Friday, January 19, 2018

5 Serious Reasons to Fall in Love with Vienna

For anyone interested in the beautiful diplomatic games and the academic researches about the post-Cold War South-Eastern Europe, Vienna was always the best place to learn, observe and take notes. A former imperial capital city, this city always used to be an interesting place to guess the new international trends, with its good and bad news. As at the end of the 1990s, I was pretty involved in various projects aimed at the post-war reconstructions of the freshly redefined geo-political category of the Western Balkans and the neighbouring area, I visited Vienna more than 10 times, and every time I approached this city and its historical and cultural collections with curiosity and excitement. 
It is here where I've seen for the first time Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt and fell in love for ever with Art Nouveau or had my first Sachertorte - there is no other place to have it but in Vienna. 
In the memory of those times and as a promise to come back soon, here is my list of 5 serious reasons to fall in love with Vienna. Either you want to visit it as a one-day trip from Prague, Bratislava or Munich - or for a full weekend and even a week, Vienna is accomodating a diversity of interest and travellers. My favorite way to discover the city is always by walking - and I probably did the tour of this city by foot more than once - but wiser visitors can use the opportunities offered by the Vienna Card and enjoy the various transportation, guided tours and museum entry discounts. 

1. One of Europe's most diverse Cities


Vienna is far beyond the relatively recently branded Berlin concept of 'multi-kulti'. After all, they used to play empire for centuries long before Germany was the big huge country we all know. Diversity means here more than the Babel of languages spoken on the street - not few of them from the so-called 'power keg of Europe', the Balkans or more Central European countries - but it also means a certain intellectual mood - and malaise, expressed in its extreme way by the Man Without Qualities, by Robert Musil (a book written in an apartment on the fancy Ku'damm street of Berlin) or the psychosis diagnosticated by Prof. Freud. It is the city of dreamers like Herzl or of sophisticated minds like Klimt's or epithomized by the century's sadness of Stefan Zweig. For me, this city means more than just being yourself, but also being able to find your small little place to express yoursef, regardless how far you can get. 
If you wanna have a look at the many faces of the city yourself, put aside a couple of sunny hours for people watching while sipping your coffee in the popular Yppenplatz.


2. Street Elegance


I've never seen a place where people are more stylish and elegant, not because they want to demostrate something to the world, but just because it is their only way they know how to express themselves. Let it be a bit of rain, and you will see elegant ladies without age, wearing classical coats with some fur on the side and impecable black lack shoes beyond the good and evil of any fashion trends. It's everything about style and although Vienna itself is not a very famous fashion capital city, its people look like being on the catwalk all round the day and the year.
Some of my recommendations for tasting the local vintage elegance are: Catrinette in Porzellangasse 28, Die Glasfabrik in the former industrial district, in Lorenz-Mandl-Gasse 25, or Wissenchaftliches Kabinett in Spielgasse 23.

3. A veritable local Foodie Heaven


My friend which lives many capital cities away from Vienna, after having her first bit of the Sachertorte with its fine texture covered in an even finer chocolate coating, she realized she cannot live without it any longer. Therefore, she has it delivered every couple of weeks from here. Where you can have the best of them? It is not an easy answer, as the fight about who has the best piece of special Viennaise chocolate is real, with Cafe Sacher and Cafe Demel struggling hard to demonstrate who was actually the first. As a visitor, you don't have to really get involved into such typical local pride wars, but you can decide yourself by having a bit in both parts. If you are really into such tasting, forgot to add also Demmayer to the list of places where to have another bit of the torte. Because, why not?
And it is not the only trademark of Vienna which always tastes the best here. There is not other place where the Apfelstrudel is better done as here - sorry, Germany - with the whipped cream and icecream on the side, at the perfect temperature to melt slowly on the side. What, you haven't tried yet a Punschkrapfen - or the punch cake - a fine rum-flavored pastry? It is another must to have while taking a break from so much sightseeing here. 
Some also say that there is not schnitzel as the Viennaise schnitzel and of course, you have to try it to believe it. After all, Viennaise cuisine is the only one in the world that bears the name of a city for its special meals.
In addition, to this, if you are looking for some diverse and South-Eastern European flavor, with some live traditional music once in a while, you can head to Beograd, serving traditional Serbian food to the people of Vienna for more than five decades, on Schikanedergasse 7.
The kosher-conscious traveller, can find in the last years more options as ten years ago, such as for example, at the meat restaurant Mea Shearim, on Schmelzgasse 3.

