Freitag, 29. November 2013

Architecture in Charlottenburg: Cecilienhaus

Shortly after leaving the imposing City Hall of Charlottenburg, I decided to walk a lot direction Ernst Reuter Platz and I'd found myself once again in the front of a big building, in the same style with the city hall but with more domestic details: Cecilienhaus.
As the city hall, it has a lot of mythological Art Nouveau animals and insertions and stone carving. It was erected in two years, at the beginning of the 20th century, designed by the architects Rudolf Walter and Walter Spichendorf. It used to host the Patriotic Women's Guild of Charlottenburg and was dedicated to Princess Cecilie, whose name also bears the Cecilienhof from Potsdam, where the post-war treaty was signed. 

The name of the guild is written on the sides of the entrance to the courtyard
Duchess Cecilie of Mecklenburg Schwerin was considered a kind of lady Prussian Diana of her time. A tall woman - around 1.82 - with dark eyes, whose mother was the grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailova of Russia, she had a special elegance and sense of fashion, according to the memoirs of the time. Her wedding with the German Crown Prince Wilhelm, in 1905, was the main event of the year, and was attended, among others, by the Archiduc Franz Ferdinand. She had 6 children, but not the happy free life of someone who was supposed to be a Crown Princess, living mostly separated by her husband.
Cecilienhas was designed as a welfare center, with 55 beds, a gynecological center and a kitchen soup. It also hosted for a while the German Red Cross. At the first sight, it does not look as a social center, with the big terrace with column and long balcony and an interior yard leading to various offices and small businesses. Like its patron, the building ended up having a completely different social function that initially thought, but it brings a note of majesty to the blocks of flats and the predominant post-war architecture of the area. 

Donnerstag, 28. November 2013

Charlottenburg, step-by-step: A visit at the City hall

Especially in the Western part of Germany - and of Berlin too - city halls, as well as post offices, are imposing buildings, with a special history and massive architecture. Even though destroyed during the war, many were rebuilt following the original plans. When walking around Richard Wagner Square in Charlottenburg, the building of the district's city hall is easily observed as making a classical difference in the architectural geography of the place: big, massive and high, aimed to send a strong message of power. The Town hall/Rathaus was built at the end of the 19th century, in order to answer the growing needs of a population that in 50 years jumped from 12,000 to 300,000 people. The construction, a combination of Art Nouveau and Modernism, was ready in time for the 200th celebration of Charlottenburg. Kaiser Wilhelm II was not extremely pleased when discovered that the tower of the newly inaugurated edifice was much taller than the beautiful castle of Charlottenburg, but was too late for a dramatic change.
I started my exploration with a short visit at the Ratskeller, an indispensable part of any serious historical German townhall, the traditional restaurant in the basement. It was relatively empty during my lunch time, as many of the locals were probably rather tempted to taste the meals from the simpler and cheaper canteen inside the main building. But at least three times the month, there are plenty of people here, meeting to trade postmarks. Too late for me, as I gave up my passion for collecting postmarks a good couple of years ago. 
The interior of the city hall is richly decorated, with grandiose halls and corners, that were not bothered by the simple and efficient offices dealing with current financial and administrative issues. The building was expanded during 1911-1916 and destroyed during the war. Besides the usual offices that you can find in a local city hall, here is hosted too a local library. The building can be visited, but most probably in small groups, as too many tourists may bother the daily activities.

The stairs look like an intricate maze that lead the visitor's steps to next level through stone arched massively decorated with mythological figures. Near the mayor's office, I saw the pictures of all Berlin's mayors, noticing that till now, only one woman, Louise Schroeder, was elected as the chief manager of the city, and this only for 2 years, shortly after the war, 1946-1948.

As in the case of many buildings in Berlin, the old times memories are translated into modern languages. A modernist golden painting of Sophie Charlotte, by Gabriela Ribow, was successfully integrated in the universe predominated by the Art Nouveau monsters.

Inside the city hall was created a memorial for war victims.The combination of artificial and natural lightning outlines the shapes of the statues, conferring them more weight and importance. I freely wandered the empty halls, noticing one detail, trying to understand the other. It's easy to get lost in the immensity of the space, but was able to find my way back to the entrance.

