Sorry for this super delayed post, this will be one of a few coming out this week to catch everyone up!
But for now, the blog you’ve all been waiting for- what DID Becky do in Berlin?! Well it’s finally here: My (first) Berlin Adventure!
I left for Berlin on Saturday, December 8th at 12pm on the Berlin Linien Bus. This double decker bus travels between Hamburg and Berlin about six times a day. The journey takes 3 hours and since the bus wasn’t very busy, I stretched out and had a lovely nap for those 3 hours. There was a lot of snow in Hamburg so most of the journey offered views such as this one:
I arrived at the Ostbahnhof in Berlin at 3:30pm and headed into the station to find a subway to Alexanderplatz. It only took me 10min and two laps to find it so that wasn’t so bad. Alexanderplatz is a large public square in Berlin easily found by the TV Tower. There was a huge Christmas market there with a mini amusement park- Ferris wheel and all! No one seemed to have any safety concerns regarding the snow since all the rides were still going- I guess we’re just wimpy in B.C. when we shut down our amusement parks for the winter season. I wandered around the market for a short while trying to get my bearings and came across an unusual busking group.
I eventually found my hostel, called Citystay. I booked this hostel on recommendation from Elisabeth, a lady who is friends with my mom and lives in Berlin. Her apartment was right around the corner from this hostel and we met up twice during my trip so it was very convenient! The girl at the front desk spoke English until she found out I was an au pair living in Hamburg and then spoke to me only in German since she decided I should practice. I had a private room which consisted of a bed and chair, very small, but it didn’t matter seeing as I didn’t spend much time there. I headed out to explore, heading down Karl-Liebniechts Straße towards the Brandenberg Gate (Brandenderger Tor in German). On my way I passed Museum Island which holds the DDR Museum among others and a handful of Christmas markets.
It was very cold and snowy outside so I stopped at a market to buy some gloves. On my way I passed a crowd of people looking overhead so I looked too. There was Santa Claus sitting in a sleigh with a full display of plastic reindeer ahead of him. The entire scene was balanced on a track overhead and was apparently going to make its way across the market but after 5 mins of waiting I was just too cold. I’ll never know if he made it.
From there I continued down the main street which then turns into the famous Unter der Linden Straße. Here there is a centre walkway in the road that is lined with trees all lit up with white Christmas lights. It was very beautiful and peaceful walking along in the snow.
Finally at the end of Unter den Linden I reached the Brandenberg Gate. The gate was blocked slightly from view by a massive Christmas tree right in front of it. Luckily for me there was a large swarm of tourists all hoping to get their picture taken so it was easy for me to do a picture exchange:
I walked through the gate and on the other side there was a very interesting sign explaining the original purpose of the gate and all the significant events it had seen through the past. The Tiergarten begins here on the west side of the gate so I crossed the street and began walking. I soon reached the Reichstag (parliament) building- what an impressive sight! I didn’t have time to go in so I just walked around to the field in front to get a good view and take a picture. Again I was approached by some other tourists and asked to take a photo so I was able to get one as well:
Thoroughly chilled I headed back to my hostel, met up with Elisabeth (my mom’s friend) then headed to the Philharmonie for my first Berlin Philharmonic concert.
The Philharmonie was easy enough to find- I took the bus to Potsdamer Platz and walked 5 minutes from there. I was very excited to see the hall when I turned the corner.
I found my way to the coat check and dropped my stuff off, then headed in to find my seat. I had purchased a seat behind the orchestra in the centre in the hopes that I would have a good view of the trumpeters and the rest of the brass. Although it wasn’t right behind (those tickets were around 100 euros), I still had a fairly good view and could see the conductor, Christian Thielemann, really well.
I was there 15min before the concert started so I had time to read through a bit of the programme (I remembered 2 euros to buy a programme this time) and listen to the double basses warm up. On the Verdi opera excerpts concert program was Macbeth, Othello and Don Carlos.
