Mittwoch, 30. April 2014

Foodie Berlin: Eating Indian at Aarna Devi

I love Indian restaurants because of the great variety of vegetarian dishes but also because if the spices are well mixed together the result is hard to compare to any other cuisine. Diversity is the spice of life and with this generous motto in mind I paid a very fast visit to Aarna Devi restaurant, just at the corner on Bayrische strasse 12, in Wilmersdorf. It is situated 10 minutes away from the U-Bahn Konstanzerstrasse or 20 minutes by foot from Oliver Square. 
My visit occurred on a Friday, and besides me, there was only one other table taken. The decorations are rather modest, with a minimal investment in the furniture. A serious inconvenient, especially if you stay near the counter is the smell of the kitchen that you will carry on on your hair and clothes for the rest of the day. And one more complain and I go straight to the topic: the waiting time was too long for apparently such an uneventful day. My order was taken 15 minutes upon arrival and was ready 20 minutes later that unique moment. I can accept the waiting time for the food - I'm not visiting a fast food, I know - but taking the orders can be more faster, I suppose.
The monotony of the Indian music made me less impatient. When I started to taste the food, I felt even better.
My first order was khumi pakora - champignons pané - accompanied by three different sauces and a fresh salad. A very good soft combination.
The next meal: yogi biryani: a combination of Indian rice, peas, curry, cashews, parsley, almonds and small pieces of carrots. Rich taste, pleasant and healthy combination. Once in a while, I am very happy with my choice. A small fresh salad - cabbage and tomatoes - accompanied the mix.
The price was acceptable compared to the usual standards in West Berlin. If in the mood for some Indian food, will probably be tempted to pay another visit - especially after I was told that it is possible to prepare some fish pakora for me, if I really insist - but maybe will have some a thick book to keep me company while waiting. 

Dienstag, 29. April 2014

Uniqlo Berlin, another shopping temptation

Uniqlo opened his shop in Berlin this month, on Tauentzienstrasse, at the end of an intensive months long media campaign. The main advertising campaign was called 'Berliner People' featuring famous Berliners, such as Roland Mary, the owner of the Borchardt Restaurant, DJ Nina Kraviz or actors Daniel Bruehl and Samuel Schneider, among others. Before the inauguration of the big, two-floor shop, the retail company promoted its products in a pop-up store in Mitte since the beginning of the year.
The overall message of the advertising campaign multiplies the philosophy of the company: 'Clothes are made for all'. The first Uniqlo/Fast Retailing shop was opened in Hiroshima, in 1984, by Tadashi Yanai. Since then, it sells affordable products, for all ages and genders. Since then, it opened a couple of shops all over the world, from Shanghai to London and from Paris to Tokyo. 
This diversity of customers corresponded to the profile of the visitors that hurried up to make their purchases or simply window shop. The location is situated in the shopping headquarters of the West Berlin, with many tourists regularly looking for attractive temptations. 
The clothes look funny and easy to adjust various types of customers and their tastes. I especially loved the Tom and Jerry or Peanuts T-shirts. Those looking for a little bit more for their wardrobe, can browse the collections designed by Inès de de La Fressange. The prices are moderate to middle-level: with 10 Euro you can buy a nice T-shirt. 
The location looks good and designed with style, the personnel is solicitous and there are plenty of things to chose from. Here is a short YouTube Video describing the ambiance of the first days after the opening:
It might be the sign of a new shopping culture getting rooted in West Berlin, especially after the opening of Bikini. Many predict that sooner or later, Berlin will become close to New York, many are complaining that it's too much shopping culture around, even though themselves don't shop but only love complaining and praying for the so-called 'old good times' (DDR is dead, by the way). Intelligent people know how to accept the change; intelligent city planners are able to create specific cultural labels.  

