the attached building which turned out to be the back entrance to Huset, a multi-level "culture house" with games, movies, art, music and tons of community events. We settled on the game cafe level, got some drinks and played a few rounds of Set. The place was so cozy and humming with activity we decided to return a couple days later for more games and a night of horror films.

The next day was bike day! Our host, Eivin, lent us his personal bikes and we joined the masses of Nordic cyclists on a chilly commute around town.

first stop: University of Copenhagen Botanical Garden

steamy greenhouse on a cold day

cool kids

views from Christainsborg Palace tower

loving all the patina

observing the badass cold water swimming culture at this pool in the harbor 

view from CPH street food market

the famously picturesque Nyhavn - is it always sunny here?

exhibit covering palace-turned-art museum Kunsthal Charlottenborg. Artist: Ibrahim Mahama

scheming in the anarchist district

bridge magic

That night we biked out to another culture house for more games and escapades and wonderfully colorful decor.

On our final day in Copenhagen we wandered around a neighborhood recommended by our hosts, sipped cappuccinos, bought some art, explored a flea market, walked through Assistens Cemetery past the graves of Niels Bohr, Søren Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Anderson, and ended up back at Huset for screenings of Death Weekend, The Exorcist, and more games.

jeweler's studio at the back of her shop

We caught the late bus home and were up early the next morning to catch the train to Stockholm. Tak, København!

The train deposited us right in the middle of Gamla Stan (The Old Town), just blocks from our hostel. We checked in and took to the streets, making our way to this pedestrian path carved into the side of a hill that looked out over Riddarfjärden bay in Lake Mälaren (which drains into the Baltic Sea).

striking black roofs

the best sconces anyone has ever seen

After more walking we grabbed some groceries, went out for burgers and called it a night. The next morning we headed to Djurgården, an island southeast of us, to an open air museum called Skansen where we explored the exhibits, gardens and zoo.

not the zoo

huge rune stone. vikings, man.

After spending most of the day at Skansen we wandered over to the Stadsbiblioteket (Stockholm Public Library) for a gander at the rotunda.

We spent too much on tacos and margaritas for dinner and headed back to Gamla Stan to finish out the night with beers and a puzzle at the hostel.

The next morning we took advantage of free admission at the Historiska Muskeet and got an exhaustive lesson in the past 1000 years of Swedish history. I didn't take any pictures in the museum, but they had tons of Viking artifacts and even some prehistoric, bog-preserved bones. That afternoon we took an hour-long ferry to Vaxholm, another island in the archipelago. Getting out on the water gave us a new perspective on the landscape - there are so many small, rocky islands out there. We had some time to explore Vaxholm a bit before heading back on the last ferry of the day.

just Vaxholm things

where i live now

On our last day of the trip we walked around the hip neighborhood of Södermalm, stopping for coffee, art and thrift stores. We took a brief tour of the underground train station art scene before heading to the Vasa museum.

The Vasa museum was definitely a highlight. It is based entirely around a massive ship built in the 17th century that sank after 1500 meters of travel and was mostly forgotten until a Swedish engineer/archaeologist dropped a coring device into Stockholm harbor and brought up a piece of the old ship. Over the subsequent 30 years the ship was meticulously salvaged and preserved. It is now kept in a climate-controlled museum but requires constant upkeep. Per the museum website in an extraordinarily wet and rainy 2000, soggy visitors raised the museum's humidity levels enough to react with sulphur in the ship's wood to produce corrosive acids, which sparked not only revision to the climate control system, but also a ton of new research into how and why the ship is changing.

diving bells are crazy

After the museum we ate pasta for dinner and shared our table with a young solo traveler from Oakland who was just beginning his travels. We chatted a bit before heading back to the hostel to pack. Allie and I were on different flights home the next day and I had to catch an early train to the airport in the morning.

Thus concluded the all-too-brief trip of 2016. There will be a next time Scandinavia!

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