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At the State Opera House "Unter den Linden"
On my most recent visit to the State Opera Unter den Linden I saw the opera Norma by Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835).
This is a bel canto opera, and the singing really is beautiful but the plot is often criticized. It takes place in ancient Gaul under the Roman occupation, and you keep expecting Asterix and Obelix to pop up from behind the bushes at any minute. Norma is the head priestess of the Gauls, but she is secretly in love with the Roman governor and has even borne him two children. (We are asked to believe that nobody in the small Gallic village has noticed this.)
I found the Berlin production quite moving, though, because they stressed the one aspect of the plot that is (unfortunately) timeless, namely the plight of an older woman whose lover (and father of her children) decides to leave her for a younger woman (in this case a younger priestess at the same temple).
Update: As I have mentioned elsewhere, the State Opera House is currently a construction site because they are doing some badly needed restoration and repair work on it. During this time the State Opera Company is performing in the old Schiller Theater in the Bismarckstraße, in the (West) Berlin district of Charlottenburg.
- Theater Travel
Works on Unter den Linden.
Presently (till July 2013?) on a large part of the avenue the Linden - lime trees - have been replaced by cranes. These works extend on both sides of the Friedrichstasse cross-road disfiguring the Unter den Linden avenue.
A consequence of these works is that the Metro line U6 does not ride between the Friedrichstr. and Französichestr. stations.
Staatsoper was commissioned by King Frederick II of Prussia in 1741, designed and built by Georg von Knobelsdorff as the first and the oldiest structure on Babelplatz. At that time it was called Hofoper (Court Opera) and was inaugurated with the performance Cesare e Cleopatra in 1742. After the collapse of the German Empire in 1919 the opera was renamed Staatsoper.
After Nazis takeover, members of Jewish origins were dismissed from the ensemble. Many German musicians associated with the opera went into exile too. It is less known fact that great Herbert von Karajan was one of staatskapellmaster during the Thied Reich.
After WW II the opera was reconstructed in its Baroque form and reopened in 1955.
Zeghaus (the old armory) is the oldest structure on the Unter den Linden, built between 1695 and 1730 in the Baroque style and by four different architects. The commissionar was Brandenburg Elector Frederick III. In 1875 this magnificent building was transformed into a Military Museum. There excist an interesting episode regarding this museum.
In 1943 Hitler visited museum in order to inspect captured Russian war material. Rudolf von Gersdorff was to give Hitler a tour of the armory. Gersdorff declared himself ready to give his life for Germany, and his friends knew about such a decision. He set off two 5-minutes delayed-fuse hand granades in the pocket of his coat. His plan was to trow himself around Hitler in a death embrace that would blow up both men. Contrary to expectation, however, Hitler raced through the museum and survived. Von Gersdorff survived the War and died in 1980.
Today Zeughaus is a home of Deutches Historiches Museum, offering on his 8.000 square metres The Permanent Exibition of German History in Images and Artefacts.
Staatsoper Unter den Linden
This venerable opera house has been the scene of some very lively and innovative productions in recent years, for instance Rinaldo by Georg Friedrich Haendel (1685-1759).
This production was not only hilarious, it was also carefully timed so the gags and the slapstick fit in very well (I thought) with Haendel's music. All the singers seemed to be having a great time performing it, especially Miah Persson as Almirena. It was voted Production of the Year by the critics of Opernwelt Magazine in 2003, and the cast recording was voted CD of the Year.
While everybody seems proud of the recording (I'm listening to Miah sing Lascia ch'io pianga from the second act as I write this), the production remains controversial even internally. One of the people involved later told me she couldn't understand why all those critics voted for such a stupid production. "Those must all be people with no taste." Can't say I was terribly flattered, since I liked the production so much myself. (LOL)
Update: Currently, i.e. from 2010 to 2013, the State Opera House is a construction site because they are doing some badly needed restoration and repair work on it. During this time the State Opera Company is performing in the old Schiller Theater in the Bismarckstraße, in the (West) Berlin district of Charlottenburg. What this means is that for three seasons there are two major opera houses in the Bismarckstraße, within three blocks of each other!