Turkish sweet treasures at Confiserie Orientale

One Sunday afternoon, I was in Mitte looking for a place to drink a good coffee while waiting for a delayed appointment and discovered Confiserie orientale. Unfortunately, it was shortly before the closing time and couldn't have my treat. Left the place jealous of the guy who was waiting for his carefully packed boxes of lokoum (Turkish delight) and promised to come back as soon as possible.
Three days after, I'd found an opportunity to return and offered myself, not only a delicious yet very strong cardamom coffee, but also a pear tart with almonds and pistachio on the top - very fruity, with a fine dough that you hardly notice - and a tahini little cookie - that tastes like halva and may go well with a cup of tea. Except the lokoum that is brought directly from Turkey, all the other delicious treats are freshly prepared on the spot. 
Confiserie Orientale, or Cemilzade in Turkish, was opened in Mitte in 2005, as the one and only Europe-wide representative of the century old confiserie from Istanbul, where is currently running. Its creator was the multi-talented Udi Cemil Bey, singer and poet and talented cake lover and maker, which opened its sweet shop first in Cairo, at the end of the 19th century. After his death, the sons moved the business in Istanbul, where is currently run by representatives of the same family. 
The decorations, designed by the Berlin-based Claudia Medrow, are integrating the old history - through old pictures hanging on the walls - into the eclectic pace of the city, especially the dynamic and non-conformist ambiance from Mitte. 
At the counter, a lot of sweet temptations, and while having a look at the fresh cakes, I wonder how many centuries I will need to prepare such perfect pieces of confect. While chatting at the counter, I find out why I enjoyed the tarte and the cookie without feeling overloaded by sugar: all the ingredients are natural. 
The prices are acceptable, and the service is more than friendly.  
Besides the coffee and the equally traditional tea, the customer can also discover the less known Turkish wine, made in Cappadocia, with colourful labels inviting you to jump in the first plane to see the famous balloons. 
The space is relatively small - around 10 places -, with outside places during the summer time, but quiet enough to host a variety of guest: from students on a reading break, to mothers with small children and some curious bloggers. 
As long as I will continue living here, I know that in the center of Berlin, there is always a corner of the European Istanbul that will always call me back.

Donnerstag, 24. April 2014

Made in Berlin: Markos and Esther "You have to work hard to bright, but that makes you stronger''

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a very interesting time talking with Markos and Esther, two creative expats originally from Chile and Spain, sharing their experience and creativity in Berlin. Some mails and questions later, they are my newest heroes of Made in Berlin, a project featuring awesome expat Berliners.

Markos spent his life in the design world and has experience with different work teams, especially in the domain of product and graphic design. Esther has a technical background, but she moved from the engineer to product design world, ending up in the challenging world of graphic design. One of their mottoes is: ''Anybody knows which direction will take the way, but everybody has to be ready to develop and recycle himself, if the situation request it". This goes also in the case of the personal life. Markos came from Chile to Spain looking for new sights and ideas on the old continent. "We meet each other and after a few time we realised that our time there was over. It wasn't difficult to take the decision: let´s try new experiences. The weather, the language, the customs, people personality, all is (still) so new that has all time a sweet and sour taste, but anyway it is delicious to taste it", explains Esther their history and impressions as expats in Berlin.
You can have a look at their website or get in touch with them instantly on Twitter at: @markosesther

Berlin, a place with opportunities

- Why did you decide to relocate to Berlin?
After a depressive and dark time in Spain, we needed some place that gives us opportunities and shows us new perspectives. German culture was not unknown for us and we decided to begin again in Berlin. Our plans weren't to stay here, but we are here more than two years.

Inspiration everywhere

- What opportunities do you think the city has for young designers and architects as you?
Here is possible to learn and to find inspiration only walking around the city. There are a lot of co-working spaces where you can meet and share ideas with different professionals, and there is a high quantity of courses, seminars and events where you can continuously grow. And of course there are also a lot of agencies where you can find work opportunities, learning and acquiring great experiences for your professional career.

- What are, in your opinion, the main challenges for working as a freelancer in Berlin?
The main challenge is the tight competition. It is harder when someone is new in the city, without contacts. Berlin is full of great professionals in this domain and the most used way to work here is through contacts and networks, that bring you from an opportunity to another. You have to work hard to bright, but that makes you stronger.

