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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a black belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©Can Sönmez

27 August 2017

Germany, 18th to 27th August 2017 (Berlin & Heidelberg)

My original plan was to fly into Hamburg, visit a few people there, then on to Berlin to hang out with my brother and check out a few museums. Unfortunately, the downside of booking things a long way in advance is that things can change by the time the dates roll around. Hence why none of the people I was intending to visit were actually there (people have lives, it turns out ;P). As I hadn't yet booked my internal transport, that gave me some scope in terms of what to do. I therefore decided that rather than waiting around in Hamburg, I would go straight to Berlin and spend all my time before the camp there, thanks to the joy of FlixBus.

Hamburg Airport was something of a pain to get around. First you have a surprisingly long drive in the bus from the plane to the main terminal. Once there, the automated passport machines were all broken, slowing border control to a crawl. I finally got through that to baggage claim...none of which said Bristol. That might have been because the border control took so long, I'm not sure. Either way, the upshot was that I scampered back and forth to try and find Bristol on the baggage carousels, before finally just asking somebody at the desk and getting it that way.

Transport from the airport to the central train station (the FlixBus stop is right by it) was thankfully without hassle, there's a train station right at the airport. FlixBus is the continental equivalent of Megabus, but a little comfier and the WiFi also appears to be better (though you do hit limits if you watch a bunch of streaming video or whatever, so stick with simple social media rather than YouTube). I managed to get myself confused between the U bahn and S bahn, because I could only find the S bahn stations on my offline map. I ended up walking through the Tiergarten cycle paths, as that was the only part that was lit (dimly). It took me almost three hours to get to the hostel, which would have taken someone with either common or directional sense about 30 mins. Sadly I possess neither. ;)


When I was last in Berlin six years ago, my time in the Gemäldegalerie was brief. I only had an hour or two in 2011, but in 2017 I have time to spend the whole weekend with art. They still have the excellent audio guide, which for me is a big part of my enjoyment. I guess I'm too used to podcasts.

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The museum is chronologically and geographically organised, starting with some German examples. There is a very early altarpiece from around 1230: I especially liked the soldiers sleeping in the corner, putting me in mind of fantasy #art, as well as 19th century Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood approximations of the medieval.

I was pleased to see a Riemenschneider up close, one of the greatest sculptors of all time, but sadly no audio guide entry. Beautifully realised hands. In that early section, Hans Multscher also caught my eye. His 1437 altarpiece reminded me of Bosch, due to the similarly gurning facial types he used (bottom left), plus there was some cool armour on the guards (bottom right). Always a fan of cool armour. :)

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Of the seven hours I spent at the gallery, four were in the first handful of rooms. The Gemäldegalerie has a world class selection of my favourite art, Flemish painting from the 15th century. Along with the van Eyck and Van der Weyden (bottom right) you'd expect, my old friend Dieric Bouts from Leuven is there too (top right). There's also an Aelbrecht Bouts (end of album) from Leuven, I guess a relation? Maybe a descendant, as his dates are 1455-1549 (long lived, especially for that time), whereas Dieric was 1410/20-1475.

I made a return visit to the well-known Petrus Christus portrait I mentioned last time (top left), the earliest of its type to feature a real background, apparently. I'd forgotten about his Last Judgement though (bottom left): as ever, the infernal lower half is way more interesting than the celestial top section. You'll also find Cranach here (his 'Fountain of Youth' is probably the best known painting by him in this section), along with Hans Baldung. Hans Memling and Hugo van der Goes make an appearance too.

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If Belgian art is my favourite, the Dutch are a close second. Bruegel (top left) is sort of both, as the town where he was (probably) born was on the border of present day Belgium and the Netherlands. Whichever country can claim him, he's awesome, so it's always a thrill to see his paintings in person. The Gemäldegalerie has one of his best, known as Netherlands Proverbs (but also Flemish Proverbs).

