Recently I went to Germany -- mainly Berlin, but also a day in Lübeck -- for three days, followed by Sweden -- mainly Stockholm, but also a day in Malmö -- for three more. Pictures are forthcoming ... blame J, they're on his camera.
Berlin: I didn't realize just how much of Berlin is still under construction. East Berlin wasn't able to pay its share of WWII debts, and so when reunification took place, West Berlin assimilated those debts; they are still not entirely paid off. And much of East Berlin is still not recovered -- I don't mean just depressing prefab buildings, I mean a lot of buildings destroyed during WWII still haven't been rebuilt, because of lack of money and/or interest from East Berlin government. Said government would have happily continued demolishing buildings that weren't destroyed enough for their taste -- especially religious buildings -- but Berlin is actually built on swampland, thus many of the bigger buildings actually serve as counterweights for each other. So, the engineers came back saying that tearing down too many things would fatally destabilize other parts of the city. And so various buildings stayed, in various degrees of ruin. One day I'd love a list of buildings spared only so that the entire city wouldn't be destroyed with them. Talk about invisible urban detritus.
I also went to Potsdam and saw Sanssouci, which was gorgeous from the outside. Visits to the interior are very limited and we didn't buy a pass, but I hear it's quite nice as well. Have to admit I spent much of that trip imagining Reinhard, Kiercheis, and Annerose
wandering around the grounds.
We then took a train to Lübeck
, a port city and former capital of the Hanseatic League. We went to an organ concert at Marienkirche (St. Mary's Church), which was where Dieterich Buxtehude innovated pretty much all the modern organ techniques. Bach supposedly walked for three days just to watch this dude play, and Handel also came to learn from him. The story goes that Handel and a guy named Mattheson competed to be his successor, only to learn that the price was marriage to his oldest daughter, a traditional request at the time. I don't know what she was like, but that turned off them both of them within the day. Anyway, Marienkirche possesses something like the world's largest functional non-electric pipe organ, which is pretty amazing to think about because after you play a note, there is a substantial delay before the note is heard
. I do not know whether organists need to wear earplugs, or if they can hold two melodies in their head, but it has got to be mentally very difficult to play something where you're not getting immediate audio feedback. Or perhaps that's why so much organ music is repetitive and harmonic in a way such that you can layer bars 1-4 over bars 5-8 and still have it sound pretty damn good. Like a secret concert that the player gets to have in their own head.
Also, Lübeck had quite a few other very old brick gothic churches with those incredibly tall spires. The interiors are not crazy opulent the way, oh, Westminster Abbey is, but it's a different feeling--that of getting through seven hundred cold hard winters.
We took an overnight ferry to Malmö. The vast majority of travelers were German, Swedish, and Russian, and it was operated by a Finnish group, Finnlines. So as you would imagine, the lingua franca
was ... English. XD Spent the next day relaxing, and we took a train from there to Stockholm.
From two tours, I learned that Sweden -- after they managed to kick out the Danes in the 1500s and after a brief attempt at invading Europe ending in the 1800s -- has made its fortune on wisely staying out of trouble, and after the troublemakers had finished tearing each other to pieces, selling them
conveniently flat-packed furniture
reconstruction materials, ie, steel, copper, and wood. This by the way is why I think present-day Nordic countries have gorgeous cities and are so well run: for the last 500 years, they have not been bombed to shit, or colonized, or occupied, or dragged through periods of civil instability and resulting atrocities that change the character of a nation. I believe thoroughly in path dependency for how national characters are shaped. This was one of the nicest and chillest places I've ever been; I like to think it's because they remember a whole lot of good, which goes on to beget more good.