Donnerstag, 28. März 2013

How you can eat the world and have it too

Social media is a wonderful tool to find out great ideas and opportunities, especially when it comes to the world of travel. It is how I discovered eat-the-world, a company based in Germany organizing various culinary tours in (for the moment): Berlin, Dresden, Cologne, Hamburg, Leipzig, Munich and Muenster. If you visit one of those cities in Germany, don't hesitate to make a reservation for a different experience.
Elke Freimuth, the founder of the company, explains more about the idea and the future plans in the following interview.
Snapshots of Berlin. Photo credit: eat-the-world
Preserving and highlighting the food, culture and people of the city
What is the idea of your company? What can expect a tourist to experience when booking a tour?

The idea of eat-the-world is really simple: to get to know a place through its food and people. We want to show what life is like in a given district, so we show tourists the different cultures and foods found in these places. I was always curious about the food and the local way of life during my travels, but it was my stay in New York that really inspired me. While I was there, I noticed that small, family-run businesses were suffering because the large chains were taking over. In a way, these chains were driving the culture away. With this in mind, I came back to Berlin and started eat-the-world. It was my way to preserve and highlight the food, culture and people of the city, while helping out small businesses.
We are very selective with our local guides, so tourists can expect a real insider to guide them around any district. Our guides have usually lived in their district for several years so they really know what they're talking about. They're very informative: they have stories to tell, local spots to recommend, and notes about architecture and history to share. Of course, there's the food. We take tourists to seven shops and restaurants that may not necessarily appear in guidebooks, but are true to what the locals eat and where the locals go. They get a sample from each shop, be it a Turkish pastry, an Italian gelato or a Berliner currywurst. 

"We only work with passionate foodies"
How did you make the selection of the German towns included in the project? What are their main culinary profile? 

We only work with passionate foodies who are very knowledgeable about their cities. The same goes with our process of picking restaurant and shop partners. We select our partners very carefully. Our goal is to highlight the small, family-run shops that offer high quality food, which locals appreciate, and our participants too.

Do you plan to expand the project further, by including other German towns?
Definitely. Soon we'll offer tours in other German cities.
What are your plans for the next six months?
Beginning in April, we're launching separate English-only tours in five of the seven German cities. We'd like to have this option in all of our cities in the near future.
What kind of tourists are enjoying your tours?
We get a good mix of tourists and locals. A good percentage of our customers is German-speaking, but the percentage of international tourists is also growing, hence we decided to offer separate English-only and German-only tours. The good thing about eat-the-world tours is that it's really ideal for everyone. Food always brings everyone together.
"My shop has to be part of your food tours!"

What was the most pleasant experience you had lately that made you happy to launch such a project?

We are always very happy to see that there are a lot of people doing excellent, handcrafted food products. What they are doing every day is outstanding: delicious food, handmade. So recently, an owner of a candy shop (who sells handmade candies) called us because he heard about eat-the-world and he said, "My shop has to be part of your food tours! I do exactly what your philosophy expresses." He was very excited and insisted that we check out his products. Now, he's one of our partners ;-)

Dienstag, 19. März 2013

Berlin guide for special tourists

It is always pleasant to feel at home and for almost four years, Berlin was nice enough to be my home. One of the reasons I am not getting bored by the city - although not always happy with the average offer in terms of money and professional opportunities - is that you can always have something new to do.  If enough time and serious advertising, I can probably update this  blog more than three times the day.

When I moved here, I bough a big Lonely Planet guide that I still use it from time to time when I have doubts about different subway stations. Otherwise, I tried to read as many books as possible about the history of the city and of Germany in general, and to go out as often as possible. I dare to say that I know a lot about my newest home city because I paid a lot of attention to the details of the eccentric Berliners, their way of talking and drinking in public and many other things that you will not see in other cities in the world. 

The great merit of Oxygen Books' guide of Berlin is to cover perfectly all the issues, problems, surprises, dangers, wonders and historical memories of the city. In only 229 pages of texts - I must recognize that many authors were completely unknown to me - I went from an end to another of the centuries, from Prenzlauer Berg to Zoo and back at a party in Berghain. The geography of the place is populated with various characters and personalities: journalists, David Bowie and other rock stars, Stasi informers and other spies, historians and historical characters. Many of those I had the curiosity to meet in real life, many of them I am happy I did not have the chance to do it. Take, for instance, this simple description of Dan, 29yo, American, from Ian Walker, Zoo Station: 'Dan had come to Berlin on a holiday four years ago and never gone home. He was working as a window cleaner and still hoping to become a pop-star'. Dan is one of the many people living in Berlin, waiting for the big leap to celebrity and fame. 