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Under the linden trees
In 1985 I stood on the western side of the Brandenburg Gate and peered across the Wall and No Man’s Land, through its arches to what was at one time the most elegant street in the city, Unter den Linden. With its western extension, Straße des 17. Juni, it forms the same sort of classically symmetrical urban vista as Paris’s Champs Elysées, with the golden gleam of the Siegesaule (Victory Column) at one end, the Brandenburg Gate as its mid-point and distant views of the Berliner Dom (cathedral) in the east. But in 1985 it was difficult to see this view properly, and impossible to walk its length. Not so today; with reunification the boulevard has rediscovered its former glory and once again forms the central spine of the city.
Unter den Linden takes its name from the linden or lime trees that were first planted there in 1647. Duke Friedrich Wilhelm, also known as The Great Elector, was dedicated to the development and beautification of Berlin during his reign and ordered the planting of long rows of Linden trees to spruce up the route from his castle home to the Tiergarten hunting ground, and to keep the route more shady and comfortable for his travels. Thus his carriage ride took him "unter den linden", that is “under the lindens”. Lime trees still line the central paved strip, although of course they are not those that Friedrich planted there. Many will have been replaced over the years, and in the 1930s many were cut down when a tunnel for the S-bahn was constructed beneath the road. Those that remained were used for firewood in the last days of World War Two, when the city was under siege. The ones we see today were planted in the 1950s, restoring the character of this famous avenue.
A stroll “under the lindens” will take you past many of Berlin’s grand buildings, including the Berlin State Opera, Humboldt University, St. Hedwig’s Cathedral, the Neue Wache (once the guardhouse for the royal guards and now the National Memorial to the Victims of War and Tyranny), the Zeughaus (German Historical Museum), and the Altes Palais.
- Historical Travel
Unter den Linden
Unter den Linden is Berlin's loveliest boulevard and the heart of historical Berlin (Mitte). It extends from Pariser Platz, at the Brandenburg Gate, to the Schlossbrucke bridge, a distance of about 1.5km.
It is named for the linden or lime trees which line the grassed pedestrian area between the two carriageways. During the last days of World War II most of the trees were destroyed or cut down for firewood. The trees were replanted in the 1950s and have flourished ever since.
There are many interesting buildings along Unter den Linden (their street number is in brackets below). You can visit the Deutsches Historisches Museum, which is Germany's largest history museum. It is housed in the Zeughaus (2), which was the royal arsenal building built in 1706.
Also you can see the Russian Embassy (63-65), built in typical Stalin-style; the Deutsche Guggenheim (13-15) with its contemporary art exhibitions; the Alte Staatsbibliothek - Old National Library (8), which was founded in 1661; and the Humboldt Universitat (6), Berlin's oldest university, founded in 1810. Oh, and the statue of Frederick the Great in the middle of the road, facing west.
Why not take a walk along the boulevard and admire some of the buildings, or on a fine day you can have a break on one of the seats under the pretty linden trees.
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Humbolt University is one of many historic buildings to be viewed on a walk down Unter din Linden. Completed in 1753 as the Palace of Prince Heinrich of Prussia. The University was founded there in 1810. The statue is of Hermann Helmholtz, famous German physician and physicist who had a signicant impact on the direction of the University. When I visited there was a book market taking place out the front which I have been told is a regular occurance. The "Little Humboldt Gallery" is located in the main building, Unter den Linden 6, open Tuesday to Friday drom noon to 6:00 p.m and shows exhibitions of artistic works by university staff, students and artists from the Berlin area. There is also a shop in the same building selling university badged clothing such as T shirts, caps and sweatshirts.
