Today I put on my glass slippers and head out to the palace. Well, to be more realistic, I throw on my tennis shoes (very American, but I blame a current back issue) and head over to check-out someone else’s palace. It’s Schloss Charlottenburg and it used to belong to Sophie Charlotte of Hanover.
Built in 1695 and expanded in the 1700’s, it was the summer residence of Sophie Charlotte (apparently she was a snow bird), Electress (sure sounds like a superhero) of Brandenburg, later to become Queen of Prussia. Upon entry, I come upon a desk which rents out audio tour headsets. I decide to tour without a headset by simply reading the signs in each room (there are enough voices in my head). Both the signs and the audio tour provide information as to what the room was used for as well as histories of the paintings, sculptures and furniture which fill the rooms. While many rooms in the palace were damaged or destroyed in bombings in WWII, they’ve gone to great lengths to carefully restore them, working from an inventory made after Charlotte’s death (poor thing dies of pneumonia in 1705 at age thirty-six). Furniture was either restored or, along with artwork, was brought from other castles in the area from the same time period which have since closed down.
I walk from one sitting room to the next – there must have been a lot of sitting going on as there are many of these rooms – as I imagine the important people and their courtiers who occupied them. I feel a bit as if I’ve walked into Downton Abbey. While I’m a fan of artwork, I’m not thrilled by the paintings here. Most are portraits of various royalty, as well as government influencers and governmental medal winners. After viewing about one-hundred portraits I understand that, if they’d had a Nikon, they would have taken the photo and it would be posted on some “Manager of the Year” plaque. I pass one painting described as “Dido telling her sister Anna about her love for Aeneas. Somehow my mind makes this very dirty.
As for the clothing of the time, the men in the portraits seem to all be wearing red-sashes and ruffled shirts reminiscent of the famous “Puffy Shirt” from the Seinfeld episode. The women wear beautiful dresses that put my yoga pants, which I’ve been known to wear all day, to shame. And the dresses have enormous padding on the hips which I find fantastic. I spend most of my life attempting to make my hips look smaller and these women made large hips a fashion statement.
After viewing the old wing, I enter the new wing which is open for the first time today after being closed for restoration, for two years. Frederick the Great had the New Wing built from 1740–1742
It turns out that I’m not a huge fan of tapestries either (unless you’re talking Carole King), but I love, love, love the chandeliers. Whether it’s the time period or simply Charlotte’s taste (then again, she’d died by the time the new wing was built), the chandeliers are made from glass, some in a simple style and some are quite ornate. I imagine the candlelight bouncing of the glass was quite magical. And the furniture – I love the furniture. I find it fascinating to think that 350-400 years ago, some royalty’s ass sat right on that red-velvet. It’s much better than that chair I bought from IKEA. My favorite room is the Silvered Chamber, in the new wing. It’s decorated in greyish-blue with silver leaf accents and beautiful glass chandeliers and sconces, and feels as if this were the Snow Queen’s quarters.
I take a quick walk through the garden which I’m sure is much more impressive in the spring and summer, before walking out to the front of the palace to enjoy a quick sausage and Glühwein at the Christmas market. It’s a special night because, for the first time since I’ve been here (eleven days) it’s not raining! People aren’t crowded under one of the large umbrellas but instead, sitting outside at tall wooden tables, under scattered heat-lamps, enjoying the cold (yet dry) weather under the crescent moon. I grab my Glühwein (with cranberries this time) and take a seat at a table. Before long, Tom, Eve and Emile ask if they can share my table.
“Sure. Your baby looks cold. Please get him close to the heat lamp,” I tell them (hardy German kids).
Eve then asks, “Do you have grandchildren?”
What?! “That’s it, you can no longer share my table!” I want to say. But, since the kid did nothing wrong, I don’t want to punish him.
With a sideways laugh to show my shock and horror at her question (okay, maybe it just showed that I was a bit taken aback) I say a polite, “No,” and make pleasant conversation.
They ask where I’m from and what I’m doing here. I tell them I’m from America and explain the whole Drop Me Anywhere project. They’re very excited by it. They’re here from Hamburg visiting family for the holidays. Tom gives me his business card and tells me that if I get to Hamburg I should make contact as he works at a marketing company and sits in an office coming up with cool ideas like mine, but doesn’t get to do them. They should be careful as, well, you never know where I’ll turn up.
After a while, Emile is warm enough and getting a little cranky. We say our goodbyes and they leave. Next up, Nicole and Kai join me. They’ve both been married and divorced and are now dating each other. Oh, and they were married and divorce to and from each other. And yes, as I said, they’re now dating (I already like them).
They’ve known each other for thirteen-years and got married seven years ago. They got divorced six years ago. We have a great conversation over a couple of Glühweins talking about marriage, kids and cats. They, of course, ask about my project. The conversation gets deep and I tell them my personal reasons for doing it (buy the book). It turns out Germans can actually loosen up and have really good conversations once they get to know you. I really appreciate this connection as they’re great people, and also because, although they speak English, I know that it requires more effort and concentration for them than speaking German.
After an hour or so, we all decide it’s time to leave. Nicole, Kai and I trade contact information and vow to, you know, “Friend” each other. They kindly offer to drive me to my train station. It’s cold outside and the windows are fogging up. Kai shouts at us to “stop breathing!” (I like these two) and, after a few minutes, they’ve dropped me at my train station and I’m headed back in for the night
**Apologies for the lack of photos of the interior of the palace but they do not allow them for publication. I may be a rule breaker, but I respect copy rights.
Tomorrow – The Good, The Bad and The Thank-You’s
Nice read again, thanks, YRH.
Oh yes, Sophie Charlotte … *sigh* … everybody seemed to love her. Btw, there’s an amazingly beautiful bust of her deep down in that huge park behind the palace, somewhat hidden, though. To keep’em tourists away, I guess.