As planned, I spent my last minutes at the Charlottenburg city hall browsing the shelves of the library. I was curious if there is a difference with my local offer and happy that I did not find anything tempting to take home - the entrance card issued by a local library can be used for borrowing books from any library in the city, I left the building through door headed by a bucolic scenery skilfully realised by little stones of mosaic. Going through this door every day may gives you a certain feeling of importance of responsibility, for sure. Time to realize how a simple citizen I am. 

Discovering Charlottenburg: Replica/Gipsformerei Museum

As planned, I continued this week the step-by-step discovery of Charlottenburg, an area that I love but with many hidden treasures. Take, for instance, the Gipsformerei Museum, that I was hardly aware of one week ago. It is situated close to the Westend S-Bahn station and is around 200 years old, being considered one of the oldest Prussian Museum. The space open to the public presents various replicas of famous statues, from a horse by Leonardo da Vinci, to Venus Capitolina, covering various cultures and geographical areas. The collection was created as an idea of Friedrich Wilhelm the IIIrd, aiming to create copies of famous work of art for public and private collections. One of the first customers were Humboldt brothers and Goethe. The building hosting the museum has also a hidden part where around 24 specialists are creating new replicas in the workshops. The replicas are designed to resist various climatic conditions and made from different materials. 

The models are available for sale, with prices that may differ if painted or not. The process of producing a big one may last around 6 months, while in the case of a small sample, you can have it in around 3 months. The prices may vary between a couple of hundreds to around 24,900 EUR. for a big Venus Capitolina. 
The first and third Wednesday of each month, guided tours are organized, with detailed explanations about the collection and the production process. 

Kids shopping on Ku'damm

With the holiday season open and a lot of anniversaries of friends' children days away, I've found myself, as usual, completely unprepared with the presents part. No wonder, as buying presents was, is and most likely will always be, the most difficult part of my life. I disappoint often the little ones expectations or completely mistake the size or the favourite colour I was requested more than 5 times. However, I assume that with children till 1 year it is easier, as I usually buy one size bigger and they are not too fussy weighting diplomatically or not their 'thank you' for my presents. This Tuesday, I discovered though that it is not too easy to made a decision, especially when I chose Ku'damm as my hunting terrain. 

I started with Il Gufo shop, at the beginning of Bleibtreustrasse. A relatively big shop, presenting elegant clothes for boys and girls till 12. It seemed that it was not a very good day for the shop, as my messy presence was not noticed, although for the next minutes onwards I was the only customer in the shop. The prices were relatively high, which can be a problem when you make an investment for clothes for children whose sizes are changing from a month to another. Especially the sky costumes were good looking, but as my friends will not go to sky with their kid in the next 10 years or more, I admired once again the beautiful dresses for bigger girls and went to the next destination. 

At Pinco Pallino I reached a new level of children elegance. Offering very chic but with a rather adult cut dresses and young suites for children, the shop has high prices and a relatively limited array of choices. Most clothes are designed for special occasions, even though I thought that the winter white coat can be easily worn every day, especially if your children are attending one of the posh private schools in Berlin. The shop has many visitors, but not a very welcoming customer service. The space is small, but decorated with taste. Documentation done, time to move to the next shop.

At Carine, I felt not only welcomed, but talking with people ready to help. I bet that they were almost sure that I am not necessarily the type of customer that will leave the shop with lots of packs but they did their job with patience and attention and I was sincerely impressed. For a 1 year old, the offer was very diverse, with many chic and sport outfits, at good prices. Not cheap, but the right price you can get for an elegant Ralph Laurent polo shirt. 

When I arrived at Jacadi, I felt in the air the familiar smell of the presents we used to receive many years ago from France once the year. I am not sure if my clothes were from this brand though as I was not too careful for fashion then. The colourful shop has not only outdoor clothes, but also PJs or toys. The prices are relatively accessible, with around 100 EUR for a winter jacket. The service was relatively friendly, especially with the little customers not too patient to try all the clothes that their parents have chose for them. 

