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Isn’t this so pretty? It’s “Die Morgenstunde,” by 19th century German painter Moritz von Schwind, and it’s part of the Schack Collection (Sammlung Schack), in Munich. Formerly known as the Schack Galerie, the museum re-opened today after a renovation carried out in honor of its 100th anniversary. If you’re in Munich this week, you can visit the museum for free. But after Sunday, it’s just 4 Euros.

Two weekends ago I had a romantic rendezvous in Hamburg. Sam flew in from London and I arrived on the express train from Berlin. We met in the hotel lobby. I looked up and there she was, a spray of pink feathers rising from one of her signature, expertly pinned coiffures.

The city’s annual Long Night of Museums event had lured us up to this north German locale. So I cashed in some Starpoints and got us a couple luxurious beds in a hotel overlooking the Alster Lake. With only one night we had little time to spare, and quickly set out on an adventure that only two girls traveling together in a new city, with no expectations, could have.

We didn’t make it far. A miniature beer garden with market stalls offering potato puffers and glasses of prosecco with strawberries got our attention and we wallowed in the neo-Hanseatic atmosphere. Continuing on our way, we figured it was time to purchase our 12 euro tickets for the Long Night of Museums when we spotted a crowd forming outside the Bucerius Kunst Forum. That night, Forty-two museums stayed open until 2 a.m., many hosted live performances, and all were accessible with a single ticket. We made it to five: Bucerius, the 113-year-old, 97-meter long windjammer Rickmer Rickmers, the Kunstverein, Deichtorhallen, and the Hamburger Kunsthalle. But we walked forever.

And when we saw Hamburg’s harbor rise up before us with its historic paddle steamers, sailing ships, lift boats, container vessesls, tugs and fishing boats, we knew we were in the right place. En route to dinner we bought tiny bottles of liquor from two different bachelors dressed up like the Statue of Liberty and a prison convict who kept spotting us and yelling “New York!” Later we cut across town on the U-Bahn and dragged our aching feet through vast rooms filled with contemporary art. DJs spun dance music in a tent where people drank beer, but we saved what little energy we had to make it back to our beds to rest up for a morning exploring the streets of St. Georg, and an afternoon plying the waters of Lake Aster. Because there’s really no better way to see Hamburg than from the seat of your very own paddle boat – if only for an hour.

Hotel

Le Royal Méridien Hamburg, An der Alster 52
www.starwoodhotels.com

Restaurants

Breakfast – Dat Backhus, Lange Reihe 29
www.datbackhus.de

Lunch – Café Koppel, Lange Reihe 75
www.cafe-koppel.de

Dinner – Hatari Pfälzer Stüble, Schanzenstrasse 2-3

Museums

Bucerius Kunst Forum, Rathausmarkt 2
www.buceriuskunstforum.de

Museumschiff Rickmer Rickmers, Landungsbrücken, Ponton 1a
www.rickmer-rickmers.de

Kunstverein Hamburg, Klosterwall 23
www.kunstverein.de

Deichtorhallen Hamburg, Deichtorstrasse 1-2
www.deichtorhallen.de

Hamburger Kunsthalle, Glockengiesserwall
www.hamburger-kunsthalle.de

Once home to Goethe, and Schiller, and the generous arts patron, the Duchess Anna Amalia, a visit to Weimar is like stepping back into an earlier era – to a time when grand dames fanned themselves by open, silk-draped windows, while their maids went out to collect the household necessities at the morning market.

Get acquainted with the Duchess by visiting her former home, the opulent Wittum’s Palais, or Widow’s Palace. Sumptuous rooms, lined in emerald and ruby brocade are filled with 18th century furnishings, including the narrow bed where Anna Amalia once slept. Then visit her library, a short walk away, where a 30-minute visit includes an audio guide that tells the stories of the people depicted in the portraits and busts that flank the bookshelves.

At the Goethe Haus, you can see the study where the great German author worked, stroll through rooms he decorated with paintings and sculptures collected during his travels, and then spend a few peaceful moments within his tranquil garden.

