Berlin

Who is silly enough to decide on a Tuesday in early December to journey to Berlin by train the following day, spend two nights in a hotel, and three days to sightsee? And to use a booklet from 1973 as one’s guide? At least it was the 8th improved version from 1983!

My youthful optimism and burning desire to re-visit Germany’s capital which I only knew from an organized tour some thirty-odd years ago made me choose this course of action. During all my previous sojourns in Europe, I did not have or make the time to plan such a trip, and, lacking the foresight again during this last one, I resorted to this whirlwind excursion. As I knew full-well before I left, three days (two and a half, to be exact) were not nearly enough, but only afforded a brief glimpse into a metropolis with a convoluted history. I am glad I had the opportunity to get this glimpse, but when a friend asked me afterward about my impressions, I responded that they were mixed. I am still in the process of digesting them.

I arrived at Berlin’s Main Train Station. The Reichstag Building can be seen behind the Christmas wreath.

Crossing the Spree River, looking east toward the Fernsehturm (TV tower) on Alexanderplatz

Reichstag building, former home of the equivalent of the German parliament

The new dome of the Reichstag (completed in 1999). The original dome burned down in the fire of 1933 which was used by Hitler as a pretext to suspend the Weimar Constitution.

Berlin became the capital of Germany in 1871, after Iron Chancellor Bismarck’s multi-pronged machinations united different German regions and interests. Immense growth at the turn of the 19th century was followed by intense bombardment in World War II, and the division of the city into four allied sectors after Germany’s capitulation. This separation culminated in the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, and the subsequent existence of two parallel universes that lasted for 27 years, until the Wall was torn down in 1989, Germany reunited, and Berlin resumed its original role as capital of a unified Germany. As I moved across the Atlantic from Europe in the mid-1990s, I followed subsequent events from a distance only, but was curious to see the changes since reunification for myself.

Brandenburg Gate

Quadriga atop Brandenburg Gate

I remembered vividly the concrete, steel, and barbed wire from my visit in the early 1980s that separated the city into two, and West Berlin from the surrounding German Democratic Republic, a bizarre reminder of a bizarre situation. If the Brandenburg Gate was previously the center of the divided city, today it embodies the new Berlin. This became evident when I was able to simply walk up to it, and through all of its five arches. Even though remnants of the Wall are scattered along streets and thoroughfares, and former checkpoints and museums continue to recall this chapter of German history, I had the impression that this is something the country has, largely, put behind.

What Germany has, and probably should not, put behind is its infamous role during WW I and WW II, especially its racist, elitist views that led to genocide and a bottomless pit of pain and death. While it is impossible to ever right the wrongs committed, Germany has tried to take responsibility for its past actions. Monuments have been erected to commemorate the murder of Jews, Sinti and Roma as well as homosexuals during the Third Reich. Even though it took three generations to reach this juncture, persistent undercurrents in German society continue to laud Hitler’s “accomplishments” and espouse his evil racial views. I have always had trouble with my German heritage, on account of my birth country’s horrendous history: two catastrophic wars which led to the demise of at least 16 million in the first, 60 million in the second. Unlike a former chancellor, I can’t lighten my conscience by claiming “the mercy of late birth”.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Memorial to the Murdered Homosexuals

I grapple with the tension of how this nation can take responsibility for its past, and continue to celebrate its achievements, institutions, and elites, without belittling other states and claiming, once again, supremacy. Germany – and Berlin  still struggle to find answers to yesterday’s troublesome questions, while trying to heal internal divisions, and solve today’s challenges.

Neue Wache (New Guardhouse) on boulevard “Unter den Linden”, commemorates victims of war and dictatorship

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/01/14/berlin/

Gone to the Ducks

Birders regularly recall the trigger bird that stopped them in their tracks and awakened their curiosity about the avifauna. While I can’t name one particular trigger species, I owe my fascination for feathered friends to the manifold ducks that migrate to Alaska during the summer. When my husband and I called this northernmost state home in the early 2000s, my interest was aroused whenever we chanced upon colorful waterfowl on the myriad bodies of water that pepper the state. I went so far as to invest in a guide book to Alaskan birds, and even owned a CD with recordings of regional birdsong, but being rather consumed by professional life then, I birded only incidentally.

