Quick jump to Berlin

It takes very little time to fall in love with Berlin. Although my visit was very short (one and a half day) I managed to walk around the city a bit and behold its charm.

I lodged in Kreuzberg, the southern district, ethnically diverse and, despite the political claims of its being an example of integration, it is still struggling. It would be surprising if otherwise. Anyway, I could not visit the surroundings thoroughly, but I enjoyed my walks along a canal of the Spree, in the woods, in what appeared to be a lovely sunny spring day.

Half day 1

After attending my duties, I went for a map-less walk towards the center. I had no expectations. My visual notion of Berlin derived from my readings, studies and more recently from the news. So I had pictures of the major landmarks like the Reichstag or the Museum Island, but I could not place them in the context of the real material city.

My first encounter was the Topographie des Terrors. It is a permanent exhibition documenting the rise of the Nazi regime, arranged both indoor and outdoor, consisting of texts and images. I walked through the outdoor part which is dedicated to the propaganda of the Nazis from 1933 onwards. The exhibit is placed just under the remainings of the Berlin wall that was left bare, with hardly any inscriptions or murals, at least on the side facing the exhibition. The remaining wall stretches for about 150 meters. It gave me contrasted feelings: on the one hand it was scary as it is evidence of a recent past that still haunts the present, but on the other hand its state of decay is reassuring. It made me think that – hopefully – all walls are destined to fall eventually, with the same ideals that brought to their construction.

memorial_to_the_murdered_jews_of_europeabove
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe from above – Wikimedia

Heading towards North, to reach the Brandenburger Tor, I ran into the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, designed by architect Peter Eisenman and the British company BuroHappold Engineering. From the outside, the installation looks like a cemetery built on hills. These large gray blocks overlap towards the distance. Stepping inside though, one realizes that the pavement is not even. It climbs up and down, therefore, also the blocks’ size change, from very short that you could stumble upon them, to very high, towering over the visitors. I did not dare walk into the depths of it because, even from the side, I could sense the anxiety I would have probably felt if I did. The perspective effect of these parallel blocks of different heights, growing from the uneven ground, gave the idea of a darkening passage, bare gray never-ending corridors, crossing other similar lanes. Sideways present themselves abruptly, so you don’t have the chance to see who or what you are about to encounter. It gave me a sense of extreme solitude and fear.

 

The Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburger Tor – my photo

I then reached the Brandenburger Tor, shining brightly in the sunlight, just in front of the Tiergarten. The horses face towards the Museums Island, which I could sense in the distance… two kilometers away! The road to walk is the heart of the city, the Unter den Linden which is animated with popular brand shops and other crucial landmarks, like the Berlin Opera and the prestigious Humboldt University.

Of course, I was too late to visit them, but I could admire their grandiosity of the museums on the island from the outside: the Neues Museum, the Pergamon (at the moment the altar is not visible anyway due to restorations) and the Bode-Museum, all connected and leading to the green square facing the Berliner Dom. All this will be experienced during my next visit, hopefully soon! Even though the sun graced me with its warm light until 8 pm, I had eventually to go home, so I headed again towards Kreuzberg, and that was the end of my first half-day.

Half day 2

Actual visiting day, with a twist: white snowflakes accompanied my walk to the Gemäldegalerie. So romantic!

One of the most beautiful collections I have seen so far. Jewels by European artists, spanning from the Trecento to the late eighteenth- beginning nineteenth centuries. My only remark is that probably the cartellinos could be more informative, with information on the technique and support and something more about the provenance. In 2018, this is the basic information that a museum needs to provide to the general public.

To be honest, I had to be quick because I had a train to catch; nevertheless, I enjoyed the exposition very much. The subject of the great majority of the paintings is sacred or devotional which of course does not come as a surprise given the provenance of the chosen painters. Nevertheless, their outstanding quality surpasses any content-related judgment. (*I am working on a picture gallery to show some highlights*).

Mary Magdalene with Lute
Attr. Jan van Hemessen (ca. 1500-before 1579), Mary Magdalene with Lute, Gemäldegalerie (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin), Berlin, inv./cat.nr 59.4

My favorite encounter was with this lady attributed to Jan Sanders van Hemessen (ca. 1500-before 1579). I will do some more research on this beautiful panel!

Up until this visit, I only knew this in black and white photos. Therefore, I was happily surprised to meet her in all her fancy colorful attire.

A permanent exhibition on graphic techniques is offered to the viewer at the entrance to the Kupferstichkabinett.

Within a handful of windows are collected tools and samples for drawing, wood engraving, copper engraving, etching and so on. (I apologize for the quality of the pictures, but I am no good photographer, at all).

 

Furthermore, I visited the exhibition about archival photographs, Unboxing photographs for instance. The exhibit focuses on photographs, how they were employed soon after the invention of photography, to document art objects, but it also shows how these images have been collected and preserved for archival purposes.

It provides an overview of photographic technique, by showing negatives in film but also in early glasses, like these.

 

It also shows how photos were manipulated (highlighted and contrasted) to show details otherwise invisible. The exhibition also documents how the antique art market exploited photographs to sell objects: black and white specimens were half hand colored to give a better idea of the items. On the verso of the photographs, are provided more details concerning the materials and provenances.

In particular, I have taken pictures of photos of mirrors because they capture the making of the pictures themselves. The reflective surface of mirrors show the very camera that took the picture and in some cases even the photographer… In our times they would be called “Mirror Selfies”… rather amusing!

 

Photos were and still are a great tool for art historians, archeologists, collectors, etc. and when it comes to material objects – photos – important questions concerning their preservation arise. Every archive and collection has its own standards for cataloging and preserving items, so in the exhibition are shown a handful examples of how photos were handled in the first half of the twentieth century. Usually, they were pasted down on cardboard. These supports provided space on which information concerning the maker, related literature or other comments such as shifting of collectors or even new attributions were reported. Otherwise, the same information was found on the verso of the pictures. It is therefore not very easy to find a good way to preserve and exhibit these items, but in this case, the gallery solved the second brilliantly, by presenting the items in glass cabinets that allow a both-sides inspection. A video shows how the photos are examined and consulted when disposed on cardboard, within boxes. As it frequently happens, photos do not always stick to the original support, however, nothing may be thrown away when it comes to preservation! So this exhibition shows compelling issues occurring in archives and collections, because the condition in which an object has come down to us provide very important information on its history and reception and it is mandatory to preserve and document every passage as a whole.

*More images coming soon!*