One thing you might not know about me: I studied German at Uni. Not sure how that happened, but it did. Applied Linguists to be specific, Deutsch zusammen mit Englisch (though to be honest, I never really ‘applied’ any of my language skills during that 5 years stint). I wasn’t that interested in the technicalities: delving deep into grammar rules, reading medieval literature (well, I didn’t read much back in the days anyway, so it took a few attempts to pass that exam) or the horrendous pile of weekly translations. Plus a random bunch of theories on linguistics I had to master, the thought of which still gives me the shivers and most of which I don’t understand until today.
But the truth is, all the above hasn’t stopped me from loving and learning languages. I love traveling (duh!) and meeting new people, so speaking a few of them comes in handy en route. I pick up new words and phrases wherever I go, every day. And download them hassle free into my brain’s hard-drive. Or pick up the pieces after a decade of not speaking German, apart from the odd phonecall at work.
Berlin. My last time here was with my grandparents. They visited me after some high-school language course I did roughly about 17-18 years ago (yikes). I don’t remember much from that trip apart from the fact it was the first time I did my hair PINK…for the pride parade, which was a massive event in Berlin back in the day.
I don’t mind Germany, though it’s not my number one destination and overall I prefer the German countryside to cities. I speak the language, which also helps a lot. Polish-German history was never easy, but we try to makes things work (yes, I’ve got good German friends). It’s a modern city, merged from its east and west bits after the Cold war. A very eclectic city, glass skyscrapers with heavy socialist blocks mixed with imperial and medieval touches here and there.
I didn’t have too much time for proper food on this occasion as it was a fast turn-around trip consisting of only 30 hours (minus 8 hours sleep which I badly needed). But surprisingly, among the endless bratwurst and kebab stalls scattered around the city, you’ll get fantastic restaurants. I know that from spending the post-opera evening studying food guides in bed... and watching cheap telly.
At first site you might think there’s actually not that much to Berlin (no WOWs like in Spain, France or Italy, at least for me), but towards the end you want to keep exploring. No wonder the legendary Marianne Dietrich sang Ich hab’ noch einen Koffer in Berlin… she’s still got one more BIG suitcase in Berlin, full of Toblerone.
In terms of the ballet, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I heard a lot about the Berlin Philharmonic but not much about the local opera and ballet. It was a very last minute trip (when is it not last minute?!), I booked a 50min flight from Warsaw to Berlin together with a ticket to ‘La Bayadere’. A ballet I’ve actually never seen before.
First things first, the confusing title ‘Bayadere’ is a European term for a Hindu dancing girl, originating from the Portuguese 'ballar'.
The title role of the temple dancer was performed here by the mesmerising Ukrainian prima ballerina Iana Salenko (she’s top class at the age of 36 and has managed to pop out 2 kids). The fantasy ballet is set in India and centres around a girl who falls in love for a warrior prince and they swear eternal fidelity to one another, but in the end - surprise, surprise - they can’t be together...yes, you guessed it, it's about love, jealousy, deceit, revenge and everyone dies in the end in a moment of deep apotheosis (how many times have I written this now?).
The current choreography is based on the 19th century original devised by French master Marius Petipa (if you’ve read my previous blogs his name features a lot), so it feels you’re transported straight to the old-school Imperial Theatre in St Petersburg. Not only was I salivating looking at the flawless dancing (or I was just hungry), but I loved the very rich, colourful set design and sumptuous music by Ludwig Minkus, the official composer for St Petersburg ballet at the time.
I always said Tchaikovsky is good for beginners, but if you’re looking to kick off your ballet adventures with a bang, La Bayadere at the Berlin Staatsoper is a great one to go for. Don’t forget, you can enjoy lots of dirty bratwurst straight after.