Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Spring in Berlin - A Love Story

There is a children German song which says that 'April does what it wants', and it has to do with the sturmy strange sometimes hard to cope with weather that is usual for this part of the year in this part of the world. After March is done, you expect April to open up with warm temperatures, longer days and a lot of sun. Instead, this April filled the longer light hours, with minus two digit temperature and snow and wind and snow. Until two weeks, when a happy turn of weather events suddenly brought spring back into our poor sun-deprived lives.


As fast as the indecent rests of snow are melting, all the pain is forgotten and forgiven and pleasant activities like sunbathing or outdoor coffee drinking makes you feel like it is no tomorrow. And better keep this mood on, as September is only a couple of months away anyway...


My head up the cloud 9+ of happiness and the camera on my shoulder, I crossed Berlin to check what's the situation of the cherry blossom, revisiting old favorite - mostly secret places - and discovering new ones, fully enjoying the good healthy vibes that always accompany new beginnings. Early in the morning, in Prenzlauer Berg, small white flowers surrounded the Planetarium with an elegant hallow, inviting to meditation and slow life.


Hopefully, for a long time from now, this is the only snow I will see. Although, once in a while, I may miss the real snow time adventures, but for a couple of hours only


For the best cherry-blossom views, I have at least one secret place that I love to revisit often: Hufeisensiedlung (residential colony) built in the 1932 and since 2008 part of the UNESCO Heritage List, situated in the Britz side of the city. 


During the cherry blossom time of the year, the narrow streets between the Parchimer Allee and Fritz Reuter Allee, bordered by one-storey small colourful buildings are surrounded by neon pink puffy clouds. Life here goes always normal, without the usual invasion of selfie-takers which are common everywhere where the cherry trees are in full blossom. Only the local residents making their way to their houses, in a sea of pink fluffy small flowers. 


Those daring to spend more time on the alleys are rewarded with the addictive smell of some white magnolias, already loosing their petals covering the pavement with a hectic spread of white shells.


In the Western part of the city, there is another favorite - almost secret - cherry-blossom place of mine: the trees near Hohenzollerndamm U3 metro station. All the rest of the year, one may pass near this part of the long Hohenzollerndamm street completely indifferent, except for a couple of days when the cherries planted there are in full bloom. As the trees are in the middle of a small green park, you can even take your picnic basket and have some treats and a glass of Prosecco under the cherry trees. 


Spring bloom makes even the most anonymous and communist-looking streets into jewels of nature street art. Back in Prenzlauer Berg, the short-lived show of pink flowers on Sonnenbergerstraße (near Schönhauser Allee S-Bahn) is an entrance into a magic world. The branches covered by flowers are hardly fitting the narrow streets, aiming with a part of their top into the standard windows of the old-times buildings on the other side of the street. 


Like everything that has to do with nature, cherry blossoms are also a reminder that time is tight and the beauty of the day is as short-lived as a dream. But some dreams are good to be lived fully. As every single second of life! 

Monday, March 12, 2018

How to Survive a Winter Day in Schwedt/Oder, Uckermark

I haven't been away too often in the last weeks, mostly due to the unwanted and unexpected return of the harsh winter, which despite the shining sun, sent a minus two digits shock temperature making staying outdoors unbearable. Especially if you are not - like me - one of those winter lover, winter-proof kind of person, you better stay at home, planning your next escape, doing some more extra work and waiting for the spring. However, you can hardly keep me for too long indoors, and after carefully checking the weather forecast, a couple of weeks ago I've decided to make it to Schwedt, a town on my bucket-list since I've been to another place in the same Uckermark area, Lychen, the last summer.

In less than two hours from Berlin, with a 17 EUR two-way ticket, we arrive to Schwedt/Oder ready to discover a new destination. Formerly part of the communist Germany, this city is the biggest in the Uckermark region and displays a colourful mind-blowing sometimes mural art, which gives a completely different touch to the classical Plattenbauten, the standard blocks of houses typical for the German communist architecture. The one near Julian Machlewski Ring creates an interesting visual illusion that almost invites to enter the reality of the drawing and enjoy, maybe, at least a better weather. 



The city hall - Rathaus - looks also like part of a suprarealistic dream, displaying the vision of the German artist Siegfried Mehl about how the public institutions and citizens should be connected. An almost poetic dancing move from the street, through the files, until the demanding citizen. Hopefully this vision inspires the bureaucrats starting their daily shifts... 


We advance into the almost empty town looking for more interesting discoveries. The old cobblestone streets, bordered by one-storey buildings are part of a former main road aimed for tranportation of goods in the region a couple of centuries back. Vierradenerstraße, for instance, is full of historical references about the industrial trade past of Schwedt, worth a reading - in German - if you want to better understand the history of the local economy.


The typical red-bricked Brandenburg gates are a reminder of the old times, when trading was intense and the main central streets belonged to middle-class busy citizens.


