natural history

A Weekend in Berlin


As I mentioned on Sunday, I was in Berlin over the weekend for an all-too-brief visit. I flew in early Saturday morning and left midday Monday and felt like I saw only a tiny fraction of what I wanted to see. That being said, I did cover a lot of ground for what was basically 48 hours and wanted to share the highlights with you.

Obviously above we have the Brandenburger Tor, which is actually the closest I ever got to West Berlin (other than riding the bus through it en route to/from Tegel Airport). When you spend a lot of time in Paris, I think you fall victim to something I’ll call the Triomphe Effect; the afflicted lose all sense of scale when it comes to arches and gates because the Arc de Triomphe is so huge. To me, the Washington Square Park arch in New York now seems laughably tiny and when I visited the Tor in Berlin, I was also surprised by its size. In my head it was much larger — and less cluttered with inebriated Borussia Dortmund and Bayern München fans who nobly took it upon themselves to prepare for the 20h Germany Cup final from the early morning hours (I’m happy to report that BM won, as my childhood Germany stints took place in Bayern). Despite the Triomphe Effect and the football horde, the historical symbolism of the Tor is still palpable. (more…)


Galeries d’Anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie

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When I was six years old and living in Bavaria, my parents took me to Vienna for a short trip while my dad gave a talk at a university. I have a number of vivid memories from this trip — including a traumatic episode in which I didn’t want to eat a crab cake because my tooth was about to fall out and I was afraid to chew anything — but my favorite was the Naturhistorisches Museum. I have no idea if the museum is still like this, but at the time it was itself a specimen of the Victorian period: room after room of vitrines and dioramas containing perpendicularly arranged fossils, minerals, and taxidermy animals, labeled by Latin name in ornate calligraphy on yellowed cards. There were no interactive displays or animatronic dinosaurs, but I loved it. I remember my mom lifting me up so I could look into the rock and mineral cases and being mesmerized by the orderly, endless rows of information. In many ways, I never want to go back to the real Naturhistorisches Museum in case it has changed or, as is more likely, in case my memory is selectively exaggerating and erasing parts of the museum.

When I shared this memory with my friend and Paris native Laurène she said we had to go to the Galeries d’Anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie. Located in the 5th arrondissement, the gallery is actually part of a pretty little complex of buildings, gardens, and a small zoo that collectively form Paris’s Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle. Laurène said that this particular building had a similar Victorian sensibility, and so we made plans to go together. (more…)