Saturday, February 17, 2018

6 Lovely Destinations for Movie Lovers in Germany

The direct connection between Germany and movie industry is not always explicit, especially because the good German movies are often produced and created in the the German language. The local film industry is perceived as a world in itself, but the serious movie lovers may be familiar with productions like: Good bye, Lenin (Wolfgang Becker), the movies of Fatih Akin, The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel) or Nowhere in Africa (Caroline Link), to mention only few of my favorite German movies known also in the maybe too dominant English-speaking realm.
In addition to the local production, Germany is also an affordable country for filming, attractive not only for the prices of the locations (mostly in the former Eastern Germany area), but also for the diverse landscape and urban architecture, as well as for the historical inspiration.
With this year edition of the Berlinale Film Festival in full swing those days, many of the international visitors may be interested to stay a bit more, at least for a couple of days, to discover even more interesting histories about the German film industry. For them and anyone which would love a different German journey, here are my 6 lovely destinations for movie lovers in Germany.


Berlin


Berlin, the Haupstadt - the capital city - is where any serious movie lover should start his or her journey. With its own avenue of stars featuring local German artists and film directors, and 10 days the year when the attention of the movie industry is concentrated in the once-divided capital city, Berlin deserves a special place in any such itinerary. Its rich history make it into a perfect background for a variety of international movies, with locations in more or less famous cultural or historical destinations. Last year, I've wrapped up the best places every movie lover should visit

Potsdam


Potsdam, less than one hour away by train from Berlin, is not only a recommended destination for photographers, but appeals to the movie lovers as well. Although this time of the year, the famous Babelsberg studios are closed, there are at least two other film destinations to check while on a break from the Berlinale. If you love pretty palaces and small streets, you would probably love to stay more and this guide of my favorite things to do and see here will help you for sure. 

Beelitz


Especially for Berliners, Beelitz is mentioned very often when the asparagus season is open, as the place is considered a valuable source of the high-quality local veggie. However, there is more to it than the spargel plate, such as the fact that here were filmed two interesting historical movies: Operation Valkyrie, The Pianist and Schindler's List. Its famous sanatorium, at the time of its inauguration, at the beginning of the 20th century, the biggest and the most modern medical institution to treat tuberculosis - Beelitz-Heilstätter has some historical memories too and the place was recently in the center of a conflict between those that want to keep the place as an exclusive creative place and the real estate representatives keen to use the location for building some fancy lofts. I personally plan to be back there this summer to check out what happened since my last visit. And maybe do some spargel shopping too...

Görlitz


Görlitz, or Gorliwood for the hard-core movie fans, may say nothing to many citizens of the German republic, but it is very famous among the film lovers from around the world. Gossips say that Nicholas Cage himself anonymously donated a huge amount of money for the renovation of its historical colourful streets, that usually appear in the background. The Art Nouveau Department Store which is currently under massive renovations, for instance, was featured in the Grand Budapest Hotel. In case that you decide to go there, here are my - at least - 5 reasons to pay a visit to this town.

Hamburg


Hamburg is beautiful and one of the German cities that I love very much. Actually, I visit this place at least twice the year and still can't have enough of it. It is always what Berlin is not: rich, settled down, elegant. But besides its famous Elbphilharmonie and the many museums, in the last two decades it also creates a profile of a great destination for movie lovers and producers. Fatih Akin movies, for instance, do have many scenes from here, and the local studios filmed international productions such as An Enemy to Die For (Peter Dalle), or Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch). In a city where big media outlets are located, movie industry is trying to strive a life for itself, with its own film festival that this year will have its 26th edition at the end of September, beginning of October.

Munich


Munich is very popular for its Oktoberfest or its famous Marienplatz where the Gothic city hall is located, but the city has made a name for itself in the movie industry as well. Especially after the reunification, a more or less open rivalry between Munich and Berlin is always bursting - actually the two of them are so different that can easily survive near each other - which has to do with the film industry as well. The counter-part of the famous Babelsberg are Bavaria Filmstudios. Created in 1919, it was here were Alfred Hitchcock made his first film, The Pleasure Garden, in 1925. Other famous film productions that were created here are: Berlin Alexanderplatz, by Rainer Maria Fassbinder (1980), The Serpent's Egg by Ingmar Bergman (1977), The Snowden Files, by Oliver Stone (2015), The Neverending Story (1984), which was also filmed in Babelsberg or Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006). I haven't been to Munich in a long while, but planning to be back at least once this year so hopefully will bring more testimonies and movie stories from this Bavarian city.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Winter day in Ilsenburg, in the Harz Mountains

