Nothing Says Christmas Like Potato Latkes and Warm Beer
Merry Christmas! Or as they say in German, Frohe Weihnachaten – don’t quote me on this as we all know how bad my German is and that, perhaps, I had a little Glühwein when I learned it. And another thing, it’s been pointed out by Frank, one of our new, German Virtual Travel Buddies that I’ve been spelling Glühwein incorrectly. Apparently, I’ve been leaving out the “h” which I apologize for. But really, isn’t it enough that, due to the American settings on my computer, I have to constantly use the “Insert” tab and the “Symbol” just to get that “ü” in? And also, due to the American settings, spell check doesn’t recognize Glühwein as a word, no matter how I spell it and would be quite happy if I changed it to “Glue Wine.” Anyway, I appreciate the clarification as, if I learn one German word, it will definitely be Glühwein.
So, going back in time a couple of days, I decide to take a trip to the Jewish Museum. I’ve been told good things about this place from people who have visited and it seems like a good way to spend a rainy afternoon. I’m lucky they have many places to spend a rainy afternoon as it’s rained every day that I’ve been here (sorry Frank, just a bit more whining about the weather).
I take some bus and train combination, walk a few blocks and, what do you know, I found it! I avail myself of my coat (really appreciating the coat checks in the buildings as, did I mention that I’m wearing two?) and head off to explore. The striking thing about this museum is the architecture.
While the museum opened in 2001, the structure was actually built two-years prior. Designed by Daniel Libeskind, the building received 350,000 visitors before the museum opened (pretty darned impressive). The museum is comprised of the Garden of Exile, the three Axes of the German-Jewish experience, and the Voids. There are moments that I feel as if I’m walking through a fun-house. I’m not quite sure if I’m walking uphill or down (and no, I haven’t had any Glühwein today). Daniel Libeskind has said, “The official name of the project is ‘Jewish Museum’ but I have named it ‘Between the Lines’ because, for me, it is about two lines of thinking; organization and relationship. One is a straight line, but broken into many fragments, the other is a tortuous line, but continuing indefinitely.” Even without the displays, this museum would be an experience just to walk through.
Let’s begin by saying that Jewish history begins in Germany long before the Nazi crusade. Jews have been in these parts for 2,000 years. The museum has ancient Jewish artifacts, writings and artwork on display. It explains the artwork of stamps, Jewish traditions, and interviews and life stories through a computer database. My first stop at the database is reviewing Albert Einstein’s life (aah, you didn’t realize he was a Jew. Yes, this area can feel a bit like Adam Sandler’s “Chanukkah “Song”. . . “all Three Stooges”). While Einstein was brilliant, it turns out his personal life was really very interesting (yup, he had women problems just like most guys).
There is, of course, a large area dedicated to remembering those lost in the Holocaust. This includes family heirlooms as well as a large piece of fabric printed with the yellow Stars of David which Jews were required to wear. Did you know that they were also required to pay for them?
I continue on through the museum observing exhibitions of women including Glikl bas Juda Leib, working mother of fourteen (you thought dealing with your two kids is tough?) who was a widow and a successful Jewish business woman back in the late 1600’s. The museum profiles her memoirs as the oldest surviving autobiography of a Jewish woman.
There’s also an exhibition called, “Snip It! Stances on Ritual Circumcision.” (I’ll let you insert your own joke, if you feel you must, here.) In a related observation, an exhibition talks about the many Jewish scientists and their research, one of which studied sexually related things which is where I got my unexpected view of an antique “Dildo Box.” I’ve not actually seen a modern “Dildo Box” so the antique one must be a rarity.
I move on to view “Matters of Faith – On Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” The Shabbat Table – The Objects of the Day of Rest,” and “Oh, Christmas Tree – The Christmas Tree as a Symbol of Positioning Oneself,” which talks about Christmas trees being found in many Jewish households beginning at the end of the 19th century, not to celebrate a religious holiday, but for Jews to feel a sense of community as part of a family event in Germany.
