Clockwise; A byway in Florence; River Spree with Berlin Cathedral; Shoppers on Dublin’s Grafton Street
Florence, Berlin, and Dublin–capital cities and crucibles of culture for centuries–have been instrumental in changing the course of European history. As world-class capitals of visual arts, music, and literature, they have long been magnets for talented outsiders, many of whom gravitate to distinctive and colorful neighborhoods to pursue their creative interests. In locales known for attractions as familiar as the Piazza della Signoria, the Brandenburg Gate, and Temple Bar, there are still many special treasures beloved by locals that are overlooked by visitors.
Fred Plotkin, a popular Smithsonian speaker on culture, history, and music, has lived in and visited Florence, Berlin, and Dublin for more than four decades. Join him for a richly illustrated series as he looks at these places through the eyes of a flâneur—a French term for a person whose casual strolls through city streets produce delight in their chance discoveries. He shares what he’s found on his walks: churches, theaters, specialty shops, restaurants, cafes, and unusual museums just a stone’s throw from world-famous landmarks.
APR 22 Florence
The “Cradle of the Renaissance” is famous for its matchless art collections, much of them financed with Medici money. But Florence has many small museums—Bardini, Bigallo, Contini-Buonacossi, Horne, Siviero, Stibbert—that house art reflecting the taste and erudition of their namesakes. Many small churches contain treasures by masters such as Giotto and Masaccio, while the Casa Buonarroti has some of Michelangelo’s early masterpieces little known to most Florentines. This is where opera was born and the Teatro della Pergola is Italy’s oldest theater. This city is the unrivaled capital of artigianato—magnificent handmade products including paper, gems, leather, glass, and gorgeous clothing.
MAY 20 Berlin
Germany’s capital has changed more radically than any city in Europe. Its people jealously conserve all evidence of its glorious and tormented past, reflected in neighborhoods throughout Berlin’s sprawling urban spaces and abundant green zones. Many of its treasures of art and design—literally buried to preserve them—are only now being unearthed and restored. Everywhere one turns there are new museums, restored palaces, and unusual places to eat. Add to this a local population with a strong sense of humor and a vibrant nightlife that are among Berlin’s greatest hidden attractions.
JUN 17 Dublin
Few cities are as linked to their writers as is Ireland’s capital and, by extension, to the world’s image of it. A museum honors Irish literature—including the works of Yeats and Joyce—and the writers’ legacies in Dublin. The city has unusual museums, such as one dedicated to Irish Jewish history, another to Handel’s Messiah, and another all about leprechauns. The life-changing walk, El Camino in northern Spain, actually begins at St. James’s Church in Dublin. The city has wonderful villages and local markets, a favorite being in Howth, a fishing town with superb restaurants. Small parks, known as greens, are part of Dublin’s special charm.
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