Tag Archives: Berlin

Fulbright Berlin Seminar, part three: tourism

This is part of my trilogy of posts about the Fulbright Berlin Seminar. See the first post for an introduction. This post is about being a tourist.

Let me get this out of the way: I found Berlin to be a very ugly city. It felt sprawling, dirty, and architecturally unappealing. That said, it has some beautiful monuments and churches and tons of interesting museums, so it wasn’t a bad place to be for a conference. I used every spare moment to visit things in the city. While I certainly didn’t see it all (I most notably omitted the Reichstag, but I really could have used a few more days for museums, too), I think I did a pretty good job of sightseeing given the time I had!


Berlin is full of historical monuments and memorials, some dating back to the Prussian years and others commemorating the Cold War and the city’s divisions.

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Fulbright Berlin Seminar, part one: Judaism

At approximately the middle of the grant period, all of the Fulbright students in Germany are invited to the Berlin Seminar. This is an annual meeting focused on sharing experiences and discussing important issues in Europe. The German grantees (including students, professors, teaching assistants, performers, and journalists) are joined by Fulbrighters from other countries (I noticed strong presences from Scandanavia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and Italy) as well as German grantees who will soon leave for the States. We meet for seminars, discussion panels, and lots of eating and drinking.

The four-day seminar was very full, so I’m going to split my experiences into three blog posts: one focused on Judaism-related excursions, one focused on “networking” (the conference itself and the socializing surrounding it), and one focused on general tourism. This is the Judaism post.

On our second day in Berlin, we had the afternoon free. Some friends and I grabbed tickets for a hop-on-hop-off bus tour, and one place we stopped was the memorial to Jews killed in the Holocaust. It’s a strange monument—unmarked stone rectangles (which look rather like tombs) rise from the ground, increasing in height. They’re slightly angled, and walking among them is intentionally disorienting.

The following day, we visited the old Jewish district. This is full of Stolpersteine—brass “stumbling stones” marking where Jews who were killed in the Holocaust used to live. Many Germany cities have them, but not Munich. (A member of my synagogue is actually currently working to bring them to Munich.) They’re supposed to serve as a memorial to the dead and a reminder to the living, but I didn’t see that last part working: except for a few tourists, everyone I observed simply walked over them.

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La Rondine: good singers, shame about the opera

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am definitely not a Puccini fan, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I haven’t seen his infrequently performed opera La Rondine. That is, not from start to finish. I’m an opera fan in the era of the internet, so clips come my way pretty often. And because my young, American, opera fan friends have interesting taste, those clips usually come from Marta Domingo’s production, famous for using the opera’s alternate ending and for including lots of usually omitted material from Puccini’s own revisions.

What I saw at the Deutsche Oper tonight—the short “standard version”—is hardly the same opera. It’s frothy and insipid, less substantial than any Strauss operetta and without the catchy tunes to compensate. Puccini’s usual over-the-top music serves a plot that can’t support it and characters without depth or development.

© 2015, Bettina Stöß

Rolando Villazon’s production doesn’t help. (Yes, you read that name correctly. The star tenor is ramping up his directing career.) The opera’s glitzy 1850s setting has been updated to the even glitzier 1920s. (This is presumably solely for the purpose of putting Alexandra Hutton (Lisette) in devastatingly handsome tails—in which case I entirely approve.) A giant nude serves as a backdrop and Prunier plays women as instruments, just in case the message of decadence isn’t clear enough. It seems it all couldn’t possibly get kitschier, but it does! For the final act, Magda and Ruggero retreat to a picture-perfect beach with a little overturned boat. A strange cut-out floats in an overly blue sky behind them. (I spent a while staring at it, convinced that it was the silhouette of a deformed man, but my companions assured me that it was simply an unfortunate rendering of the nude from the first act.) Continue reading La Rondine: good singers, shame about the opera