As is a trend with all concerts in Germany there was no talking or introduction. There is a preconcert talk 45min before every show but otherwise the conductor doesn’t say anything, no one comes out to introduce the orchestra and (thankfully) you don’t have to hear a list of all the concert sponsors. The conductor just walks out and starts the performance. And what a show it was! I have already seen many videos of the Berlin Philharmonic performing live through their Digital Concert Hall. This is an online subscription you can buy which gives you access to an archive of all the concerts they have ever recorded live, archives of older Berlin performances with famous conductors such as Claudio Abbado and the opportunity to live stream a concert all the way in Canada. That being said, seeing this fantastic orchestra live in person was amazing. Every musician in the orchestra is aware of who is most important at all times. Christian Thielemann was a fountain of energy for the entire two hours, never allowing the orchestra a moments rest. He actually stopped conducting with his hand at one point and just held the orchestra intently with his eyes. Every few seconds he would make a facial expression or turn his gaze to the next section that was coming in. Despite the lack of movement the orchestra was so responsive! There was one point where the concert master (violin) had a solo and although the entire string section was playing I had no trouble at all hearing him. It was as if someone had simply turned down the volume on the rest of the orchestra- that is very hard to do!
And of course the brass was nothing short of amazing. The entire section from the tuba to the horns were completely in sync with each other. The musicians often exchanged looks and smiled as they fed off of each other’s enthusiasm. Gabor Tarkövi was playing principal trumpet for this concert and he is a very active player with his body movements. His shoulders would bounce with the music and his head was always moving around. The hall has fantastic acoustics so although I was behind the orchestra I had no problems hearing everyone. The entire brass section began and ended everything together and they gave off such a warm, round sound. Nothing was too harsh or brilliant and everything was always well blended. I really felt like the entire brass section was playing into the sound of the tuba (Alexander von Puttkamer). I hope that one day I get to experience what it’s like to play with musicians as talented as these people!
The two hours really flew by and I loved every minute of it. I didn’t know these pieces very well before attending the concert but the orchestra had so much fun performing them I want to get to know them better. The orchestra also played a short encore at the end with lots of big brass parts which was awesome. At the end of the concert I got my coat from the lobby and discovered the Berlin Philharmonic gift shop- a musician’s dream store. It has every CD the Berlin Phil has ever produced as well as books on conducting, performing, biographies etc. and an entire section on ensembles of the Philharmonic. This is where I found a CD of trumpet concertos from Gabor Tarkövi and a CD called “On the Road” with duets from Gabor Tarkövi and the other principal trumpet of the Berlin Philharmonic, Tamas Velenczei. If I had more time I’m sure I would have left with more than two CDs.
After the concert I headed back to my hostel through the snowy streets of Berlin. It only took about 20-25min to walk and I walked passed the Bradenberger Tor again. I don’t think I could get tired of seeing this impressive gate.
After a (thankfully) uneventful sleep in my hostel I headed to Elisabeth’s for breakfast. We ate a true German breakfast- bread, cheese, sausage, eggs, tea, marmalade, honey, tea and orange juice. I had a wonderful time talking to Elisabeth about her experiences in Berlin. She’s lived there for 40 years in the same apartment so she was there in East Berlin before the wall fell. We talked about life for her as a TV journalist and then a receptionist and the differences between now and then. Nowadays Elisabeth does lots of apartment exchanges where she lends her apartment to people visiting Berlin and uses their apartments abroad. This is how she met my mom when she did an exchange with a friend of my mom’s. What a neat way to spend your retirement!
From Elisabeth’s I headed on the bus back to the Philharmonie for the Berlin Philharmonic Brass and Organ concert. The seating for this concert was open so I arrived 45min early in time to get a good seat and listen to the pre-concert talk. Although the brass ensemble was the reason I bought tickets for this concert, the organist starring in the performance was also fantastic. Her name is Iveta Apkalna, from Latvia, and she was really fun to watch since she can move her feet so quickly across the pedals. The first piece she performed was by a composer named Naji Hakim called Prelude, Aria and Gigue. During the applause after the piece she motioned to the audience and Naji Hakim stood up right behind me to take a bow. Iveta Apkalna also played another one of Hakim’s compositions as an encore which was a study for the pedals so she only played with her feet. It was so impressive!
It was incredible to see Gabor Tarkövi and Tamas Velenczei (principal trumpets) playing live and up so close- I could see just how easy they make trumpet playing seem! The ensemble played many “call and answer” pieces so I was able to hear each of the trumpeters play one right after another. It was such a great experience.
I had a smooth journey back to Hamburg and found that it had snowed in Hamburg just as much as it had snowed in Berlin:
Since this trip I went back to Berlin again for another four days with my cousin Katharine and her boyfriend Tom so I’ll be writing another post about that soon, along with my plans for the future. Until then,