Archive for June, 2015

It’s Vacation!

I’ve been out of school for a little over a month now, and so far the summer break has been pretty eventful. The end of my semester went smoothly for the most part, though my final exam schedule was a little weird this time around. My chemistry final was on the first day of exams, in the first possible time block. I wasn’t too worried about it, as I was already comfortable with most of them material before taking the class, but I was a little disappointed with how I scored. I did okay, but I know I could have done better. Modern physics was the next day, and it was definitely the test I was most worried for. After struggling through the class for most of the semester, the final was much easier than I expected. There were some questions that I couldn’t answer, and I don’t know that I got my score back, but I ended the semester with a decent grade, despite the difficulty I’d had with the subject matter.
After physics, which was on Friday, my last final was differential equations, on the following Thursday. Aside from studying, a couple of little marching band meetings, and other end-of-semester activities like packing up my room, I didn’t do much for those five days, and was able to hang out with friends a good bit. Differential equations was frustrating, but I was glad to be finished for the summer, and came home on the train the next (very long) day.

We had a week at home after that, and I hadn’t started work yet, so I got to spend time with N and adjust to the new house (my family bought and moved to a new home shortly after spring break, and this was my first time coming back to it). A week after coming home, we went to Europe!

Last May (2014), my dad taught a class for a few weeks in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and this year he was asked to come again. Instead of just his going, however, my parents decided that we would all go for some time. For a little over a week, we lived in an apartment in a villa about 10 minutes from the Old Town, which was a trading hub on the Adriatic Sea for many centuries. Now the city’s economy is driven primarily by tourism, which is helped by the fact that Game of Thrones has been filmed in multiple locations in the Old Town as well as the Hotel Belvedere, which has been abandoned since the Homeland War in the early 90s. Dad taught in the mornings, and the rest of us spent time exploring the city, swimming in the sea, or visiting one of the several museums presenting the history, art and culture of the city and region. My birthday also passed while we were there, and to celebrate dad and I went to the Dubrovnik Symphony’s performance of Beethoven 3, which was very fun. I really enjoyed it, and would have been happy spending another day or two there without getting bored.

At the end of our little stay, mom, T and C flew home to return to school (they were missing classes during our time abroad) and I flew to Berlin. One of my best friends since first grade, G, is studying in Dresden this semester, so I decided to take the opportunity of being in Europe to visit him. I had wanted to return to and see more of Germany since our exchange trip after Junior year of high school, so it was awesome that the week I was going to be there coincided with one of G’s breaks from classes.

I arrived in Berlin late on Sunday night (the 24th). G had been there for most of the afternoon, so I just met him at the hostel we were staying at. Monday morning we got up early in the morning to make our reservation at the Pergamon museum. Probably one of Berlin’s most popular museums, the Pergamon houses a large collection of statues and structures from ancient Egypt, Rome and Babylon, especially. The highlight for me was the Ishtar Gate, a massive dark blue gateway decorated with dragons and aurochs (ancient oxen). I’d seen pictures of the structure before, but they don’t really compare to the actual thing. We stopped for lunch at a well-known currywurst stand, and then spent the afternoon at the Jewish History Museum. The main exhibit was extensive, covering the political and cultural history of the Jewish people in northern Europe from ancient times to present, and we could have spent many more hours than we did there. The rest of the museum consisted of an architectural and artistic memorial to the Exile and Holocaust during the Third Reich. I would love to try to explain it, but I doubt I could do it justice. I highly recommend visiting, given the chance.

That night, we stopped at an excellent little pizzeria near the hostel and got two pizzas to go. We then made our way to the Philharmonie, the large concert hall complex that is home to the Berling Philharmonic. We ate outside, and then went and saw the orchestra perform Petrassi’s Partita for Orchestra, Strauss’ Vier Letzte Lieder, and Tchaikovsky 4. It was incredible. A little selfishly, I wish that the “first-string” horns (with Stefan Dohr and Sarah Willis) had been playing, if only to say that I had seen them play, but it was very good nonetheless. Thank you J^2 for helping to make that possible!
The next morning, G and I had breakfast at the hostel before meeting Herr B, our middle school German teacher, who is now teaching in Berlin at an Europaschule. A love of street art, he showed us a few of his favorite pieces, including the East Side Gallery. The longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall, it has been painted multiple times, and has some of the most iconic pieces of art from the wall, even though it was repainted after the reunification. He also took us to a few interesting places in the eastern corner of the city, which neither of us had spent much time in. We chatted and caught up over lunch at a little schnitzel place before he had to leave.

