Archive for November, 2014


Bonn, the former West German capital, is full of extraordinary 19th century buildings in the approximate German equivalents of Victorian and Art Nouveau styles (Gründerzeit and Jugendstil) plus a bit of 60s-70s modern government architecture at its best. The old houses manage to look stuffy and whimsical at the same time which is quite a feat. There is lots of asymmetry. The main national history museum is there (bottom photos).

The West German parliament met in a room that looked like a bare-bones college or church hall with a bunch of ordinary-lookng people in chairs pulled into in a semicircle. In photos it looks like a PTA meeting and then afterwards they’ll set up the room for bingo.

We missed a tour of the stunning 1963 supermodern chancellor’s house because we didn’t know you need your passport. I’ve always been told passports must be kept in a safe place and not on your person, which I now know can limit spontaneous access to, well, former chancellors’ houses.



Cologne is the size of Tampa yet has both subways and streetcars, endless immaculate car-free shopping streets, world-class museums, and you can get anywhere by bike. It is generally considered Germany’s most relaxed city as well as its gay capital, to the surprise of those who know only Berlin’s international reputation.

1-4: Lots of Cologne looks like this. Plazas with cafes and car-free streets.

5-6: Free book stalls: take free books and/or leave your unwanted books. I found a fantastic one on urban green spaces such as the vine-covered wall behind the very stall where I found the book!

7: Landscape Protection Zone in central-city park

8-11: OMG functioning well-maintained first-world transportation infrastructure! Tablecloths in a train cafe, which haven’t been seen in the US in 50 years!

Dresden 1960-2014

The glass box is VW’s Transparent Factory, 10 minutes from the baroque palaces and churches that most people associate with Dresden and earned it the name ‘Florence on the Elbe’. A literary-philosphical talk show called ‘The Philsophical Quartet’ was sometimes filmed there during its 10-year run, because Germany is the kind of place that has literary-philophical talk shows. To prevent birds from hitting the glass, outdoor loudspeakers play ‘territory taken’ bird sounds.


Dresden 1890-1945

1. Turkish-themed tobacco factory, 1908

2. Revolutionary bi-level train station with unusual configuration of terminal tracks in the central hall flanked by raised through-tracks on either side, 1898. Renovations c.2006 by Sir Norman Foster including teflon-fabric roofs which won countless architecture awards yet have had ongoing leak problems.

3-6. Adorable interconnected courtyards with shops and housing known as the Kunsthof. Everyone raves about Berlin’s Hackescher Hoefe but this is great too.


In Dresden, visible evidence of the Second World War is not easy to find

Nearly sixty years of rebuilding erased almost every example of the massive damage Dresden experienced in its much-debated bombing. However, informed locals can identify which buildings have been restored or amended – and in some cases rebuilt from the ground up as historical copies – at various times from 1945 to the present – architectural palimpsests. Everyone should be so lucky as to have a tour guide like my friend Roland who can read the buildings and urban forms like a paleontologist digging through layers of fossils.

These are rare examples of remaining visible damage.

1. Intact ground floor of five-story building c.1910 (now one of the country’s many non-shame-attached sex stores)

2. In almost all cases, new construction has filled in gaps; this is an exception.

3-4. Destroyed church, now a lapidarium where statues, monuments and stone building elements are stored, such as this DDR-era monument.

5. Dormers at the top are post-unification (1990) additions to the original 1920s building. The center section is most likely a signifcant alteration from the 1990s that kept the original 20s stone window surrounds.

Dresden DDR Museum

The lack of museums covering communist-era East Germany is startling. The few DDR* museums that exist are zero-budget independent shoestring operations such as this one that simply took over a few floors of an unrenovated office building, not even in Dresden itself but in a town just outside it. The government seems to have little interest in documenting East German history. Exceptions include the main German history museum in the little, not-centrally-located town of Bonn (West Germany’s capital until unification) and two small DDR-related museums in Berlin that only opened around 2011-13.

The sinks are not a display. The photo is here to show the curious German (European?) habit of having sinks out in the hallways of office buildings.

*DDR was East Germany, Deutsche Demokratische Republik. West Germany was BRD, Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany)

Dresden Streetcar Museum

Installations of complete pre-Unification streetcar authority offices and a canteen with all original furnishings including uniforms, office equipment, and kitchenware. One hundred years of immaculately restored and operational cars, currently used for city tours.

Dresden: Clocks and surveying and navigation instruments in the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon

17th and 18th centuries.

The topographic survey diary on a long strip of paper was created by Augustus II “The Strong”, Elector of Saxony and later King of Poland, an avid and knowledgable surveyor, vital patron of arts and architecture and supporter of a variety of scientific endeavors.

On the large world clock, only the single large surface rotates, so the hour numerals on each of the 360 dials pass under the hour hands, which hang directly downwards, unmechanized.

Dresden: Globes in the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon

Umbrella-style collapsable; leather inflatable; inexpensive mass-produced paper; Mars and its ‘canals’.


Berlin Subways

I love how they all have different fonts. There are more with solid colors like at Eisenacher Strasse and Alexanderplatz but I didn’t get pictures.