It is right now my last week in Berlin. Two months ago, I planned for this weekend a trip to Eisenach, to visit the childhood home of Bach and Luther, and to admire the Wartburg castle, wherein the legendary medieval singing competition of Meistersingers, which later inspired the work of Tannhäuser by Wagner, supposedly took place. It is with great reluctance that I cancelled this well-planned trip, yet I felt the strong “necessity of conscience”, to spend and relish this last weekend in my host city, Berlin.
It was at this weekend that I experienced some of the most marvellous sides of Berlin. On Friday, under the mood of good weather, I set out after class to the very west districts of Berlin, Wannsee and Lichterfelde. It was a joy to see that Berlin, although being a busy metropolitan no lesser than New York, also has its wonderful sides of Nature with large bodies of water and large areas of forests. And those areas of green are sacred for Berliners, who habitually spend their weekends lying on the lake beaches or under the shades of tress with friends, families to enjoy warm weathers, or going out on a hiking trip into the wooded hills after lunches. I sometimes like to sit upon a stone at a ruin piece on an island called “Schwanenwerder” and gaze at the woods on the opposite shore. That day I spent a peaceful late afternoon there reading a book facing the sunset, and after that, a hearty Berlin local meal at a Biergarten nearby. Berlin food is known to be hearty but simple (because of the lack of care for time-consuming delicacies due to lack of time, they are busy people), yet the food started to feel juicy under a setting of Nature: food with ingredients from the nature which is directly accessible, the nature you feel such a personal connection with, is typical of Berlin food. Fontane wrote so favourably of Berliner food: “Dill, Morcheln, Rübchen aus Teltow, Oderkrebse, Hecht und Zander aus brandenburgischen Seen, Gänse aus dem Oderbruch, Honig aus Kienbaum, Milch und Butter aus dem Havelland, Gurken und Leinöl aus dem Spreewald.”
The Germans have an obsession with forests. If one looks at the map of Germany, one might feel surprised at how much of the geographical space is covered with green. Berlin is virtually surrounded by forests, and the “Central Park” of Berlin, “Tiergarten” is actually an isle of forest within the city (in comparison to the Central Park of New York, which is mostly lawn). This obsession with forests has its cultural reasons, as the imagery of forests is common in German literature, and this mentality permeates into peoples’ cultural life. On Saturday that weekend, I was lucky to enjoy an open-air concert by West-eastern Divan Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim at the stage of Waldbühne (literally, Forest Stage). The venue was an open-air theatre in the midst of a forest based on the model of ancient Greek theatres. Although I found the fact uncomfortable that the venue was designed for the Nazis, yet the moment when the sun beams shined through the tree branches at a very tender musical passage by Liszt convinced me that the place has already been exorcised. The air was full of scent of late summer, and the sun gradually went down during Wagner’s “Morgendämmerung und Siegfrieds Rheinfahrt”. It was one of the most beautiful moments of music-listening, and I hope one day I will be conducting on this stage as well!