- I've read on your website about the arithmetic concept. It looks very interesting. How do you apply it as part of the package of services offered to your customers?
This concept is for us a nice mirror of our work philosophy. We use a method, like maths do it. We follow some steps in the same order to find our solution. The only accepted solution for the problem is to have happy clients. During the design process we also involve the client who is permanently a part of the project´s evolution.

- What are the projects you are most proud of?
We love Sorbisch/Serbsky Modern Branding, a project for social development, where we used a traditional symbol in a new interpretation. The design of our own Brand is for us really important, we love it. And also the last project, a Logo for a Russian-Chilean composer and the graphic communication of his last work, where we mix musical waves with South-American native symbols.

- What are your plans for the next months?
Our plans for every month are to find new and interesting projects, to improve our German and something new, to open a new market in Chile.

'Keep calm and learn German'
- What are your recommendations to an architect moving to Berlin for the first time?
Keep calm and work hard, like in every new beginning. Especially here in Germany, learn German, because it makes things easier.

Sonntag, 20. April 2014

Will Bikini Berlin revolutionize shopping?

One year ago, I was having a coffee at one of the posh hotels around Ku'damm and noticed the bad looking ambiance of a workshop, with the dust and garbage associated. Not exactly the kind of view you love to enjoy for your breakfast at a very expensive hotel. As I asked what is going on, I was told that a shopping area will be built soon, without too many information about what kind of shops and the audience expected.
But now, the construction is finally ready and in one of the first days after the opening, I joined the big masses of curious tourists and retired persons, but also some local youngsters. exploring the new life within the concrete walls of Bikini.  
The complex is situated in a very tourist area, in the immediate neighbourhood of the Zoo - whose jumping monkey can be admired from various vantage points inside the shop or from the garden terrace - and of the holy monster of shopping in West Berlin - KaDeWe. With many of the shops still closed at the time, the visitors preferred to simply take a seat near the window and watch the animals when they were not wandering around curious to see what is going on.
Berliners and Germans in general it seems, are very much not sympathetic to the idea of shopping malls. Bikini is different: it is a concept mall, which reunites various boutiques - hosted in simple concrete ugly boxes - offering limited editions of clothes or shoes or design furniture. 
Besides the shopping as such, that covers various styles - my biggest happy news is that I can find Nara Camicie from where I haven't shop for years - there are also ice parlours, hair stylists, a Kusmir Tea, a Cyber Port shop and an Audi showroom. And there is a Kaiser supermarket too.
As for the style and design, I haven't been impressed at all by this proletarian looking version of the KaDeWe. Sorry for thinking over and over again about this shop, but for me, this is as much the standard of high-class shopping in Berlin as it is Harrods for the Brits. Regardless how poor or sophisticated you would like to be, the standard will always remind how far - or close - you are from the perfect shopping success.  
Besides the little Army container-like boxes, Bikini also has big spaces used as exhibition spaces. One of them will display till June a photography exhibition Artists for Revival. Among the exhibitors are Marc Brandenburg and Sarah Morris, the idea being to outline hidden realities of the overall normal life snapshots. Another space, not yet assigned a clear destination, was used to display short movies about the building process of the shopping mall and the history of the area where it is situated.
I went to the next floor having a perspective look over the space. It seems that I am in a kind of factory of modern times. 
One of the ideas that I love the most was the pop-up stores, where various designers are presenting their limited editions. This concept makes a difference with the usual big malls, where you will always find what is supposed to find: regular collections and common products, sometimes at high prices, all of them unique creations. As there are many Berliners with enough money and sophisticated enough to prefer being dressed in their personal style, I bet there will be enough customers for such collections. 
Among many design and small bookstores, I found a little corner with travel books and the latest editions of my favourite ever publication: Monocle. Most probably I will come back soon to explore more books and for travel inspiration.
When you have enough of indoors, the roof terrace is the solution to take some fresh air. Unless it rains, as it happened when I went there. For the sunnier days, there are colourful tables and chairs and another view of the monkeys from the Zoo. One of the things that I always dislike about many usual malls I visited in Europe and in the Middle East was the idea practised by many teenagers and 20s of spending full days around hanging and networking or even dating. Bikini has a slight potential to go in the same direction one day, but the difference will be that it can bring together people sharing the same fantastic and outstanding ideas. 
After all, everything it's a matter of perspective.

