When art really moves you

July was walk-about month for me and my family. I look forward to these trips because they are a time to look at new things, have different experiences, and generally refresh my artistic brain. We decided to go to two very different European cities — mostly because they offered activities that would please both forty-something parents and newly-minted young adults.

Our time in Amsterdam yielded two museum experiences that I enjoyed. A Matisse paper cut-out exhibit at the Stedelijk Museum felt so familiar, as I remembered the reproduction that hung on my bedroom wall throughout my adolescence. I admired Matisse’s use of white space. An early morning visit to the Van Gogh Museum took us through the artist’s development from dark and realistic, to brighter colors and abstracted perspectives. I could clearly see the influence of Japanese woodblock printing during one period of his painting, where shapes were darkly outlined, as if in an homage to a key block.

Lovely to see… but not earthshaking. We then traveled by train to Berlin. In a past life, I studied political science, took Russian, and learned a great deal about Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Our AirBnB 1901 apartment was in Prenzlauer Berg — an area that was part of East Berlin. I imagined the people living in this apartment — with its soaring ceilings and thick walls — during the second World War and the time of the Stazi.

Our first real site in Berlin was an evening trip up the dome of the Reichstag. The former dome burned in 1933 and provided the impetus for the Nazi party to seize political power. The current glass dome was not completed until 1999, nine years after German reunification. Access to the site is free, but requires advanced tickets procured with your official documents. Inside it is quiet as people gradually ascend up to the top, where you can lean back on a circular wooden bench and watch the clouds go by. In a country that has known such conflict and pain, the dome provides a sense of peace and a hope for clear-eyed action in the future.

A view of the ascending and descending ramps in the dome of the Reichstag in Berlin, Germany.

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