Montag, 24. Februar 2014

A mini-tour of cultural institutions in Berlin

A couple of weeks ago, part of the Woerlitz Tourism trade, I went to a tour of the cultural institutions in Berlin. From the comfort of the leather chairs of a Mercedes bus, I spent 50 minutes passing by bus around one of the usual spots I go by almost once the week, this time being shared histories and details that I was not familiar with. Berlin was and continue to be home to a variety of institutions and cultural attractions, from cabaret to movie theatres and musical theatres.
One of the oldest was created in Alexanderplatz. For instance, in 1824, a private theatre was created here whose aim was to avoid any tragic representations. It was closed in 1848 and shortly replaced by the Deutsche Theater. On the other part of the city, in the Spandauer Viertel, the Jewish emigres from Central and Eastern Europe were developing a culture in Yiddish, including theatre, a genre that started to develop from the 18 century onwards.
Another cultural center that continue to function nowadays is at Hackescher Hof, where maximum 8 kinos. The area also has beautiful galleries hosting modern artists from all over the world, many of them living in Berlin. Another recognized cultural institution is the Museum Insel, part of the UNESCO World Heritage. Further on, around Friedrichastrasse is situated the classical Admiral Palast. On Unter den Linden, the Komische Oper and the Kanzleramt, inheriting Knoll Opa, a place famous in the 1860s and destroyed by the war. Another cultural attraction nearby is the Haus der Kultren der Welt, a present of the US to the city of Berlin in 1957. After the intensive cultural program, Tierpark is offering the green alleys for discussions and complete relaxation.   
The area around Ku'damm was and continue to has an intensive cultural activities. Theater dem Westens, for instance, is changing the repertoire once the year, offering a local variant of Broadway. A couple of minutes away, there is the Helmut Newton Photography Museum. Straight away, direction Charlottenburg, there is Renaissance Theatre, hosting not only modern representations, but also regular book lectures and intellectual discussions. Only a couple of bus stations away is the Deutsche Oper, with more than 1,000 guests. For the summer, the neighbouring Charlottenburg Castle offers concerts and special Romantic menus at the Orangerie restaurant.
Back around Ku'damm, the jazz lovers know that Quasimodo is one of the best places to check in town. I've been there once and enjoy the intimate ambiance and the good quality of the music. The Delfi Kino, situated on the other side of the building was part of the network of Berlinale movies.
Many theatres in Berlin cope with difficult financial times, and 'insolvenz'/bankruptcy was often mentioned in relation with the recent history of cultural institutions in Berlin. Knowing the history of the buildings is important to know exactly what happened with them. For instance, in this building used to be once the Nelson Theatre where Josephine Baker once played.
I might say that most of the theatres on Ku'damm are from the leisure category, offering either musicals or various levels of entertainment. For more seriousness, Potsdamer Platz can be an alternative, especially if thinking about the exquisite programs offered by the Philharmonic. Very close, the Museum of Musical instruments gives the opportunity to follow up the social history of music and the Neue Galerie. 
Returning close to Alexandeplatz, Volksbuehne and Kino Babylon, where the original organ for mute movies can still be seen, are the main cultural foci. For the expats looking to continue their good cultural habits even though they don't speak German, the Gorki Theatre recently introduced the English subtitles, a step aimed to encourage more cultural integration of the growing expat population of Berlin.
With so many cultural opportunities around, I might confess that I visited roughly 45% of them. On the Berlin front, more evening out in the cultural scenery of the city are the priority in the next weeks.  

Dienstag, 18. Februar 2014

Iceland performance at Volksbühne

When I don't travel, I either read a book or go out to a cultural events that will inspire a next trip. Tonight, I was lucky enough to participate at the final repetition for an exceptional performance that will be played to the public starting with 19th February, at the Volksbuehne. The idea is made in Iceland, and the interpretation belongs to the Filmorchester Babelsberg and Filmchoir.
Translated as the Explosive Sonics of Divinity, the mise-en-scene is inspired by the book of the Noble Prize laureate Halldor Laxness. The performance combines the composition of Kjartan Sveinsson, former keyboard player of the only band I knew in Iceland, Sigur Ros, and the stage paintings of Ragnar Kjartansson. 
The stage changes four times, offering the spectacular background for each of the four parts of the 1-hour show. It starts on a very intense low tone, repeated and amplified several times by the cello. The background is a sea, with trees under the wind. The second scene develop the first musical theme, through various changes of register. The main role is played by the choir.
As in the first case, a musical segment is developed, repeated or slightly changed. This gives a certain feeling of serenity. 
The scene no. 3 is the most spectacular with a fire on the stage, with pieces of wood cracking while the violins are playing an optimistic yet shy score. 
The end was too near, with a last scene with the entrance into a cave and a delicate woman voice interfering with the orchestra. The overall monotony remains, bringing peace slowly, a last attempt before the end. Wish it lasted more. 
Because the musical message is very clear, it is recommended also to non-German speaking expats. As for me, as expected this encounter with the Icelandic culture made me even more curious to explore it further and, why not, visit the country soon. 

