Home to the US federal government, Washington, DC, is better known for its marbleMarmor-marble monuments and power-hungry politicians than for its own charms as a city. But a visit to the capital revealenthüllen, zeigenreveals more than first meets the eye: more than meets the ~mehr als auf Anhieb erkennbareye — and many more sides of American history and identity beyond sth.über etw. hinausbeyond just Democrat and Republican.
The city’s founding in 1790 is indeed rooted in a compromise between two opposing sides. Politicians from the North and South conceive sth.etw. auffassenconceived the District of Columbia — often simply known as “DC” — as neutral ground for the nation’s capital. donatespenden, schenkenDonated by Maryland and Virginia, the land located along the Potomac River enabled the creation of the new capital city, which does not belong to any of the 50 states.
Since then, Washington has both geographically and politically bridged the gap between the North and South in the United States. But that isn’t the only riftKluftrift that exists within its city limits. Just as victory and tragedy are remembered in its museums and monuments, the city’s present is complex. While DC attracts some of the nation’s best educatedgebildeteducated citizens, its population has a level of illiteracyAnalphabetismus, Ungebildetheitilliteracy well above the national average. Washingtonians are at once among the country’s most elite and its most impoverishedverarmt, armimpoverished. And an ironic bit of injustice to plagueplagenplagues the city to this day: Surrounded by monuments to democracy and taxed like all other Americans, DC residentEinwohner(in)residents themselves do not have a voting representativeStimmrechtsvertreter(in)voting representative in Congress due to their “stateless” status.
Day 1 — 10:30 a.m.
I start my tour in the home of Congress itself: the domedüberkuppeltdomed Capitol Building. The tour begins in the visitor center. Completed in 2008, the Capitol Visitor Center welcomes its guests in large theaters below the main building itself, pastvorbei anpast many statues and paintings of important figures and scenes from American history. A short film called Out of Many, One — a translation of the Latin E pluribus unum, the traditional motto of the United States — gives visitors a quick overview of the building itself. It also explains the revolutionary nature of the US Congress’s beginnings and highlights the role the legislative bodyGesetzgebungsorganlegislative body has in American life. Beyond its function as the home of the legislature, the site is also important for ceremonial purposes, as scenes from presidential inaugurationAmtsantritt, Amtseinführunginaugurations and State of the Union speeches emphasize.
After being divided into groups, we make our way to the rotundaRundbauRotunda at the center of the building. The mainly ceremonial space gives off a grandeindrucksvollgrand vibe with its high ceilings and gleamingglänzend, schimmerndgleaming walls reminiscent: to be ~ of sth.an etw. erinnernreminiscent of classical architecture. Some 180 feet (55 meters) above our heads, its ceiling featuredarstellen, zeigenfeatures the first president, George Washington, sitting among godlike figures up to 15 feet (4.5 meters) tall who represent various ideals of American democracy and innovation. The Apotheosis of Washington was painted by Italian-American artist Constantino Brumidi over the course of nearly a year at the end of the Civil War, in 1865. The artist is said to have incorporated the struggle among the states into the work by showing some figures purposely looking away from George Washington.
From the Rotunda, we move on to the halls of the building, where the legislative branchLegislativelegislative branch of the American government has debated and decided the laws of the land since 1800. Congress currently includes 435 members in the House of Representatives and 100 in the Senate. While the chambers of the House and Senate are closed for the day, the building seems anything but empty thanks to the presence of statues in every room.
After my tour of Capitol Hill, I decide to carry on exploring the National Mall in the bright DC sunshine. The Capitol Building is located at one end of the park and is squared off by sth.hier: von etw. als Gegenpol begrenztsquared off by the Lincoln Memorial at the other, nearly two miles (3.2 km) away. The center of the Mall features the roughly 555-foot (169-meter) tall stone obelisk known as the Washington Monument, and thegrassygrasbewachsen grassy slopeHangslopes beside it are a favorite spot for flying kite(Lenk-)Drachenkites. The most famous memorials on the Mall, a space originally planned by architect Pierre L’Enfant, are iconic: ~ symbolbekanntes Wahrzeicheniconic symbols of American history and democracy in their own right.
As I walk toward the Lincoln Memorial, along the reflecting pool that stretches out in front of it, I remember images I’d seen of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech as well as the Women’s March on Washington that took place in 2017. The symbolic space has been used often in American history as a gathering place for citizens to make their voices heard.
To the south of the Mall is the Tidal Basin, a well-designed, curving bay off of the Potomac River. In the spring, the blossomingblühendblossoming cherry trees there — a gift from Japan in 1912 — attract just as many tourists as the Mall’s monuments.
As I begin walking around it, I come to the Jefferson Memorial. Here, the most famous quotes of Thomas Jefferson, the country’s third president and one of its “Founding Fathers,” are to carveeinmeißelncarved into the toweringhoch aufragend, gewaltigtowering walls surrounding an imposing statue of the man himself. Next along the basin, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial — large enough to be its own park — honors the country’s only four-termAmtszeitterm president, in office from 1933 to 1945, and his well-respected wife, Eleanor Roosevelt. Waterfalls and fountainSpringbrunnenfountains to punctuateunterstreichenpunctuate speeches to etchätzen, gravierenetched in stone. At night, the memorial is lit up, but even during the day, it to resonate with sth.etw. ausstrahlenresonates with a feeling of peace and quiet. The final memorial gracingschmückend, zierendgracing the Tidal Basin is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. It opened in 2011 after years of planning, particularly by the civil rights leader’s former fraternity.