4. Beautiful Architecture 


If you follow my blog and especially my Instagram, you noticed already how much I love architecture - especially when the classical buildings are integrated happily into the modernist landscape. Vienna has a rich repertoire of styles, belonging to different historical stages of development of the city, that goes from Gothic to the Classicism, Art Nouveau and Secession. I am personally a very big lover of the latter, and I can only recommend to other architecture lovers as me to have a look at least once at the Loos House, or the Postal Savings Bank or other works made by Otto Wagner, the author of the modern concept of Vienna. 
On the list of the places any architecture you should also include: Schönbrunn Palace, the former imperial summer residence, or the Hofburg Palace - with its beautiful Spanish Riding School - the only such school in the world which still keeps the old equitation tradition of the Renaissance, with a history of over 430 years - the impressive the city hall - Rathaus - or the Staatsoper
Sometimes, it is just enough to walk the streets of the city, late at night with the stars and the moon your only companions and you will see Vienna in a more intimate and unique light. 

5. Vibrant Cultural Life


When it comes to cultural life, Vienna is keeping the standards of music, art and literature high, and not since today, but for centuries. A city in love with music, at competition with Salzburg, it was always a destination for talented musicians aiming to enter the grace of the Imperial family. It was the case of Mozart, born in Salzburg but whose genius was confirmed through his concerts in the front of Empress Maria Theresia. Mozart's traces in the city are often market by memorial signs. Mozart was joined across centuries by thousand of other famous musicians who entered the history of music and of European culture, such as Haydn, Vivaldi, Gluck, Schubert, the members of the Strausse family, the creators of the waltz, Brahms, Mahler or Herbert von Karajan. All round the year, concerts honouring the musical heritage are taking place in places like Vienna State Opera, at the Schönbrunn or at the Mozart Ensemble, the oldest concert hall in the city, where Mozart also used to work and play. Especially for those not speaking the language, a concert is one of the best ways to connect with the city cultural life without the need of words, but from soul to soul.
Artists from all over the world are spending time to Vienna for various internships in domains as diverse as contemporary dance, visual arts of photography, therefore, the many galleries and alternative spaces in the city are always an interesting way to explore the current global artistic trends.  
If the classical and modern arts are enough for you, the list of places to fill a couple of weeks of art wandering is pretty big. From the classical collection from Albertina to the mumok - the Museum of Modern Art - or Leopold Museum, where local artists like Schiele, are displayed. During my last visit, I've spent an impressive amount of time at the Natural History Museum, which was an excellent choice not only for the outstanding architecture of the building but also for the exquisite scientific discourse.

What about you? What are your favorite things to do in Vienna?


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

My Favorite Places of Street Art in Berlin

At the beginning equated with vandalism, street art succeeded in the last decades to win its own specific place in the urban landscape. With spots around the world made famous by Instagram authors and bloggers, it turned into a well established 'artistic category', with its own artists - like the controversial Banksy - and even dedicated exhibitions and events. Urban art creates, besides the colourful context for otherwise derelict city corners, also a space for alternative (sometimes with a political and social context) messages and creativity that although it does not follow accordingly the artistic canons, at least it shares a specific view on the world and its humble inhabitants.
Berlin is considered one of the best cities for street art in Europe and beyond, with the remnants of its infamous wall being turned into pieces of art as a way of symbolic social healing. In the last 12 months I tried intensively to reveal not only the famous spots, but also those secret corners of street art on small streets and relatively unknown corners. With a museum dedicated to street art - Urban Nation - inaugurated last year, street art left its unconventional realm and entered the classical, bourgeois consecrated worlds. Where else to have such an institution, but in Berlin?
Here are my top selections of street art. I don't always - or in most cases - know the name of the artists, but those interested in this form of alternative art can easily find out more about them and eventually follow their works in Europe and abroad.

East Side Gallery

9 November 1989 was the end of the Berlin Wall, but its remains are spread all over the city, in a symbolic rememberance gesture to challenge and re-assign value and symbols to the historical meaning. On Mühlenstraße, in between Berliner Ostbahnhof and Oberbaumbrücke is the longest part of the wall preserved: 330 meter of Wall, turned into an open air gallery that can be visited for free.

At the very beginning of the Wall, there are the classical images associated with the street art in Berlin, with clear political messages, such this mouth kissing between the Soviet leader Breshnev and the ex-leader of the communist Germany, Honecker.

But as you go toward the end, a couple of minutes of walking, the street art is becoming more poetic and the visual essays on the Wall are becoming interesting purely from the point of view of artistic representation.

Opposite Warchauerstrasse U1 metro station, in a small part, I've discovered recently other paintings on the walls of the nearby buildings too.


Urban Spree

A couple of steps away from the Ostkreuz train station, on Revaler Str. 99, at the beginning of the alternative bubbling Friedrichshain, there is another open air street art gallery, hosted in some old yards with a very industrial flair. Events of different kinds are often organised here, but nothing compares tp the high diversity of the paintings displayed generously on the walls.