Samstag, 15. Februar 2014

Louisa's Place: Kuda'mm's best kept secrets

Ku'damm is my favorite areas in Berlin, and it's always something new to discover and see around. A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to have a tour of a lovely hotel: Louisa's Place.
Here is the review published on my main travel blog: 

Mittwoch, 12. Februar 2014

Early spring afternoon in Neukölln

The spring is seriously out in the air, inviting me to continue the exploration of areas from Berlin where I don't go usually. This time, my choice is Neukölln. I stop at the S-Bahn station with the same name, and go out direction Karl Marx Street. Close to the entrance, colourful fruits and the cries of vendors announcing significant discounts create a lively ambiance. The area is considered a sample of local 'multi-kulti', with plenty of shops selling local products - spotted a Polish and Indian one only within my first 15 minutes of walk. 
Directions to the main areas of interest appear every 150 meters. From the complex of statues in Karl Marx square, I go to Richardplatz. Most houses around are complexes of houses built after the war, whose sobriety is contradicted by colourful graffiti and messages in various languages.
Neukölln is considered a heaven of foodies and restaurants of all sorts are at every corner of the street. A couple of years ago, I had once an innocent beer at this Villa Rixdorf restaurant. The spirit of the spring conquered not only the nature, but also the hip inhabitants of the area. Two youngsters are talking relaxed on a mattress on the pavement, as it is no tomorrow.
A couple of meters away, there is a small forge workshop, usually open during the cultural events organized on the occasion of the 48 Hours Neukölln: the two days when the center of Berlin moves here, the exhibitions are open till late in the night and unique concerts and happenings bring here thousand of people. But before and after, the poet slams and other attractive events are continuing.
Recently, I discovered the traces of a small Czech colony in Potsdam. Religious refugees from the Bohemian lands, like the Huguenots from France, settled in the German lands bringing their cultures and customs. In Neukölln it used to be a Boehmisches Dorf/Bohemian Village and a small 2-room museum retraces their history through pictures and samples of material culture. 
From 1700 till today, in this corner of Berlin, the Czech minority kept their traditions and organized regularly various street festivals and concerts, while wearing their traditional costumes.
From the museum, I took the advantage of the good weather and went in the Copernicus Garden, where you can enter only by pushing an ingenious systems of buttons opening the door. Except the mud, it was a pleasant walk.
This quarter seems to offer a repertoire of traditional jobs, such as this old distillery that is proudly presenting old and new products in the window. 
The more I walk around, the more I understand why my friends living here are rarely showing up in my part of town. There are not only delicious Turkish delights and cheap shops, but also various cultural opportunities, such as Heimathafen Theatre where usually topics related to multiculturalism and ethnic diversity are approached.
 Nearby, an exhibition about a German locality close to the border to Poland, at Heimish gallery.
I go through the passage of the Neukollner Oper, with a small kino with bar, and arrive at a flea market.
Everyone is busy here to buy cheap and bargain for almost nothing. At the first sight, except the smell, the pieces of furniture don't look too tempting, but if you have time and not too much money, you might find something to start a new life.  
More walking, before having a short look at some big discount shops, the classical Arkaden and other traditional shops. As I always wear (quite) long skirts, the shops here are always having a good selection of good products, but this time I religiously avoid shopping. The big townhall seems to be a place of gathering for youngsters.  
In the lobby, a mosaic map of Neukölln, explaining the evolution of the borough from the Middle Ages till now, in a colourful way. 
I walked for more than 3 hours, discovering every 100 of meters something new. What about some food? As I am on Sonnenallee, there are a lot of choices, many featured in magazines and blogs. This time, I am not pretentious and I am happy to enjoy a 'proletarian' vegetarian meal at Al-Safa made of hummus, grilled cheese, and a very good salad with mint, and cucumber and tomatoes. Plus Lebanese bread. While eating, I have a look at the customers keen to have their own doner, a display of the mini-Neukölln world: from the policeman, to the young creative and the mother with hungry children. 
On the way back, I stop in several small sweet shops, to buy more delicious desserts for home. All were eaten within minutes and I suppose soon will be back in Neukölln for a new culinary and cultural adventure. 

Luxury travel: Hotel de Rome

During Berlinale or the Fashion Week, in summer or winter, Hotel de Rome remains always busy and charming. A couple of weeks ago I paid a visit to this well hidden luxury diamond in the middle of Berlin.
Here is the link to my article, published on my travel blog.
For more pictures, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board.

