I went, and yes it is truly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. My memory was hazy from a trip taken thirty five years, previously. I had forgotten the opulence of the Boulevards, the silent majesty of the Louvre, and the sheer breathtaking beauty of the city spread out before you, from the Sacre- Coeur de Montmatre Hillside.
A highlight was the trip out to Versailles Palace, including a ride around the grounds on a bicycle. Others included the Musee d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou, Pantheon and Grand Palais. The Seine River flows through the heart of Paris and the Eiffel Tower, can be seen from many areas of the inner city. Undeniably chic, Paris is classy, engaging and the art is sublime. The Grand Palais, was showing a retrospective exhibition, of Monet’s work, and the luminous colours, simplistic composition of the waterlily ponds, and the deft brushstrokes were a joy to behold.
Having spent several days in Leipzig, West Germany, with the uber cool, 20 plus set, I decided it was time to have an urban adventure of my own and head for Berlin, on the very fast, silver, express, train. It turned out most of Germany was in shut down mode, as it was the holiday for unification between East and West Germany, but I managed to purchase a ticket from a very harried, fraulein. The train was fast, smooth and comfortable and got me to Berlin quickly, despite there being a minor misunderstanding when it was discovered I was sitting in the first class section of the train.
Alighting in Berlin, the sun was out, many Germans were bustling around enjoying the rare, public holiday and all the museums were open. Armed with a multi pass ticket, directions and euros I headed off. First stop was the Hamburger Bahnof Museum for the Present. It had a multi discipline sculpture exhibition, that was stimulating and slightly surreal, as the human figures exhibited looked so life like that is was hard to tell if they were indeed, human.
The natural history museum was next, with many ethereal animal embryo on display, preserved in formaldehyde. Gigantic reconstructions of dinosaurs were in the main hall, and insects pinned to boards were viewed under glass.
Close to the station were the science museum, worth a quick look, as was the river cruise to check out the check point charlie relic of the famous Berlin Wall. Lunch was had on the river bank, but alas, the Bauhaus Museum, proved elusive as it was located too far out of town.
The train ride back was fraught with difficulty as I stayed too long on the train at Leipzig, and travelled back into the countryside and had to wait to dismount and come back again. Eventually I made it to Leipzig airport, and bade farewell to Germany, with the help of an efficient public transport system and english speaking commuters . The wind farms, and the picturesque, rolling green fields showed a bucolic side to Germany, not normally seen from the urban environment
Warsaw, capital of Poland, is an example of triumph in the face of adversity. Occupied, then destroyed in WWII, it has kept re-inventing itself. The Nazi’s, on fleeing the city, at the end of the war, set charges in the buildings to blow it up and reduce it to rubble. Perhaps it was a perverse payback for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April 1943, when the Polish Jews repelled the Germans, or it bore out the animosity and loathing between the two races. Upon liberation, the communist regime was set up by the conquering soviets, and the city was rebuilt. Our local walking guide confessed his grandfather had laboured under a german regime during the war and the Soviets after, having never worked for himself and din’t even own his own home.
It is a city of contrast, rich in history, albeit a rebuilt one. A visit, to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, built on the site of the Warsaw Ghetto, is a sobering one. The Warsaw centre for Contemporary Art, was worth a visit. The day I was there I was lucky enough to experience a recital of classical music, in one of its galleries. The inner City is home to modern, stylish, edifices and retail businesses, whilst further out you experience the urban sprawl and suburban corridors, of most large cities.
In pursuit of a local flea market, we chanced upon a romany encampment with attached market. I sauntered through the stalls, nothing of real interest, lots of seconds and damaged goods. This area, placed in the shadow of a new train station, and modern sports ground, hinted at Warsaw’s less salubrious side.
The re-created old town had cobbled streets with an elderly female flower seller at each corner, minstrels peddling love songs on their mandolins, and pedlars of traditional food. Cheap vodka, was a supermarket staple, $10 AUD, for a quality bottle but sadly the 4 zloty ( $1.36) shop was closed and I could only gaze in frustration at the riches within, through the darkening windows. What also shocked me was the high level of destruction of the buildings still evident from WWII. Pock marks, gun shot and shrapnel holes, and half collapsed buildings abounded with no visible signs of re-building in place.