Former East Germany and Marvellous Music

Life in the DDR

Our visit today (Tuesday 21) was to the DDR or GDR Museum, depending on whether you call it the Deutsche or German Democratic Republic Museum. Seems to be used interchangeably. The museum provides an accessible experience of how it was to live in former East Germany with the Wall, and under socialism. It is very practical. For example, there is a Trabi – the East German car which was produced in competition to the Beatle. A very basic car with apparently very weak brakes and no fuel indicator. But it was a car.

The DDR Trabant (or Trabi to the locals) in modern attire.

There were graphic displays of the sort of food and household goods available – terribly basic. And small houses, all identical and identically organised. Kindergartens and schools where the kids were taught the way to do things – eg, collective potty training. It would be a very good visit for kids who would learn a lot. There is lots to touch so kids would learn by playing with displays. At the same time there is lots there for adults to learn. We came out with a much better understanding of the post-war History up to 1989 and what this form of socialism involved. A couple of surprises for us. During this time a much enjoyed past time in the GDR was nude swimming. We suspect that with such control being exerted on their lives that this was something they jumped at. The authorities were definitely uncomfortable about this but were not able to take any action. We were also surprised to read that religious adherence dropped off incredibly during the socialist period. So many little interesting details. We spent 90 minutes, and it was a very concentrated time.

We then had two false starts. We tried to go to a free concert at the Philharmonie – but it was apparently filled as soon as the doors opened – and we were not there in time. We then went to the State Library hoping to go to an exhibition focussing on Luther, this year being 500 years since he posted his theses on the church door at Wittenburg. We soon discovered that there was no English translation – so we gave that a miss to0, after we sat in the foyer and ate our sandwiches. We have found a number of places where we can sit and eat a packed lunch. We followed this with a coffee at Starbucks which has a first floor lounge where you can sit in comfy chairs and listen to jazz. We have eaten our lunch there too. Close by was Legoland. We are sure you will enjoy the unbelievably huge Lego giraffe.

Next we did what we love doing – wandering around the city. It is always amazing what you see when you walk but don’t see from a bus. Kept us busy for a couple of hours. We discovered a church we had never seen before. A huge church in the round, hidden away from main roads – St Hedwig’s cathedral. As always, we enjoyed going in and sitting for a while. We have grown to love the pictures which have been put by the transport authority on the barricades where a new subway is being built through the middle of the city. The idea is to have people feel this subway is theirs, whoever they are. Hope you like them.

Pierre Boulez Concert Hall

We ended up at a relatively new concert hall we had heard about. It is called the Pierre Boulez Saal. It is a beautiful ellipse-shaped building. The Boulez ensemble was founded by Daniel Barenboim working closely with Edward Said, with the aim of inviting music students from Palestine and Israel to train with him. He conducts their orchestra which mainly consists of musicians from the Staatskapelle (State Music college) Berlin, and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. These details won’t mean much to you but watch out for them – they are sure to come to Australia at some stage.

Pierre Boulez, after whom the brand new (4 March 2017) Concert Hall is named.

We spent ages reading the really interesting displays, looking at a photographic record of concerts they had given all around the world since 1999 including in places like the de-militarised Zone of North Korea, and the Vatican, and listening to concerts through ear phones as we watched them perform on a video. We saw shots of concerts they had given in Seville and Ronda in Spain (both places we are going to) and of concerts they had given in Italy at places familiar to us.

A bit more wandering after that before making for home, tired but very happy.


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