Ducks, geese and assorted additional water-associated avians are rewarding for beginning birders because their size makes them visible on the water’s surface, and they commonly stay in one place for extended periods, facilitating their proper identification. Now that we no longer live in “The Last Frontier” with its legendary biodiversity, I regret not having dedicated more time to ornithological pursuits there.

My fondness of ducks, nonetheless, abides. It so happens that within walking distance of our current residence in Colorado Springs, two lakes provide habitat for assorted waterfowl.

Quail Lake with view of Pikes Peak

Doubletree Pond with view of Cheyenne Mountain

 I did not acquire a digital camera until we were in the process of closing our Alaska chapter, and consequently don’t own electronic photos of the beautiful winged creatures encountered there. Instead, I would like to share pictures of some of the visitors of these urban oases in Colorado Springs who, likewise, have stolen my heart. Unlike other birds, they stay (or arrive) here in winter and help brighten the darker days.

Mallards are our most common ducks…

…and Canada Geese our most common geese

Northern Shovelers have spatulas for bills

Hooded Mergansers are spectacular in…

…and out of the water

Common Goldeneye, I wonder why

American Wigeon, aka “bald pate”

Doubletree Pond in winter

This, of course, does not qualify as waterfowl, but when I saw this white dove at the Doubletree Pond on January 1, it embodied all my hopes: Peace on Earth for this new year.

Klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version/click here for the German version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/01/08/entenzauber/

My 2017 Pulitzer Reading List

The caption might be misleading, but as I intend to make this post an annual tradition, and last year’s bore the identical title, I will keep it, despite measly progress with my Pulitzer for Fiction reading list – one lone work. In response to my request for suggestions in January 2017, I heeded M. Miles’s enthusiastic recommendation and chose the “Pulitzer of Pulitzers”, Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence (1921 Pulitzer). I am glad about my long-overdue acquaintance with the author and hope to deepen it over time.

Edith Wharton (1862-1937) is considered literary heir to Henry James (1843-1916). Their writing focused on American “aristocracy”. Even though both are claimed by America as some of her greatest literati, both left their native country to take up residence in Europe where they lived out their years. Edith Wharton is buried at Versailles Cemetery in France (she was appointed Chevalier of the Legion of Honour for services rendered to her adopted country during WWI). The novelist was the first woman in a (slowly) growing line of female Pulitzer recipients (30 to this point, out of 90). She knew the settings of her prolific output (15 novels, 7 novellas, 85 short stories) well, having grown up in a “blue blood” New York family. Her words frequently assume an ironic tone not unlike Jane Austen’s, who might be considered a second literary role model. It is helpful to read this novel with the bemused air the author herself assumed when delineating human foibles from the safe distance of time and space.

The Age of Innocence was published in 1920, but is set in “Old New York” of the 1870s, the waning era of new-world nobility, arranged marriages, suffocating societal strictures, crumbling morality under a thin veneer of respectability. Newland Archer, the novel’s hero (if he deserves this designation) grew up within the narrow confines of this society’s expectations. While he prides himself to be a free thinker and more broad-minded than his contemporaries, whenever the opportunity presents itself to turn onto the path less trodden, he follows the well-worn tracks of his peers, while deluding himself with his supposed independent state of mind. Upon meeting the “love of his life”, an unconventional, free-spirited woman, instead of breaking up his betrothal to an attractive yet orthodox bride, he resigns himself to the conventional life, to a liaison condoned by their mutual family circles. He pursues a reasonable profession, fathers successful children, and plays the societal games, all the while compromising his ideals. Even after the death of his wife, when the opportunity to reconnect with his muse presents itself, he does not have the courage – but clings to the safety and comfort of the known over the unknown.

Overall, a tone of resignation pervades Archer’s life. Despite his shortcomings and compromises, his life is accomplished in the eyes of a superficial society that keeps up appearances, at the cost of individualism. I am not sure if Edith Wharton supported Archer’s safe choices, or simply portrayed the pointlessness of personal choice for those who wish to remain part of the world she had chosen to leave herself.

With 12 Pulitzer novels down, and 79 (soon 80 – the 2018 recipient will be announced on April 16) to go, I am again open to suggestions. Even though I fell foul of my goal to make a significant dent, I read much – both fiction and non-fiction. I am blaming (or crediting) my favorite literature bloggers for leading me astray (or for broadening my reading horizon), as I encountered literary genres not routinely on my radar. These blogs are written in German but have the world as their theme.