Freitag, 7. Februar 2014

At the Historical Museum

Winter in the city isn't pleasant, especially when it's too cold. Time to check what are the indoor possibilities and if I'm not in the mood for a movie, a museum is second on the list. And the German Historical Museum is one of those museums that I wasn't too keen to visit. Time for a change. The building is a combination between old style architecture of an old Arsenal building and the modern glass-and-steel touch added in the new wing by I.M.Pei. 
The permanent exhibition is an introduction to the German history in images in artefacts. From the big lobby, where monumental antic statues are neighbouring an equally monumental Lenin. The museum is busy, with groups or individual tourists ready to spend at least 3 hours leaning more about the German history. Most explanations are both in German and English.
The historical excursus is not only presenting facts and chronologies, but is adding a variety of details from the daily life which may give a better picture of both the culture and civilization.  
Through the centuries, it introduces the life style and the cultural habits, presenting the mentalities through the angle of what the French school of history used to call the 'long durée'. But the main focus is constantly maintained: the German lands and later on, Germany. 
Symbols and economical developments, industry and architecture are well polished to enter the big narrative. One of my favourite corners are those dedicated to geographical discoveries, because this is how people are supposed to enlarge their horizons and turn into more tolerant - and human, after all - individuals.
The museum has a large collection of ads and slogans and old advertising, including of political nature. Same of them are presenting the mobilization ads during the First and Second World War. 
The permanent exhibition also features the dark side of the European history: the WWII and the killing of 6 million Jews. This is a section that is presented through facts and photographies, going diplomatically through what you are expected to see, but without a clear outline of the roots of the phenomenon. 
One of the main things I noticed during my history studies was that once in a while, after reading too much historical books, I should take a break. And it is what I was doing, after long hours of being exposed to references, lots of information and details. Life might be much easier without too much past, but it still offers many lessons to be avoided by future generations. 

Donnerstag, 6. Februar 2014

Walking around Köllnischer Park

Almost five years after I moved to Berlin, there are so many places to see. I keep telling this myself while on the way to new destinations. It seems that the list is never ending. As in the last months of 2013 I spent a lot of time in the city, I decided to book more 'inland' trips. One of them was around a historical area: Köllnischer Park, in Mitte. Colln used to be the name of one of the two cities which came together to form Berlin. At the beginning of the city's history, this area used to be outside the city's borders. 
I arrived at the Märkisches Museum U-Bahn station, in Mitte. When the city celebrated 750 years, the then-GDR authorities decorated the station, named for the museum dedicated to Berlin. On a usual weekly day in winter, there were not too many people around, and the Spree area seemed to wait to be brought to life by the spring.
If you want to know how and why I spent around 3 full hours discovering the buildings around the relatively small park, the answer is that there is a high concentration of things to see and learn about. Most buildings around are made of red bricks, the usual choice for official buildings in the 16-18th century. In the former gymnasium around the corner, the founder of the modern geology and a researcher of the polar area, Alfred Wegener, studied.  
The weather was pleasant enough to take a tour of the park. Different types of status and decorations are adorning the area. Many tourists and also locals are coming here for the two bears - real ones - that can be spotted sometimes in their cage in the middle of the park. When I visited, despite several attempts, the bears were out of sight and I left the area with a sigh of regret.
Another architectural landmark of the area is the AOK building. The red bricked sample of Expressionist architecture was erected in 1931-1932 for a German health insurance company, still operating nowadays. During the GDR, it was used as an address of several political associations, but was returned to the company after the end of the separation. It's delicate presence brings a lot of elegance to the park.
Various styles and historical stages and artistic communication languages are meeting in the park. One of the most beautiful is a statue of Hercule fighting the Nemesian lion, very close from the Stadtmodelle, a section of the Berlin townhall in charge with the city development.
More than in many European city, the urban development is an interesting story to follow. The Stadtmodelle exhibition, that can be visited for free, offers diverse 3D representations of the city development, before, during and after the Cold War. It also has a computer database with different projects developed since 1990s. While looking at various corners of the city from different angles, I can't stop thinking how the city would have been without the Wall. Berlin is an interesting and dynamic city, but in terms of beauty and architectural coherence, it is many centuries behind, I dare to say.
I haven't been to the Märkisches Museum because I always assumed that I know a lot about the city. It is never enough, and more lessons are always welcomed. This time, I not only learned about the historical development of the city, but also about its natural beauties and its fauna, whose representatives - such as foxes, boars and wild rabbits - can be often seen not only in the forests around, but also sometimes waiting quietly the green lights. Berlin is the greenest capital city of Europe with the highest concentration of parks and green areas in general.
The permanent exhibitions present a lot of sequences of the daily life in different historical stages, such as one dedicated to fashion and especially hats. I loved especially a collection of old photographs, some of them updated with colours, presenting main events and gatherings in the city at the beginning of the 20th century. A special section is dedicated to the life of Jewish citizens of Berlin, a project of Hans and Louise Richter Foundation. The hall of mechanical musical instruments is a big attraction for the little visitors, as the collection of toys.
After checking once again to see if the bears were out - they weren't - I made another tour of the park. Some coloured pieces of the wall are a reminder of the many faces of the history of this city that despite its ups and downs and some corners of ugliness, still remains my home for now.