Vacation from Working Vacation

Thursday I picked up a rental car (an hour on buses and S-bahn down to Neukölln, 45 min back to get Ray). We drove west, stopping by two World Heritage sites, according to our algorithm for what to see.

Fagus-Werk in Alfeld is a shoe factory, and was the first major architectural project by Walter Gropius, who founded the Bauhaus school of architecture. One minor distinguishing characteristic was that there were no structural supports in the corners of the building, so that the windows on each side could meet with only minimal frames. They had a ten-room museum there, but we were only able to get to about four of them before it became 4:00 and everything closed. Sigh, next time.

Then we raced up to Hildesheim to see the cathedral, which was open until 6:00. It is famous for having the oldest known rosebush in the world, climbing on the cathedral wall, known to be at least 700 years old. We also saw St. Michaelis, a cute church nearby.

There are various approaches to the restoration of buildings which have been destroyed by Allied Bombers or Nazi sappers or Taliban. You can put them back together just the way they looked at their prime — Old Town Warsaw was done that way — or you can leave them exactly as they were found, as with much of Hattusas and the Kaiser Wilhelms Gedächtniskirche, or you can restore them partway and indicate somehow the boundary between the ruins and the restorations. Often the restorations are undecorated but of the same color as the remaining artifacts. This is what has happened in Hildesheim, but it seems as if there wasn’t a lot left, so the effect is of blank walls with occasional old bits sticking out.

This is pretty much what walls looked like before the 19th century discovery of Ruins as a Profit Center. You would build your wall from bricks and cornices and capitals and stelae and busts and whatever was lying around from the city you had just conquered and that was that.

We headed to Bremen for dinner. Bremen has an incredibly cute town square, in the “build it back the way it was” format. The Old Town Hall was boarded up during the war and it and the main church survived pretty well although Bremen was 60% destroyed.

European countries have long used a credit card scheme called “chip and PIN”. Instead of signing a credit card receipt, you enter a PIN number on a small terminal. You never lose sight of your card; in a restaurant, the waiter brings tbe terminal out to you at your table. Until the last year, America has used the magnetic stripe, and made you sign a receipt. In the last year, they have put chips in the card, though chip readers have been slow to appear. In Europe, these cards operate in a “chip and signature” fashion, where the terminal reads the chip, but then prints out a receipt for you to sign.

In Bremen, we stayed at the “Motel 24h”, which used to be a Formule One. After 10pm, one must interact with a kiosk to gain entry. First, one must enter a code to claim one’s reservation. The code on our confirmation from was not recognized as valid, and we had to press the “emergency” doorbell to get the manager to come down. She took the form and typed some stuff into her computer, then we saw the invalid code being typed by her remotely onto the kiosk, and then recognized as valid. Great. We took over from there and started inserting our “chip and signature” cards, and even our “stripe and signature” cards into the little reader. But none of them were accepted. Faced with having to find another place to stay and a cancellation charge, we pressed the “emergency” doorbell again; the manager came back down, opened the office, put our “chip and signature” card in her other reader, which printed out a receipt for me to sign. I think I actually have a Wells Fargo credit card which operates in “chip and pin” mode, but I forgot about that when selecting the ones to bring on the trip. Next time I’ll bring it for sure. In the near future, you may read the review on Trip Advisor, though this will scroll out of sight by next year. The Formule One logo was still shown on signs on the rooms and bathrooms, and they still promised that the toilets would automatically clean themselves. But I never saw any red lights indicating that was happening.

Our original plans for Friday were to go up to the beach at Dangast to see a statue. But Bibo told us that she grew up in Worpswede, an artist colony near Bremen, and we decided to go there first in the gloomy morning. It’s a delightful little place, with art museums all over the place. We bought a ticket covering four of them, and went to see what was there. This group of museums was featuring the work of three women born in the late 19th century, doing most of their work in the mid-20th century. The first was Ottilie Reylander, whose most striking work was done in Mexico from 1910 to 1927. The next featured Käthe Kollwitz, who made paintings and drawings and sculpture about worker’s rights and social justice, and whose work was suppressed by the Nazi government. The third featured Jeanne Mammen, who grew up in Paris but then moved to Berlin, drawing illustrations for fashion magazines. Her work was also suppressed, and became more abstract, closely tracking the styles of the day in her later years. We also visited the “Cheese House”, a dome-shaped wooden house with an amazing collection of stuff inside.

