Dienstag, 30. Juli 2013

Summer in the Körnerpark

A busy hot Sunday afternoon
I am not a big fan of going on the other side of the city, one of the reasons being that I have a lot of things to do already in my Western corner. For various reasons, I am still thinking in terms of the Cold War and I am perfectly wrong. If I want to get connected with interesting people and places I should go in the East at least every 10 days, if not more often. And as I need to have some pleasant company when I go there, I try to be very socially active lately and see as many people as possible. Of course that all the nice and cool people live in the East.

A little bistro not recommended in the summer
The last Sunday was another - one of the few, probably - full summer day and I was invited to have a walk in the Körnerpark, in Neukölln. As very often, I needed to do some research before being sure that I will be able to arrive in due time and at the right location. I never been there before and not even heard about it. Before reading some small information on a wall at the mini-bar inside, I was convinced that the name of the park has something to do with a 'corner'. In fast, the park bears the family name of a rich local family that used to own many pieces of land in the area, including Britz.

The park started to develop as a local destination from the end of the 1980s and nowadays it is a very popular place among the residents of in Neukölln. A couple of minutes away from it there are many playgrounds, answering the needs of the growing population of very young residents in the area.

Compared to other parks in the East, grilling is not allowed and everything looks very clean and quiet. Kids were playing and jumping around, a group of youngsters were playing guitar and accordion, shy ladies were reading some English novels while some teenagers were sharing some beers. Welcome to Berlin, East Berlin to be precise. Even though the place looked quite packed, I did not notice too much action and noise. It was like everyone was respecting quietly the other's need for silence. 

Loved the architecture of the stairs
I was surprised by the architecture of the place, reminding me a little bit of Potsdam. A small but geometrically organized park in the middle, bordered by benches and purple flowers. On the top, a promontory with another green rectangle, a couple of tables, an exhibition place and a little orchestra playing flamingo music. As usually at this kind of gatherings, at least 2 people, over 50 or more, were bold enough to have a little dance on their own. 

This park is one of the many free pleasures of Berlin. You can carry your basket with food, your blanket. books and drinks and enjoy a pleasant afternoon, with some spontaneous musical background. As long as you clean after you go and you don't start yelling at people for no reason, you can enjoy a pleasant afternoon, not only on Sundays, but also during the week. Of course, at least you don't have a rainy day as today.

Sonntag, 28. Juli 2013

A Foreigner at Brücke-Museum

I wanted to visit Brücke-Museum for a long time, but unfortunately I couldn't attend one of the guided tours offered by Kunstwege. This very hot Sunday, with around 36+ Celsius in the air, I decided that instead of going to a lake or beach or any other 'light' destination, I will go to this museum. Finally.
Around 30 minutes after leaving the house, following carefully the arrows from the bus station Puecklerstrasse, I had reach my destination. But before starting my 90 minutes stay, I took 2 minutes to enjoy the coldness of the air condition. Not something usual in Berlin, so please forget my apparent childish attitude.
The museum is hosted in a small villa, in the middle of a rich vegetation. The ticket counter is right at the entrance, near the souvenir shop - offering postcards with paintings from the exhibition or from the collection of Brücke artists. The exhibition hall has the shape of a simple maze. I did not discern any specific organisation criteria for the paintings, but the authorship. Most big names of the Brücke movement, an artistic group created in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, are represented, such as Max Pechstein, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel or Fritz Bleyl. 
Wandering between grotesque and emotional outburst, influenced by Fauvism and expressionism, but also by pointillism and other French movements, Brücke reflects somehow the spirit of the time: the young rebels wanted to create bridges - Brücke - between emotions and reality, to translate in colours and violent lines their inner worlds. This can be better read in the coloured paintings, when the strong boiling feelings can be read in the erratic movements of the lines. 
The artists represented not only the grotesque world of varieté (with a more critical eye than Toulouse-Lautrec) but also landscapes, especially from Germany and Italy. It seems that regardless of the style or artistic preferences, Italy will hardly miss from being represented in the artistic movements as both object of representation and source of inspiration.
The museum is small, with many comfy chairs where the visitors can rest while reading books about the paintings and the history of the movement. Regularly there are organised seminars and discussions as well workshops for children. I did not expect to see so many people visiting, but most probably the hot weather creates a lot of opportunities for art lovers.
I enjoyed the exhibition, and learned a little bit more about this movement and the history of German painting. Strongly recommended to any intellectual soul visiting Berlin.