Paul Verhaegen's description from Omega Minor is what this city is all about: 'The city, quiet and buzzing, beautiful and ugly, is always an alembic close to boiling point'. It may be said about many cities, but Berlin is always boiling, beyond what we usually call 'normal' parameters. Oh, normal, it is another word that does not fit anything going on in this city: '(...) people who stuck out, who would be labelled as crazy, who were the eternal talk of their small town elsewhere love to move to this city' (Jakob Hein). This is exactly how Berlin is. 

The paradox of the city is that while changing permanently, it keeps the track of the same coordinates. Poverty and hunger and the big number of people relying on social services is a reality of the daily life of many people living here. The same when it comes to the a certain aggressiveness, well described in Doeblin's Alexanderplatz.  And another testimony of the true colours of my neighbours  'Berliners have always been famous for their irrepressible disrespect and hedonism maintained through all oppressions and apparent even when I first came to find a city half in ruin'. (Jan Morris) 

The guide may look a bit chaotic, but you need a lot of pieces and testimonies before you realize what you are into it when living here. I appreciated the natural way of describing the life from the two halves of the city in the time of the Wall. Most probably it was hard but not as deeply dramatic. With a bit of humour and a strong hammer, any wall, including the Berlin Wall, can be destroyed. In a way, I was a bit more curious to find out more about the secret life of the citizens of East Berlin, but most probably this is the due to my old time communist memories, when the GDR was for us the best place on earth compared with other countries from the 'Bloc'. One of the mst powerful images by far is that of Rostropovich playing cello in the front of the Wall at the Axel-Springer building. 

How would Berlin will look like in 10 years from now? With such a high concentration of artists and authors and freelancers living here, there may be new literary works ready soon. Since the guide was published, in 2009, everything changed here, but the spirit is still the same. 

Sonntag, 10. März 2013

ITB 2013 - the last day

Honestly, I was a bit more than tired today, but I covered all I wanted and needed to cover in order to have a full image of the countries and companies participating at ITB Berlin 2013. I even had the chance to stumble upon some nice companies offering various IT and technology services tailored for the tourism industry. 

My plan for today was: Central America - amazing and full of life; some Golf countries - colourful, with a lot of Henna painting, and many airline companies offering virtual tours to the visitors. 

In the afternoon, the ambiance was quite relaxed, with not so many visitors and journalists around. Many Pavilions were already closed or about to close. All the PR companies were gone, some of the Spanish tour operators were probably afraid to go out by the sudden winter returning seriously to the city in the last 24 hours. I did not see anyone at Lebanon as well, the white chairs being used for temporary stops of exhausted visitors.

A couple of 'entrepreneurs' were trying to sell tickets in the U-Bahn/S-Bahn area, for 10 Euro, even though after 2pm, the price went to 8 Euro. I am not sure either if the tickets were available. Anyway, it was no reason to buy 'black' tickets when the maximum waiting time at the cashier was around 3 minutes! 

I made a tour of the food counters, and was unpleasantly surprised to see that an usual bowl of noodles, sold for around 3.50 Euro, was evaluated at the ITB for...10 Euro. The food was not looking as almost perfect samples of exquisite Asian cuisine. Better waiting two more hours and eating some fresh food at home! 

Dances and joy from Nicaragua

This time Israel had a big nice Pavilion.  Today, was a busy day

Adventure parks, German version

Egypt is trying to get more tourists, with various cultural offers

What happened in Thailand stays in Thailand

The henna experience

The optical illusion of the dunes of sand?

An exquisite art of filling the glasses, Andalusian way

Freitag, 8. März 2013

Day 3 at ITB

Today was the last day for businesses and media at ITB Berlin. Less people than in the other days, maybe also because I was a bite late and my enthusiasm to run from a Pavilion to another decreased significantly.  

Most events I saw on the run today were somehow related to eating. In most cases, the spaces between pavilions is too small for a big number of guests. It is hard to socialize in peace with a glass of wine and a small sandwich without bothering those coming and going.

I visited the Asian section, with a look at the Indonesian Pavilion, where there were a lot of actions and prizes were given. I loved Thailand for the design and Japan - where regularly classes on Japan culture and civilization are held. Exhausted after so many hours and days of intensive walking and writing, I ordered a smoothie with banana, orange and kiwi and got the super powers to go back home. 

Tomorrow I am busy with my personal life, but I plan to return on Sunday, for more pictures and some fresh insights about how the general public is welcoming the tempting offers from the fair.

Till then, more pictures and the promise of new posts soon!