I thank Ira for presenting mouth-watering global recipes on her blog Frankfurter Kochbuchrezensentin, and for introducing me to Donna Leon’s Inspector Brunetti mysteries on her second blog Frankfurter Buchrezensentin.

Anna’s reviews and literary quotes at the well-organized Buchpost with lists of authors, countries and major book awards are always stimulating and thought-provoking and have added to my ever-growing reading roster.

Last, but not least, is Ulrike’s blog Leselebenszeichen, teeming with inspiring works and reviews. Thanks to her, I have visited London with Ben Aaronovitch’s modern-day wizard police apprentice who fights ghosts and other non-human life forms, am still stuck in the labyrinthine world of Walter Moers’s “Zamonia” where indescribable books reign supreme, and have reveled in lovely, heart-warming children’s literature reviews too numerous to count, all written in words that constantly remind me how rusty my own German language skills have become.

I hope my favorite literature bloggers will take up some Pulitzers, so I can make progress on my list in 2018.

The Year in Pictures/Das Jahr in Bildern

 As I did for my 2016 review, I am again reminding myself of the motto expressed on a historic clock in downtown Colorado Springs: Dum Vivimus Vivamus. While we live, let us live.

     The greater my disenchantment with political, religious, and familial strife, the more I seek refuge in nature, camera in tow. Next to books, it is the only place where I can live in the moment, and be utterly happy. The more time I spend outside, the more photos I take of birds and plants. I am sharing some that have not found a home in my previous posts. Unless otherwise noted, all originated in Colorado. 

     I hope 2017 was a good year for you – and that 2018 will be even better.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

     Wie auch im Jahresrückblick 2016, erinnere ich mich wiederum an das Motto einer historischen Uhr im Zentrum von Colorado Springs: Dum Vivimus Vivamus. Während wir leben, laßt uns leben.

     Je größer meine Verdrossenheit über Politik, Religion, und Familienangelegenheiten, desto mehr suche ich Zuflucht in der Natur, mit meiner Kamera als Begleiterin. Neben Büchern ist sie der einzige Ort, wo ich im Hier und Jetzt leben, und mich völlig glücklich fühlen kann. Je mehr Zeit ich draußen verbringe, desto mehr Bilder mache ich von Vögeln und Pflanzen. Hier teile ich einige, die in meinen vorherigen Blogbeiträge noch kein Zuhause gefunden haben. Wenn nicht anders erwähnt, stammen alle aus Colorado. 

     Ich hoffe, 2017 war ein gutes Jahr für Dich, und 2018 wird noch besser.

JANUARY / JANUAR

American Kestrel/Buntfalke (Falco sparverius)

Russian Olive/Schmalblättrige Ölweide (Eleagnus angustifolia), invasive species, but the berries are much beloved by the birds/invasive Art, deren Beeren allerdings von den Vögeln geliebt werden

FEBRUARY / FEBRUAR

House finch/Hausgimpel (Carpodacus mexicanus)

Last year’s sunflowers, with Pikes Peak in the background/Sonnenblumen des letzten Sommers, mit Pikes Peak im Hintergrund

MARCH / MÄRZ 

Spotted Towhee/Fleckengrundammer (Pipilo maculatus)

Cottonwood tree in the light of the setting sun/Pappel im Licht des Sonnenuntergangs

APRIL / APRIL

American Avocet/Amerikanischer Säbelschnäbler (Recurvirostra americana)

Pasqueflower/Echte Küchenschelle (Pulsatilla patens), one of Colorado’s earliest spring flowers/eine der ersten Frühlingsblumen Colorados

MAY / MAI

Osprey/Fischadler (Pandion haliaetus)

Crabapple/Holzapfel (Malus sp.)

JUNE / JUNI

Great-tailed Grackle/Dohlengrackel (Quiscalus mexicanus)

Prairie Spiderwort/Dreimasterblume (Tradescantia occidentalis)

JULY / JULI

Flammulated Owl/Ponderosa-Zwergohreule (Otus flammeolus), handled by Colorado College Professor Brian Linkhart who has been studying this species for decades/wird von Professor Brian Linkhart des Colorado College gehalten, der diese Art seit Jahrzehnten studiert

Green Gentian (Monument Plant, Elkweed)/Grüner Enzian (Frasera speciosa)

AUGUST / AUGUST

Northern Red-shafted Flicker/Kupferspecht (Colaptes auratus cafer), male in the back, female in the front/Männchen hinten, Weibchen vorne

Colorado’s State Flower, Colorado Blue Columbine/Kleinblütige Akelei (Aquilegia caerulea)

SEPTEMBER / SEPTEMBER

Great Blue Heron/Amerikanischer Graureiher (Ardea herodias)

Sunflower/Sonnenblume (Helianthus sp.)