A Foreigner at the Falkensee

In the last weeks, I did not spend too much time in Berlin as all my time, energy and other kind of resources have been dedicated to preparing many days of travel abroad. Once back home, with the microbe of travel in my veins, I can hardly resist to spend one day without doing 'something' - either going to an exhibition, museum, visiting friends or going outside the city. 
As during my last trips in Germany I often stopped by Falkensee, I spontaneously decided that I want to go there, especially in one of those very hot days of the real summer in Berlin. I did a basic online documentation and after a delayed start, I was on the road again. The first stop was at Spandau, from where there are buses going directly there almost every 20 minutes. After one hour and a half of travel from a different transport zone to another, we were finally in Falkensee. 
And the rest was silence, as the streets were quiet, except some bikers and a lady in the front of the town hall/Rathaus that guided us to the 'see'. The area may be quiet, but not completely empty: there are banks, some of them hosted in building with a challenging architecture, bio shops - where I found an amazing pack of baobab bonbons - and many many good looking villas. Especially around the lake, there are a lot of modern buildings, many of them copying a bit the elegant style of the Grunewald residencies, with a lot of facilities and a noble look. Many have big yards that stop only 3-4 meters away from the sea so if you are expecting some privacy during your trip to the Falkensee you may not have it. When there are not the villas, there are the small groups of locals and visitors from Berlin, sunbathing or swimming - despite some signs that forbid it - in the lake. Joggers and bikers and dog lovers are also present and it seemed that almost half of the Falkensee was retired around the lake that day. It does not cost a dime and is pretty clean around so why not? Especially for children, there it is a very good opportunity to spend some time outside the house. 
I did not see too many hotels around, but the restaurants are well represented: many Greek specialities and the classical open beer gardens and some ice cream parlours. Youngsters gather in the Gutspark that I haven't find it too attractive and I will not cross it during the late evenings. Big maps - in Geman - can be found in different locations from the main train station to the center and there it is also a Heimatmuseum, dedicated to the history of the locality. From place to place around the lake, there are big billboards in German explaining the flora and fauna of the area, giving the feeling of being on a class trip. 
After almost two hours of lake hiking I felt a bit exhausted and went back to the station waiting for the bus to take us to Berlin. I must recognize that had higher expectations nature-wise, so the next time I am looking for some adventure in the middle of the nature, will rather look for a different destination. 

Mittwoch, 10. Juli 2013

A foreigner at the KaDeWe food court

Highly impressed after my last foodie and discovery trip to France and before a gorgeous trip to London - with many foodie adventures scheduled, I wanted to see what is going on on the German counter. And, for the moment, I decided to explore the closest spot, the famous KaDeWe, on a Tuesday afternoon. 
As usual, the place was full of tourists, many trying to get the full advantage of the sales for many luxury brands hosted in the place that used to be the only symbol of capitalism in the divided Berlin. It remains an important top-notch place nowadays, competing only with another high-end place, the Galeries Lafayette, at Friedrichstrasse. I know the both places quite well now, and I will always prefer the Galeries, not necessarily because too French, but due to the better quality of the products and of the customer service (one of the biggest problems in Germany, in my opinion).
Sophisticated and intellectual visitors, don't worry that you will waste of time and your money in a temple of consummerism. There are always some surprises left for the art lovers - unless you consider the high-end fashion brands such samples too. Regularly, the KaDeWe hosts exhibitions, fashion-related but going beyond the retail mass production level. 

The food counter is situated at the 6th flour. It includes a lot of restaurants - many of them selling specific food represented in the shopping area - Thai, fish-based, sweets. The prices are relatively high, and the usual outlook is of a fast food counter. Noblesse oblige, especially when it comes to eating in such a historical place. You can find a lot of products - from sweets to regional wines and oils, fresh fish and vegetables and exotic fruits. There are good sweets and French pastry, and even there were some fresh good cakes for the end of the first day of Ramadan. You can spend easily more than one hour wandering through boxes and flavours, but you will rarely find someone asking you if you need some help or if you are specifically looking for something. If you ask, you will be helped, otherwise, feel free to explore!
You can find fresh fish, but also already smoked and prepared - some pineapple and smoked salmon little sandwiches were looking very tasty.
The most pleasant part is presenting oils and spices, from all over the world, but mostly produced by German companies. I could not resist to buy some new aromated salts and spices blends.
When I arrived in this little French paradise I wanted to test some little pieces of chocolate, but there was nothing offered. Wanted to ask some of the ladies moving around, but did not feel encouraged by any smile. At the end, I ordered something on my own, and needed to move from a part to another to order after to pay. One of the lady who served me did not feel bother when I requested to change the piece of cake she not only touched with her hands, but let it slide on the counter. After all, I was in one of the most expensive places in Berlin and I was at the famous Le Notre shop and the service was worst than at a 1 Euro fast-food.

 I loved to find so many 'exotic' ideas and food suggestions, such this mixture of various spices ready for preparing your own cocktail. One day I want to try it.
The happiest counter was arranged by Cointreau. There were free drinks offered and the corner was decorated to look as a Tahiti island.
 Post-Ramadan cookies were waiting for the end of the first day of fasting. The products were not as fresh as at 10 o'clock in the morning, but pretty tasty for a late afternoon spicy coffee.
The overseas fruits, not an exquisite selection, after all, were over priced. In fact, there are many products available at KaDeWe that can be found in the regular super markets at very convenient prices. I did buy some Thai mangosteen and was also tempted by the fresh looking pitthaya. 
Germany is famous for the diversity of bread products. At the KaDeWe there were many luxury products created for special customers: caviar bread, most probably sought by many of the Russian customers visiting the place regularly. 
Lebanese wines are only one of the specialities of the wine section. There are hundreds of types, from the classical Loire Valley and Italian wines, to the Hungarian sweet Tokay and the Mediterranean flavours. 
Everything is very clean and somehow looks like a hospital or a museum entrance. People are coming and going, picking up their food and paying. Not too much conversation in between or openness to share too much information about the diverse products presented/
 Home-made pastas are mostly made in Italy and have different shapes and are prepared according to various recipes.
The meat is not only made in Germany, but also from Austria, especially from Tirol. Everything look fresh, this is all I can say about this section that is not tempting for me at all.
I loved to be there and to explore the products and the tastes and I returned at home with a couple of new spices I can't wait to taste. Compared to Galleries Lafayette the space is less organized and there are a lot of second-hand quality products introduced as luxury - especially at the Thai counter or a the Canadian counter where you can find a lot of American products. However, I tried to appease my relative disappointment with a longer visit at the clothing areas and forgot instantly all my previous disagreements. The KaDeWe remains a great place to visit and shop, after all.