Saturday, July 4, 2009

Days 6-7 Leipzig

Days 6 and 7

1.Quotes of the day: Bill and Bob are back
3.Optional: Einzelfahrkarte Kurzstrecke meditation (warning, it’s long and not particularly relevant to Berlin, Leipzig, or Copenhagen; however, it may help explain some actions by your intrepid traveling journalist in Beijing and India)

Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.

In the dime stores and bus stations,
People talk of situations,
Read books, repeat quotations,
Draw conclusions on the wall.

We use the S-Bahn to get to the Hautbahnhof and our train to Leipzig. Easy to do, we’re getting very experienced now in transitioning between lines. We’re on a nice modern long 6 car train, easy to know which train to get on because the signage is exceptional and the trains run on time! At least half of the passengers (Friday morning) appear to be kids wondering through Europe (or going home for a long weekend with big backpacks). The train is full.

70 minutes later, we are in the Leipzig train station and make our way a few short blocks (in the stifling heat) to the Hotel Furstenhof, a very nice old-updated hotel just outside of city center. Part of the Starwood group. Alas, no free upgrade offered though the hotel appears to be very empty. Maybe Libeskind did the restoration; there is a “void” on the way to our 5th floor corner room.

(Note: There will be a meditation coming on energy savings. Second note: there is a meditation coming in this update, and somehow retaining readers through at least the third paragraph of this update seems the gracious thing to do. After that you are free to go out and play}

In search of art (kunst) we go. We make it as far as the Museum of Fine Arts and decide to have lunch in the café. We check to see if the Museum has anything in English for us to study and the (East German?) staffer at the front desk gives us the heavy “don’t understand” shrug and glare. Lunch is a “menu” where you pick two items each, and we select: wrappentortillalen, tomato salad with arugula and parmesan (lots of tomato), eine meatball in gravy mit grilled (in oil?) snap peas and potatoes, and ice cream with cooked cherries, two drinks, $25 (a bargain, and the food is very good).

As DB wanders off to the WC, I pay. She returns with much city information on art in English, cleverly stored on a table just outside a stairwell leading down to the restroom (and well out of sight of the person at the front desk).

Off to find Spinnerei (for the long, sad version, read the meditation below), an old fabric mill that has been converted to artist studios, galleries, and offices. Great concept, and among the galleries there is one that is maybe only 50 square feet that has two Damien Hirst pieces for sale (we assume, no prices posted), another main space with a large group show of artists with studios in the complex (very good), and several other galleries worth visiting. The display space is divided among several sizable multi-story buildings, enabling large pieces, videos, installation work, etc. to all be shown well.

We see a few pieces that are worth pursuing. Also in here is a pottery studio turning out stuff you might see in street fairs (mugs, plates) and a person making clothes and other items out of felt. Quite a range!

Bad butt brush factor: where things are so crowded you can’t enjoy the event. Example: being in a store with narrow aisles and you keep bumping into other people. Butt brush factor at Spinnerie: a new low (or is it high?). Other than galleristas and galleristos, we see three other (Asian) men in their 30s touring the galleries. The only time we are actually together is in the giant display of every studio artist’s work (75 -100 artists) where we see them at a distance and at then again at the outdoor café (where we refuel, two pieces of kuchen and two glasses of bubbly water, $10). We think maybe Spinnerei as a tourist destination is a bit too far off the map.

Back to the hotel on the train, station is about 200 meters from the entrance to Spinnerei (see meditation, and now think: ah so, a better solution). Train ride is about 25-30 minutes through the countryside, $2.80 each. Appears that there are a large number of contiguous small garden plots, some with rather elaborate “sheds” built into the corner (big enough to sleep in) of each lot. The air conditioned room proves too appealing, and we stay in and rest up until touring city center.

Our dinner choice is an old style cellar (now in the middle of a large shopping mall), it’s closed for a private party! Go in for a peek, it is long rows of long tables full of old people (just like us?) all chattering away. It’s very loud, so maybe we catch a break and head elsewhere.

We roam the streets looking for an eating alternative, select an Italian place, it’s a huge dud, total $65. We do chat up our waiter; he’s Romanian and speaks more English than Italian.

The next day, we have lattes (from McCafe in train station), $8, and leftover pastry from Berlin. Then off to the Museum of Fine Art, this time to tour. It is a revelation, mostly artists from Leipzig (or at least Germany) from the last 500 years. They have tremendous rooms (the museum is only a few years old) and excellent lighting (both real and artificial), and have mixed old and recent work in ways that enhance both. They have quite of bit of art by Max Klinger, an artist from the early 1900s, and then a room of work done by current artists in homage to Klinger. Above and beyond, we agree this museum alone justifies the trip.

Then on to a special temporary photography show, set up in an old rundown building (see pic). Excellent work from artists from around world, several we will pursue to see if in our price bracket (doubtful). Another winner!

Now we have lunch in the famous old cellar restaurant, Auerbachs Keller. We both order the special, wildschweinbraten mit kartoffelkloben. Kartoffelkloben is a potato version of a matzoh ball. The “rost of the day” appears to be basically stew meat in gravy. Also comes with cabbage and fancy tater tots (two versions of potato and no greens). Two beers, total $45.

Last stop of the day: Museum of Contemporary Art, just outside of city center. Today there have actually been some breezes, fooling us into thinking it is cooler...this walk disproves that theory. This is another of the 'new building next door' style, connecting to the old building. The Museum does not have much of its own work and so for the next few years they have turned their display space over to galleries (most of which are also out at Spinnerei). Good work, though not a huge amount on display.

