Friday, May 20, 2005


Okay, I've had my exercise today. A friend is helping put together the next edition of the Dorling-Kindersley guide to Berlin, and, since I've been frozen out of the Time Out Guide, it felt good to take the old notebook and cruise around the neighborhood for facts and figures. I did one on the galleries in my neighborhood (although it's not as important as it once was, with a number of the better galleries moving to Zimmerstr. once the real-estate sharks moved in on them), and today I knocked off pieces on the Berlinische Galerie, the New Synagogue, and the Berliner Dom.

I'd been to the first two recently enough that I could do them off the top of my head (I reportred the opening of the Berlinische Galerie here last fall), but the only time I'd been to the Dom, the central Lutheran church of the city of Berlin, was some years ago when I went to see the Tallis Scholars play there and felt like I was in a live Phil Spector production, there was so much echo. That hardly enhanced the performance, and they were visibly struggling. So was I, seated below scowling visages of Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingli, Calvin, and a couple of Hohenzollerns, not to mention the overwrought sacred mosaics based on paintings by one Anton von Werner; I felt like I was being judged while the Tallises were trying to stay on pitch with their acappela Tudor church music.

This time, though, I was there to look, not to listen, and although I really hate the Wilhelmine style in general (except the Neptune Fountain, which is just too silly to hate, with its rampaging lobsters and putti), I had to gather facts and figures. So I even launched myself up the 267 steps (there's a sign warning the prospective visitor -- I sure didn't count them myself) to the balcony surrounding the Dom's dome, which is open in nice weather (and today was a sizzling 68 degrees F!) so you can get a panorama of this almost totally hill-less city. Had the thing not been jammed with tourists, I would have lingered, using the steeple-spotting method (always the best way to navigate a European city, something I learned on my first visit to Brussels) to spot landmarks. As it was, I could see, off in the distance, the Rathaus Schöneberg, where Kennedy gave his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, and, in the other direction, the riverside warehouses of Friedrichshain.

In the basement, on the other hand, is the crypt, and there you get to see what must be a hundred sarcophagi of various Hohenzollerns, the family which ruled Berlin as Electors, and then Germany as Kaisers, for several centuries. (There are also a couple more upstairs, including one guy who died in the 1500s, which I think is the oldest one in the batch -- definitely the coolest, with its sculpture of him on the lid). There are also many tiny coffins, belonging to children born dead -- one Elector in the early 18th Century seems to have had really terrible luck producing children -- and, of course, less ornate ones for the wives. There's one marked for Frederick the Great, although I always understood that he's actually buried in Potsdam with his beloved dogs, and, all by itself, gated off from the rest, the last Hohenzollern, dead at the age of three in 1915.

There's something creepy about the people who were hanging around, and it wasn't because of a fascination with death, but, rather, a fascination with royalty. A gymnastics tournament is in town at the moment, and it seems like hundeds of Turnvereine are here competing, all teenagers with their parents in tow, and a lot of the more rural ones were gasping over the crypt. I had a grandmother who was sort of a royalty groupie, but it's quite strange to encounter these people in the flesh in the 21st Century, especially in Germany, where the royals gave up long ago and most titled people (like the Countess in my building) don't have a great deal of money.

Anyway, I did the tour, took the notes, and came back and wrote the entry, but one sign I transcribed didn't make it into the book. I like it anyway, an old enameled sign from the late 1800s that says "Entrance for royal household, diplomats, members of the Bundesrat, Reichstag, House of Lords, and House of Commons, and high-ranking civil servants." Sad to say, they didn't have a reproduction of that in the gift shop or I would have bought one and stuck it on my door.

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