Learn about that revolutionary school of modern design at the Bauhaus Museum. This year, the Bauhaus celebrates its 90th anniversary, and Weimar, the city where it all began, is hosting a series of special exhibitions, including the excellent “On the Way to Design: The Bauhaus Workshops in Weimar,” at the Neues Museum, through July 5.

See the city’s premiere art collection at the Schloss Museum, a former palace whose three levels display everything from medieval altarpieces to post-impressionist paintings.

Once you’ve had your fill of culture, go antiquing for Thurungian treasures at Antiquitaetum am Schloss on Obere Schlossgasse.

Then stroll up to the Russian Orthodox Church, surrounded by an exquisite historic cemetary where Goethe, Schiller, and the Grand Duchess Maria Pawlowna are buried.

Further on, Schloss Belvedere makes a lovely setting for an afternoon picnic. See collections of fine German porcelain and glassworks within its airy rooms, or just lounge about on the plush acres of soft green grass that surround. Take Bus 12 back into town where you can dine at Café Frauentor before collapsing into bed at the historic Hotel Elephant.

Just an hour and a half train ride from Berlin, Weimar makes an excellent overnight excursion.

{Photo by mhobl (off for a while)}

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the legendary art and design movement called the Bauhaus. It was 1919, World War I had just ended, and Germany was in a sorry state. Everyone was eager to move on and build a better future. Unfortunately, as the 1920s came to a close and the Nazi party rose to power, the nation took an ugly turn. Though the school was forced to close, and many of its founders emigrated, the legacy of the movement lives on in the furniture and buildings that surround us today. But what’s so fascinating about the Bauhaus is that it went beyond mere aesthetics, delving into philosophical and societal issues.

I recently spoke with the Dessau Bauhaus Foundation’s new director Phillip Oswalt on the occasion of the anniversary. Read my article on The Local to see what he had to say.

Kerstin and James, Berlin Standesamt Wedding

A toy piano wedding march and a Dadaist veil add moments of delight to a cheerful winter celebration in Berlin.

Who: Kerstin and James

Date: February 6, 2009

Kerstin and James, Berlin StandesamtCeremony: In Germany, it’s compulsory to marry at the local Standesamt, a civil registration office, sort of like a town hall. Kerstin and James married at the Standesamt Berlin Mitte, right in the center of the city. The bright, cheerful room, known as the Parochialzimmer, was decorated with a tulle-swathed amaryllis and paintings of the TV Tower. A dapper man in a smart three-piece suit officiated.

Reception: After the ceremony, the bride, groom, their parents, and all their guests went across the street to a cafe called Weinwirtschaft im Podewil where champagne, coffee, and Häppchen (a German hors d’oeuvre similar to Italian bruschetta, with meats and cheeses) were served. The cafe was decorated for spring, with fuchsia tulips on the tables, and arrangements of birch logs and forsythia.Kerstin and James Berlin Wedding

Bride Wore: A chartreuse blouse with a knee-length black skirt, black tights, and 1920s style shoes. A friend presented Kerstin with a powder blue hat which she wore  during the reception.

Flowers: Kerstin carried a bouquet of red carnations. During the era of the German Democratic Republic, red carnations were popular flowers. Symbols for the labor movement, they were usually present at celebrations, a tradition that often continues in former GDR regions of Germany today. “My grandfather often brought carnations,” Kerstin said.

Intriguing Details:
Before the ceremony, the bride and groom kissed under a small white canopy made of tulle and lace. “It could be a cheese cover, or a fruit cover, or a Dadaist bridal veil, in this use I assume it was a bridal veil,” explained Kerstin.

See more photos from Kerstin and James’ wedding.

{Can I feature your wedding on Tidepooler? Email me!}

Welcoming and undemanding, Berlin doesn’t expect anything, yet it encourages ever so subtly. Awash in creativity, the German capital constantly inspires, revealing glimpses of beauty in the most unexpected places. Majestic with its towering prefab apartment buildings, charming with its cobbled streets, and utterly inviting, with the alluring glow of a thousand candlelit cafes. Here are ten things I love about Berlin.

