Today has been the first day for a week with sunshine. Well, the sky got cloudy again after lunch, and when I got home from work it looked dreary again. But at least it stayed dry.
On days like these I like to browse through my flickr account. That photo was taken in the middle of September on a sunny day with a blue sky. It shows one part of the Renaissance Garden in Berlin which is a part of a wonderful big park called “The Gardens of the World”.
This post is the last post of my “Travel to the Baltic States” series.
What you can see on the above photo is a wonderfully made door which caught my attention somewhere in the city of Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia. We went there on the last day of our one week travel. From there the plane took us back to Frankfurt, Germany.
It had been a week packed with new impressions and beautiful views. Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, Riga, the capital of Latvia and at last Tallinn, the capital of Estonia – each of them had their own character, their great architecture. Of course we also had learned much about the history of these three Baltic states.
But when I look back on that week some weeks later now I get the feeling that there are so many things which I still don’t know. We didn’t have the opportunity to speak with “normal” people – the people in the cities, the people on the countryside. Well, our guide was a young Latvian woman, but there was not much time to talk to her about things beside architecture and history.
So if I had the time and the opportunity I would visit these countries again and on my own, or with some friends, but not with a travel group and a fixed program. I would try to leave the tourist paths and go to where the people living there go, and try to talk with them, hoping that some sort of communication would be possible.
The last part of my travel to the Baltic countries led into Estonia. The first Estonian city we visited was Tartu, a city known for its academic tradition. The University Academia Gustaviana was founded in 1632 and is one of the oldest in Northwestern Europe.
The University still forms the character of the city – you can see a lot of young people sitting in the various cafés and restaurants, or simply on the lawns around the cathedral hill.
The photo above was taken on the cathedral hill which is dominated by the ruins of a 13th century cathedral. It may sound strange, but walking in a cathedral where the roof is lacking gives one a special feeling of the greatness of those old buildings and it makes one feel quite humble…
Riga, the capital of Latvia, is famous for its Art Nouveau houses. Art Nouveau is an international movement and style of art, architecture and applied art, that had its peak at the turn of the 20th century. There is a very informative article about it on Wikipedia.
However reading about it and looking at it are different things. I walked from one house in Riga to the next one, taking in the beauty and trying to capture it with my camera. Latvia is a very poor country, and it is astonishing how many houses they have restored up to now (many of them are still in a sorry state, though).
Wikipeda says about Klaipeda:
“Klaipėda German: Memel) is a city in Lithuania situated at the mouth of the Curonian Lagoon where it flows into the Baltic Sea. As Lithuania’s only seaport, it has ferry terminal connections to Sweden and Germany. Some of its older buildings have picturesque half-timbered construction, similar to that found in Germany, France, England, Denmark and southern Sweden.”
Those houses are beautiful, aren’t they? However one doesn’t forget that housing conditions at that time weren’t very good. We often admire the beauty but forget how it was to live in those old buildings.
Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, one of the three Baltic states (The others are Litvia and Estonia). The three states belonged to the Soviet Union till the late 80es. Then they became independent states.
Vilnius is full of churches. Most Lithuanians are Roman-catholics. They went to church before Lithuania became independent, and they still are going to church regularly. I was in Vilnius on a Saturday, and Saturday is the day Lithuanians marry in Church. You could see happy bridegrooms and brides with their friends and family standing in front of almost every church in town.
One of the most famous places in Berlin is the so called “Pariser Platz” (Paris Place). It is the place immediately in front of the Brandenburg Gate and the end of the famous boulevard “Unter den Linden”.
The glass building on the right side is the home of the Academy of the Arts. It is not a university but a cultural institution offering lectures, exhibitions, films and discussions about contemporary literature.
The other building looks much older, but in reality has been built in the 90es of the 20th century. It is a reconstruction of the fam2ous “Adlon hotel” and was opened in 1997.
The old “Adlon hotel” was opened in 1907 and – at that time – offered something special: It not only had electricity and hot water coming out of the tap, but also a café, a big lounge, a wintergarden and a library.
Throughout the times not only politicians but also film and theater celebrities spend their days and nights in this hotel. Marlene Dietrich was discovered here.
In the last days of WW II it burnt down. It was rebuilt 6 years after the coming down of the wall, and it took two years to built it. It is again one of the most famous hotels of Berlin and maybe even Europe. Even if you haven’t got the money to spend the night in one of the luxurious rooms you can have a walk through the entrance hall and dream about being a paying guest here someday.
I must admit – I first had my difficulties with this memorial when I looked at it from the outside. Nothing but rows of gray stone slabs that do not bear any markings, neither names nor dates.
It had been designed by the famous architect Peter Eisenman and was openend in May 2005 to the public as a contribute to the death of all the Jews who were killed under the Nazi regime.
From the beginning, people were sitting on the slabs, jumping from one to the other. To me this had almost nothing to do with a memorial.
And then I walked between the big slabs. My feelings changed. I began to feel caged in, lost, helpless. You could not see the sky properly, only the shades of the light from above.
Of course those feelings were nothing compared with what the Jews must have felt when they were humiliated, hunted down, terrorized, shot, killed with gas, killed with work, with no chance to save their lives in the concentration camps – the feeling of hopelessness and of being forgotten by the rest of the world.
But being there between the huge labs made me realize where I was: At a Holocaust Memorial.
The Martin-Gropius-Bau is one of the most famous exhibition halls in Berlin. It is named after one of the architects that built it – Martin Gropius – and was openend in 1881.
It was severely damaged in the last weeks of World War II. It is standing near the former Berlin Wall and about 10 minutes from where I live. Whenever I pass it I see flocks of tourists leaving their busses and streaming into the building. For them, it is an important item on their “what-to-see-in-Berlin” list, for me it always been a normal everyday sight.
Taking the camera with me changes that way of seeing things. I look at those places now with the eyes of a tourist, sort of re-discover my city.
Do you have this feeling, too, when you are taking pictures of the world around you?
If I am asked to describe Berlin, I don’t answer with one sentence. One sentence would be to short for describing Berlin.
Berlin is – the capital of Germany with a lot of modern buildings;
Berlin is: a place with a lot of historical buildings having been created in the 19th century;
Berlin is: a conglomeration of small villages with village greens, small houses with only two floors and – village churches. The church in the photo above is such a village church. Stralau once was a village of fishermen. Now it is a place with a lot of newly built houses for well-off people. But this church still reminds me of the past.