Sonntag, 22. September 2013

How I spent the day of the German elections - with vintage, Kirkegaard and (hot) potatoes

My love for political science was overpassed this week by travel, rest and cooking priorities and I did not succeed to follow closely the electoral process in Germany. The only direct contact with the voting directions was made through the billboards crossing my eyes on my eyes from and to different locations in Berlin. This is for the third time when I see the samples of electoral marketing in Germany and as usual, I was not impressed by the ideas or the photos. And in the case of some electoral messages, my outrage was too big to let me think in peace about some political evolutions. As in a couple of hours the result will be known, I will have the inspiration for writing more about my first writing love.
Till then, I decided to enjoy the 18C outside and have some good time.
Not extremely keen to see too much action, after three full days of rest and reading, we decided to walk in our Western side of the city. At moderate walking speed, we went by foot till Roseneck, observing once again the clear signs of the autumn.
Many restaurants and bars were open inviting to a last meal or cup of coffee outside before the rainy and snowy season. We did not see or hear anyone talking about elections. Everything was business as usual on a Sunday afternoon. We continued our trip by bus for a couple of stations, till Zehlendorf S-Bahn, an area where I've been before and loved the Jugendstil architecture. Surprisingly enough, there were more shops open. The sacrosanct rule of keeping the businesses closed during the Sundays is about to be broken. 
From Zehlendorf, I wanted to see and try something completely new and thus, we took the S-Bahn 2 stations till Mexikoplatz, where I discovered the most interesting and cool flea market in town. A lot of hand made clothes and home products, some of them unique and colourful. 
As my plan was to be back home around 6pm, to continue with some reading and blogging, needed to hurry up to the next randomly picked-up destination of the day. 
On an electoral day, what else can suit better the reality than going to an exhibition called: Either/Or. The name may remind of a coffee in the East Berlin, but the real inspiration is a work of Kirkegaard, that I did not frequented since the high school and did not feel guilty for that ever since. On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Kirkegaard, the exhibition that ended yesterday was aimed to gather artists trying to illustrate his deep ideas about the tragic human existence.
Those not accustomed with the subtleties of the modern arts and philosophy had the chance to make a tour of the Haus am Waldsee, that hosted the exhibition till today. Looking forward to see what the next exhibition will be about.
My life is full of contrasts and this Sunday was not different. The next and final stop of my journey on an electoral day was at the Domäne Dahlem, where happy families were celebrating the 'Potato'! The big excitement was to pick up your own potatoes from the field, gather in some orange bags, weight it and, if enough time and fun, eventually prepare them on the hot charcoal.
The ambiance at Dahlem was as hot as the potatoes, but in the agricultural sense. Children were running erratically feeding the goats, or the hen or other local animals. Their parents were buying honey or salts from the fair, or even some horse meat proudly presented at a kiosk. (How can people eat horse, by the way?) Before leaving, after using my German to find out about diverse types of potatoes for my foodie blog, I admired the creative hair cut of a bored alpaca. 
My trip ended up a couple of minutes late than planned. Time to run back home, Cinderella! For the German politicians, the long night is about to begin!