1. The Silence - At night a calm settles over Berlin. Streets are dimly lit and utterly silent. Enchanting, and completely safe.

2. The Fernsehturm – Known to non-German speakers as the TV Tower. It’s a landmark that embodies 1960s DDR style. I’ve been up to its observation floor and rotating restaurant twice. Sounds like a cheesy touristy thing to do but it’s so much fun. The views are unbeatable, and the food’s not bad, and not too expensive either. Once I saw a rainbow.

3. Monsieur Vuong – Listed in all the guidebooks, this amazing Vietnamese restaurant is one of Berlin’s most popular spots. But the food really is that good. A small regular menu and only two special dishes per day. It’s usually very packed, but the wait’s not too bad, especially in summer when you can hang out on stylish Alte Schönhauser Strasse.

4. Summer Barbecues – One of the most amazing thing about Berlin is that you can buy a grill for 6 euros at the supermarket and fire it up at most any local park. On weekends in summer the city’s multitude of parks are full of afternoon revelers beer, eating bratwurst and playing lawn games like Kubb and Boule.

5. The S-Bahn – Berlin’s public transportation system is one of the best in the world. The main S-Bahn rail cuts through the city, offering a glimpse at all the top sites like Alexanderplatz, the Berliner Dom, and the Hauptbahnhof. When it passes over Museum Island you can actually peer inside the windows of the Bode Museum.

6. Il Casolare – The best pizza in town. They have three locations, one in Prenzlauerberg, one right down the street from me in Friedrichshain, and this one in Kreuzberg, which is the nicest because it’s in a picturesque area near the canal by Admiralbrucke. It also has a large, covered, outdoor terrace which gets jammed in the summer.

7. River Cruises – An hour-long boat cruise along the River Spree is one of the most fun things to do in Berlin. Boats are docked near the Hauptbahnhof, the Berliner Dom, and the House of World Cultures, among other places. I’ve taken cruises in the summer and winter, and sat upon the top deck both times. A tour guide gives an informative account of the sites passed along the way, usually in both German and English.

8. Haloumi – We have falafel in New York and we have gyros (known here as Doner Kebab), but I had never heard of haloumi before I moved to Berlin. It’s a gently fried middle eastern cheese, and it’s prepared in a sandwich with a pita similar to how a falafel is prepared. So good!

9. Architektur Galerie Berlin: Werkraum – This is a gorgeous, tiny architecture gallery on Karl Marx Allee in Friedrichshain. One day I was biking by when I was immediately attracted to these stunning photographs of buildings designed by Swiss architect Peter Märkli. Every month they feature the work of a different architect. One of the most spectacular thing about the space is the beautiful grey marble floor. It’s housed in one of the grand Stalinist apartment blocks that lines the street.

10. Christmas Markets – Every December dozens of Christmas Markets (Weinachtsmarkts) are set up all over the city. It’s so magical to walk among the holiday decor, peruse the stalls of handmade gifts, and sit with friends in heated tents clutching a warm mug of mulled wine (Glüwein). My favorite is the small one in the courtyard of the Kulturbrauerei in Prenzlauerberg. It’s called the Lucia Weinachtsmarcht and it has a Scandinavian theme. You can get Swedish Glögg, served with shaved almonds and raisins. So delicious!

selma_lagerlof_german_postage_stamps

Today I learned that you can order postage stamps online in Germany. Ordering postage stamps online is one of my favorite things to do, and I did this often when I was back home in the States, so you can imagine my delight.

It’s incredibly expensive to mail anything to the US from Germany. A postcard costs €1 and a letter, €1,70! So I bought these cute €1 stamps that celebrate the 150th birthday of Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf with an illustration by the German artist Wilhelm Schulz. The image depicts a scene from one of Lagerlöf’s best known works, a children’s book called The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, published in 1906. Three years later she became the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Today is German Unity Day, and here in Berlin, everyone has the day off. The national holiday commemorates the reunification of Germany, an event that occured on October 3, 1990, forty-five years after the end of World War II, when the Deutsche Demokratik Republik (DDR) and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) united to form one German state.

