Thursday, January 16, 2020

Kassel Slow Travel Tips

One of the things I've acknowledged in four years of intensive travel with a little child is that the planning of a trip rarely works. There are so many constraints and unexpected things happening - tantrum, anyone ? - that you better keep being realistic and relaxed and get the best of everything, even it is only a very small amount of what do you wanted to achieve.
I wanted to visit Kassel for a long time, lured by the idea of checking the Brothers Grimm Museum, the traces of documenta art happenings and various places  of local history and arts. I finally booked a trip at the end of November, with an ambitious to-do-list and one full day to see them all. Which was not necessarily what my little travel companion wanted too. On both sides, we had to accommodate and the journey ended up as a pleasant slow travel experience. Unusual for me, but the compromise guaranteed a smooth trip and the chance to focus on the quality of an experience, instead of the quantity. Almost two months after, I am still thinking how to practically do this more often during my trips.

The train left us in Wilhelmshöhe area, highly recommended by travel experts and friends of friends living there, for the old charm and the healthy concentration of both natural and cultural sightseeings. My perfect kind of travel match.
From the train station, we took directly the tram that left us opposite the park entry.
Among the many new things you learn while being on the road with a small child and not owning a car is how to use the local public transportation network. It saves from a lot of complains but can be also considered a fast way to move from a point to another. As I had a long list of places, I purchased a weekend multi-ticket for just 6 Euro. I mostly used the trams which were in time and fast, and with good connections.  

The autumn day started good, and the Bergpark area was entincing. Together with locals of all ages and sometimes their dogs too, we slowly follow the beaten path leading to the top of the hill. An easy hike during which I kept filling my lungs with the fresh crispy air.

Spectacular tree shapes looking derelict also kept a good company, showing how many unexpected turns nature can take.

After more than half an hour of walking, the simple neoclassical figure of the Schloss Wilhelmshöhe revealed its majesty. Built in the late 18th century, it was used as a summer residence, and nowadays it houses an extensive art collection. Since 2013, it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe.

You need more than two hours to carefully admire the international art collection which includes, works by among others Caravaggio, Rubens and Rembrandt. From the third floor, you can have an extended panorama of Kassel, which was for me the only was as for now to see the city in perspective. 

You can easily spend one full day exploring this park covering 2.4 sq. km, which makes it Europe's largest hillside park. But due to time constraints, I had to skip the pleasure of seeing the massive Hercules and explore the many romantic corners. As for now, as I bet it makes it a gorgeous outdoors destination for the summer.

I have just another look at the details of the palace, snap a picture and hurry up to take the tram to the center of the city.

Which center, compared to the middle class feeling of the Wilhelmshöhe area, was an aesthetic disappointment. Most of the buildings are new, from a time when the building materials were expensive enough and cheap variants were chosen instead. 
The main shopping areas are crowded with people trying to have their holidays presents, while the rest of the public space is taken by the boots of the Christmas market to be inaugurated in a couple of days.
The only presence worth a picture is the historical building of the city hall, in the front of which soon  a protest for human rights in Iran will be held. As the protesters showed in significant number I couldn't stop hoping that maybe there is a good Persian restaurant around, which apparently was not. This is now I ended up eating some bland food at the Karstadt food courts on the other side of the road. What a shame...

The side streets are less packed and you may even find some remnants of the past, like the 15th century tower, Druselturm

And, as just another travel dream, the time has come to return to the train station to get back home. As we arrived early, used the extra time and for 5 EUR. visited the Caricatura gallery, just at theWilhelmshöhe station. It exhibits cartoons on contemporary topics - politics, environment etc. Some did have a drop of humour but more of them did not resonate particularly with my standards in this respect. A matter of taste, of course,

While slowly moving towards a bench to rest, the empty train station halls resonated with the piano sounds. There were different hands, and techniques and styles and music. The source was a real piano where the passers by were able to practice and play. For the next hour, I've watched idly people coming and going in the front of the piano, playing their loneliness and hopes.
The perfect ending to a trip that left so many open doors for a return. 

