While Paris, Budapest, Milan and Madrid, were on the original list for the Spring 2011 trip to Europe, Berlin wasn’t given a thought. That is, until Gladys Toulis, my friend in New York, suggested we add Berlin to our itinerary. Not that she had first-hand knowledge, but her son, Tad, had been to Berlin on business several times. He talked about how cosmopolitan Berlin is, with its wealth of cultural offerings and diverse population, comparing the city to New York, of the 1970s, and Manhattan in particular. That description alone made me curious, and within a short time, kindled my enthusiasm! After living in New York for about 40 years, I moved to Texas, and over the next 20 plus years, each time I returned for a visit, I encountered such great changes in almost every aspect, I sometimes felt like a stranger in the place where I grew up, called my vast playground, as a teenager, and knew how to navigate like the back of my hand. Yes, it would be really interesting, I thought, to visit Berlin, and feel like I was in old familiar territory…New York of the 70s.
To my pleasant surprise, Tad was right in how he described Berlin to his mother. And I’m so grateful Gladys clued me in, because Berlin was not a place I’d longed to see, and certainly not a city I ever imagined falling in love with.
During the 2011 trip, there were several highlights, but one especially outstanding, was our prearranged-days-in-advance, private 2-hour guided tour, of the Käthe-Kollwitz-Museum. I first became aware of the artist, Käthe-Kollwitz, when I was about 13 year old, attending high school, and majoring in art. In studio art class, I was struck by the grave, haunting images in the skillfully rendered drawings, and paintings of fellow student, Ellen Eisenberg. I learned later, in class discussions of her work, Ellen’s style and images were heavily influenced by the lithographs and woodcuts of German graphic artist and sculptor, Käthe Kollwitz. In the mid-1950s, at a MOMA exhibition of prints from Europe and Japan, a woodcut by Käthe Kollwitz was included among the works of German Expressionists. Besides her exhibited works in New York, I became more familiar with Kollwitz through books featuring her art.
So, when planning for my first trip to Berlin, and researching museums to visit, I was thrilled to learn of the Käthe-Kollwitz-Museum, and made a visit there a priority. Although much of her work had been confiscated and destroyed during the Nazi era, many pieces survived in the care of admirers and collectors, and those are the works I had the great privilege of viewing up close, in person.
After the museum tour, I better understood why the anti-war theme of Kollwitz’s prints struck a deep chord, and had such a profound influence on the early direction of my classmate’s work. Ellen’s grandmother, whom I remember meeting once, was German born, Jewish, and, if I remember correctly, fled Germany between the two wars.
— Mural in the basement of the DDR Museum, Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 1, 10178 Berlin