Then we drove to Dangast, crossing the inlet north of Bremen through a tunnel. Dangast has a little monument on the beach in the form of a square brick pedestal with a perfectly sculpted penis head on top. We got several pictures. But it’s a good thing we went to Worpswede: the sun came out in the hours we spent there, and shone on the monument. More importantly, the tide fell and was extremely low when we got there. The beach would have been under water if we had gone in the morning.

And then, the reason for the Bremen excursion in the first place: we went to Thomas Rentmeister’s opening for his “Hostal” exhibition in Delmenhorst, which he had been setting up the previous days. First we looked around in a room in a side building which had works on paper. The best was a wavy closed curve made out of the little shavings from colored pencils by a manual pencil sharpener. It’s a bit “Under The Bridge” or “Stairway To Heaven” to say this — it’s the unrepresentative work which gets the most downloads. Mostly Mr. Rentmeister works in whites and off whites.

Another case showed a large variety of labels cut off of various items of white clothing shown in another room. The main building had exhibits on two upper floors, and on the lower one a long presentation by the museum’s curator in German, which we didn’t understand and wouldn’t have even had it been in English. Art theory is not something you can just walk into. Cultural critics expect art and philosophy to be instantly accessible in a way that they don’t expect of medicine and quantum mechanics. There are probably some papers about this.

The show had a “hospital” theme. There was a structure made from rusty square steel tubes connecting the exhibit rooms. One part of it had five impossibly-short bunk beds. One room had a wall of white shelves, each with haphazard piles of white clothing and other white things. Some other Rentmeister signatures were there, like a cube covered with Nutella, and another one with Penaten. Some ceramic blobs, one in the shape of a snowman, were scattered around for comic effect. The food served continued the hospital theme, featuring delicious chicken soup and other snacks.

Saturday morning we checked out of the Motel 24h and drove to Dennis’ father Klaus’ house in Braunschweig, and immediately proceeded to Wolfsburg, where Dennis’ brother Thomas was celebrating his birthday. We had some tasty Thai food, and spent awhile touring “Phaeno”, the local discover-science museum. It had many exhibits made by a project of SF’s Exploratorium, most of which are also there, including a black and white tile optical illusion wall like in the Exploratorium’s bathroom. Highlights here included Ray’s hair on end thanks to a Van de Graaf generator, and a fire tornado. You don’t take your hand off a Van de Graaf generator to brush the hair out of your eyes, by the way, and then expect to put it back. I knew this already but it slipped my mind.

It turned out we missed the exhibition of old pinball machines, oh well. Klaus works at Volkswagen, so you can guess what a major topic of conversation was. We drove back to Braunschweig and had a large afternoon snack, then rejoined Thomas and Daniele and Sebastian at Braunchweig Im Flammen, a fireworks show at the local swimming lake (this time of year it’s too cold to swim). I hadn’t seen a local close-up fireworks show for a long time. It was quite nice.

Sunday we had a leisurely breakfast, and then headed to Goslar. The downtown was kind of cute, and was having a little Renaissance faire, with people in old costumes and food booths. The main reason for going there was the World Heritage Mine at Rammelsberg, where they had extracted several minerals from seabed deposits for hundreds of years. There weren’t any English Language tours at the times we had allotted for the visit, but we did walk around the exhibits. As we approached them, a man was standing there with his young son, and asked if we’d like to know anything. He is a mining engineer at a nearby mine, and knew everything about this one. He had a long conversation with Ray about the different ways over time the various minerals were separated from each other and from the rock in which they were contained. We probably could have left at that point, knowing everything, but we looked at the pretty rocks in one building (inside and amongst huge tanks), the cultural-historical exhibits in another, and the cute little Christo packaged mine car in a third. By the time we got the rental car returned in Berlin, it was 9pm, seemingly too late to do anything; we had Turkish food by an S-bahn station as we went back to the studio. When we got there we saw that Sandro had made two more pieces of poster art, one for us and one for Thomas. The mission for the week would be to figure out how to get the one for us back to California.