I haven't been in the Harz mountains for over two years, after a very intense period of time when I checked, one by one all the colourful and famous destinations in this relatively underrated area in the North of Germany. From the pleasant Quedlinburg to the nature-adventurous inspiring Thale or the surprising gardens of Blankenburg, I've seen almost everything that have to be seen here. However, when checking out a place where I can have a short-term experience of winter - just a bit of snow and some ice, but nothing more, I realized that I've never considered Ilsenburg. For people living in Berlin this destination doesn't say too much, but for those living in Hannover, it is one of the favorite destinations, only one hour away by car. It's their Potsdam, I've been told so I got encouraged to spend one full day in this small town.


We arrived with the HEX after three hours of direct train ride from Berlin. Ilsenburg is very close from another colourful destination in the Harz mountains that I loved, Wernigerode, but it's lacking its business and crowds of tourists that are always on the streets snapping pics of the unusual houses. Practically, for more than 30 minutes upon arrival, we walked the empty streets without meeting anyone. No tourists, no locals, it looked like we have the town only for ourselves.


One of the features of this town is how nature is always interfering with the urban life. Ilsenburg is surrounded by mountains and sound of wild waterfalls is stronger than that of the 4x4 cars, so useful when you are living in the mountainous area.  


Ducks swimming lazily on the lake were the only active beings we encountered for a long while, in the middle of a frozen landscape.


Although empty, the streets do have their own charm, with old 16th century stone houses gently surrounded by bushes of roses that despite the cold temperatures were in full bloom.


And colourful crafted doors adorning local shops or houses which are always a pleasant surprise for the eyes.


Getting closer to the central area - thanks to the many directions leading the few tourists to the main attractions - we encounter gracious swans doing their daily lake tours.


The Harz mountains are also famous for their half-timbered traditional houses, coming in different sizes, colours and historical styles. In Ilsenburg, they make it the big majority of the constructions. 


As we are walking slowly the streets, we finally encounter a real winter landscape, as I haven't seen in a long time. I am not a necessarily winter person, but I grew up with four seasons and winters with mountains of snow that I liked to play with as a kid. 


Everything looks so quiet here too, but we can see the footmarks in the fresh snow, a sign that we are not so alone here. But with one exception, of a dog and his owner, we don't encounter too many creatures on our way.


Breathing deep the silence and the crispy air is a very healthy meditation practice that I keep repeating during the small hiking. I can imagine how beautiful this area is in the summer and how blessed are the people living here to be so close to nature.


On the top of a small hill, there is a small citadel-looking monastery.


It serves nowadays mostly as a cultural center and hosts also a small coffee place that I am not yet tempted to visit, as I want to keep filling my lungs with fresh air and my mind with clear thoughts.


I want to be outdoors as long as the day lights allows, enjoying the rays of light and using my camera to catch the silent local beauty.


In Ilsenburg, even the city hall looks like a doll house, small and colourful and very inviting.


It is time for a break though, and the first stop is at the restaurant of the five-star Zu den Roten Forellen, which has an exquisite lunch menu. I am only for a coffee and a delicious tiramisu which melted deliciously in the mouth. The service is excellent and very careful, the kind that you would love to have more often at a 5-star location in Berlin.


With sugar at high levels allowing to cope with another batch of cold hours, I keep exploring the houses and the streets, surrounded on all sides by the snow-capped mountains.


The traditional witches' motif so frequent in the literature inspired by the Harz mountains are hanging everywhere, included near an old mill dating from the 16th century.


There are a couple of hotels in Ilsenburg, but I would personally be very tempted to see how it is to live in such a heritage timbered house. The prices are more than decent, with the average price for a night in a Ferienwohnung - vacation home - for around 30 EUR. the night.


Some of the streets are ending up in the middle of the forest, but the hiking is relatively easy. You only need some normal sport shoes and a bit of walking training, which I both have so I can have another full mountains immersion for the next minutes.


Although silent, the human presence is there, with some architectural modern variations.


Our next long step is at the other famous local hotel, the 4-star Berghotel, with its stylish traditional-looking lobby. There is another place in Ilsenburg where one can have some bites, the Cafe am Markt near the city hall, but it was very crowded and we weren't so in the mood for a long meal.


How can I think about food when I've just spotted this cute pinky house in the corner?