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Discovering the Mysteries of Body Worlds

My parents wanted for me to be a doctor and having spent time a good amount of time as a child in hospitals and various medical facilities for my own medical reasons or just keeping company to various relatives made my familiar with the world of science and medicine. Although I made my own career choice - and proud of it - I was left with a sense of respect for the medical profession and with no fear of needles and blood and anything that has to do with medical proceedings in general.

Therefore, I was really excited to finally have the chance to visit KÖRPERWELTEN exhibition, a couple of steps away from the iconic TV Tower. I've read a lot about the exhibition that started in 1995 in Japan, including about the opposition to it, as it displays the interior human bodies, a view for some might be controversial. Visiting it is a matter of personal choice, after all and no one should tell other people what to think and where to go - or not - whatever the reason. 

Besides offering a throughout view of human bodies, the exhibition offers also valuable information about physiology and health. Many sensations and emotions we experience during our lifetime may have a scientific explanation. Take, for instance, the broken hearts, explained at the exhibition: 'Their symptoms are like that of a heart attack: shortness of breath, chest pain, anxiety and fear of dying'. A physical examination will not reveal any physical findings, as in fact the shock of a breakup or the lost of a dear one triggers 'an avalanche of stress hormones that flood the body and paralyze and permanently weaken the heart muscle'.

But more than various explanations I read, the view of the body in various contexts of movements is what fascinates me. The display of muscles and arteries, the complex structures hidden under the fine layer of skin is humbling. It shows both our fragility and strength.

Another outstanding piece of the exhibition is the Fisherman: The anatomical structures of the body are opened up and shifted apart. The spaces left in between allow to see the specific organs of what is described as a seated fisherman.

The details covered by the exhibition are extraordinary, going through the smallest details of the human body structure. I've found it very important the contemporary touch of the exhibition, which warns of the harm and changes to human physiology brought by the pressure we are under in our busy world, especially the daily stress. 

The process of turning the human bodies - offered in this aim by body donors that expressed their wish during their life - is called plastination is lasts around one year. 

It is a rich and thoughful amount of information one is processing after the visit at this exhibition. You can learn here more than in any classroom and it makes you take your body more serious. Body and mind are very well connected. Ignoring the signals sent by one or the other are a dangerous self-destructive move. The dynamism of our body shows in fact that we are made for life, but it is up to us to strive to keep ourself alive and healthy.

Disclaimer: I was offered free entrance at the exhibition, but the opinions are, as usual, my own

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Tasting Village Life in Germany: Weekend Day in Coppenbrügge

Over one year ago, I've seen some beautiful pictures of half-timbered red houses featured in a glamorous Instagram post tagging Coppenbrügge. I added the name to my list of places to see in Germany and this autumn I booked a train ticket there. However, a couple of days before the trip, while doing the documentation of places to see, I was surprised to not find anything. Asked on Twitter and none of my 5,000+ followers were able to give me any hint. 'Well', I said to myself, there will be a surprise trip, I suppose. It was too late to cancel my ticket and unless high emergency, I refuse to cancel a trip only because I haven't found any online or print resources on it.
Reaching Coppenbrügge is not so easy. From Hanover, I had to change twice, but listening to the names of the station, was not feeling a complete stranger, as it is close to both Hameln and Bad Pyrmont that I visited a couple of years ago. 

Shortly upon arrival I realized that everything around looked exactly as my documentation about this trip: a quiet village - actually, Coppenbrügge I was visiting is a village part of a municipality with the same name covering other 11 villages. For a second, the thought of just taking the train back to Hanover, that I knew pretty well - as I also wrote a travel guide on it - passed my mind, but why go back to the predictable when I given myself the chance of one full day exploring the Germany village life in Low Saxony/Niedersachsen? 

And, for the next hour, I kept exploring slowly - carefully to not finish walking the streets at least once before the time of my train back - scanning the details of the wooden-roof half-timbered houses.

Or deciphering the signs in the front of stores and parlours that were closed for the weekend.

Or trying to figure out the life behind the cute homemade white curtains covering the street windows of the ground floor of an old house.

