Germany, Day 20: I Hear a Symphony

Today we woke up to a grey and dreary Berlin.  We had breakfast and decided that we weren’t really in the mood to get soaking wet and we still had a bunch of sights we wanted to see, so we read up on hop-on/hop-off buses and bought tickets – that way we could see most of the sights and get off when we wanted to.  We hopped on a few blocks down from our hotel, on the busy shopping street called Kurfurstendamm, known by locals as Ku-Damm.  We got seats on the top deck of the bus and off we went.  As it turned out, our commentator had an extremely dry sense of humour and we really liked him, so we decided to do one full loop on his bus, then when the loops started again we would get off at the sights we were interested in.

We all wanted to see a part of the Berlin Wall that is still intact and adjacent to an open-air museum called the Topography of Terror.  The museum was great – interesting and comprehensive.  I learned a lot about the Wall and the horrible division between East and West Berlin.  I was young when the Wall came down, too young to really know how much people suffered.

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The rain let up so we walked towards “Checkpoint Charlie”, a reproduction of the American/Soviet checkpoint at the wall.  First, it was time for a snack so we tucked into a coffee chain we noticed here, Kaffee Einstein.  We warmed up with hot chocolates, apple strudel and cookies and followed the kitsch towards Checkpoint Charlie.

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I’m not going to dwell on this for too long, but I have to say this is one of the cheesiest tourist traps dedicated to poor taste that I’ve seen.  They’ve erected a giant banner, one with an American soldier facing one direction and a Soviet soldier facing the other.  Two (what I presume) actors in American uniform stand there saluting with American flags and an array of Soviet hats that you can put on and have your photo taken with.  Incredibly, they also have “passport stamps” that people have actually had their passports stamped with, rendering them invalid.  Kitschy, tasteless, tacky, and nope.

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We hopped back on the bus and headed back to our hotel so we could make a decision as to where we wanted to go for dinner, as we needed to make ourselves look as presentable as 3 road-weary travellers could for our engagement with the symphony.

We picked out a pub translated into English called the Fat Innkeeper.  The food was good and the decor was entertaining.  We hustled back to the hotel, got gussied up, hailed a cab and headed towards Herbert-Von-Karajan-Strasse, where the Berliner Philharmonie stands, home of the Berliner Philharmoniker.

Going to see the Berlin Philharmonic was a big deal for me.  When we decided we were going to Germany, I started looking into tickets right away and marked in my planner when the 2016/2017 calendar would become available and when I could order tickets.  In April the calendar was released and in May I could order tickets, so I ordered 3 tickets for Saturday, October 1st, 1900hrs, Section Recht C, Row 10, Seats 1, 2 and 3.  We would be seeing Austrian conductor Manfred Honeck conduct Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8, Honeck’s specialty.  Finally, that day had come and I was buzzing with excitement.  The building itself is a work of modern asymmetrical art – seemingly randomly protruding balconies and M.C. Escher-like staircases.  Our seats were far back, but central and we had a full view of the orchestra.

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The auditorium quickly filled up and the concert started almost right on time.  The first half was a Fantasie from Dvorak’s opera Rusalka and then a few Schubert and Strauss lieder sung by a baritone with a rich voice.  The Fantasie was like magic, electricity through my body.  The Philharmonic was like nothing I had heard before – dynamics, phrasing, punctuation, emotion, warmth, depth – artistry.  I got goosebumps from my toes to the top of my head.  At one point, a single tear rolled down my cheek.

At intermission I checked out the gift shop and picked up some postcards while all the finely dressed concertgoers milled about, drinking their aperitifs and eating their pretzels.

The second half of the concert was Dvorak Symphony no. 8, one that I’m not terribly familiar with, but a fun one, and again, pure magic from the musicians.  It was the most exhilarating classical music experience of my life and I grinned the whole cab ride back and as I tucked myself into bed.

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