G and I then made our way to the Technical Museum of Berlin. While many of the exhibits were directed at younger audiences, but still had a great time. The largest part of the museum was five floors filled with craft and artifacts from Germany’s maritime and aviation history, which was very cool. The best part, however, was a pair of railroad roundhouses filled with train cars and locomotives. My six-year-old self would have been in paradise. Again, it’s one thing to loot at pictures or diagrams of a 200-ton steam locomotive, and its all the more impressive when you can stand beside its driving wheels with meters wider than you are tall.

For dinner, we found a sit-down Italian restaurant, and both had a pasta dish. Afterwards, we walked to the Tempelhof Airport, which Herr B had recommended. Built in 1927 and expanded by the Nazi regime, the airfield was key during the Berlin Airlift in the later 1940s. It was put to rest as a functional airport in 2008, and has remained undeveloped since, so it is now a massive park in the middle of the city (much larger than New York’s Central Park). I can’t put my finger on it, but something about the place awed me. I would have loved to spend more time there (perhaps with a bicycle to ride up and down the runways), but it was getting late, cold and windy. Back in the neighborhood of our hostel, we visited Dussmann, a sizable bookstore recommended by K, a marching band friend and Berlinophile. We could have spent an hour or two in the room of classical music records alone (I ended up buying a recording of Shostakovich 11).

Wednesday morning, we got up early again to catch our train to Hamburg, arriving around 10. After getting lost a couple of times, we found the Johannes Brahms museum, which G wanted to visit. Located in one of the childhood homes of the composer, the museum was a small but worthwhile collection of pictures, letters, programs and manuscripts illustrating his life. G also enjoyed playing a piano built in that time by a favorite manufacturer of Brahms. More wandering led us to a little farmers market with street food vendors, so we stopped for lunch (spƤtzle).

After eating, we decided to go to the Tropen-Aquarium (Tropical Aquarium), next to the zoo. Once again, it wasn’t quite what we expected. While there were many fish and other aquatic animals, there were also several sections devoted to other types of animals, including snakes and other reptiles, spiders, and small tropical mammals and birds. The first room in the complex had a large family of ring-tailed lemurs, including one very friendly young lemur, just out in the open. The primates were fairly reserved though, and tended to avoid most of the visitors.
We headed back into the city center so that I could check into my hostel, and ended up just wandering on the Alster because it was too late to go to a museum. For dinner, we met a friend from one of the previous exchanges with the high school, A, had burgers, and then went to a small jazz bar to watch one of A’s friends play in a jazz combo. It was good, but G and I were both pretty exhausted, so we didn’t stay long.

The next morning, we had hoped to make it to a musuem before we had to leave. G was catching a train to the Netherlands around 12:15, I think, and my flight home was at 2, so I planned on making it to the airport by noon. Unfortunately, most of the more interesting museums were closed until 10 or 11 in the morning, which didn’t leave us much time. Instead, we ended up walking around more of the city, stopping at several churches and other buildings with impressive architecture. We accidentally stumbled upon the St. Nikolai Church, and didn’t immediately realize what it was because it was under construction, the steeple covered in scaffolding. Looking around, it because clear that the small square and statues “in front” of the steeple were actually where the sanctuary had been. After being renovated many times in its long history, with a two-year stint as the tallest building in the world, most of the neo-gothic cathedral? was destroyed during the fire-bombing of Hamburg, leaving only the steeple behind. Since then, restoration efforts have made progress on the steeple, but there are no plans to resume using it as a church, leaving it as a memorial to the destruction.

I flew home as scheduled. It was good to see G and explore Berlin and Hamburg, but I was also glad to get home. Since returning, I’ve resumed my work at my summer internship. The rest of my summer should be pretty quiet, which I am content with, although there are a few events here and there. I can explain those more in a later (and hopefully shorter) post.

Axwell^Ingrosso – Sun is Shining

I’ve been listening to this for a while, but it was only last week that the official version was uploaded to YouTube, so I can finally post it.