Talking about Friedrichshain, there is always something to discover in this part of Berlin, especially when it comes to the open air art.




Especially in the summer time, on streets like Dirschauerstrasse, the locals are easily becoming part of the extensively decorated corners.

Ostbahnhof/Helmholzstrasse

Last summer, I've spent a chilling weekend afternoon exploring the Helmholz strasse yard, near the Ostbahnhof train station. The colourful diversity of the motives displayed were the perfect backgound of a place with a very challenging architecture too, trying to balance the new and old materials and perspectives.





Teufelsberg, the former CIA listening station

On the other end of the city, in the fancy Grunewald area, the former CIA listening station operating during the Cold War on Teufelsberg, an artificial hill made up from the debris of the bombed buildings of Berlin during the WWII raids, offers nowadays an ironic approach of life. When I visited the place for the first time, almost ten years ago, there was no entry fee but the gentrification reached this part of the city too. People are waiting in line now - not trying to stumble into the holes made into the wires of the former over protected location - and classical guided tours are offered. In any case, the street art is still worth a look, especially in the summer, when artists can also be watched at work.





Naturpark Schöneberg

Berlin is an amazing example of how different locations receive different meanings and use in the urban network. In Schöneberg, a former train depot was turned in the last decades into a natural park. With protected natural areas and birds are co-existing in a landscape where the former train rails are covered into wild green bushes. Although the street art here is not so outstanding - compared to the other destinations in the city - especially during the weekend, you can also watch artists at work and it can be an interesting way to get in touch with those creating those pieces of visual enjoyment.


Other places in Schöneberg

At a great extent, Schöneberg remains a classical West Berlin neighbourhood, and its street art make it often into classical works too, less figurative and more focused on local stories. Which is what I always love about the classical art and writing anyway: the power of telling stories.
My favorite piece in this part of the city can be found on Viktoria Luise square, close to the metro station with the same name.



Nollendorfplatz area

One of my favorite places in the world to explore for street art is the area near the Nollendorfplatz metro station, on both sides of Bülowstrasse. With a gallery frequently changing, it offers an unique imagination ride that make you forget where you are and why. One of the most creative places I've encountered...





Urban Nation

I personally think that street art should stay in the street, but I bet there are people that would be rather be introduced to this alternative visual way of expression through the classical means: the museum with its old rituals and framework. Since the last spring, Berlin has its own street art museum, on Bülowstrasse, in the middle of the street art gallery I mentioned before. If you ignore the considerations regarding the nature of this kind of art, you can fully enjoy a visual show with a couple of visually challenging pieces of work. It can be visited for free.








Mehringplatz

Another open air gallery which I really love is on Mehringplatz, a couple of steps away from the Hallesches Tor metro station.
Some of them are already making into the classical catalogue of street art in Berlin.


But my favorite so far are those decorating the grey entrances of the blocks of apartments. Expressive unique figures of diversity and life stories told through colours and graffiti strokes.



Walking around the area, the art took little by little almost every open wall space available. The sport area is one of them, with another classical image associated with the local street art, the elephant carrying the world globe balloon on his trunk.




Alt-Tegel

The last summer, I've spent a lovely afternoon out touring the Alt Tegel lake by boat, but on the way home, we stumbled upon a couple of gorgeous works of art, displayed on the anonymous 10-floor buildings on Neheimerstrasse. The details are so impressive that you need a lot of time and a smart camera to catch all the colours, details and possible meanings.




Moritzplatz

At Mortizplatz, near the Prinzessinengarden, there is another well kept secret for street art lovers in the city. There are a couple of political works too, but nothing compares with this fairy tale inspired works.



Other places to explore the street art

To discover and love Berlin, you need to train your eyes and open your soul. The more I explore the city, street by street, the more I discover interesting works of street art which often represent the artists feelings about the city.


Like this naive representation on the walls of a building in Alt Moabit.


Or a stencil on metal near Gesundbrunnen S-Bahn station.


Or the spectacular decoration of a classical Plattenbau in Lichtenberg.

Or the poetry collage of a poem by Rilke where three places are meeting: Greifswaldstrasse/Antonplatz/Mirchbachplatz. You see, learning a high level German may be easier than you thought.


Out of Klosterstraße metro station, you might feel yourself into an aquarium populated with fantastic creatures.


What about this successful integration of old and new urban styles, in the middle of the old city area in Spandau?
Another place I will openly recommend to any real street art lovers is Mierendorffplatz, close to Charlottenburg Palace, which has fantastic displays of creativity and artistic prodigy.

By its very nature, street art is ephemeral and easily changes - including under the influence of weather conditions. In one year from now, I bet I would have a different place of new favorite places, and maybe this versatility is also why I love street art so much. Because is so human by its nature.

What about you? What are your favorite places for street art in your home town?