I also wander through a temporary exhibit by Menashe Kadishman. The installation is titled “Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) in the “Memory Void.” Here over 10,000 open-mouthed faces coarsely cut from heavy, circular iron plates cover the floor. “While these serve as an architectural expression of the irretrievable loss of the Jews murdered in Europe, Menashe Kadishman’s sculptures filling them evoke painful recollections of the innocent victims of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.” The display is in what is known as the Voids, one of the empty spaces in this architectural masterpiece. It becomes more striking when I hear the clang of iron echoing and realize you can walk over this piece of art. When I do, I find myself in a sea of faces looking up at me, some smiling, other looking as if they’re screaming in agony.
After a few hours (really, plan to spend some time here), I make my way over to the WeihnachtsZauber Gendarmenmarkt, a Christmas Market I’ve heard good things about. Another bus/train (whatever, I’m getting good at this) and I’m in a winter wonderland (well, at least it’s stopped raining). I head to the Glühwein house and order myself up a glass.
“Do you want red or white?” the man behind the counter asks.
“Um, I want Glühwein,” I reply.
“Yes, red or white?”
“What? They make white Glühwein?”
“Yes, we do,” he says.
“Okay, well I’ll try a white one then (recommendation – always try new things).”
I take a sip and, lo-and-behold, it’s quite tasty. Actually, it tastes very much like the red kind. Throw in enough cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and whatever and it all tastes the same.
I listen to some of the entertainment, including a woman dressed up as the Snow Queen and a man dressed up (I think) as a reindeer, as they sing “Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer” along with “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” which kind of makes me feel as if I’ve had a bit too much Glühwein.
I walk through the shopping booths for a bit (some are even inside the warm tents) and admire the glass figurines, leather goods (I buy myself a little something to keep all of the Euro coin in as the coin here is worth quite a bit), knit-wear, cheese, and about one-hundred other items. While enjoying the fun atmosphere, I run into Jade and her parents. They’re from Australia and are doing the whole European tour thing. We talk for a bit and I ask them for a favor. There’s a contest that The Travel Channel is running where you can win five episodes of your own web-based travel show produced by them. I’ve known about it, but waited to enter until I was on the next Drop Me Anywhere trip. Well, I’m here, it’s Christmas, and the setting couldn’t be lovelier (well, it could, if it would just snow a bit). As Jade seems to be about twenty, I think she probably knows her way around an iPhone and can video for me (hey, Travel Channel, an iPhone is my filming equipment and strangers at the market are my crew. I definitely need to win your contest to film and produce). I ask her if she’ll accept the job and she agrees. We have trouble finding enough light so I can be seen until Jade’s mom faces me in the right direction (I’ve now got a camera woman and a director). I do a completely unrehearsed spiel and pull Jade’s dad in as my guest star. I’ve now got a short application video! I thank them for their help and head over to get more food.
This time I decide to try the Kartoffelpuffer mit Apfelmus. All you Jewish Travel Buddies out there will know this as Potato Latkes with Applesauce. Apparently, the traditional food of Chanukkah can be found at the Christmas Market. I also add sour cream and feel almost as if I’m at Bubbie’s house.
This is when I’m told about the lovely Glübier they serve. Yup, that would be all of the spices thrown into beer and heated up. Noticing my look of horror, the woman behind the counter asks if I’d like to try some (like is a bit of a strong word here). I say yes, as I feel it’s my duty to, at least, be able to tell you exactly how disgusting it is. She brings me a cup which you might serve cough medicine in. Closing my eyes and taking a deep breath, I tentatively smell the liquid inside. It smells like Glühwein. I take a small sip of the stuff, bracing my tongue against the roof of my mouth as I swallow. Wow, this tastes like, well, Glühwein. I order up a glass, stand at a wooden table and eat my Kartoffelpuffer mit Apfelmus and sour cream (sorry, don’t know the German word) while washing it down with hot, spiced beer. It’s Christmas in Germany!
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