The colourful mural art is everywhere, Schwedt being famous in the Brandenburg area, among others, for its exquisite collection of such works. 

But Schwedt also has a pretty intense cultural life, with the exhibition place at Galerie im Kietz open to local artists. Another cultural attraction for visitors is the Stadt Museum, useful if you want to understand more about the local history, where also a Jewish ritual bath - mikwe - can be seen. One day prior to my visit, the National Chinese Theatre has a show here, and regular conferences and events are taking place all round the year and the week.


The more time I spend on the streets of Schwedt, the more surprised I am about the colourful facades, a very inspired way to make life in a city less gray and a bit bubbling, regardless how far away from big attractions where history is made, you may be.


A walk on the shores is always a relaxing experience, that will not make you regret any single second to live in such a quiet place.


After a short cappuccino break at Karel Bakery, a very busy place with a view over the river, we feel more refreshed for the next walking legs of our trip.


And there is even more to explore. Schwedt/Oder is since 2008 National Park city, the first place in Germany to be assigned such a distinction. The reason why I wanted to come here is because I need so much to start hiking again, and this place checked all the boxes for the time being: close to Berlin, relatively easy, a beautiful landscape. You can also bike and jog around, and with simple sport shoes you can definitely reach the number of weekly healthy steps in less than a day. It is also a couple of kilometers away only from Poland.


The path is plenty of local people that also decided to walk this Sunday, some of them accompanied by dogs. When we cross path, we slightly nod towards each other. The solidarity of solitary hikers...


Hiding behind green fields, there are the traces of the recent history and its specific architectural patterns, with the industrial silhouettes.


The quietness of the frozen nature is overwhelming, and although the temperature was not very friendly, I succeeded to have a great reflective time, exactly what I expected from this trip.


While on the way back to the train station, I am again reminded that Schwedt means more than nature walking. The local theatre is another center of cultural life here, with visitors coming here all over the Brandenburg region to attend, especially in the summer, various theatre performances or concerts.


As I am counting the days until the spring and summer will allow me to discover another part of Schwedt, while exploring more from the National Park, another colourful elaborated mural reminds me that there is always something interesting to see around Berlin, and by far, Brandenburg and especially the Uckermark region do have many resources for a successful day trip.

For more inspiration, check the dedicated Pinterest board.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Quick Guide of Potsdamer Platz

At least for ten days every year year, Potsdamer Platz, described by Stefan Zweig in the 1920s as 'the Babel of the World', is the center of the glamorous world cinema. Raising from a 'no man's land' during the Berlin Wall to a place displaying one of the boldest architectural mix in the whole Germany, this is a place I love to visit once in a while, for its bubbling spirit and the high concentration of attractions of any kind. For those visiting Berlin only for the Berlinale or who are living here, but never too tempted to see all its splendor, here is a quick guide of what you can do, see and eat in Potsdamer Platz.


I've started my exploration at the Potsdamer Platz metro station. It is not in my cards for one of my beautiful metro stations in Berlin, but it has though an old vintage charm of itself and looks much better than in the case of other public transportation hubs in the city. 
Although it is surrounded by so many cultural and historical attractions - from the Brandenburg Gate and the Holocaust Memorial, to the impressive modernist exhibitions hosted at Martin Gropius Bau and the dark history on display at Topographie des Terrors, as you will see, there are so many things to check in this small area that if you are a slow traveller, you may need more than one day to go through the entire list.


The cultural offer around this tiny station is impressive. You can start with the Dali Museum, a permanent exhibition I visited a couple of years ago and which has unique illustrations of Carmen, Alice in Wonderland or Gargantua and Pantagruel, as well as special lithographies with very interesting histories. Next door, there is the Korean Cultural Center, which right now is very busy displaying information about the Winter Olympics, but round the year hosts interesting events. A couple of years ago, I've been to a special Korean jazz evening and loved everything about it. 


Another couple of doors, another attraction: Spy Museum, one of the newest entry in the very long list of museums in the city - an almost complete guide coming soon on the blog. As Berlin, alongside with Vienna, used to be a very active spy center during the Cold War, you will see a lot of funny James Bond Stasi-style kind of tricks, but it has also a very elaborated historical material about the creation of intelligence services after WWII and other interesting histories. If you plan to visit, be sure you dedicated a couple of full hours for a throughout exploration.


After so much serious thinking and cultural encounters, a bit of relaxation and some shopping at the Mall of Berlin, across the street, can be a good idea. The malls are a relatively new and pretty controversial presence in the landscape of the hipster Berlin and Germany in general. Although in general small retails and shopping centers are preferred to the massive shopping sprees from North America, Asia or the Middle East, the business landscape is changing here too, with at least another mall planned to be open in the Eastern side of the city in the next years. If not too much into shopping, at least you can use the view from the connecting passages between the blocks of building for having a look at the Bundesrat, the headquarters of German's local parliament, a good example of institutional architecture.