There's a handy guide telling you what they all are. Along with the familiar 'armed to the teeth', that armoured chap is also thought to represent 'to bell the cat'. Apparently that's when you plan something everyone finds out about, which therefore turns out badly. Yeah, me neither. You'll also find plenty from other Dutch heavyweights, the definitely Dutch Frans Hals (top right, bottom left) and of course Rembrandt (bottom right, extra in album). Malle Babbe ('malle' roughly means 'mad') looks very happy with her beer, as well as surprisingly modern in style.

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If there was such a group as 'regular readers of the #SlideyArtPost hashtag', then they might remember that last March I posted about Gerard Ter Borch (talking about the Rijksmuseum version of the painting on the left). He was renowned for his incredible ability to replicate satin in paint, which is probably why there are three paintings by him in the Gemäldegalerie that prominently feature photorealistic dresses. However, he did sometimes manage to restrain himself and go a whole painting without any amazing drapery (he could show off how good he was at painting metal armour instead, for example ;D)

Every art gallery I've ever been to has always lacked something. They tend to impose an enormous void on the artistic canon of the period I most enjoy (1450-1750) labeled 'Female Painters'. Given patriarchal constraints were even worse back then, it's admittedly a smaller pool to choose from, but there are still plenty of superb artists from those three centuries who happened to be women.

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You won't find many of them on display at the Gemäldegalerie, but there are a few. I was pleased to see old favourites like Angelica Kauffmann (top left) and Vigee Le Brun (middle left) with a sort-of-appearance by Judith Leyster (merely in a painting by her husband though, rather than one of her own works). The gallery can boast a Sofonisba Anguissola (bottom right) too, which was particularly cool as I rarely get to see her #art in person. I'd be interested to know more about the painting: it's a portrait of another Anguissola, so presumably a relative.

It was also great to encounter a female artist I hadn't seen before, Anna Dorothea Therbusch (1721-1782). She probably appears in one of the women artist compendiums I own, but I didn't recognise the name either way. According to the audio guide, she was very successful in the 18th century, plus she was a local, born in Berlin. She certainly knew how to rock a massive monocle and folding fan, so extra points for that.

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When I've finished luxuriating in Flemish, Dutch and German artists (in that order), my typical final stop in a gallery is to see if they have any of my other favourites from elsewhere in the world. I've mentioned some of them already (French, Swiss and Italian female artists), then there's also Goya. He wasn't about, but the Gemäldegalerie does have another of my faves: Parmigianino. He's often in residence, though he's almost never highlighted: if a gallery has some Correggio (end of album), I can usually find Parmigianino nearby.

The Gemäldegalerie has his 1519 'Baptism of Christ'. The figure of Jesus himself looks a lot like Parmigianino's standard female figure, just with a beard. I guess he really liked that facial structure, plus Christ does tend to be refreshingly effeminate (except when he's on the cross, as there he sometimes gets buff). Caravaggio (middle) is another painter I'll look out for when I've exhausted a gallery's Northern European sections. He crops up with an intriguing counterpart, as right across from his 'Love Conquers All' is a direct response from his hated rival Baglione (right). Caravaggio's unabashedly homoerotic Cupid (thought to be modelled on his lover and student, known as Cecco del Caravaggio as a result) grins atop a pile of symbols, demonstrating love's potency.

There was a conservative backlash, so Baglione was commissioned to depict Sacred Love overcoming Profane Love. The latter figure is very clearly meant to be Caravaggio's Eros. Admittedly I do prefer Baglione's painting, but that's because (yep, same old reason) it features cool armour. :D

Sunday in Berlin began with a stop at the Brandenburg Gate, on my way to the Museuminsel. Everybody was stood several metres in front of it, with a few getting slightly closer for a selfie background. For some reason, I was the only one going up close to look at the imposing bas reliefs on the side of each opening. Which I imagine meant that for everybody else, I became 'that annoying guy who got in the way of my perfect tourist shot.' ;p

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In the Museuminsel, I started with the the Alte Nationalgalerie. This gallery focuses on 19th century painting, not a period I find all that interesting. However, I do enjoy the Fin de Siècle, where the 19th century moves into the 20th. That's where you can find art noveau, symbolism and later art deco, all of which I love. Franz von Stuck (1863-1928) was the main name I already knew here, with a bunch of cool paintings. As a symbolist, he depicted sorcery and the occult, Circe being a very popular theme of that school.