Montag, 16. September 2013

Welcome to the Circus

The last time when I was in a hostel was probably more than 15 years ago, when I was a king of backpacking in Eastern Europe. I do not like too much the crowded spaces and my observations in terms of cleanliness did not convince me that I should insist with such accommodation options. 
This summer, I gave a new chance to the hostels, by visiting Circus Hostel and Hotel in Mitte Berlin. 
The hostel was completely renovated 3 years ago, and is permanently in process of embellishment. The basement bar will be completely redesigned soon, for instance, and the hotel, on the other end of the street went through some refurbishing too. During the summer time, the hostel was fully booked with visitors from all over the world, especially from UK, US, Australia, but also South America. 
The hostel was opened in 2001, and the hotel in 2008. The apartments, situated on Choriner str. are the newest addition to the portfolio, from 2011. 
The entire complex - hostel, hotel plus apartments - has the benefits of an in situ team of interior designers and architects. Each of the room I've visited in the hostel and hotel looked different, inviting and moderately colourful. Thus, most of the visitors are attracted no only by the great location - Rosenthaler Platz, the meeting point between East and West- and the great tours offered regularly - in English, about the history of Berlin, but in an alternative way - but also by the inviting rooms. Even though Berlin is the last city on earth where you can go for spending time in a hotel room!
For the hotel and hostels, the maximum stay is of 10 days. The prices differ from a season to another, the highest season being, obviously, the summer. Who does not want to discover by him or herself the unique German summer? As both the hostel, hotel and apartments can be full booked from May to September, a reservation at least one month in advance is highly recommended. The Fashion Week or Berlin Film Festival are another high season moments for the Circus, as for the hotel and tourism industry of Berlin in general. 
The studio offers a generous space for families, with a clean kitchen and a fridge. The rooms in theb hotel do not have a minibar as the Circus is committed to support sustainable development and thus, tries to avoid as much as possible any waste of energy. The breakfast is not included in the price of the room, and free room service is available for the residents. The reception is available 24/7 so you will find at any time anyone interested to answer your questions or requests. The reception is also the place where one can find adapters, irons, handryers, kettles or babyphones. No worries, you will have everything you need for an adventure-less stay and even more. As usual, it is important to know when and where to ask the right person!
Are you a little workoholic and you cannot live without at least one hour of work the day? You will have free wifi not only in the room, but also in the lobby or in the restaurant. For those travelling by car, a secure underground park is provided, otherwise, you will be helped to find your own transportation: a bike or a Segway, for instance. 
Some rooms are also provided with a safe. Compared to what I've heard and observed myself about hostels, everything looks secure and does not present too many risks.
The only disadvantage of this beautiful room is that the restroom is outside. Otherwise, it is a very welcoming design choice in a colourful ambiance. At least at the level of Berlin, I can say that it is the best looking hostel in town. 
The severe metal bed - which I usually associate either with a hospital room or with a prison cell - is sweetly domesticated by the colours of the curtain. It reflects the conception of the chief interior designer Sandra Ernst, according to which: 'I wanted something beyond the ordinary, bright and cheerful, with individual pieces and elements that are house-crafted and individually selected'.
On the top of the building, the visitor can have a gorgeous panoramic view of the entire Berlin: East and West meeting together graciously. A map in English is providing explanations about what can be seen. If during your stay you want to improve your knowledge about Berlin and even about the local music, ask at the reception about the available titles in the Berlin film library or what are the newest downloads in the iPods with Berlin music.
The next stop of my tour of the Circus was at the hotel, five minutes across the street. The restaurant and bar serve exclusively German products, with vegetarian and vegan options included. Here are hosted regularly various literary and historical discussions. Especially during the long winter, it is a good destination not only for the visitors in Berlin, but also for the exasperated expats. Check, for instance, the monthly discussions about eyewitness history. 
Compared to the hostel, there are here are more colours and glamour, but the same personalized pattern is maintained for every room. Except the price, what the hotel offers more than the hostel is a certain ambiance and more quietness. The hostel is full of life  and action all round the day, while the hotel is more intimate and silent. If you are into yoga, you will find a nice corner too for exercising. 
A little table for catching up with the latest news. The hostel and the hotel also provide daily delivery of local and international news so you will not feel disconnected while on the road. An in house publication, C-Magazine, is available for the guests.
All the rooms of Circus are non-smoking and strict smoking policies are enforced. Another aspects of the sustainable policy followed by the Circus is that 100% of the paper used is recyclable and the energy is generated from 100% CO2 free sources. The roof top solar plant provides energy necessary for the basic demands. 
The rooms are daily cleaned and inviting you to stay and, eventually, to return. This feeling of familiarity is predominant all over the Circus. An open hand on the wall, but not Adams Family style. 
The Fabisch restaurant, very often used by the Berliners for their daily lunches and long coffees, is designed in a simple, but chic way, without too much furniture sophistication. The menus are prepared by a team coordinated by chef Roman Bigalski has a predominant German cuisine. 
During the summer, the interior yard is the best place where one can enjoy eating. At least me, I did not find any other better place. It is isolated from the busy streets of Mitte and offers a oasis of calm and privacy. You can plan your trip, check your e-mails or chit-chat with the others Berlin visitors.