The ivy clad State Library is one of many historic buildings to be viewed on a walk down Unter din Linden. It has a sister building at Potsdamer Straße under the same administration which was established due the post war split of Berlin and us such the original collection has been divided. Quantities are hard to comprehend and include 10 million books, 250,000 autographs, 450,000 print music editions, 960,000 maps and atlases, 38,000 periodicals, 180,000 early newspaper volumes, 2,3 million microfiches / microfilms and 13.5 million images in the picture archive. Open 9am to 9pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 5pm Saturday.
Unter den Linden
I was walking along this the most represantitive boulevard of former East Berlin up to the Branderburger Gate when the infamous wall stood in the past.
The street and houses along were (and still are) in rebuilding and renovation process since the wall fell down and it happens again as the houses were complitely destroyed (to the earth) at the end of WWII and remained damaged even till 60' of 20th century.
What was interesting there? A lot of impressive 18th and 19th century, renovated or newly built buildings.
Ok, from the west:
- Branderburg Gate,
- Jakob-Kaiser House - the largest of the Bundestag?s new parliamentary buildings,
- Adlon Hotel building (new),
- Embassy of Russian Federation building,
- Guggenheim Museum (yes, yes - German and new branch of famous NYC museum),
- National Library ( Staatsbibliothek),
- Monument of Frederick the Great (on the horse),
- buildings of Humboldt University,
- Alte Bibliothek (Old Library) and Staatsoper (State Opera),
- buildings of Opernpalais and Konprinzenpalais,
- Neue Wache (New Guardhouse),
- Zeughaus (Arsenal) - amazing baroque building which houses German Historical Museum,
- the Schlossbr?cke bridge where Karl-Liebknechtstra?e with Berliner Dome begins.
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The Humboldt University, nearly fifteen years after the fall of the Wall, is rapidly returning to its former academic glory after stagnating during the GDR period. In the past, the Humboldt saw figures as diverse as Marx and Engels (as students) and Einstein, and the Brothers Grimm (as staff members) pass through its halls.
You can wander into the Humboldt’s main hall and even go upstairs to the smaller libraries without anyone asking you where you are going. It’s quite a maze, and high in the building, under the roof, you’ll get lost in an amazing array of old books in many languages: it’s a collector’s dream!
Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt
The Humboldt University in Berlin was founded in 1810 by the scholar, linguist and diplomat Wilhelm von Humboldt, 1767-1835, who for a short time -- less than a year, actually -- was in charge of education in the government of Prussia. During that time he and his staff not only founded the new university but also instituted sweeping reforms of the Prussian school system.
His younger brother Alexander von Humboldt, 1769-1859, was a naturalist and explorer who was especially interested in botany, geography and geology. He traveled for five years in Latin America and then spent the next twenty-one years, mainly in Paris, writing up the scientific results of his travels and publishing them in a set of huge, elaborately illustrated volumes. (I have looked through some of these in libraries and was astounded at the scope and vast amounts of detail.)
In the winter of 1827-28 Alexander von Humboldt gave a series of lectures on the natural sciences at the University of Berlin, now the Humboldt University. These lectures were the starting point of Kosmos, a "physical description of the world", in which he explained and summed up the results of a number of scientific disciplines of his time, including geography, geology, zoology, botany and astronomy.
Kosmos was a very popular book in the nineteenth century -- or books, since it was originally published in five volumes that Alexander von Humboldt wrote during the last three decades of his life. It was reprinted in various editions and was translated into several languages.
My copy of Kosmos (third photo) is a one-volume edition that I inherited from my father. It is in the original German but was printed and published in Philadelphia in 1869, ten years after the author's death.
1. Statues at Humboldt University
2. Books about Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt
3. Kosmos by Alexander von Humboldt
4. Cyclist at the Humboldt University
Under the Linden Trees
Named for the avenue of linden or lime trees that line it's central walkway, Under den Linden is a wide boulevard running from the Brandenburg Gate to the site of the former royal palace. Developed from a bridle path laid out by Elector Johann Georg of Brandenburg in the 16th century to reach his hunting grounds in the Tiergarten, the linden trees were planted in 1647 on the orders of Elector Friedrich Wilhelm, and it became the most famous street in the city. Sadly, during WWII, most of the trees were destroyed, but they were replanted in the 1950s.
