Berlin, February 2011.
Potsdamer Platz lies in the very center of Berlin. Named for the town of Potsdam some 25 km away, it marks where the old road entered through the city wall into Berlin. By the end of WWII, the square and much of the surrounding city had been flattened by bombing.
In 1961, the Berlin Wall completely bisected Potsdamer Platz, leaving it in a limbo wasteland until 1989.
Today, it is home to huge modern skyscrapers and stunning architecture....
There are still reminders of the past, though. For just a few euros, you can have your photo taken in front of remnants of the notorious wall...
...and on the back of the wall, photographs give a "before and after" reminder of that divisive time.
But we weren't here just to absorb Berlin's history. The middle of February is definitely not a time to choose to go to Berlin. The temperature hovers around zero during the day, icy winds blow in from the East, everyone walks around bundled in warm coats, hats, scarves, gloves, boots. In spite of this, several thousand people arrive from all over the world at this time to attend the annual Berlin Film Festival, known as the Berlinale, based in and around Potsdamer Platz. At ticket offices throughout the city, Berliners line up to book their seats for the hundreds of screenings that take place all day long and late into the evening.
...brown bears stood proudly everywhere, on the streets and in the shopping malls
Thursday evening arrived and, in spite of the temperatures, the brave women from Mumbai emerged in their gorgeous silken finery. (I opted for a Kashmiri wool jacket!). A fleet of BMWs (another sponsor) brought us to the Friedrichestadtpalast theatre, where Vishal was greeted by many eager fans.
The film played to a packed house, receiving a big ovation at the end. Vishal, Matthew, the actors and the other members of the Mumbai team were each called to the stage to further applause. A great moment for them all.
At dawn the next morning, our Mumbai friends flew back to India. We, however, had another two days to visit with niece Miranda and family, and other friends. And to dip into the extraordinary cultural richness of Berlin.
Taking the train back to Berlin, we found our way to the Pergamon Museum of Antiquities, where an extraordinary show is currently being featured, Die Geretteten Götter. Roughly translated, this means The Saved Gods. The exhibition tells the story of Max von Oppenheim, who during the early part of the 20th century led several expeditions to the Upper Khabur region, now part of north-east Syria.
Here, he found a a royal palace from the lst millenneum BC, adorned with gigantic figures of gods and mythological creatures.
Bringing them back to Berlin, he eventually opened his own museum, the Tell Halaf Museum, in 1930.
Somehow, the rubble was gathered and moved to the Pergamon's vaults. There they remained until 2001 when a group of scholars and restorers began the challenging task of piecing together the shards.
Amazingly, many of the former glories have been recreated, sometimes with all the pieces miraculously fitting together. A great testament to the devotion and scholarship of the restorers.