Do you like to sleep late in the morning? You can enjoy your breakfast till later in the day. Without rush, you will have your coffee and your healthy morning meal and you can start to explore the city. For directions, the reception team is ready to help you not only with a map or some basic information, but with alternative insights and tips for what is the best to do in town in that specific day. 
Life in the Circus is good!

Sonntag, 15. September 2013

Meeting Salman Rushdie in Berlin

With the autumn season only a couple of weeks away and a winter around the corner, I need to be more careful finding more indoors events for my next weeks spent in Berlin. Fortunately for me, there are too many events around to go when the time is limited. The Literature Festival is close to the end today, but the Berlin art week is about to start this Tuesday, with a lot of happenings and events that I hope to attend and write about soon. Add to this some new concerts and comedies and theatres that are daily taking place in different corners of the city and you can have the landscape of a very busy cultural schedule in the German capital city. As long as there it is nothing else to do than run from an event to another, there is fine, otherwise, one can feel the deep frustration of too little time for really being everywhere. For this Sunday, I was inspired enough to book in time a reservation to a discussion with Salman Rushdie, at the Berliner Festspiele. As a long time admirer and reader of Rushdie's books, I was grateful to be able to attend the discussion, focused on his last book, Joseph Anton, a autobiographical novel that I was familiar with from a chat with the author on Goodreads
Even though I arrived 10 minutes before the start of the discussion, I did not have difficulties of going through the gates. After a couple of seconds check of my ticket, I was in the Festspiele hall, trying to find a place. At that level, there were only a couple of places left, but the first floor was offering a lot of options as well. I'd found a place finally. On my left, a lady was reading the German translation, while in the front of me, two ladies that met on the spot were worried about how difficult will be to understand the English discussion. Translation headphones were available free of charge as well. At 11.33, the doors closed and the participants arrived.
Held in a classical format, most of the discussion focused on reading excerpts from the English and German translation of Joseph Anton. There were no questions from the public, unfortunately, but during the marathon of book signing at the end, it was possible to ask one simple question, which I did, but more about that later.
Joseph Anton is the autobiographic novel of his years of hiding following the death sentence pronounced by ayatollah Khomeini shortly after the publication of the Satanic Verses, whose 25th anniversary is in 10 days time. He described the book as a 'non-fiction novel' that approaches real life events using fiction techniques to tell the story. Joseph Anton is the name hr used for his hidden identity: Joseph from Joseph Conrad, an artist of the hidden secret world, and Anton from Anton Chekhov, whose sadness and loneliness correspond to some of the stages Rushdie went through. His situation affected his family too, especially his son, around 9 years old at the time of the fatwa. 
The book ends on the third person as he recognized that did not like too much to overuse the 1rd person. During his years of hiding, he kept a journal recording the facts he was coping with. Several times he was told to use the experiences to write a book about those years, but it took him a lot of time to realize that after 12 years he wanted to use another 2 years to write about what happened and another year to talk about it. However, after reading 'a lot of nonsense' about his own cases, he wanted 'to tell the truth about what really happened'. Rushdie wanted to go back to his life as a novelist, but he 'realized it is a good story to tell and did not want someone else to write it'. Repetition, especially in the era of Internet, magnifies and make things true despite the reality and he wanted to tell the truth. A special part of the story is occupied by the police officers that took care of his security during that terrible decade. Some of those appearing in the book are composite characters. 
Although the official and political discussions around his case were often taken an accusatory note, as considering him the only responsible for that situation - 'you broke it, you fix it' kind of attitude, according to his words - and thus, not necessarily allowed to benefit of a full state support, despite being an UK citizen since the age of 14, his literary friends made 'a ring of steel around' him helping him to find new locations, among others. 
Reading intensively and writing with talent does not guarantee a high level of morality, but such reasons are not enough for giving up reading and books in general. A conclusion similar with my own regarding the intellectuals in general. Being anti-intellectual is not the 'right' attitude when faced with the moral failures of some representatives of this world. Books and education empower each of us to react to the daily reality in different ways, but it is up to us to make the right choices. 
Rushdie disclosed an interesting story about his family name. It was chosen by his father who praised the great Arab thinker Ibn Rashd, who in the 12th century faced a situation similar with his, being banned for years because his writing was considered subversive by the Arab Caliphate at the time.  
Now, he is more free to move and inspired by Joseph Conrad is living his life despite everything. The book signing went on automatic pilot, and in less than one hour he left his signature on more than 100 books - including mine. I asked him if he is planning to write another travel book, besides the Jaguar Smile, his early account of a trip to Nicaragua, but he reassured me with a 'maybe'. 
I have now a long list of his books to be read, so maybe till his next novel, I will be done already. 
Again, I am enormously grateful to be in a city where so many things are going on! The today discussion with Salman Rushdie was another reminder of how lucky I am. 

