Friday, August 31, 2012

The Wende Museum

Friday, August 31, 2012
My Cost: FREE!

5741 Buckingham Parkway
Culver City, CA 90230

This is a fantastic "secret museum" that I would recommend to anyone interested in 20th century history! The Wende Musuem: a Museum and Archive of the Cold War, is not a super kid-friendly destination, but they were very accommodating of my little ones, so if this interests you, or possibly your children, I say go for it! Just be advised there are stairs and no elevator. 

There is no charge for admission, and you can visit any weekday (M-Th) with an appointment, or on Fridays without an appointment. The hours are between 10:00 am and 5:00 pm. (Because it is more of an archive and educational institution than a tourist destination, they are only open during typical work hours, and no weekends.) I did learn that there are plans in the works to move to the Culver City Armory, which would be a more permanent, visitor-friendly home for the archive. So if you want to be able to see it in its more "secret" or "hidden" stage, I'd suggest going sooner rather than later.

Despite being the world's largest Cold War visual archive, not too many people have ever heard of The Wende. ("Wende," by the way, is German for "turning" or "turning point," which refers to the 1989 tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany.) I first learned about this museum, (which was incorporated in 2002,) back in 2006 via an email group I belonged to. Another member of the group advertised that the museum was looking for a Russian speaker to help them with their recent poster acquisitions, and I ended up with the job. So from 2006 into mid-2007, I would spend about 10 hours a week in the back of the vault unrolling tubes of posters, (some were very fragile,) repairing the tears, flattening them, photographing them, logging the description in the inventory database, and filing them away. It was a fascinating, albeit somewhat lonely pursuit, but since I was interested in the material, I enjoyed it! Back then I emailed myself a few pictures of some favorites, so here are a few (I put translations in the captions):

"We are the party of the future, and the future belongs to the youth." -Lenin

"Check out my work: at night with clients, three days home..."
How did we make it, (this question isn't a joke,) so that an honest person lives worse than a prostitute?
[Prostitution was a prominent theme - a big problem in the 1980's.]

Killing yourself with a cigarette,
You're not only killing yourself.
Since I had a work history here, (although there has been a lot of turnover in the staff, and no one remembers me,) I contacted them last week and asked if I could bring my two small kids and tour the vault. 

I was realizing that, now that it's 2012, there are a lot of people already in their twenties who don't have any first-hand memories of the Cold War! In 1991, which was the official end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union, I was one year away from starting high school. I remember having a subconscious fear of the Russians and of a nuclear holocaust as a child. I remember Gorbachev's grape juice-stained head. I remember that all the bad guys in all the movies were Russians (played by American actors with really terrible accents.) I remember the hammer and sickle being a negative symbol. I remember having an innate sense of pride in capitalism, although I probably didn't understand what it was. I remember Ronald Reagan saying, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." And I remember live coverage of the wall actually coming down! I visited Russia for the first time in 1998 and saw many remnants of the communist era - early morning calisthenics for children, brusque sounding radio broadcasts, and so many monuments! I visited Berlin for the first time in 2001 and saw Checkpoint Charlie and what is left of the Wall. I met a cab driver who told me that he had been working nights and sleeping days, so he had missed the big announcement. When he picked up his first fare of the night, and the young man asked to be taken to West Berlin, he thought it was a joke, but he was able to drive through and no one stopped him. It's all such an integral part of the era of my youth that I am so grateful that Justinian Jampol started to collect these items out of a personal sense of responsibility to the past. We often don't realize how easy it is for those ubiquitous objects to just, suddenly, vanish.

When you are trying to find the museum for the first time, you have to remember you are looking for a suite in a business park, not your typical museum. It is across and down from the Fox Hills Mall, and next to the Holly Cross Cemetery. The signs you are looking for are these: 

At the entrance to the business park.

A pretty nondescript bank of business suites.

See the bottom listing - Suite E is the Wende.
Outside the entrance is a section of the original Berlin Wall. It was painted by an artist, Theirry Noir, who was also one of the original artists to paint the West German Wall in 1984. Oh, and FYI, they also have ten segments of the original East-German facing wall,  (which was never painted the way the West German side was,) that have been painted by modern muralists and are on display directly across from LACMA at 5900 Wilshire Blvd. These segments were unveiled in November 2009 to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Wall coming down in what was dubbed The Wall Project.

The Wall segment at the entrance, with the stroller for scale reference.