Von Stuck not only painted fantastical visions, he created his own beautifully designed frames too. The works here are mostly 1900s and 1910s, during art nouveau (primarily an 1890-1910 style). I wonder if the straight lines of the columns from the 1912 work point to the coming deco (which began around 1920), whereas the spidery lettering remains nouveau.

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Unlike von Stuck, I'm not familiar with Thomas Theodor Heine. His squat, smooth sculpture of a devil looks like infernal slime frozen in place. To my eye it's modern, I could imagine that in a shop today. The best part of 19th century art is that the interest in the medieval and fairy tales meant a whole tarrasque-full of material that would do a fine job of illustrating a D&D sourcebook.

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While I was ignoring most of the gallery on a hunt for more Symbolists, Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901) grabbed my attention. Bottom left are his properly monstrous looking sirens (a refreshing change from the usual mermaid trope), then top right is a chilled out dragon. There were lots of others too, both painting and #sculpture. I assumed bottom right was a depiction of medusa due to the snake hair, but the caption titles it 'Witch'. In case you're wondering, top left is Snow White.

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The 'Altes' gallery possesses a well regarded collection of French Impressionists, but I am not a fan of that style. I do like Henri De Tolouse Latrec (top left), though, especially his posters. There was also a Turkish painter, making for a pleasant change. From the audio guide, Osman Hamdi Bey (top right) sounds like a multi-talented guy, educated in Paris, going on to become an influential bureaucrat as well as an artist.

A few female painters can be found, neither of whom I was familiar with. Sabine Lepsius (bottom left) lived through an eventful time (1864-1942), while Vilma Parlaghy's portrait of Kaiser Wilhelm very much captures his belicose pomposity (even the frame is well chosen). The painter's full name, as it's interesting, was Princess Elisabeth Vilma Lwoff-Parlaghy.

I managed about an hour and a half in the Alte Nationalgalerie, then the same in the Neues Museum. I need two things to enjoy a museum: a carefully structured narrative layout and a comprehensive audio guide. The Neues Museum has a decent audio guide, but the layout is the typical 'here's some pottery, here are some tools, here are a few sculptures' style. For my taste, it doesn't hang together in an engaging way, though it works well if you buy the combined €18 ticket (true of the gallery too).

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There is plenty of elegant Egyptian sculpture on show, my favourite part of the museum. Those two heads at the top are from around 1400BCE, while the so-called 'Berlin Green Head' (due to the fact it's dark green and in Berlin. Yeah, they don't know that much about it 😉) dates to 400CE. You can also wander through a partially reconstructed tomb.

When it comes to both walking through partially reconstructed historical sites and a strong narrative, you can't beat the Museuminsel's highlight: the Pergamonmuseum. Even though much of it is being refurbished, it still knocks the socks off the other two I visited nearby. You're hit in the face with the gigantic Ishtar Gate as you enter, which isn't even the main Ishtar Gate. That is far bigger, but the Pergamon Museum wasn't large enough to house it! It came to Berlin from Babylon itself.

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After 9 months of excavation in Babylon, World War I meant #archaeologists were forced to abandon the site in 1917. 10 years later, they brought 400 crates full of glazed blue brick fragments to Berlin. Those all had to be pieced together into the current enormous gate. Naturally there were some gaps to fill, requiring quite a few new bricks to be made.