After all that walking, I’m finally ready for some lunch. I make my way to Chopt, one of many “fast casual” restaurants serving the hungry lunchtime crowds in a city whose population nearly doubles during the workweek thanks to commuterPendler(in)commuters from the surrounding Maryland and Virginia suburbVorortsuburbs. Chopt serves delicious custom salads and is clearly popular. I stand in line, rub: to ~ shoulders with sb.dicht gedrängt stehenrubbing shoulders with hurried DC workers in suits and on phones, feeling like the most relaxed person in the room.
After lunch, it’s time to swing by the president’s house, which happens to double as the head of state’s workplace as well. The White House is found at one of the country’s best-known addresses: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. You can no longer drive directly up to it, however, as Pennsylvania Avenue is open to pedestrianFußgänger(in)pedestrians only in front of the White House itself. This leaves plenty of room for tourists to take photos and activists to protest the president’s politics — a daily event no matter who’s in office.
All that fresh air is finally getting to me, so I decide to to headsich auf den Weg machenhead indoors. The world-famous — and free — Smithsonian museums located along the Mall and all over downtown DC are a perfect way to do just that. With 19 museums in total, it can be difficult to decide where to begin. But I continue with the presidential theme.
Founded by Congress in 1962, the National Portrait Gallery is known for its collection of presidential portraits and has commissioned new ones of each outgoing president since the 1990s. I am particularly intrigued by the painting of Bill Clinton, created in a grid-basedrasterorientiertgrid-based style using a photo taken in 2005. The new portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively, are here, too, and have been received warmly by critics and regular Americans alike.
One of the best areas in DC for a night out is the Adams Morgan neighborhood in Northwest. After a quick ride on the Metro — through stations in the transit system’s iconic brutalist design — I wander past Victorian row houseReihenhausrow houses and make my way to a street filled with restaurants. I decide to try out a trend I’ve heard about from friends and line up for some rameneine japanische Nudelartramen at Sakuramen. I order the “DC Miso.”
Another trend is planned for after dinner: the modern-day speakeasyFlüsterkneipe (illegale Kneipe während der Alkoholprohibition)speakeasy. I walk along 18th Street down to U Street, and make my way to the unmarkednicht gekennzeichnetunmarked door of The Gibson. Without my friend’s description, it would have been tough to find. Inside, a reserved wooden boothNischebooth and fancyausgefallen, raffiniertfancy classic cocktails await me.
Day 2 — 10 a.m.
I start the next day on a different note: The most recently opened Smithsonian museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, is dedicated to sth.speziell für etw. vorgesehendedicated to the African American experience. It is the only national museum in the US with that focus, and its establishment by an Act of Congress in 2003 followed a struggle that began as early as 1915, when African American war veterans started to push for recognition on the National Mall. The museum opened in 2016, and was inaugurated by President Obama. In his speech, he quoted the African American poet Langston Hughes, declaring, “I, too, am America.”
The museum is immensely popular with visitors, and it can be difficult to get a pass to visit it. I feel lucky to have been able to get one, but I also know that the visit itself will be difficult, as the exhibition looks head on at some of the most horrific chapters of American history.
#APeoplesJourney — A Nation's Story — at National Museum of African American History and CultureQuelle: YouTube
The first part of the historical section begins in the recreatednachgebautrecreated bowelsEingeweide, Innenlebenbowels of a slave ship and leads ever upward, past artifactGegenstandartifacts ranging from tiny shackles(Fuß-)Fesselnshackles used on a child to a reconstructed slave cabin and, later, a segregatednach Rassen getrenntsegregated railroad car. A multimedia deli counterBedienthekedeli counter shows images of the civil rights movement.
The exhibition reveals the many years of struggle following the end of slavery and doesn’t shy: to ~ away from sth.vor etw. zurückschreckenshy away from the terror and violence that defined much of that struggle. It also addresses the challenges faced by African Americans now, as the fight for racial equityethnische Chancengleichheitracial equity continues.
The experience is extremely moving and emotional. I feel transported to another place and time — a difficult one.
I don’t quite feel ready to move on from the museum, so I stop for lunch at its restaurant, Sweet Home Café, a place with dishes that highlight African American culture in various regions of the United States. The offeringAngebotofferings are divided into regional groups, including “the agricultural South” and “the creole coast.” I to take comfort in sth.sich mit etw. tröstentake comfort in the food and admirebewundernadmire the photos on the walls of the café. Then I head upstairs to see the rest of the museum, which focuses on the achievements of African Americans in the arts, sports, culture, and society. It is full of memorabiliaErinnerungsstückememorabilia, such as Chuck Berry’s Cadillac convertible and one of Prince’s flashy costumes.
My final stop of the day is a DC classic that I remember from my own childhood. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is where American paper currencyPapiergeldpaper currency is designed. On a guided tour, you can watch the printing machines in action and see surprising amounts of cash in huge pileStapel, Haufenpiles. This tour of the “money factory” has a retro vibe (ifml.)Atmosphärevibe to it, conjuring up a feeling of endless wealth and opportunity — or, at least, its illusion.
Feeling bold, I ask the tour guide if this is all really necessary. Isn’t everything digital nowadays anyway? He gives me a funny look and explains that paper currency still needs to exist to give value to its digital cousin. I take a bit of comfort in his answer. Perhaps there is still something backing up the illusion after all.
If you go…
Fly to Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), www.flydulles.com
At the Kimpton George Hotel, close to the Capitol Building. www.hotelgeorge.com
What to do
- Tours of the Capitol are best booked in advance. www.visitthecapitol.gov/plan-visit/book-tour-capitol
- Get tickets online for the National Museum of African American History and Culture. nmaahc.si.edu
- See the new portraits of the Obamas (the former president’s portrait is pictured left) at the National Portrait Gallery. npg.si.edu
Eat and drink
- Chopt serves up salads at locations all along the East Coast. www.choptsalad.com
- Go to The Gibson. www.thegibsondc.com