The feeling of spring at Japan Pavilion

The Indonesian boat is ready to conquer the German tourists

Events at the Indonesian Pavilion

The heart beating of Thailand

Attracted by the spices, I entered a small room where I discovered amazing things about the Indonesian art of massage and the amazing ingredients used

Hello from Papua!

Lufthansa at ITB

10 minutes before entering ITB, I entered the mood of the fair thanks to Lufthansa. From early in the morning till the program is over, the representatives of Lufthansa, strategically positioned near the closest S-Bahn station to the fair are distributing leaflets, bags and - in the first day - also some cold coffee to the participants and visitors. While visiting the side, I was also offered a lipgloss and some TicTac bombons. 

The main information distributed is the special offer of 49 Euro from Berlin to different destinations, an offer available for the summer at The offers booked via Lufthansa can offer various discounts within the Hilton network in Europe.

The welcome team of Lufthansa at work

Be a guest at Lufthansa. Honesty, I don't remember when I was the last time with Lufthansa...

I love the design of the Pavilion. 
The Lufthansa Pavilion looks very elegant, plane-style, where the visitor can experience the pleasure of being the guest of the company for an indeterminate duration of the flight. It is not a flight simulator, but a pleasant corner where you can see for a couple of minutes why it is important to fly Lufthansa. As far as I saw, there it is the only airline companies present at the ITB offering more than leaflets and a nice sweet or eventually a pen. 

Donnerstag, 7. März 2013

Day 2 at ITB

It was another busy day for me at the ITB, when I had to run a lot, discovering many interesting Pavilions. I dedicated today to the European side, with some Latin American flavors. I will keep the Asia for tomorrow, with some drops of Central America. 

An excellent design of the Hungarians, with many offers and nice people.

The famous Cransmontana is ready to seduce the German public - not only the VIPs

Live painting at the Polish Pavilion

Live music at the lively and colourful Indian Pavilion

Wine bottles growing on the shelves

Who does not need Spain, after all?

A welcoming Iraqi corner

In a break of law-and-order

Arts-in-process at the Turkish Pavilion

Ukrainian popular artists

The Latin American section is the best looking and interesting by now. I have not been in the Asian section yet...

The Cold War is over and dead for ever. Otherwise you would not have seen such a neighborhood.

An example of how the famous Panama is made

The colours of lively Mexico

Berlin Brands

Berlin is poor and tourism is its main source of revenue. No wonder that a big Hall at the ITB was dedicated to the wonder city of Central Europe. There are a lot of reasons to love the city and many other reasons to can't wait to leave it. However, there it is a high concentration of bright mind and wonderful expats ready to use their energies to live here, even underemployed and underpaid. Their ideas help to build up the city and attract more and more talented brains from all over the world and Germany.

I loved the Pavilion of Berlin because it looks as Berlin: dynamic, cool, with many ideas and projects, that even if not achieved - think about the Airport - no one will get angry on him for that. The main companies, shops - Kaufhof Alexanderplatz among them - and cultural institutions were represented, with possibilities to book tickets on the spot. 

Dreaming hard about the airport

This look like Berlin on a busy summer day

The room of peace

With so many nations and ethnic groups and religions, it makes sense such a room of silence, that is situated very close to the Media Center. It is a clean space and when I visited it, yesterday, around 12 pm, it was no one there, only some candles burning in a corner. 

It has a special place for the Muslim prayer, with an arrow indicating the direction to Mecca and a small prayer carpet. 

Dienstag, 5. März 2013

Short orientation guide at the ITB Berlin

The International Tourism Fair is considered the biggest tourism events in the world. It takes place from 6 to 10 March, but only the last 2 days are officially open to the public, the majority of the time being dedicated to discussions and networking between tour operators and other stakeholders from the industry. 

This year, 10,000 exhibitors from over 180 lands are getting ready to present their offer, apps, and interesting classes. The overall area occupied by the exhibition is of 160,000sqm. 

The official app of the fair is offered by GIATA and TOURIAS, and it will be very useful for the busy visitor in the week-end. 

Till I will go to pay a visit myself, a couple of words about the map of the fair. As there are many tourist agencies represented, many will offer significant discounts to the trips booked on the place.

In Halle 2.2, there will be a presentation of the Lisboa Story Centre, an interactive project aimed to help the visitor go through the history and present of the Portuguese capital city. Halle 2.1 is dedicated to the LGBT sector - Pink Pavilion, an area that according to officials present at the press conference yesterday is developing permanently. There could be find out more about the OUT NYC, the trend resort in NY opened in 2012 as an island of restaurants, bars and other lifestyle temptations. 