On the first floor is a room that displays a collection of items intended to recall Checkpoint Charlie and convey the feeling of what it was like for people to cross between the two halves of Berlin.

Street signs from the Checkpoint zone. At the bottom is the model described in the next photo.

Warnings posted in English, French, Russian and German.

Vivi and Alex absorbing the ambiance.

My favorite objects - passports from an assortment of Soviet countries.

The rest of the displayed items are not in such specific thematic groupings. There are assorted items which, save for the display case of books, are all upstairs. (We had to leave the stroller down below.) There is a large room that leads to a smaller room. Both rooms are filled with more or less permanent displays, (although the wall art is rotated, I understand,) and a side room (probably meant as an office,) that is a rotating display, currently on textiles.
Children's books from former Soviet countries.

The main display room. Chairs are occasionally used for screenings, etc.  I was told the way to find out about such happenings is to sign up for their newsletter. Contact them at

Decorative plates bearing different messages and themes.

A plate close-up. It is German, and reads "25th Pioneer Birthday: 1947-1973". Pioneers were the Soviet's program for nearly all school children ages 10-15. It was training for their later membership in the Komsomol, ("KOMmunesticheskii SOiyuz MOLodezhei," which means "Communist Union of Youth.") 

A wall of other interesting Cold War objects.

As a trombonist, I am drawn to the horn - called a Schalmei. It has seven bells for each of the seven valve options.
(There are six valves only, but the seventh option is to not press any valves.)

In the textile room, a latch-hook rug depicting Soviet symbols.
The hammer and sickle represent industry and agriculture working together.

A "locker room" corner showing various Soviet sports items. Vivi was drawn to the ball in the bottom of the right locker. The CCCP emblazoned on uniforms, (and many souvenir items even now,) stands for "Soiyuz Sovyetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublic," only Russian "S"s look like "C"s, and Russian "R"s look like "P"s. It means "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR.

This painted Lenin bust is what you might call the "face" of the Museum. He is reproduced and used in much of their material.

I have always been drawn to sculpture that idealizes the working class. They always look so strong and mighty! Even this miner.

Photos and posters. The top poster explains how, in the United States, one in three children aren't going to school because we are spending so much (74%, I believe,) of our budget on the military. It's interesting to see things that paint the U.S. as the bad guys.

The highlight for me, though, was stepping into the vault. I was anxious to see how much it had changed. In truth, the collection of "stuff" just got bigger. The tops of shelves are now official storage space, there are more wardrobe-type containers up against walls. There are also many more workstations. Several interns and other staff help catalog all the new acquisitions constantly coming in. I also learned they have two other off-site storage spaces! If you are looking for Soviet-era stuff, they are the people to see! The storage boxes have every kind of "thing" imaginable: typewriters, plates, cups, toys, books, art, postcards, etc.)

From the top of the stairs looking down, you can see how the top of shelving is being utilized. The furniture is an East German Design collection.

A pile of uniforms on a work station next to a tidy collection of boxes.

These chairs resemble makeup compacts, and were designed to be used outdoors as they are waterproof when closed.
(Although they were just too cool and were mostly used indoors.)

I didn't get pictures of the enormous collection of busts, but I did get this one picture of Vivi squeezing herself in between Lenin heads.

Hundreds of film reels for mostly vocational or educational films. The amount of just this one type of item should give you an idea of how vast this collection really is.
I was able to see a lot, but I would have loved to see a lot more. Unfortunately, when you have an 18-month old banging on boxes and twanging on bungee cords, and picking up hats and helmets, and almost stepping on flags, staying a long time is really not an option. But I would encourage anyone who has the option, to come, and stay, and look, and learn, and remember for a very long time.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Reese's Retreat at Brookside Park

Sunday, August 26, 2012
My Cost: FREE!

360 N Arroyo Boulevard
Pasadena, CA 91103

My little boy is six months old today! He's so close to crawling (pushes himself up into a full push-up already!) and he is just a joy! A smiling, laughing, sweet, curious, strong, caring boy who, from the moment he was born, has never done anything to over-stress his mommy! My handsome man, Alexander, I love you!

Okay, I just had to brag about that for a moment. Now, on to the Kidscapade!

Today the kids have so much energy. I don't know if they're just excited that daddy is back, or if it's because the weather is cooler, or what, but they are Energizer bunnies today! They keep going, and going, and going... There haven't been any real naps today because they just aren't drowsy! So when they have more energy than I can handle, I think playground!