Past that, you come to the Miletus Gate, 60% of which is original (extremely high for a historical reconstruction, or so claims the audio guide). Structural engineers insisted on it being reinforced with an internal iron frame. Good thing too, or bombing during the war would have smashed it. The Gate still needed restoring though, some damage had occurred. It will get more restoring in 2019.

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I'm guessing the Boğazköy sphinxes in the Pergamonmuseum (or something like them) were the inspiration for the Riddle Gate in The Neverending Story? I had a read about them once I board my FlixBus that same Sunday, as I'm timed the 22:00 FlixBus to Heidelberg to take me through the night (saving me some accommodation costs and using the time more efficiently). I didn't get in a whole lot of sleep, but I did watch a lot of Puschel, a cartoon squirrel who featured heavily during my childhood trips to my Opa and Oma. He's therefore become emblematic of my childhood, earning him a place on my arm as a tattoo (though given it's me, that has a whole host of different meanings, lots of planning went into it ;D).


There isn't all that much for me to say culturally about Heidelberg, because I spent almost 100% of my time in the sports complex where the BJJ Globetrotter camp was taking place. I've written up all the classes, although I haven't gone into as much depth as usual: I need to be careful of that, I've been letting the blog write-ups really stack up since the Artemis BJJ timetable expanded to classes six days a week. There's quite a backlog, so the detail level sometimes suffers.

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Another major reason there aren't such detailed posts this time is because every evening, instead of typing up classes, I was playing Dungeons & Dragons. I set up a group for playing D&D at the Leuven Camp last month, which has expanded since then. By the time Heidelcamp started, we had not just Jan there (the Leuven DM), but also my room mate Ferdinand and me all capable of DMing. I split the sessions into 'beginner' and 'established', particularly as quite a few of the players from Leuven were here in Heidelberg (like Sabine and Manuel).

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Probably because I'd arrived on my own with no Artemis BJJ students, Heidelcamp was my most sociable yet. I was staying in the sports centre itself, where there were only specific points to access the WiFi. The main one was down next the canteen, meaning that immediately became a major gathering point. I must have met and chatted to at least fifty fellow Globetrotters over the course of the camp at that spot, making plenty of new friends and getting in some cool conversations. I even got to practice my German a little, with the staff at the centre: the food in the canteen itself was surprisingly tasty.

Food was what eventually drew me out of the sports centre. I went on a brief trip into town with Jan and a new friend, Stephanie, in order to sample the delights of German cuisine. Stephanie had been telling me all about maltaschen, which are sort of like German dumplings. I was thrilled to find some, stuffing them right into my belly. Tasty!

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We also got in lots of posing at the camp, due to the relatively recent addition of a photobooth. The first time I got to try that was in Leuven (I think they started it off in Copenhagen the month before?), with Ahn remaining the Empress of Pose. Her pictures are always the best, so I was pleased to feature in some of them. ;D

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She also brought her facepainting kit with her to Heidelberg, as she often does, meaning the photobooth got extra fabulous:

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The trip finished off for me with a visit to the local zoo, due to my cousin getting in touch asking if I wanted to hang out. That was cool, as I haven't seen her in years: I don't think she had any children when she last saw me. There are now two of them, both of whom have very different personalities, interestingly. The older one was keen to learn the English names for animals, which might have been more of a test for me if a lot of them hadn't had captions in both German and English. I could therefore cheat. ;)

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That will be the last full camp for me this year, as my bank account can't handle any more, plus I try not to be away from my club too much (as that would be unfair on all the awesome people who cover classes for me). I like the idea of doing two camps a year and it was super fun in 2017, helping to counteract the dreaded Post Camp Blues (because I did two camps in quick succession). I've also got a mini camp to look forward to over a weekend, as Chris Paines has arranged 10 hours of Priit at his club up in Stafford in November. Eeeexcellent. Many of the Heidelcampers I spent a lot of time with are coming too, making for a lovely reunion.

Next year, I may just stick with Leuven, but I will be very tempted if the proposed extra camp in Scandinavia comes off. We'll see what happens. ;)

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