A really hidden gem of institutional architecture is for me the Canadian embassy building. Open in 2005 and aimed to display the role of this country as a main player in relationship with the EU it displays the concept of 'integrated art', with works of art displaying specific geographical and cultural features of the country being includes as part of the building construction. During the planning and further the construction, five local artists worked closely with designers and architects to create works of art which complete and compliment the main concepts. I've found this a great idea, and connecting politics and economics with arts is always a very noble add-on.


More than in any other place in the city, the memory of the Berlin Wall is a reminder of the recent history wounds but also a reference point for how far you can go when there is will and an elaborated political consensus. 


Without a proper investment and political support, Potsdamer Platz could have not been what it is nowadays: an architectural jewel, hosting a high concentration of important foreign and local companies. During the first German unification, for instance, in 1871, the country's busiest intersection with the first traffic light system in Europe installed here in 1924, as it was leading to the then garrison city of Potsdam, the plans of making this square a trademark of the new country were abandoned because the lack of funds. After the second reunification of Germany, there were only a couple of years needed until the planning stage and the start of the constructions, in 1993.


The main concept assigned to this area was connected to 'new beginnings'. From the steel and glass sky scraper house of the transportation giant Deutsche Bahn to the Art Deco building of Potsdamer Strasse 1, designed by Hans Kollhoff where Europe's fastest elevator brings you within 20 seconds to the 25th floor from where you can have a Panoramic view over the city, everything is just out of the best architecture coffee table books. Among the winners of the international architecture competition was also Renzo Piano, the creator of Centre Pompidou, whose building on Eichhornstraße 3 is aimed to balance the weights of another two high scrapers, raising in their middle. Its dimensions are the same as the central nave of Notre Dame, which you may not believe as you have a first look at its elongated shape. 


The newest jewel on the elegance crown is The Ritz Carlton Berlin, with its exquisite display of style and a delicious invitation to afternoon tea


From the old Potsdamer Platz, it is only one single building that remained: Haus Huth, a former wine house built in 1912. Greatly undamaged by WWII, it was carefully restored and integrated into the newest social and architectural landscape. It includes nowadays the exhibition space of  Daimler Art Collection, Stuttgart/Berlin, the Daimler Contemporary and the luxurious Lutter&Wegner restaurant. All around the Potsdamer Platz, the foodie offer is more than generous, from the always busy food courts of the Arkaden shopping center (where you can buy fast your Berlinale tickets), to the international restaurants displaying Mexican, Australian and elegant Italian menus.


Inaugurated in 2000, Sony Center is one of the landmarks of Potsdamer Platz and Berlin nowadays, with its always busy avenues, outdoors restaurants and movie theaters. Especially during the nightfall, the translucent roof, the main element covering the disparate buildings, is wrapping the entire complex in changing colours. What else can better epitomize the changing nature of this city that seems to never have a proper historical rest?


With its multiplex cinema locations, Sony Center is also a destination for movie lovers as it includes the Film Museum, an elaborated journey through the history of German movies, and the Cinematheque. Nearby, the first German walk of stars was recently inaugurated, featuring local famous actors and film directors.


Especially if you are visiting with children, don't forget to pay a long - maybe too long from the parents' perspective - visit at the Lego Center there. 

Sculpture by Keith Haring, Untitled ("Boxers"), 1987. Courtesy Daimler Art Collection, Stuttgart/Berlin

Right on the corner, there is the building of the National Library - Staatsbibliothek - the work of the German architects Hans Scharoun and Edgar Wisniewski, next to the Landwehr Canal and near the Ibero-American Institute. After the Soviet occupation of Berlin, and the building of the Berlin Wall, books that were aimed to be saved previously from the bombings ended up here, and the other half in the other building of the Staatsbibliothek in Unter den Linden. Nowadays, the two institutions - 'the library in two houses' are part of the same cultural umbrella 'Preussischer Kulturbesitz'. 


Part of the Kultur Forum, which includes buildings in a more brutalist style specific to the time of the construction, the 1970s, on the other side of the street, with the Design Museum and contemporary art exhibitions, it is also a counter-answer to the very modernist Mies van der Rohe Neue Nationalgalerie, currently under renovation.


Probably less known is the fact that in this very modernist area, there is also a small little place called the Instruments Museum, where music lovers can have a very interesting journey through the history of European music and beautiful instruments.


Another work of Sharoun, the Berliner Philharmonie, is one of my favorite works of architecture in the whole city. During my first year in Berlin, I've spent here a lot of time, going to various concerts, including the free Tuesday lunch concerts in Hauptfoyer. Especially if you are new in the city, music is the best way you can connect to the city and Philharmonie has one of the best offers in this respect.


Near one of the entrances, opposite the Tiergarten, there is a relatively less known memorial, in the memory of the hundreds of thousands of people victimes of euthanasia during the National-Socialist regime.


After such an intensive tour, only a slow walk through the Tiergarten can help you settle down your memories and impressions of such a busy day. Berlin is still having so many stories to tell and I am here to listen them all.


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.