As to your statement, “It turns out Germans can actually loosen up and have really good conversations once they get to know you.”, please let me explain that those Germans often make the experience that US-Americans are highly superficial and that it really doesn’t make any sense trying to engage with them in any meaningful conversation. Just be nice and talk about the weather and Starbucks and MD and Katy Perry, etc. … I think that may be in part why children here are being taught to definitely not speak English US-style.
Now that we’ve entered the realm of clichés, please allow me to lighthen things a bit and somehow prove to you that Germans actually do know a joke or two and – who’d have thought so? – can even laugh about them (I think you’ve already heard the following one; I’ll tell you exactly where *I* came across it first in a couple of lines … encountered it the other day again, by sheer coincidence):
What do you call a person who can speak three languages?
What do you call a person who can speak two languages?
And what do you call a person who can only speak one language?
(American Accent Training, Ann Cook, Barron’s, 1991, p. vii)
Jokes and clichés are so funny, aren’t they?
Btw, are you enjoying the snow? I most certainly am.
Such great insight on what Germans think of Americans and why they’re less likely to speak with us. I’d love to be the one who changes that viewpoint (although I do know some Americans who might reinforce it). Still, I hope they’ll give me a chance. As you see Nichole, Kai and myself had a very good (and not at all superficial) chat. And tonight, my new friend Peter, (the older man I met at the local bar) had a really interesting talk about his past.
Still, the part about Americans and our lack of language skills is, sadly, true. Much of it is because the country is so big and our neighbors to the north also speak English (for the most part). When I was in school the choices of languages to learn were Spanish and French. I took Spanish and can now get by (although it’s become very bad from lack of use). And I wish I had taken French as it sounds so fantastic. Now schools are offering many more language choices so, perhaps, future generations will know a few languages. I also took a semester of German at University (I wanted to know what my grandparents were saying in Yiddish) and did not do well. I tried very hard but found it very tough to learn.
As for the snow, I LOVE IT!. Actually, I love the sunny skies. And I was out and about today and there were so many more people around and it felt like a different city. It made me sad to say that I’m leaving on Thursday and heading to Rostock. Going back to my seafaring roots. I’ll be doing my traditional “The Good, the Bad, and the Thank You’s article for Berlin (might have to do one on today also) and then writing a bit about Rostock as well as three other cities (you’ll have to read to find out) that the German Tourism Board is working out for me. After that, I’m on to Frieburg where I’m giving a lecture at ANGELL Akademie.
Thanks so much for the great information and input.
Please don’t take anything I write too seriously. I was just to trying to indicate that stereoytpes can be a slippery slope … Germans can …, Americans are …, Jews say, … Berliners think …, etc. It might be more appropriate to treat people more often on an individual basis? I dunno.
As for US programs on foreign languages, maybe that’s due to a bare necessity? Judging by listening to senators and mayors addressing the US public in Spanish more and more frequently, I wonder when Spanish will finally have become the official language in Los Estados Unidos de América .. in five years – or would you give it ten? *lol*
Btw, personally I believe that the Babylonian mess on this planet is just a very bad curse for mankind. Just imagine how much more really intelligent and useful stuff people could come up with in fields such as science, medicine, etc.- if they didn’t have to put that much effort and time into learning bloody foreign languages. Just have one lingua franca (English) … and maybe throw in French for the beauty of it. Well, just dreaming … German, IMO, is such an ugly sounding and grammarwise complicated language, who in their right mind would ever try to study that one?
Rostock? Oh dear, why in the world would you wanna go there? While the towns, resorts, and beaches at the Baltic Sea are great places – particularly on the islands of Rügen or Usedom – for vacationing IN THE SUMMER, I wonder how you came up with that idea? Romance, despair, under-cover missions, business, …? Whatever, you might wanna check out Warnemünde. And the Stasi museum and the museum of naval history. But you’ll be missing Berlin, I promise …
Btw, all those additional people milling around here are tourists flocking in for New Year’s Eve parties. The one at the famous Fan Mile, running between the Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column, will have about one million people attending. Mainly tourists, of course, (true) Berliners don’t show up there (*stereotyping*). One of the biggest parties in Europe. Don’t go there! As an alternative, at least according to the local papers, there will be a NYE party and some fireworks at that Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz, which is located at the downtown part of the KuDamm you’ve been to a number of times.
It’s Freiburg, btw. After your lecture there, head for the German, Swiss or Austrian Alps. THAT’s where you should spend your winter, up in the lovely ski resorts, but not at the Baltic Sea or the North Sea, IMHO.
Anyway, bon voyage !
Hi Frank –
Once again, great input. Yes, I hate generalizations also. I’m a traveler and, in my writing, I tend to write about the people I meet. I like to think of them as individuals as I would hope they think about me. Still, often I get, “you Americans. . . ” Um, it’s a big place so we’re different as individuals and also in various regions. And don’t even get me started on our variety of backgrounds considering we’re a land of immigrants. I’m only second generation America as all of my grandparents were born somewhere else.
I spend New Years in Rostock. I really like this place. I’ll be writing about New Years Day in Rostock and the big concert in Warnemünde. AS Berlin was the main destination for the trip, the others will get one or two special days written about here and the rest will be in the book.
Languages – I’ve thought about this on the trip. I do like one language as that might clear up some misunderstandings as well as maybe helping people realize we’re much the same. And I like the idea of keeping French for its beauty. Still, language is part of cultures. I know, in Amaerica, some Native American languages, such as Navajo, are disappearing. I’m not sure what the cultural implications might me if languages were phased out. Food for thought anyway.
Must go check out museums and try to get some writing done.
Thanks for the input.