Halle 3.1 is dedicated to South-America with special attention dedicated to Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama. In Halle 3.2, you can visit Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia. In Halle 4.2, Irak - who has a bigger pavilion compared with the previous year - is neighbouring Spain and various tourist companies. In Halle 1.2. you can see not only the ITB Kino, but also Malta - where I am invited tomorrow - Montenegro, Moldova, Kosovo, Croatia, Italy and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Halle 23 is hosting Egypt - who registered a 17% decrease of tourists following the 'revolution', Bahrain, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon. 

Halle 4.1b will be dedicated to the challenges of responsible tourism, including Corporate Social Responsibility and many discussions will take place in the next days about the ways in which tourism can contribute to the sustainability of the local communities. Another interesting things to see at Halle 4.1: economy accommodation, youth travel, adventure tourism.

Those interested about the German Laender, can have a look at what is offered and displayed at Halle 6.2. Many of the natural treasures of Germany will be presented at large. In Halle 8.2 Germany will be presented again with an offer to discover Saarland, on bike. Other places where one can find out more about the offer of German tourism are: Halle 11.2 for Sachsen, Thueringen, Sachsen-Anhalt; Halle 12 for Berlin and Brandenburg, and Halle 13, 14.1 - for hotels. 

Halle 20 and 21 are dedicated to Africa, with South Sudan the newest guest. Libya and Yemen - a country where many Germans are visiting, despite the complicated security situation - are back in the business after a year of break.  

Halle 10.2 - that I will visit in a couple of hours - is hosting the Culture Lounge, where the visitor can find out about the cultural capitals of Europe, but also about the cultural offer of the world cities. Worth to mention and to find out more about: Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Art and Design Museum Basel, the opening of the first world ABBA Museum in Stockholm. 

In Halle 20, the visitor can see the art of South Africa, and in Halle 26, China will show its different faces, with many cultural happenings offered to the public during the week-end. 

Indonesia, the official partner of the ITB, whose pavilion will be officially inaugurated today, promise to keep the visitors entertained and tempted to book the first flight to Jakarta. The Pavilion will have the shape of an old boat, traditionally used by fishermen.

The tickets can be purchased from the BVG kiosks at a better price - 12 Euro - than if bought from the fair. This purchase can be made till the 8th of March. The tickets can also be booked online. Between 2 and 4pm, on Sunday, there it is a special price of 8 Euro. Each ticket is qualified to enter a Tombola for a trip around the world. ITB will be open to the public from 10am to 6pm, Saturday and Sunday.

ITB Berlin, here I am!

I celebrate my 4-year anniversary since moving to the city of Berlin, with a little treat: this week I will be busy covering the most interesting news from the Tourism Fair. This is part of my larger professional project to dedicate more time to travel and travel writing in general. The good news, besides the lot of work that I will have to deal with in the next 5 days, is that I will be more than a crazy visitor running to gather leaflets: I am covering the seminaries, press conferences and news from the world of tourism as a journalist.Was so proud to wave my accreditation around!

Today was the day of the official press conference, and a lot of work of preparations of the pavilions. There were a couple of media events, among others an excellent presentation of the Hungarian Tourism Board, that I will extensively present on my dedicated travel blog: Tomorrow, will run to cover some nice events that most likely will be presented also on the wordpress blog.

Working hard to finish the work
For now, a couple of snapshots of the day, in a simpler way, just to be sure that my readers will return when my posts will be more developed.

- The word of the day was: 'sun', as everyone was surprised that after so many days and months of darkness, some wonders are still possible, also in Berlin.

- The site of the fair is still in construction and moving from a part to another is difficult, if not dangerous, as there are many trucks and hard work in process. Today, everything was fully experimental, with a lot of work and rock music to keep the right pace.

A short break of the Indonesian representatives
- The accreditation of bloggers was possible only online. The print and video media can do it still on the spot. Maybe there were not too many journalists yet, but everything was extremely fast. The media center is clean, with many facilities - wifi, computers, cloakroom, various publications and updates to be delivered soon. The transportation from the media center to the location of the press conferences is made with a special media shuttle bus, operating almost every 10 minutes. 

- Everyone is nice, talking English and ready to help the journalists. Quite a normal attitude, isn't it?

- The special guest this year is Indonesia. The video clip outlines the wonders that the visitor can encounter in such a diverse country that does not mean only 'Bali'. Personally, I was not impressed by the clip and found it quite common for many Asian countries. However, the minister for Tourism and Creativity, Dr. Mari Elka Pangestu, was very spontaneous and created the impression of hospitality and friendliness. More about Indonesia, later, when I will see the Pavilion and, eventually, I will benefit of the feet massage promised to the exhausted visitors. Politically speaking, there may be a new stage in the relations between Germany and Indonesia, a high level delegation visiting Berlin those days. 

Keep in touch!!