Nearly two decades have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent reunification of Germany, but remnants of a time when East and West Germany were two distinctly different entities still exist throughout Berlin. Here are a few appropriate ways to spend Germany Unity Day, for those feeling a little nostalgic (Ostalgie) for this bygone era.

Take a stroll along the Berlin Wall. The longest remaining stretch of the Berlin wall runs for 1.3 kilometers (.8 miles), along the River Spree in Friedrichshain. This portion of the wall is known as the East Side Gallery, and features the work of over one hundred international artists.

Visit the Mauermuseum at Checkpoint Charlie. Find out how East Berliners escaped, or tried to escape to West Berlin at the Mauermuseum located at the famous Berlin border crossing point. An immense placard depicts the face of an American soldier on one side, and a Russian soldier on the other, representing what one would be greeted by when crossing the border.

Explore the artifacts at the DDR Museum. Check out a life-sized model of a typical East Berlin apartment, sit in the famous East German car known affectionately as a “Trabi,” short for Trabant, and investigate detailed exhibits on life in the East at this small but unique DDR Museum.

Spend a day at the German Historical Museum. From the first century BC to the 1990s, a collection of over 8,000 historical objects presents the entire history of Germany, on two floors of the former Prussian armory building. The German History Museum is immense, and includes a lot of information, so give yourself at least two hours.

Spy the Stasi Museum. Before visiting this interesting museum, be sure to watch Lives of Others. You’ll get a much better understanding of the role of East Germany’s Ministry for State Security, and what it was like for artists and other people living in East Berlin during the DDR era. Housed in the ministry’s former headquarters, the Stasi Museum features the perfectly preserved office of Erich Mielke, Germany’s last minister of state security, as well as a variety of exhibits that explore the ministry’s activities.

Cafe Des Fleurs, Munich

Beyond Munich’s overly commercial historic center the city’s charming neighborhoods are filled with delightful cafés and shops. At the southern edge of the old town lies the Viktualienmarkt. One of Europe’s best outdoor markets, it’s open every day but Sunday, and features an assortment of wonderful goods like honey, spices, fresh pastas, meats, and of course loads of fruits, vegetables and flowers. The small beer garden at the market’s center is the perfect place to enjoy the afternoon sun after a morning of shopping.

It is best to see the major sites like the enormous Frauenkirche, and Marienplatz, Munich’s central square, first. Then set off on foot and explore quaint surrounding streets.

Cafe Hoover & Floyd, Munich

Here is a list of spots I discovered on a recent visit.

Hotel
Mariandl, Goethestrasse 51
An exceptionally elegant hotel with vintage furnishings in every room. It lies above the wonderful Café am Beethoven, which features live music every night. Walls are thin, and the hotel can be noisy.
www.hotelmariandl.de

Cafes
Des Fleurs, Westermühlstrasse 10 (pictured)
A gorgeous flower shop with French treats.
www.desfleurs.de

Götterspeise, Jahnstrasse 30
Beautiful café, specializes in chocolate.
goetterspeise-muenchen.de

Hoover & Flloyd, Ickstattstr. 2
Nice café with an old-fashioned diner type counter and whimsical decor. (pictured)

Restaurants
Marktwirt, Heiliggeiststr. 2
Delicious Bavarian food with lots of vegetarian options.
www.marktwirt.com

Hackerhaus, Sendlinger Str. 14
Traditional Bavarian restaurant with a large, wood panelled interior, and nice outdoor seating.
www.hackerhaus.de

Shops
Mädel, Jahnstrasse 20
Vintage clothing and houseware shop decked out in a 1960s theme.
www.maedel-objekte.de

Lebenswerte, Josephspitalstrasse 6
Lovely Buddhas, bedspreads, jewelry and other Asian goods for the home.
www.lebens-werte.com

Bottles & Glashaus, Josephspitalstrasse 1
An exquisite array of drinking glasses, from stemware to tumblers with cute embellishments like crowns to bumblebees.
www.bottles.de

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