13 November 2017

Wagner, Etc.

Lohengrin at Deutsche Oper Berlin (November 9)

What's it like to watch a Wagner opera in Berlin? Four intense hours of Lohengrin stirred up predictable emotions.
Photographer M. Lieberenz from Deutsche Oper Berlin website
It felt a tad intimidating to sit among people who'd been fed this music since infancy and could probably hum every note. In contrast to the jovial Italians years ago at Verona's Arena, who smiled adoringly and applauded uproariously during a performance of Turandot, here at Deutsche Oper Berlin I felt an intensity around me. Rapt eyes following every action, symbol, nuance. How is this producer handling the opera's messages of nationalism and political ambition? A sister, Elsa, wrongly accused of the murder of her brother by a knight seeking the throne. A charismatic knight in angel wings, arriving on a swan, exploiting love and a vulnerable, innocent Elsa to further his ambitions. Ortrud, the pagan witch, plotting Elsa's fall. And the constant reminders of war, wars from different eras, starting with the prelude when the curtain opens to dead soldiers (World War 1?) strewn on a field and grief stricken female relatives searching for loved ones. Lashings of rich, moving music throughout, but this opera was way too long, with boring stretches in the middle. The tenor, Klaus Florian Vogt, was breathtaking in his effortless handling of the demanding arias. His unusually youthful voice was captivating. This despairing story of manipulative rulers and ruthless politics and ever present wars, a story repeated throughout history, combined with its German nationalism, evoked discomfort at frequent intervals. It was, after all, a favorite of Berlin's most notorious resident. I'm reminded of Stephen Fry who explained in a documentary why he loves Wagner. This is a quote of his from The Guardian some years ago:

You can't allow the perverted views of pseudo-intellectual Nazis to define how the world should look at Wagner. He's bigger than that, and we're not going to give them the credit, the joy of stealing him from us.

Other Stuff ...

Yes, it's stollen, photographed before the whole darn delicious thing disappeared! Despite much effort to suppress Christmas craziness until November 26 (after the Day of the Dead), food shops in Berlin are packed to the gills with tempting ways to give you cardio events! Every bakery has its version of stollen, desperately trying to convince Germans that Dresden, from whence this cake originated, does not hold the number one spot for taste and quality. All week we've been pigging out on this marzipan stollen that Daryl brought back from the famous CafĂ© Frisch in Heidelberg. I'm afraid, when this baby is gone, it will promptly be replaced by a local version. Then another ... and another ... We'll be experts when next you see us! 

On Saturday, a chilly grey day, we spent the afternoon with Julia and Fabian in Michendorf. It's so amazing that an easy 25 minute train ride from our Charlottenburg place in the city gets us out into this peaceful village. Lots of forests and a large lake make the area perfect for long walks - when the weather is pleasant. But, on Saturday we stayed indoors. Daryl helped assemble an infra red sauna and Fabian, when his help was no longer needed, got into a deep, political conversation with me. This eleven year old has always been precocious. The recent gun violence in America was on his mind. Why do Texans love guns? What is the Constitution? Why was President Obama's pick for the Supreme Court not selected? So I had to give him a condensed lesson on American politics. From politics we switched to the developing world. I told him about the women's empowerment volunteer program I'll be doing in January in South Africa. This impressive kid found it interesting, asked questions, and could have gone on with the conversation. However, we had dinner reservations and had to catch our train back into the city.

It was our second time at Lucky Leek on Saturday evening (Nov 11). Our first time was a few years ago on a previous Berlin visit, when it hadn't yet received a Michelin star. This was my TripAdvisor review that first time:

Lucky Leek in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood has to be the trendiest vegan restaurant in the world. A very yummy amuse bouche served on a slate platter promised a meal to savor and remember. And yes, our high expectations were well rewarded. Just studying the menu brought us immense pleasure. Carrots and Hazelnut Praline. Caramelized Feta Cheez. Braised seitan filet. Austrian dumplings. How to choose? The menu is small, changing every week according to what produce has been just harvested. Too bad we were in Berlin for just a week. We sat on the terrace, enjoying chilled local beer and cuisine that made us feel like royalty. Because it was midsummer and the weather was blissful, there was quite a lively atmosphere in the area. So we had it all - ambience, fine food, and attentive service.

Saturday evening's experience was different. A bracing November evening meant a toasty indoor ambience. Instead of chilled beer we had a wine pairing more suited to the comforting flavors of cold weather cuisine. We were pleased to see that they've maintained their high standards. A set menu showcased an impressive variety of autumn vegetables prepared with exquisite flair. Bold flavors inspired by cuisine from all corners of the globe provided heft and immense satisfaction.

We ended the weekend at The Story of Berlin museum which took us through 800 years of the city's history. Multimedia rooms showed us Berlin's growth from a medieval trading center to a bustling metropolis and how major world phenomena like the industrial revolution, the wars, Fascism, and the Cold War shaped it. 
A tour of a nuclear bomb shelter built in the 1970's was a head scratcher.. Only 1% of Berlin's residents could be protected in the city's 16 shelters? 

Winter is here!!! Temperatures in the 40's Fahrenheit. Snow is forecast for next week. Brrr!