Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bonn, Beethoven, Bundesrepublik Deutschland

We decided to take another day-trip this past weekend. This time we chose Bonn, birthplace of Beethoven. For the first time in a long time, the weather was pleasant! It was a little overcast but the temperature hovered around 50 all day and it didn't rain once.

Our first stop was Beethoven's house. Admission is only 5 Euros and the experience is worth much more. We entered through the gift shop and then purchased our tickets. We intended to begin at the actual house but as soon as we walked into the courtyard we were accosted by an employee who began to speak rapid-fire German. After several seconds she realized that our frozen, helpless smiles were indicators of our incomprehension. Effortlessly, she switched to English.

"Please, do come in. The show has not yet started. We will be having a show with his music and lights and in 3D. You will have an opportunity to manipulate the images."

We hadn't read our brochures yet so we were very confused about what she was describing. But she was insistent as she held her arms out toward a building so we went inside, shrugging our shoulders. Incidentally, we both needed to use the bathroom facilities and we saw a WC sign posted in the hallway.

"Do you know what she was talking about," I asked my husband.
"No," he replied. "Is it a concert or something?"
"I have no idea. But at least there's a bathroom. We'll just use it and go back to the actual house."
"Okay, good plan."

When we were finished, we began to make our exit and the insistent employee suddenly popped her head out of a room off to the side and excitedly said, "Here! In here!!" By now we are accustomed to being herded into different places and coerced into following random people, so we obliged.

The room was small, with two benches running along either side and a large projection screen in the center. It was already full so we took seats on a far end. As soon as we were seated, she shut the door and began speaking. We stole furtive glances at each other, wondering what we were doing in this room with all of these people. Finally, remembering our language barrier, the employee handed us two English-language information sheets. 

We were at the Stage for Music Visualization for visual interpretation of Beethoven's works. It is presented to the audience virtually, using 3D images and interactive devices. We still didn't entirely comprehend what we were going to see but it sounded very interesting.

The employee concluded her diatribe several minutes later and then she appeared to be taking a vote from everyone. Of course we were the final two to be asked and the question was, "Okay, do you like a short or long piece?"

My husband looked at me and I shrugged. He said, "Uhh, short?" I nodded, and patted his hand reassuringly.

She relayed our answer to the rest of the room and it was met with low grumbles. Then she turned to us again and asked, "Do you mind if it is a long one?"

"Sure," my husband said. We still didn't really know what it was anyway, so what's twenty minutes instead of ten?

Satisfied with our changed minds, she began readying the room for our experience. While she was handing out 3D glasses, a man seated on the bench across from us smiled at my husband and said, "You are democrat." 

For some reason, we immediately interpreted this statement as political. My husband smiled strangely and asked, "How do you know?" The man faltered a little, smiled shortly, and then looked away.

After we had our glasses and the lights were off, I whispered, "Do they think all Americans are Democrats or something? I mean, we could be Republican." 
"I don't know. I don't think we'll ever know what Germans really think of us," he replied as he put on his shades.

The show was fun. We listened to an opera and each of the characters were represented by different 3D images. The children in the audience were shown how to use joysticks and other tools to move the images around the screen. Apparently this exhibit is fledgling so I think it's cool we were able to experience it.

It wasn't until long after our tour of the Beethoven house that we realized the German man was not making a comment about our political leanings. He was trying to tell us that we were being democratic in changing our answer to fit the rest of the audience's vote. No wonder he was so confused when we responded by asking, "How do you know?!" Oh, well. Uncomfortable Situation #4,567. But who's counting?

Touring the house was fascinating. I couldn't believe we were walking around the house where Beethoven was born, in 1770. I always say it, but I still think it's amazing that all of these places have been preserved. It's such a pleasure to walk inside these old homes and imagine what life was like for the people who lived there. 

Once we were satisfied with our new-found knowledge of Beethoven, we made our way to a cafe and had lunch outside in a square. We drank Bananenweizens and people-watched for a while. It was the first time in a couple months that we have been able to have lunch outside comfortably. I hope this pleasant weather is a continuing trend!

Our next stop was the Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (House of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany). Admission is free and it was just under a 2-mile walk from the cafe. The route took us down Museum Mile. More than 1 million people visit each year. Bonn is home to museums of varied topics including art, history, and even zoology.

History at the museum we visited begins in 1945, at the end of World War II. The history of WWII was comprehensive and accompanied by photos, videos, and historical documents. There were graphic photos of the atrocities at concentration camps. At times, you could hear Hitler's voice resounding through old recordings. It was chilling, to say the least. I thought it was a very thoughtful and thorough demonstration.

The museum is massive. It took us almost an hour just to sift through the WWII section. Another interesting item was a fragment of the wreckage of an American U2 spy plane shot down by Soviet missiles in 1960. The museum covers much more than war. The evolution of Volkswagen is on display, as well as relics from the 1954 World Cup. 

Unfortunately we did not have time to go through the entire museum but I am looking forward to a return trip. I would even venture to say that it could take more than an entire day to explore this massive exhibition. 

We began our long walk back through Museum Mile and took some photos along the way. Bonn is situated on the Rhine and I loved the view.

Bonn has been one of my favorite German cities so far. I thought it was extremely accessible and I know there is much more to see than we were able to manage on our first trip. 

Hopefully we will continue to be "Democrats" during our time here!

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