Or this one with orange with yellow stripes on the top?


Many dozen of pictures after, we are on the back to the train station. We moved up and down around the city the whole day, but Ilsenburg still stays the same. Ready for a new day, a new week...

Friday, February 9, 2018

Simple Tips for an Awesome Underwater Photography Experience

This is a sponsored post, but the opinons are, as usual, my own.

If after three months of never ending cold and darkness, winter looks like an unbereable burden, think positive: there is always summer o'clock somewhere in the world. If you have enough savings and a flexible job, you can book now a glamorous holiday in a sunny place where you can let yourself wrapped in the warm light of the sun and eventually some underwater unique experiences too. For those tempted to go one further step with their underwater experiences, I partnered with the UK top scuba retailer Simply Scuba, bringing to you some simple tips for an awesome underwater photography experience. The tips are aimed at complete beginners. I used for illustration of the post a selection of underwater camera photos available on the site. For those unsure how to use all of those sophisticated objects, they are provided with simple videos explaining the basic technical capabilities for each. 

Sealife Micro 2 PRO 1500 SET

What I personally love the most when looking at underwater photography is that the images are revealing a special world mostly hidden to our eyes and senses. Most of us we have the experience of looking at an Aquarium or various documentaries about the world under the water surface, but actually being there and being part of it might be one of the most special experiences for the humans. Like in the case of skydiving, the human body is under the pressure of unknown and unfamiliar forces, experiencing unique sensations and witnessing worlds that for most of us, most of the time remain sealed. It takes a grain of courage to go beyond your physical limits.
BEKAM 4k Camera
Even if you are an experienced photographer in the 'normal' world, underwater photography creates different challenges, Water is an environment which absorbes colours - some more than the others, such as yellow, orange or red - and the deeper you dive the more colours are absorbed. Most underwater photos do look so blue because of that and using a flash for photography is more than necessary. The internal flashes of the compact cameras are therefore aim to bring back the colours our everyday human eyes are used with to the pictures. When you are using a flash, set your camera to auto white-balance, or when you don't, set your camera to underwater mode. 

Know your environment

Another effect of water on photos is that it reduces sharpness, color and contrast and when you are taking the picture you have to get very close to your subject, preferable within one meter of the camera or even closer.
Sea Dragon 2500 Photo-Video Light
Shooting at eye level allows to get the best of your subject and when it comes to banks of fish, it may reveal a beauty that for most of us remains unpalpable. Photographing from above may in fact diminish some details of the subject. In general terms, lightning through water is completely different of the air, due among others to the different refractive index. One of the effects is that objects may appear 25% larger than in real life. Therefore, it is a matter of experience and probably many failed photos until you will figure out how close to be to a subject for getting the right angle and the best of details. 
But in order to be able to fully experience all those great moments, you have first and foremost to feel exactly like a fish in the water. It means to have to have some good hours of diving behind you, where you got familiar with all the challenges of the underwater life or the water pressure and know what the best angles could be. Like in the normal photography, knowing your environment and its main features will help you to create vibrant photos telling unique stories, even if it is in an unknown language. 
Those are only a couple of details aimed to give you an idea about what underwater photography means. If you really want to do something completely new and unique this year, by starting to take underwater photos, you may start by taking some online classes and get in touch with an expert which will help you not only to figure out the main challenges, but also to get the best tools for an awesome photography experience. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Zehdenick and Bergsdorf, the Taste of Brandenburg Countryside

I do have my own travel blogger tradition to take a trip out of Berlin in the first days, if not the first day, of every new year. Sometimes in happens to be in far away lands like Thailand or closer in Europe, in Barcelona, but also making a one-day trip around Brandenburg also counts. Last year I've been to Rathenow, and for 2018, my choie was Zehdenick and Bergsdorf, a destination that I've had in mind for a couple of months already, for reasons I will explain later.

Zehdenick

It doesn't happen every day to be welcomed by a huge stork nest on the top of a pole, unless you are in the tasty Alsace or...in Brandenburg. 


In a bit more of one hour from Berlin with the local NEB (Niederbarminer Eisenbahn) train, the countryside is generously inviting us for wanderings. It is the first week of January, but all around it looks like spring and the sun embelishes the chill morning cold. 



Zehdenick is famous in the area for its brick production, and the typical red-bricked buildings, the Brandenburg architectural staple, can be seen everywhere. However, local people were creative enough to bring more colour to the streets, with a massive wall painting at the beginning of Berlinerstraße. The details are so precise that you might want to go see the streets and visit the stores on the other side of the wall.