Sonntag, 8. September 2013

Sunday shopping on Ku'damm

Today, it was a shopping Sunday afternoon on Ku'damm and the neighbouring shops. Many fashion boutiques, but also drugstores or supermarkets were open between 13.00 and 18.00. Compared to the US or many other European countries, it was a relatively quiet time, without a big rush to get the best prices as fast as possible. With some exceptions, there were maybe 1-2 visitors the shop, most of them tourists. 
Shopping on Sundays is very often a national debate here, especially in the Southern part of the country, more religious than the tolerant Berlin and keeping the shops open in a legal day of rest is going far beyond the commercial reasons. 
Very relaxed, and without a shopping list in my pocket, I decided to explore (again) the Ku'damm in a couple of shops. I decided to enter those that I never visited before.

I started with the flagship store of Mientus, that is situated very close to Adenauer Square. A similar store is open in Hamburg. I passed by very often this shop, but never dared to go till the last floor. This time, I not only had a look at the ground level, but fully explored it, till the third level. The nice background music kept me a good company. Many men clothes, elegant and sport styles, with a couple of items for women, but too much sport style for my taste. Top notch prices for good quality. I also loved the cute orchids in-between stores. 
Running to the next destination, I noticed that the carpets' shop was also open, with many good sales. I controlled my addiction for oriental carpets and successfully arrived at the next destination.
I see the windows of Witty Knitters at least once the week, but waited for the right moment to visit it properly. One should be dressed properly and in a good mood to enter Alice's world, isn't it? Try not to stare too much at the hats from the entrance, and go forth till the end of the shop. The interior design is exquisite, and so are the products. I've found some nice dresses and leather jackets for me. The sales go till 50%. Keeping up with the good habits, the shop is very often part of shopping events, so if you are not readyyet  for an investment in your closet, keep an eye on the next Sunday experience. 
I am not a dancer and it is too late for a dramatic career switch, but dancing shoes are always my favourites, especially for the long walking experiences during my trips. Dimensione danza is generous with clumsy people like me and give us a chance at least to look as fancy dancers. I admired the quality cotton T-shirts and skirts, that deserve the high prices. I especially fell in love with the little children's corner, with so many cool clothes that will make you love dancing. 
Unfortunately, many of the top brands did not decided to open today. Probably because there are too high to run for 2-3 more customers in 5 hours, but also because there were not too many sales involves, at least for the moment. Some of the great absences were Dolce and Gabbana, Gucci, Chanel, Jil Sanders (how much I wanted to have a look at some of their dresses) or Bulgari.
But the good news was that some of the big brands were represented in this crowded outlet store that I hardly notice during the week. Don't except a special design of the store. Here was the highest concentration of people from all the shops I saw today, and the simple reason was the excellent pricing. A couple of minutes you can resist without music and maybe a complimentary glass of champagne. As long as with around 300 Euro you can buy things that otherwise are more than 400 the piece...
Just because nothing else was around, I hopped for a couple of minutes at Butlers for some freshly discounted cooking books. I remember that I have plenty of such books that I did not even read for a foodie review, so went to the next and last shopping stop. 
I keep a close sentimental attachment to Kookai as one of the first shops where I'd spent my hardly worked money. I am not a dedicated customer now, and I am not living in a country with too many Kookai stores, but I like to visit the shop from time to time. This time too I've found a lot of interesting offers, for the last and coming season, with or without discounts, for special evens or for the everyday work. 
I left the shop in the sound of an unknown musician singing 'A day will come and will have everything'. At least till the next week, I have everything I need. And did not find yet a good store to buy some extra time for everything I want to do.