Reese's Retreat

I decided today would be a perfect opportunity to try the "hidden gem" I had read about on Yelp! when I was doing some research for my Kidspace Museum post (see August 7th). That hidden gem is the fully accessible playground known as Reese's Retreat. It's a pirate-themed playground situated directly behind the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center. (It's so close you could possibly get splashed by a giant cannonball off the diving platform... maybe.)

There are plenty of shady trees to park a stroller or bike under. The surface under the play structure is that cushy rubber (soft enough for a falling child, but solid enough for a wheelchair,) and it is blue for water, with pictures of sea creatures, (mostly sharks.) The structure itself is designed as a pirate ship, complete with sails, a ship's wheel, cannons, and even a very low-to-the-ground "plank" for walking.

Notice the "plank" under one of the "cannons."

I was excited to find the "splash pad" area I had read about, but it wasn't exactly what I was expecting. I was thinking of sprinklers squirting out of the sidewalk, but instead it operates more like a drinking fountain. There are two cement structures, one is a giant "treasure chest" and the other is a "shipwreck," and each has a big round metal button to turn on the water. Bigger kids can manage this themselves, but for smaller kids an adult would probably need to push it. And the "treasure chest" fountain wasn't working, today at least.

The two water fountain structures are next to each other and separated from the play structure by a sidewalk. The ground around them is covered in sand. When we first got there a group of older kids (maybe 6- to 8-years old,) had managed to create a pretty big puddle in the sand and were jumping off the "shipwreck" into the puddle. Fairly messy (wet sand everywhere,) and possibly dangerous, but they were all having fun!

This is the "shipwreck" fountain. You can see the button for turning on the water to the right. The little boy in blue is getting ready to jump into the puddle. In the background is the Aquatic Center, and a dragon for climbing!

Another picture of the dragon.

There was also a nice set of swings - two bucket swings for toddlers, 4 regular swings, and two adaptive swing seats for kids that need different accessibility.

Omar is pushing Vivi in one of the bucket seats!
Approaching the park the water play area is first, to the right of that is a shaded picnic area
and then the swing set, and in the background is the pirate-themed play structure.

Brookside Park

I was tempted to wander away from the playground a bit, especially since Omar was taking care of Vivi and I was just carrying around my little 6-month old man. (It's so nice whenever I have another adult around!) I was curious about a vine-covered, dome-shaped truss over an outdoor stage. To get to it I passed a ton of picnic tables behind the Rose Bowl Tennis courts.

This is a great spot for a picnic party! There was a birthday party going on to my right,
but I didn't want to include them in the picture without consent!

Turning around from the picnic tables 180 degrees you can see the bathroom facility,
with the Aquatic Center and playground in the background.
The vine-shaded steps that lead up to the stage have the feeling of going through an enchanted portal! 

The audience benches, and the shaded stage.

Laying on stage with Alex on my stomach, looking up!
I can't say if the stage is ever used for anything. I'd probably have to put in a call to the Pasadena Parks office. But two little boys did put on a cute show for their parents!

A little east of the stage was an old area for playing horseshoes, and next to that some broken stone terraces that appear to have once had fountains. I didn't get pictures of these interesting areas, because my camera battery died, sadly. But the history of the park does go back to the 1920's (the Rose Bowl was completed in 1922.) And I've not turned up any good sources online about the park's history, but the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy does have a good description of the modern park amenities on their website.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Griffith Observatory Public Star Party

Saturday, August 25, 2012
My Cost: FREE!

2800 East Observatory Road
Los Angeles, CA 90027

We took a few days off from the kids' outings so that mommy could do some trombone playing with my friend's band: Sangre Nueva. We did a show last night backing up singer Frankie Ruiz Jr. Here's a picture we took out front that got snazzily turned into a promo photo:

Today I wanted to get back out on the town, and was sooooo happy that Omar is finally back from his pool tournament!!! He was on a team that qualified for the APA National Team Championships, and they finished 45th out of 850 teams, so I think that's pretty awesome! But me and the kids sure did miss him the six days that he was gone! So today we headed out for an outing with the whole family, plus our beautiful niece Kelly.