On way back to pick up our bag at hotel, we see someone ladling out summer coolers, complete with fresh fruit floating on top. For 1 euro, it’s a bargain. Turns out to be an alcoholic cooler with (depending on who you believe) rum, wine and maybe two or three other contents. Refreshing, and I’m ready for a nap!

Train back to Berlin. These trains are so on schedule that as best we can tell we left 10 minutes early.

One other sign of the global recession: the city maintained spaces that are growing wild as the civic governments don’t have the resources to keep them groomed. We see this in both Berlin and Leipzig. Leipzig also appears to have archeological dig going on in town (see pic); to us it looks like standard brick walls, though these are set below street level.

On way to market in Berlin, we see someone getting a haircut on the street…shades of India!

Meditation: To find Spinnerei, we have a center city map (though the second day we find out the hotel gave us the “simple” version instead of the more detailed one), an article (in English) that tells of visiting the site, one of the city art guides indicating which tram line (apparently) to take and an idea of which direction to head. At the tram stop right outside our hotel, there are maps on the wall (of the tram lines, many, many tram lines, too many lines), lists of the stops (easy to see the list, hard to know which stop we want), and a ticket machine. After much discussion with three or four women at the stop (two of whom speak English) we decide to buy tickets and take the line indicated in the English handout found at the museum.

The tickets are priced by how many stops you are going, and we aren’t sure of the number of stops, so we take a guess, four!

Aside: You are on the honor system to punch your ticket at the first stop of your first ride, no matter what type ticket you’ve bought. It’s a fascinating way to cut costs (the ticket punch machines have to be a lot cheaper than people or ticket processing machines that calculate the cost as you leave a station (and the tix are cheap small pieces of paper too). Of course, if too many people don't punch right away, you lose revenue.

We get off after four stops and realize we have no idea where we are (four stops closer to Spinnerei? We can only we ask a guy at the stop and he knows the place and gives us directions: keep heading south and keep the canal (when you find it) on your left, go three bridges along and then ask for help again.

Uh huh, sure! Off we go, in the heat and maze of 4 story apartment buildings in outer Leipzig. Some of the buildings are empty and appear to be semi-destroyed. We are on our way to an abandoned mill, so maybe this shouldn’t be so surprising. 15 minutes later, we hit a street that is actually named on our (simple) map of Spinnerei, and there are people lounging outside (smoking of course, another meditation to follow on smokers) and they speak English (at least one does) and they tell us we are getting close, follow this street (much conversation in German), the bridge is out but we think pedestrians can get across, then go another 5-10 minutes, bear left under the overpass and you’re there.

Very accurate, goes exactly as described. We even pass another museum, the Oldtimers museum (we can see a relatively large commercial propeller plane, I guess 60 is now what separates us older folkenen from the youngenen as anyone over 60 has been on a propeller airplane).

During our efforts to reach Spinnerei, THB and DB have time to discuss our ability to find locations. Maybe too much time, and the weather conditions aren’t helping, nor is the lack of prettiness of the surroundings, and is not much of a distraction either that exploring outer Leipzig was not really the goal of this part of the trip. And, even though it is the middle of the day and there is plenty of light, reading the fine print on maps is not all that easy (and these maps we have are devoid of fine print, it turns out that it is also the fine print on the instructions that eludes us at times).

Sooooo, after much introspection, THB has a confession to make. He is cheap! Oh, and stubborn (more stubborn than cheap? Hey, another – OH NO! - meditation). Though he gets much advice and many hints, and clearly has the wherewithal to spend an additional few euros on, for example, a taxi (having saved many euros by doing a house exchange and not hiring an art guide at 140 euros for two hours for a place that has 5 total visitors for the afternoon), THB is still looking at the DIY concept of map reading and instruction guides and walking or riding public transportation and figures he’ll give it a try.

Every time? Well, let us say that more times than is good for a partnership. On other hand, if you never had a partnership “discussion,” what kind of partnership is THAT? (Please, not another meditation, this is a travel journal.)

Plus there is one other factor that is overriding these others: THB is getting old and thus must be (is? has?) losing some of those acute analytic skills that so much defined his earlier self, let alone losing his eyesight. Stubbornness and being cheap may now be subordinate to age. Hmmmmmmm...

How did THB get his (self-proclaimed) nickname, you may be asking yourself at this point of the meditation? Something tells me that is not what you’re thinking right about now, you’re thinking how much free association time has this guy got while on vacation, or maybe you’re thinking something else...feel free to put your thoughts in the comments section of the blog!


  1. I ran into the punch your own ticke thing (I think in Italy or Spain) and I am pretty sure I messed it up every time, making your statement about DIY applicable to any age group in terms of travel.

    The pictures are great!

  2. did I read a fight between those lines??? we had a doozer about halfway thru paris. and even though we both knew that it was due to exhaustion, disappointment and starvation, the hatred still took until food was digested to abate. sounds like the good is far outweighing the bad in berlin. enjoy. eat, look and spend those euros on a cab young man!

  3. I think it is something about being unable to translate the German even though it is actually a lot like English when trying to read it, and knowing the context (how many ways are there to say 'buy a ticket' instruction set?), that makes it frustrating. There's also something about standing in front of the only ticket machine for long moments with the pressure of deciding what to do!

    And, I agree, our photographer is doing a great job (and isn't taking many, either)

  4. Not exactly a fight, though close; clearly a sense of frustration (and exhaustion...definitely not starvation!). And, yes, euros for cabs a good idea! Fortunately, Schpinner-aye was well worth the drama of arrival (and much relief when it turned out to be just a few meters up the road on the left after turning the final corner)