If on the streets I've met no more than two wandering souls - one of them twice, after I resumed my walking - the family restaurant Bulut serving Mediterranean dishes seemed more appropriate for meeting the locals. Surrounded by a very simple background, there were over 10 people having their lunch or even celebrating a birthday. Even if it looked like a bigger fast food precinct, it has a friendlier customer service than many elegant venues in Berlin, children-friendly portions and accepts card payments. Prices were also good and my döner in pepper sauce with French fries was simply delicious. 

The delicious lunch asked for more movement. This time, I am reaching the borders near the forest hills, passing near people walking their dogs. Another popular activity in the municipality is Nordic Walking done for groups on the surrounding hills, covering a length from 4 to 12 km. 
In this part of the village, I am passing elegant villas with simple design, in the middle of green spaces, parking places for a car or two and open entries. I even found a small clean playground tucked between close rows of houses. 
This is how village life looks like in Western Europe: slow life, clean streets, high-safety and predictable neighbourhoods. People may know each other for generations or just decide to settle for commuting to work in the cities, but nevertheless they know each other and are there to stay. 
The inhabitants seem to be very much into hunting, as proven by the  huge pair of antlers proudly displayed on the outer walls of a kindergarten (which made me wonder if they have some similar samples overviewing the children sleep or play areas inside), which is a popular hobby in this part of Germany. 

Returning to the center, I am having a look at the old fountain, connected to the traditional healing waters of Bad Pyrmont.

The entertainment options in the village are relatively limited. There is Woodstore offering live music and cultural gatherings and a small bookstore where you can find the latest local and international titles. 
There is also the Burg, a citadel hosting a small museum, a café and sometimes open air concerts. Earlier, a newly married couple was taking pictures in the front of the gates, while some families with children were slowly walking in the park around. (Indeed, everything happening during this day trip is on slow motion).

Although small the park is a beautiful natural venue, populated with spectacular old trees. After a little rain, the humidity soaking the yellow autumn leaves gave a certain feeling of loneliness and quietness that added more details to the meaning of village life I was trying to understand.

Although very old school in terms of presentation of information, the local history presented at the Burg added some content to the lack of details about this place (the entire museum information is in German). Besides presentations of local trades, I've also discovered that Coppenbrügge was a stop of the Russian Tsar Peter the Great during his 1697 European trip. Obviously, his trip was not only to discover the beauty of Europe, but also to settle some alliances and find some inspiration for his cultural plans.

The inner yard of the Burg was more interesting for its old touch of the stones and the layers of local histories added across centuries.

Outside, I wanted to take more chances of light hours to tour the streets and get more photo shots of the houses, which displayed a pretty diverse architectural style.

There were also small details that reminded me of the beautiful wooden doors and decorations from the Harz Mountains or Celle.

True is that part of the good impression was due to the late autumn leaves shades turning every facade into a colourful display of natural impressions.

Besides some classical chain supermarkets all the local stores were closed, which stole my chance of having a look at the local consumer patterns. With some time to kill before the trip back, I offered myself a long stop at the Eiscafé Camilo, where besides meeting a younger audience, I enjoyed some fresh waffles with fruits and icecream.

Not all my trips are spectacular, leading to fantastic discoveries and unforgettable human connections. Some are just like this trip to Coppenbrügge, involving turning round and round the same streets, taking pictures of houses and walking small compounds of houses whose inhabitants will instantly look at me suspicious because from the first and second sight I am clearly no local. Plus, I am visibly wearing a professional camera.
Such trips though, give me a grasp of humans and places better than any of my popular or glamorous choices of destinations. Booking my trip to Coppenbrügge was based on a mistake, but it was one of those mistakes I've learned a lot about.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Reality Mind Games at Illuseum Berlin

I remember how after being to an illusionist show as a kid, how much I wanted to understand the tricks of the showman. When my mother finally decided to buy us a 'magic box', with tissues and some cubes and a pack of cards and even a magician stick, I was the happiest human in the world for at least one day. As I would have learn later in school, there is more science to 'magic' and the lack of knowledge is what usually makes the excitement bigger. However, there is excitement in pursuing scientific research too and the brain games could offer high rewarding for those dedicated to intellectual endeavourings. 
My recent visit to Illuseum Berlin was a kind reminder that curiosity is a gift for all ages and it keeps our brain alive when we need it the most.

