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Berlin: a world of art in a world city

For nearly three centuries Berlin has been known as "Athens on the Spree," an appellation that resides more in the province of the Chamber of Commerce than it does in fact. Nonetheless, the arts that flourished in imperial Berlin have made a remarkable recovery since this city dug itself out of the ashes of World War II.

Indeed, the renaissance of the visual and performing arts is such that Berlin has become a cultural oasis between Paris and Moscow, on an island in a Soviet sea 110 miles from any Western port.

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Ironically, it is because of Berlin's peculiar political split personality that it can offer such a largess of music, dance, theater, painting, and sculpture. What other city has two opera houses, two national galleries, two national theaters, two state libraries? It's rather like discovering two Louvres in Paris or two Covent Gardens in London.

The principal difficulty the tourist encounters is which museum, opera house, gallery, theater, or concert hall to seek out in a limited time. The following list does not pretend to be complete but should convey the variety of cultural life on view.

Museum Dahlem, a short subway ride from center city, houses some of Europe's most outstanding paintings. The collection ranges from the 13th to the 18th century and includes 26 Rembrandts. Only Leningrad has more Rembrandts than Berlin; and only one more at that. The Dahlem Rembrandts include "Man with Gold Helmet" and "Samson and Delilah." Works by Titian, Durer, Rubens, De Goya, and Giotto are among those on exhibit.

The Egyptian Museum, opposite the Charlottenburg Palace, contains the original bust of Queen Nefertiti as well as an extensive collection of paintings , porcelain, and sculpture.

The Ethnology Museum, located in the new Dahlem complex, is noted for its Aztec collection and Asian artifacts. It is said to be the most important ethnological museum on the Continent.

The New National Gallery, on the banks of a canal near the Tiergarten, is devoted to 19th- and 20th-century paintings and sculpture. The recent retrospective exhibit of paintings by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was the art event of the winter.

Housed in the Old Supreme Court Building, the only pre-war public structure of importance left in West Berlin, The Berlin Museum opened in 1969. Its collections depict how Berliners dressed and lived in bygone days.

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Contemporary and classical and productions abound in nine playhouses. Approximately 75 new productions are staged annually, and 11,600 seats are available every evening. The State Playhouses, the Schiller Theater (classics) and the Hebbel Theater (modern), are the best known. A better-than-working knowledge of the German language is recommended for visitors who want to enjoy the performance.

The Deutsche Oper Berlin performs every evening, often as early as 7 p.m. World-Renowned conductors like Bohm and Maazel and singers like Fischer-Dieskau and Leonie Rysanel are among the artists who appear.

The Berlin Philharmonic makes its home in the strikingly different Philharmonic Hall, designed by Hans Scharoun. Daily tours of the building are offered. The "Guide to Berlin Concert Halls," a free publication, is available in the tourist center and at ticket agencies and concert halls. Berlin has several choral groups, including the Berlin Concert Choir, St. Hedwig's Cathedral Choir. Times and programs are contained in the above-mentioned guide.

A number of annual festivals round out the city's cultural calendar. They include the International Film Festival, Theater Meeting, Festival of the Arts, Music Festival, and Jazz Festival.

Some of East Berlin's cultural attractions are well worth taking the trip past Checkpoint Charlie. But don't dally overlong after the opera and theater for, like Cinderella, Westerners must be back in West Berlin by midnight.

One of the wonders of the museum world is East Belin's Pergamon Museum, which stands at the junction of tramlines near the Spree River. Its high point is the awesome Pergamon Altar, the Hellenistic altar to Zeus (180 B.C) and the Ishtar Gate. The Bode Museum is noted for its early Christian Byzantine collection, Egyptian coins, and copperplate engravings.

The most important of the theaters in East Berlin are the State Opera House (restored), the Komische Oper (Comic Opera), the Berliner Ensemble (renowned for its Brecht), and "Die Distel" (The Thistle) a bristly political cabaret.

Theatrical events are posted in East Berlin theaters and displayed at stations of the SBahn (interurban railway system) in West Berlin.

Pedantically, the German language differentiates between Grosstadtm (great city) and Weltstadtm (world city). A debate has raged for years as to which of these categories Berlin belongs. When it comes to cultural attractions, however , there is no question that Berlin is a Weltstadt.m


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