OCTOBER / OKTOBER

Western Bluebird/Blaukehl-Hüttensänger (Sialia mexicana)

Fall landscape with signature aspen trees/Herbstlandschaft mit unverkennbaren Zitterpappeln

NOVEMBER / NOVEMBER

Cedar Waxwing/Zedernseidenschwanz (Bombycilla cedrorum)

Cottonwood tree in late fall foliage/Pappel in späten Herbstfarben

DECEMBER / DEZEMBER

Hooded Crow/Nebelkrähe (Corvus corone cornix), Berlin, Germany

Christmas Rose/Christrose (Helleborus niger), Germany

Solstice

My body is in line.

It is at its darkest point,

but only for a short time.

Not enough time for madness or temporary depression to

     set in.

The darkest point is only a brief window of opportunity.

Opportunity for sadness, loneliness, falling out of love

     and other states associated with the lack of light.

But before the opportunity can be taken, the shadows

     turn.

The light becomes stronger,

pulling me toward it.

The warmth, the promise it holds.

And so I begin another cycle,

along with the animals, the plants, the oceans and winds

and all that feel this same pull.

 

I come into balance.

I begin again.

It is only December twenty-second and it is already

     starting to feel like summer.

 

Ofelia Zepeda (born 1952), “The South Corner“, from the anthology Sisters of the Earth: Women’s Prose & Poetry about Nature. Lorraine Anderson, ed., 2nd edition, 2003.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/12/22/sonnenwende/

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

I don’t consider myself a practicing Christian, yet continue to practice – and relish – Christmas, at least certain aspects. In a globalizing and homogenizing world, traditions have the power to ground and to offer a sense of belonging.

My recent journey to Europe coincided with the holiday season and re-exposed me to some of these cherished traditions. Opening one door of my advent calendar daily, from December 1 through the 24th, to discover a different piece of chocolate, used to be my favorite childhood activity, other than opening presents on Christmas Eve. It still is, even when I am content to find something other than candy behind each door.

I experienced two advent Sundays in Germany, and with them, the festive lighting of the first two candles of the advent wreath. For the illumination of the 3rd and 4th, I will be back in Colorado.

Towns and homes I visited were bedecked with seasonal decorations, with each family adding its own touches, thereby beautifying human habitations and gladdening the senses.

Christmas markets, famous beyond Germany’s borders, were in plain evidence. While I did not seek them out, I happened across them wherever I went. Berlin seemed to showcase one on each public plaza. As I am no lover of large crowds, I did not linger long after absorbing the atmosphere. What appeared to be a serious case of associated shopping frenzy acted as additional deterrent.

The new normal, pervasive police presence, in response to last year’s attack at Berlin’s Breitscheidplatz

Mainzelmännchen in the pyramid equals Mainz

     November and December weather tends to consist of cool, covered, or rainy skies in many regions of Germany, but I was surprised by a series of snowfalls, albeit short ones. A walk through the wintry woods with my father created one of my favorite memories for this trip. ❤ 

While the ways to interpret the meaning of Christmas are as manifold as ice crystals, my fervent hope against hope continues to be that, one day, we might all embrace one of its central tenets: Peace on Earth.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/12/17/es-weihnachtet-sehr/

Late Autumn in Germany

When in Germany for a late fall visit, I vacillated between simple admiration of the floral abundance, and concern about the effects of climate change. Having lived away from Europe for decades, I am ignorant of blooming cycles of most plants, but the quantity and variety of still-blossoming flowers at the end of November seemed unusual. Next to the expected or absent fall foliage, multiple blossoms I associate with summer continued to shimmer. Despite the problematic implications I could not help but smile at the poly-petaled plethora, and revel in its inherent beauty.

While I struggle with humankind’s destructive effects on our exceptional and exquisite Earth, I marvel at its vitality and wonderful resilience – in spite of us. May we fail in our best attempts to destroy the only known planet that affords us life.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/12/12/spatherbst-in-deutschland/