I might be biased right now, but out of all the Berlin museums I've visited - and there is a big bunch of them -  this is one of the most Instagramable I ever seen. It invites you to share your selfies and visual finds and there are plenty of them at every corner. You can find them here on Instagram, and use the hashtags #illuseumberlin.
Besides the visually entincing aspects, the explanatory part is also worth mentioning. For every 'magical' experiment, there is detailed information shared in Spanish and Italian besides English and German.

Recently renovated and rebranded, Illuseum Berlin is targeting a wide range of public: from small children to retired people, which made its offer even more generous - from children parties to team buildings.

When I visited, on a mid-day Monday, it was busy enough to wait for a couple of minutes the moment when you can experience directly one or the other of the 'illusions' available.

Here, for instance, you can put your lovely head on a plate and share the outcome on Instagram. No one is harmed during the experiment and you can soberly meet the rest of your body soon after. 

You can get hipnotized, see how your companion(s) is growing or just disappearing, don't believe your eyes when you reveal the hidden secrets of the holograms or get really dizzy in the tilted room (it actually happened to me; just another occasion to think about how fragile our brains are).

When life is more or less an illusion, travelling through the fragments of the mirror is a normal escapist solution. 

Here, you can play cards with yourself in a multiple version. Just take care to not get annoyed too much! Keep thinking about that's only one of 'you' who will always win! Win-win!

As the world looks upside down, you can always keep playing the fool, although knowing that in the end, the change is one click away.
Illuseum Berlin -  discretely located opposite the famous TV Tower - makes you think about all the options and get into the mood of the everyday science of 'magic'. It's the healthiest brain game you can offer yourself and to your family too. 
Tip: Don't forget to take your precious cell phone with!

Disclaimer: Gifted visit but the opinions are, as usual, my own

Friday, November 1, 2019

Exploring the Limestone Pits from Rüdersdorf bei Berlin

I must confess I do have a thing with industrial locations, factories and mines - a domain I know way too well as a consultant for various PR projects in the field of the mining industry. Looking at all those machines and industrial landscapes is nothing fancy about but the production system as such might tell an important story about the local civilization. As the ecological concerns are becoming an important part of the contemporary Western culture, many locations, some with a high pollution potential, where turned into natural parks, like in the case of this former rail yard in Schöneberg turned into a natural park.  

This time, I am out in a place near Berlin, to explore a limestone mine and processing complex, that provided the construction materials for famous locations such as the Brandenburg Gate, Sanssouci Palace or the Olympia Stadium: The Museumpark Rüdersdorf.

Arriving there is a little funny adventure in itself. From the S-Bahn Friedrichshagen in the Northern part of Berlin one takes a vintage tram for around 15 stops (aproximatively 23 minutes). Additional C area ticket is required. 

We randomly stop somewhere in the middle of the village, curious to see if there is anything else to see in this Rüdersdorf bei Berlin. For instance, the city hall, used as an administrative building since 1968, a former sanatorium and lazaret. 

Although there are some colourful views over water channels framed by autumn foliage, I couldn't find anything noticeable to keep me away from the Museumpark Rüdersdorf, the place where I will spend all my time in this little village.

If you are arriving by tram from Berlin, the station closest to the Museumpark is Heinizstraße, from where you just have to follow the directions until the entrance. The basic entrance costs 6 Euro, with the possibility of booking special historical or geological - searching for fossils is a recommended activity here - tours that high-up the price to an average of 15 euro. The program varies up to the seasons as follows: April to October, daily from 10.00 to 18.00, and November to March, from Tuesday to Sunday from 10.30 to 16.00.

First time first, we are hungry and we make a generous stop at the small restaurant strategically located near the entrance. We are announced that there is no fried oil involved in the preparation of meals - no French fries, for instance. The hot veggie soup is bringing back all the good travel energies, while the burger builds up the proteins - wish the bread is a bit fresh tough. The prices probably takes into account that it's probably the only place around where you can eat.