Near the Soviet Army cemetery - Zehdenick and the entire area used to be part of the Eastern part of Germany during the Cold War - we have a lonely walk on the tree bordered alleys of the Stadtpark. It was created at the beginning of the 20th century, in the honour of Crown Prince Friedrich who visited the place.  


From there, we are slowly heading to the central area, passing near the discret decorations of the baroque building of the local court.


As I will show more later, Brandenburg has many cultural events, especially from the literary realm, well-known and highly attended by those active in this domain. In small places like the Kaffeemühle in Lychen interesting readings are connecting the big dots between the quiet countryside and the creative life. In the case of Zehdenick, the former local Cistercian monastery is the cultural center of this little town.


Zehdenick does not only his stable place on the map of the cultural encounters in this part of Germany. It is also a popular destination for bikers, coming and going to Copenhague, especially in the summer and late winter. However, right now, all is quiet and expect some lost visitors, like us, there are not too many people out on the streets. 


The city is still decorated for the past winter holidays, but the central attraction in the old town area remains for me the pinky city hall dominating the Markstraße, the usual local market place.


As every single store and coffee house in town is closed, we keep discovering the other non-foodie places. A little walk alongside the river Havel is a pleasant occasion to embrace the beauty of nature. Perfect lanes, especially if you are into jogging and cycling. 


We cross the 19th century metal bridge connecting two parts of the town, being welcomed by more still landscapes, with hardly anyone around. It is so quiet that you can hear the wind touching the water surface.


Nearby, there is a big Boats museum - Schiffermuseum - displaying fragments of local history and traditional professions. 



If not the modern cars and the directions displayed on my smart phone, I would have thing that I am back in time. Many of the stores look like the merchandise haven't been updated for decades and old announcement painted on the town walls make you forget for a couple of seconds that you are in the age of AdWords. 


And when we are about to leave for our next destination, the fields around the train station show obvious signs of spring, from the green grass around to the joyous sing along of the birds. 

Bergsdorf

Ten minutes later, we are in an even smaller village: Bergsdorf.


All we have around us are the typical stone-made peasant's houses and empty narrow streets. 


There are slightly over 400 people living here, but it seems that all of them are either at home resting or out of town for enjoying the temporary pleasure of highly populated places.


The flowers didn't wait for the official opening of the spring season, and their blossoms are a happy distraction from the local monotony.


Ten minutes away of walking from the train station, I am finally reaching the place I wanted to visit for months: Kurt Mühlenhaupt Museum. A former calf barn that the Kreuzberg-originally artist and his wife, Hannelore, turned into an art center and residence for artists of all kind, this is a place that in the summer bubbles with life and cultural activities, from poetry reading to exhibitions and special events dedicated to children, that often visit the place part of different trips organised by local schools.


I've read first about this place in a German book by a poet and wanderer, Anna Magdalena Bössen (Deutschland. Ein Wandermärchen. Unterwegs mit einem Koffer voller Gedichte) that explored for a couple of months cultural destinations in Germany, coach surfing and reading poetry. The place also has a printing shop and an animal farm, where the kids are invited to feed animals with funny names like Chanel. 


The place is empty now, but the artist's widow Hannelore - his muse, frequently portrayed in his works - patiently welcomed us, sharing some pieces of home made cake and coffee and introducing us the place and its art collection, including the famous dwards that are spread all over the yard. The next day things will apparently change with a reading event scheduled and the stage is already prepared. Big names of the German literary world visited this place already, among them the Nobel-prize in Literature winner Herta Müller. 


As our visit comes to a close, I am just happy to have been to this place, which shows the generous offer the countryside has in terms of cultural attractiveness, not as a counter to the big city offer, but as a gentle completion. 


What can be more inspiring for an artist of any kind than the beautiful green landscape where you can be just find yourself and meditate about your next novel or painting.


City life can be overrated, especially nowadays, in an age when everything is so mobile and fast forward. With a car and a good Internet connection, you are never far away from the place where big things happen. Actually, big things can happen anywhere, everything depends on your perspective - on both things and life.


As we were preparing to board our train, the sky went animated by the rows and rows of birds coming back home. Maybe too early, but I am happy to be at the right moment to welcome them. It looks like a good sign for a year of meaningful trips, in Germany and abroad.