Even in winter, Unter den Linden is a beautiful place to stroll, and you can appreciate the faded grandeur of days gone by.
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Einstein lectured here
In 1905 Albert Einstein, who was then a 26-year-old employee of the Swiss Patent Office in Bern, published six scientific papers which among other things solved the long-standing problem of Brownian motion and introduced the totally new theory of Special Relativity. The 100th anniversary of these papers in 2005 was the occasion for numerous exhibitions on Einstein and his life and work.
Here at the Humboldt University in Berlin is where Einstein worked (and sometimes also lectured) from 1914 to 1932.
Thanks to VT member kokoryko (Hermann) for pointing out that Berlin was where Albert Einstein wrote his seminal paper on the theory of General Relativity, "the paper which changed our vision of the universe". This paper was first published in the Journal of the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin in 1916.
Second photo: Here again is my favorite book on Einstein: Subtle is the Lord… The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein by Abraham Pais, published 1982 by Oxford University Press. Just don't ask me to explain the equations, okay?
Third, fourth and fifth photos: People riding bicycles past the Humboldt University on the street Unter den Linden. Albert Einstein was a keen cyclist who once said that he got the idea for his Special Theory of Relativity while riding his bicycle. Another Einstein quotation: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”
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A Boulevard from Brandenburger Tor to the Castle
This is not a typical photo of Unter den Linden, as this tree-lined boulevard is Berlin’s central avenue. It leads from Pariser Platz on the east side of Brandenburger Tor to the (no more existing) Castle on Museumsinsel, passing the greatest surviving monuments of the former Prussian capital, and then further to Alexanderplatz.
This photo, taken through a passage of Brandenburger Tor, shows the ferocious building spree that takes place in this area, with the TV Tower on Alexanderplatz in the background.
Works on the boulevard already started about 1650, ordered by Elector (Kurfürst) Friedrich Wilhelm. The name means nothing more than “Under the Linden trees” – guess why… The boulevard followed a former riding path, commissioned by Elector Johann Georg in 1573, and connecting the Castle with Tiergarten which starts on the west side of Brandenburger Tor.
On this side of the Gate the avenue continues as Straße des 17. Juni (Street of 17 June), passing the Victory Column (Siegessäule).
If you are interested in more detailed descriptions of all the wonderful buildings and attractions on the boulevard Unter den Linden have a look at the Things to Do Tips of VT member mgmarcus. He has compiled them with love for detail on his Berlin page, including Deutsches Historisches Museum, Alte Kommandantur, Kronprinzenpalais, Zeughaus and Neue Wache.
Update July 2009
Berlin's Castle I mentioned earlier as no more existing will be rebuilt from 2010. At the end of 2008 the Italian architect Franco Stella from Vicenza was announced as the winner of the competition about the project which is considered Germany's most important building site of the century. The Bundestag, Germany's Parliament, had given out clear conditions for the kind of building they are expecting. This means: Three facades and the dome have to be Baroque reconstructions, and the eastern side can be modern.
The castle - in German: Berliner Stadtschloss - had been the site of the Prussian Kings. When it had fallen into ruins during World War II, the East German government had decided to blow it up in 1950. In 2002 the Bundestag decided to have it reconstructed. The costs are limited to 552 million Euro. A fundraising club has to raise 80 million Euro for the Baroque facade. Since December 2008 a model can be seen at the Kronprinzenpalais.
The castle will be home of the so-called Humboldt-Forum which will be a showcase of culture and science. On 40,000 square metres it will feature non-European collections of Berlin's museums and a selection of the science archives of Humboldt University and pieces of the state library (Landesbibliothek).
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