Tartine et Chocolat was my next destination, only one shop away. I was welcomed by an ambiance of classical music, that gave a too serious note to the little room over crowded with baby carriages, many signed by big fashion houses, like Cavalli or Fendi. Perfectly matched children clothing were waiting for the fancy parents to turn their little ones into veritable fashion addicts. But as I know that my friends have other plans with their little boy, I resumed my researches for the day and took a break from windows shopping till the next time. 


Sonntag, 24. November 2013

Afternoon at the Ceramic Museum

Almost three years ago, it was a beautiful spring day and I left home having in mind to visit the Ceramic Museum. But I don't remember what happened and my plans were switched for some outdoor activities probably. This time, with the snow being around the corner, it was cold enough to be very strict about my schedule. The small museum is situated in Charlottenburg, a couple of minutes away from Richard-Wagner Platz U-Bahn station. 

The visitors are invited to see three different exhibitions: one permanent collection of German porcelain from the 19th century, and two other temporary exhibitions changed almost every 6 months. The main collection includes beautiful samples of local art, with or without flower and natural prints in general, produced by German manufacture. Many of them were and still are popular items in the living rooms of the middle class local society.

The exhibition halls are distributed through the building. The museum is hosted in the oldest construction in Charlottenburg, originally built in the 18th century. What is nowadays the main garden with stylish arcades used to be a huge dancing hall that was destroyed over night by the 1980s owners. A very bad and unauthorized decision, as the building was and still is part of the local heritage. After this experience, it was transferred under the authority of the townhall who subsidize it.

One of the main temporary exhibitions features the coffee and dining culture from 'Urbino' to 'Stambul'. It presents various items produced by the KPM Porcelain Manufactur in the 1930s and later on, one generation later. It features various works by Marguerite Friedlaender and Gerhard Marcks, brand names of the local design scene for years. It is not easy to find the charm of the strict monotone geometry and the strict lack of colour diversity, but there is some mystery of the geometry that cannot be neglected. The exhibition hall has also a small corner where the coffee drinkers can rest and sip their take away coffees in an inspiring ambiance.

The last exhibition is dedicated to the German artist Walter Rhaue, that brings back the colours into my day. Besides the religious subjects, he also decorated plates and small statues in lively nuances and in a humorous way. 

I wished my visit in this warm space with so many colours and shapes lasts longer. Before leaving, I had a look at the selection of books from the local library - good looking hard covered books with many useful information about the German porcelain traditions - and was introduced a bit more into the history of the building by the director of the museum. This may be the advantage of visiting a small homely place: you will always find nice people ready to tell you local stories. 

Dienstag, 19. November 2013

Architecture in Berlin: Schaubühne

Summer seems so far away, especially when regardless of the time of the day, I see only darkness out of my clean windows. Words are my beams of light for the next weeks and months and early darkness will bring me home faster to finish my writing delayed for happy weather reasons. After discovering Eric Mendelsohn a couple of months ago, I wanted to see more of his works. The closest from me was Schaubühne..
The building complex is situated on Ku'damm, close to Halensee at Lehninenplatz and it hosts cultural events only from the beginning of the 1980s. When was inaugurated in 1928, it was part of a multi-functional urban structure called at the time WOGA. Where nowadays is the theatre used to be the Cinema Universum, the center of a structure that included coffees, a restaurants and apartments. If one tries to make a tour around the building, will feel like going around a huge ship. Opposite the cinema used to be Café Leon, a cabaret of the Jewish bohema. 
Seriously damaged during the war, the cinema was renamed Capital and newly inaugurated after serious reconstruction work coordinated by a former student of Mendelsohn, Hermann Fehling. In the crazy 1970s, here was the meeting place of many hippies and beatniks, as the area turned into a Broadway of Berlin.
The new face of the complex is the result of intensive work of Jürgen Sawade. The structure of the theatre was projected in order to cope with various innovative direction ideas. It even has a kabuki stage, for instance. Nowadays, the sober brown bricks of the building - protected monument since the end of the 1970s - is a mysteriously sober piece of architecture in the luxury urban context of Ku'damm. The next stage for me is to go to see a play here.