August is vacation month in Europe, and I spent the month on an unintentional blog break! Whoops. Suffice to say, life has been interesting of late. I’ll post more over the next few weeks.
We did manage to fit in a couple of trips since I last posted. Back in July, we spent my birthday weekend in Zurich and St. Gallen. The Zurich trip, I’m not ashamed to admit, was inspired by Zooborns. I wanted to see this wolf puppy, and while I wasn’t able to get a great shot of it through the fence, it was adorable. We also saw baby sea otters and all sorts of other creatures. The second day, we went to St. Gallen to visit the Abbey Library, which often appears in lists of the most beautiful libraries in the world (with reason!). No photos allowed in the library so I’m linking to an image search, but it was spectacular.
St. Gallus, an Irish monk, settled in the area in the 600s. The Abbey was originally founded in the 700s. The library has quite a collection of old manuscripts, including incunabula, or manuscripts dating from the 8th-15th centuries that were printed pre-Gutenberg. We saw all sorts of interesting manuscripts on display there and a giant, fantastic globe that was taller than me. The doorway above the library has the inscription, “Psyches iatereion,” or “soul apothecary.” Cool, huh? There’s a fantasy novel in there somewhere.
We also went to Berlin for a week and got back last week. Friends were getting married over the weekend, so we turned it into a little vacation — except we ended up exhausting ourselves completely and needing a few days to recover afterward. I’m finally getting back on track again this week. Oh, I also spent Friday afternoon on an IV drip getting an iron infusion because apparently I had 1/3 of the iron I’m supposed to in my body. Whoops. No wonder I was tired! (I occasionally get mild anemia. It spiked. All is well, though.)
So Berlin. This was the first time I went somewhere without researching the heck out of it. The strange thing about visiting Berlin is that I felt no personal connection to it — like I love London, but I was an English major, so everywhere I go, I find literary connections and history that I’m excited about. I also felt some kinship for Switzerland before moving here. I’d studied French all through school, after all, and several of the Romantics I’d studied spent an infamous summer here. Our stereotypical vampire (inspired by Lord Byron) and the science fiction genre were both born on the shores of Lake Geneva. But Berlin? Like most, I associate Germany with WWII and the Berlin Wall. I didn’t have an in. It’s always been A’s city — he speaks the language, and he loves Bauhaus and some of the art and design that emerged.
But not planning was fun. The wedding had several days of events, from a biergarten dinner to a sightseeing boat tour, and the event itself perfectly fit our friends. The groom is a composer, and he arranged for some original and classical organ pieces (the church was 800 years old and has an amazing 5000 pipe organ) and debuted a choral piece. The quartet who sang? Members of the Deutsche opera. Yeah, it was amazing. The bride designs furniture, and she designed her very sculptural wedding dress. At the reception she put on an over skirt, which involved ostrich feathers. Immediately after the ceremony, they handed out pretzels as a snack, and then we took a Trabi tour through Berlin as the wedding -> reception transportation.
Trabis (short for Trabants) were the only cars made in East Germany. There were three types of Trabis, but they’re basically made of pressed cardboard. They’re adorable little death traps. The bride and groom were in a blue convertible. We were in a military convertible that didn’t have doors. They even had a Trabi limo and van! The first thing the tour driver did was pass out bottles of beer and champagne, and we drove through the city, pausing at Checkpoint Charlie on the way. Lots of cheering and photos through the city — even a toast from some cops who were on duty at an Egypt rally/protest. Filed under things that would never happen in the US: driving through a major city in a caravan of unroadworthy cars (some lacking doors) with open bottles of alcohol. So lots of music throughout the afternoon and well into the evening, amazing food, and general festivity. Good stuff.
Otherwise we ate a LOT. Switzerland is extremely expensive, especially when it comes to dining out, and doesn’t have much food variety, so we made the most of Berlin’s cheap prices and diversity. Good thing we walked several miles each day or we would’ve come back completely rotund. We also managed to catch up with several people and met a few online friends for the first time.
In terms of tourism, we went to the Stasi museum, which was doubly creepy given the simultaneous NSA reveals. Laura Poitras, one of the reporters with the Snowden leaks, actually relocated to East Berlin and is reporting from there because it’s safer for her than being in the U.S. at this point. Crazy given the history of spying in East Berlin just 25-30 years ago. One of the most shocking stats at the Stasi museum was reading that they began in the 1950s with 2,700 employees. In the 1980s, they were up to 91,000. We also went to the the old Templehof airfield. It used to be an airport and several years ago was converted into a giant park, so people bike, jog, and walk there. They have a huge, enclosed dog run, random art installations, and a large, community garden space. Great use for an old airport.
Berlin is not at the top of my list of places to live, but it was lovely to visit — like New York without the crowds and insane pace.