Griffith Observatory

When I first moved to Los Angeles in 2005, the Griffith Observatory was under the last stages of a four-year renovation. When it reopened in November of 2006, there was a lot of excitement all around the city, but I didn't quite "get it," as I had never been there. Today was only my second visit (I came here once on a solo exploration about five years ago,) and I am only starting to scratch the surface of why people were so excited. This truly is a public treasure! Admission to the building and grounds is always free. Tickets must be purchased for shows in the Planetarium, but it's a lot less than you would pay for an IMAX movie.

Dubbed as the most visited public observatory in the world, the Observatory is a beautiful and iconic part of Los Angeles, and one of the best places to enjoy panoramic views of the Southland, from Glendale, to downtown, to the ocean, and even the Hollywood sign!

Behind Kelly is the sign. Click to see an enlarged view that will let you actually find it!
It first opened in 1935, and the building itself is built, to quote the brochure, "With Art Deco, Moderne, Greek Revival, and Beaux Arts architectural influences." (If you are not familiar with these types of styles or aesthetic movements, may I recommend watching Woody Allen's award-winning 2011 film, "Midnight in Paris.") If you don't like views, and you don't like observatories, just come to see this beautiful building! Seriously, it's gorgeous! (I feel like my pictures below don't really do it justice, so there is a whole page on their website devoted to the exterior features here.)

An exterior shot taken on an evening hike with my little
brother Justin back on October 22, 2007. It still looks the same.

Sorry this pic is more parking lot than observatory. I was trying to show how
big the crowds were - today was a monthly Public Star Party day!
Omar is carrying Vivi off to see some views!

A beautiful door. I loved it!

Inside the Central Rotunda - murals painted by Hugo Ballin in 1934-35. 
The ceiling mural depicts Atlas, the four winds, planets as gods, and the constellations of the Zodiac.

A peek of the view looking past the Planetarium dome.
The front lawn and Astronomers Monument.

What you find inside the building is just as exceptional, and you should know that looks can be deceiving - it's a lot bigger inside than it looks! There are two main floor exhibits (the Hall of the Eye and the Hall of the Sky,) on either side of the Foucault Pendulum, which is a 240-pound brass ball that swings constantly in a back and forth motion while the earth rotates beneath it. (No, it's not the pendulum ball swinging around in a circle, it's the giant ball we're all standing on that's spinning!)

Foucalt Pendulum in action (the back of Vivi and Omar's heads at the bottom)
The Hall of the Eye Exhibit.
Downstairs is a very large split-level exhibit space named "Edge of Space," and "Depths of Space." You can learn about meteorites, planets, stars, solar systems, galaxies, gravity, and take your picture with an Einstein statue!

Uncle Albert is 'splainin' something to Vivi (who looks like she totally understands.)
Models of the planets show the relative size of each. FYI, for a model of their relative distances from the sun, there is one embedded in the sidewalk in front of the Observatory's front steps.
Kelly is using the in-floor scale to see how much she weighs on Saturn.
We didn't even make it to the new Gottlieb Transit Corridor, which I understand shows how the movements of the sun, moon and stars across the sky, (well, we know the sun and stars only appear to be moving as the earth rotates, but you know what I mean,) shaped our current reckoning of time and the calendar. But I think these concepts are a little outside the grasp of our toddler and infant!

One last thing that we did enjoy was the Zeiss telescope under the east dome. One of the things that makes the Griffith Observatory so popular, is that it is a place where a high quality telescope is available to the public. We didn't get to look through it, but we did get to see it, and listen to an explanation of how it works, (it can track an object across the sky all by itself using a tiny motor!), and Kelly even got to push the button to rotate the dome roof! (There is only one narrow strip that opens in the roof, so if need be, the roof can be rotated to expose the section of sky you need.)

Omar, Vivi and Kelly with the telescope in the background.
The telescope dome.

Proof that even the telescope is free to see!

The telescope itself. For an idea of how big it is, this telescope is about three times as tall as
the man explaining it to us, (who is standing underneath it out of the frame.)
The tube is 16-feet long, and the entire thing weighs 9,000 pounds!
All in all I'd say the Observatory is a must-see, (and I need to not wait so long before my next visit!) If you've got curious kids, they'll love it. If they're not that curious, this might encourage them to be more so. And if nothing else, you can always take cool pictures like this for your Facebook page:


Do be aware, however, that if you come on a busy day, there may not be parking available in the lot, and you will have to park along the street. This may leave you with a significant amount of uphill hiking to do to reach the Observatory! Today being a Public Star Party day, we were very lucky to find a spot in the lot. Cars were lining the street all the way down the hill for I would say at least a mile.