Berlin: Instruments, Art, Spies

While Sam was teaching, I went by myself to this Musical Instrument Museum. It was really interesting and I liked it, but if you are thinking of going there this will be the least helpful guide ever, because I didn't know what anything was. They did have an audio guide that played music clips from some of the instruments, and that was interesting, but it didn't TELL anything about the instruments, and none of the signs were in English either. I was DYING to touch some of the instruments so I could hear what they sounded like, because some were so STRANGE, but of course I held myself back.

I did happen to be there at the time of the Wurlitzer organ demonstration, so that was cool. A guy came out and improvised a bunch of stuff from Harry Potter, Star Wars, etc. with sound effects. The Wurlitzer is that whole huge cabinet you can see in the right of the picture above—with the open wood slats at the front. It's more than an organ: it has vibraphones, whistles, cymbals, drums, bells, and all kinds of other things, played by levers and mechanical joints and controlled by the manuals and pedals on the console (which is the white part on the floor below the wood slats—in the picture someone is standing and looking at it). They used these organs to make sound effects for silent movies. It was really cool to see how much the organist could do with it. I can't imagine trying to remember which effect each key or stop controlled!
I took this picture for my violinist friend Rachael: a Stradivarius violin (the one on our right). Are you just itching to get your hands on it, Rach?

And all you violinists ought to like these weird teeny thin stringy things, too.
And this one's for…who? Perhaps my saxophonist friend Ginna? This instrument just makes me laugh.
Interesting see-through piano
Tall piano-organ thing?
Terrible picture—but this is Ben Franklin's Glass Armonica! So cool. I love these instruments and feel a special affinity for them, ever since we tried to make one of our own. (That link has some recordings of glass armonicas playing, too—they have a lovely ethereal sound.)
There was a sign by this harpsichord saying something about "The Bach Harpsichord" (I did know "cembalo" meant harpsichord). It said something about how this either WAS or WASN'T Bach's actual harpsichord. Ha! I was so frustrated, not knowing! I finally looked it up when I got home, and I guess it's inconclusive. There's no proof that it actually belonged to Bach, but that was the tradition anyway, and people believed it for a long time and copied this instrument's style when making their own harpsichords. So even if it wasn't Bach's, it was influential. I want to believe it DID belong to Bach, so that's what I'm going with. :) Amazing that it's just sitting out there on the floor, not behind glass or anything. This is one of the ones I really had to restrain myself not to play! (It doesn't still work, actually—but I just wanted to press the keys.)

Here's something you may not know about me: I actually did OWN a harpsichord, growing up. My dad built it for my mom from a kit when they were first married! She still has it in her house. I used to love watching the action inside: the strings are plucked, rather than struck as in a piano. It is a little temperamental to play (keys get stuck sometimes) but there's nothing like Bach being played on a harpsichord to make you feel authentically Baroque! Ours only has one keyboard, though, and the keys are the usual pattern of black and white rather than this inverted style.
Two-keyboard piano. I really wanted to see how this worked, because the action, obviously, was complicated. There were layered sets of strings to correspond with the two keyboards, but I couldn't see how the hammers would come down without striking the strings above them as well. But I just had to stare at it and WONDER. Why am I such a rule-follower? Grrrr!
And this was even worse. What on EARTH? What does it sound like? What are those combination black/white keys? Do they step up at smaller intervals, like quarter-steps instead of half? Or does the whole keyboard span more octaves than usual? I MUST KNOW!
Same frustration here. Oh, and they didn't have recordings of any of these, so I couldn't even hear what sort of sound they were made. This seemed more like an organ of some sort. Maybe with foot pedals for volume? But why such strange keys? And how would one navigate them?

Well, in spite of the AGONY of not-knowing, I liked this museum and it was a nice way to spend a morning by myself. This place is quite near a meetinghouse for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Berlin; I walked over through the Tiergarten and it was a lovely walk.

Another day, Sam and I went to this art museum in Berlin. It's called the National Gallery, just like in London. But belonging to a different nation, of course. I wish we could also have gone the the New National Gallery, which has the more modern collections, but this one was close to our hotel, and we liked it. It was small enough that you could walk through the whole thing without being completely exhuasted, which was nice.
Sam was very taken with these grapes. He had just recently been painting grapes himself, for a project, and kept muttering things about Lambert reflection and sub-surface scattering, like a madman. I told him HIS grapes should also be in a gallery. A national one, preferably. But since the painting they were part of now belongs to his client, I will have to be content with immortalizing them here:
Sam really loved this sculpture, too. The way the sculptor managed to capture that soft, casual, slumped pose in the marble is pretty amazing.
This whole room was full of sculptures from the Danish school, including several by Bertel Thorvaldsen—you know, of Christus fame. I had never seen anything else by him, and they were all beautiful.
A lot of the paintings were by German artists I'd never heard of (not that that means anything; I don't know THAT many artists) but I loved this kind of glowy, Hudson-River-School-ish style. The two paintings above are by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, I think.
There was a whole room full of works by August Kopisch, another artist new to me. I really liked him.
And of course I'm always excited to see anything by the Impressionists. I love this Monet; so peaceful and evocative.
This was the colonnade outside the museum.
One more museum we liked: the Spy Museum. I think it was fairly new, but it was fun. TONS of information to digest (most in English as well as German; hooray) in the form of video interviews, touch screens, etc., but our favorite parts were just the exhibits of objects that seemed fittingly spy-ish. Like this umbrella, used to murder someone by jabbing a poisoned dart into their leg. Can you believe that happened in real life?? So strange.
There was a laser room where you could try to weave your way through the beams and not set off the "sensors" (no alarm actually went off, though, luckily for my nerves).
Microphones and cameras hidden in shoes
And umbrellas
And pens and cigarette cases. Doesn't it do your heart good to know that actual spies were actually using such things?

1 comment

  1. Oh goodness! How I wish I could take my kids to the spy museum!


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