Time to stop complaining about the economic challenges of German restaurant and start exploring instead! At the first sight, the location looks like an abandoned complex of castles and fortifications. In fact, every part of this park is a witness of the advanced technologies applied for the extraction of the shell limestone (Muskelkalk). Usually, those materials are hidden a couple of hundreds meters below ground. In the case of Rüdersdorf bei Berlin, an unique case in the geological context of this part of Germanny, the limestone is very close to the surface. 

Tunnels and channels connected with the limestone quarry were created during the mandate of the Mining minister Anton von Heinitz (whose name is given to the street where the Museumpark is located), at the beginning of the 19th century.

Aqueducts like massive constructions are magnifying the architectural landscape, whose overwhelming impression is tempered only by the expansive nature. 

I've visited a couple of interesting mining locations in the last years, mostly in Europe, and there is always a feeling of desolation while facing the geological view left behind after years of intensive exploatation.

Inside the tunnels, we are having a glimpse on the various stages of the production system.

Here, at the very beginning of the 19th century, the first Rumfort kilns, a completely new type of pit furnaces were introduced. What is specific about those pits is that they have individual chambers for the limestone and the fuels, run permanently, a clear sign of the industrialization of lime processing, at a time when the demand for lime was extremely high in Berlin, given the constant expansion of the city.

There are a couple of panorama points that can offer an overview of the park area, but for me, Glochenturm Panorama is one of the best.

Situated on the top of a small hill, you can see the exploatation area from above. It still looks as desolate as it looks from the ground though. 

After being out of intensive use for decades, the natural balance was reestablished it seems, as the huge mushrooms - typical apparitions for the Brandenburg area - are taking over the tree base.

If you visit the Museumpark Rüdersdorf with children, there are a couple of entertainment activities for the little ones. There is a small petting zoo where you can feed the sturdy goats, two playgrounds and a lot of climbing opportunities. For those at the teen age, you can rent go-karts, e-bikes, bikes or canoes. 

And it is even more: there are event locations that can be rented. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the limestone quarries were a popular background for the German film industry. It continues to be so, as here were also filmed sceneries from the Inglorious Basterds or the local German productions Terra X and Wanderhure.

Remants of the former production system are left in the middle of the fields, like outdoor sculptures of modern art. Kids might be tempted to climb on while adults can be curious to touch various parts figuring out - when the detailed information files are not provided - what those machines were used for.

Even not necessarily interested about industry stories, a walk around is a pleasant way to spend a sunny day - we've been there for around four hours. If it's raining, you better don't visit as there are not too many places where you can hide, unless you go for a Land Rover tour. For those keen for walking - as I do - normalsport shoes will make the steps counting for the day pleasant.

Imagine you have no idea where you are, what those conycal structures are used for. How would you describe this view?

Temples of the industrial life, maybe, testimonies of a time when the industrial revolution gave so many hopes and offered so many chances for a better future of the humanity.

The abandonned concrete monsters are deserted now. Graffiti scribbling - nothing outstanding about the street art here - include them automatically in the category of 'quirky', without joining though many of those abandoned places that fascinated the visitors of Germany, especially of Berlin for such a long time, like Teufelsberg or Beelitz

And there is even more to nurture your reflections on modern art and its efforts to give a special symbolism to average human - including industrial - activities.

Personally, I wish there is there a small museum at least, where I can get more insights about the production experiences and eventually a movie or live presentation of the different stages of the limestone extraction. As for now, there are audio-guides available at entrance where one can get the right context of the locations visited. Maybe I'm too nerdy and curious.

17 hectares of park later, we are leaving Rüdersdorf bei Berlin energized by the nature walking but with also some new knowledge about industrial architecture - my favorite German architect Schinkel contributed to some of the constructions as well - but also about ways in which old industries can be kept into the public memory. 
This Museumpark was an interesting beginning to explore more similar locations in Germany and as I'm writing this, I am already doing a bit of research for my future industrially-themed travel plans.