Trip report, Berlin and Krakow

Old Sep 30th, 2001, 09:19 AM
  #1  
Ben Haines
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Trip report, Berlin and Krakow

Elizabeth of New York City asked for a trip report, so here are some jottings.

In Berlin on my way eastward I went to see a show of banknotes and coins for the Euro, the new currency. Half the German notes are being printed in Bavaria or somewhere, but the other half in Berlin, at the Federal Printing press. A good documentary display shows us how much of Europe came towards a common currency, and then examples of all the banknotes and coins. The banknotes have a series of pictures of typical buildings and constructions, from Rome, the Romanesque, the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, nineteenth century and twentieth century. Each picture or composition looks just like something we tourists have seen, but in fact each is an invention, an idea of what is typical, whether a Roman aquaduct or a Baroque doorway. It's an odd feeling: each picture is almost somewhere real, but not quite.

The coins all have the same picture on the "European" side, but the "national" sides vary. The Dutch show the Queen, of course. Italy scores, with each coin based on a work of art -- Botticelli's Venus rising from the sea, da Vinci's model man in his circle, and others -- that all Europeans have known since they were ten. The Italian coins are a great gesture, since each picture is at once Italian and the world's.

As ever, Berlin was full of things to see and do. I'll mention just one other visit, to a slide lecture by a young woman doctor, on being a volunteer for a year with Medicins sans Frontieres. She'd worked in south Sudan, near Rumbek. I spent 1985 to 87 in Juba, so knew what she was saying. There was a good and interested audience of young doctors and nurses, for this was a recruiting exercise, to get new people to go out to poor and battle-torn countries. The people in the room filled me with joy, but Africa with gloom. I'm with those who want a war on poverty, but how to wage that in Africa I don't know. Tactfully done, United Nations mandates might work. Nor would Africans necessarily refuse them. But even if they happened, how could the mandate holders avoid leaving countries ready to decline, as so many did in the sixties ? How could the world stop big firms looting the continent again ?

To a happier evening. My best time this visit in Krakow was to an evening to celebrate the Jewish New Year. I'm Christian but a fan of Jewish central European food and Klezmer music. These were both on full offer. I started with half a litre of a Krakow beer, then came a four-course meal, all excellent, except that the bean and meat stew was bland. Still, a good reminder that Krakow Jews had been poor, and lucky when they had any meat to put to the beans. After the meal, a three-piece band with great clarinettist, and a woman singer who must have been 65 if she was a day, spot on note, with a majestic face that had seen everything (and survived), and an emotional range to match the music. A special pleasure to me was that I knew the choruses of three of the songs, from the lessons in elementary Yiddish at the Krakow festival of Jewish culture the summer before last. I'd been taught in class by a witty Jewish professor who saw songs as the way into the language.

Next to me were two Canadian army officers, a man and woman, partners, and we talked about multiculturism (which is written down in the Canadian constitution), and the Poles in NATO. Poles have to be brought up to NATO standards, which sounds silly to me. Who saved Vienna from the Turks ? Who delivered us the Enigma machine ? Who flew with reckless disregard for self against Hitler's air force ? But it turns out that he phrase is technical. For example, Polish signals services have to have the bandwith and software to get and send news from and to a NATO headquarters.

Continued
 
Old Sep 30th, 2001, 09:21 AM
  #2  
Ben Haines
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Continued

This was perhaps my sixth visit to beautiful Krakow, so I spend most days in towns and castles along the railway line eastwards to Presmysl. Many beautiful things, not all of them in the Lonely Planet guide book. One disappointment, the little church under the Wawel will indeed have the Mass in English, but not now, only from mid October. I've been twice so far, and each time a Polish priest with weak English said the service and read a sermon, but in fact the service was in the hands of an American woman who lived in Krakow (the first time a specially good-looking nun !). And they admit Anglicans (Episcopalians) to the Eucharist. I don't think they tell the Pope.

I was guest of a Pole who'd read my praise of his country on Fodors and Lonely Planet web sites, and has three modern, cheap, and well-appointed flats to let to tourists. Detail is on http://www.sodispar.pl/. I could make my own meals, but didn't do that much, since at the Europajski hotel, by the station, for four pounds or six US dollars, you have a great cooked breakfast, with infinite coffee, fresh rolls and butter, and waitresses who notice when you're going to run out of jam, and have a smile to set you up for the day.

Ben Haines, London
 
Old Sep 30th, 2001, 09:29 AM
  #3  
Lipstique
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Awesome trip report, Ben. I wish I had been with you.

On a side note, I thought I heard mentioned this week that many new Euro coins were stolen from an armored car. Sorry, but I don't recall the details.
 
Old Sep 30th, 2001, 09:34 AM
  #4  
s.fowler
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I second the praise -- very informative and interesting

I saw picturtes of the new euro paper money -- Ben is right -- they leave a sense of "unease" - like we SHOULD lmpw where that is. What a task for the artist/s -- to be "generically" European without being country specific.
 
Old Sep 30th, 2001, 09:35 AM
  #5  
s.fowler
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Holy typo! That was should KNOW --- aieeeee...
 
Old Sep 30th, 2001, 03:49 PM
  #6  
kk
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Fantastic, Ben. I liked Berlin and now you make me want to see Warsaw too. I remember way back when you were planning the trip....in another lifetime it would seem. Welcome back!
Can you write some more?
 
Old Sep 30th, 2001, 04:36 PM
  #7  
Lauren
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There is plenty of klezmer in Berlin as well at the Hackesher Hof. Some of it is done by non Jewish Germans which I found a bit strange. I had a great time when I was there!
 

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