Donnerstag, 17. April 2014

Exhibition of French-German designers at Kunstforum der Berliner Volksbank

I rarely can say that I am getting bored in Berlin, not only because I have a variety of interests, but also because there is always a lot to discover. The local creativity in promoting ideas seems to be never ending and if you are curious enough, it is not too difficult to find something to see at least once the day.
Two weeks ago, on a Friday rainy day, my shelter against the weather was the Kunstforum der Berliner Volksbank, were I had the occasion to admire in the past interesting exhibitions, such the one featuring the history and culture of South Sudan. This time, the space was ready for the vernisage of a joint exhibition featuring French and German designers. The historical French-German friendship got a new colourful twist and was lucky to have a look.
It is hard to measure the degree of creativity on both parts of the border. Maybe the French ingenuity is translated in a completely new environment by the use of unique materials by the Germans.
Take, for instance, this jacket made of transport tickets used in Berlin.
Or this extravagant feather lamp, that with a lot of imagination one can fit for an apartment set to host parties all round the day.
The exhibition covers every area of design, from fashion to furniture, jewels and electronics, cars and sculptures. 
I especially appreciated the great lines of the furniture, combining both creativity and practicality, with a drop of craziness from time to time.
In most cases, the furniture objects can be easily fit to various interiors, and many of them are very beautiful, as for instance this table inspired by both Bauhaus and Art nouveau.
The fashion part is mostly accessible, even though this white dress by Pierre Letz probably requires a specific wedding setting. 
The jewellery items are hanged on modest cardboards, and such a choice can outline the shine and sophisticated lines of the products. Like in the case of the colourful jewels by Hyoun Jung Sung representing Germany. 
The space is big enough to include a lot of furniture, almost all of them tempting enough to inspire a dramatic redesign of the house. This desk, for instance, may look out of time, but it's provided with special facilities from computers.
And this red hat, that can remind of the old stories with the girl and the wolf, is adapted to the technicalities of iPods. 
Even though it was the first day of the exhibition, there were plenty of people wandering around, and it is very much to see. Situated close to the Zoo and 5 minutes close to the KaDeWe, the Kunstforum der Berliner Volksbank is a great choice to discover something new about design. The entry is free. The exhibition is open till 27 April. 

Mittwoch, 9. April 2014

Discovering the borough of Wedding

After five glorious years in Berlin, and a very intensive daily travel schedule, I wonder sometimes how I still have not seen all of the city. But probably, this is why I am still around, curious enough to go out of the warm comfort of my home on a rainy day for a discovery trip of the borough of Mitte. I arrived there on a Wednesday morning, when shops and small fast foods/imbiss where freshly opened, observing how the small streets were getting back to a very busy city life within minutes. 
Situated between Tiergarten and Mitte, it has a mixed architecture with traditional red bricks buildings erected at the end of the 19th century and bold atypical constructions from the beginning of the 21st century. Many of them are listed as part of the UNESCO historical heritage.
Berlin has a special art to turn ugliness into creative spaces. Uferhalle is one of the most active cultural centers of the city, mostly focused on modern dance and choreography, but also hosting from time to time various exhibitions, as well as dance and meditation classes. At the first sight, it doesn't look as a very tempting place to enter unless you want to apply for a robot job in one of those factories presented in the movie Modern Times. Appearances are misleading...
On the streets, my camera is hungry for more photos of buildings. It seems that each of it has its own history and well hidden secrets.
Many of my historical questions are answered while visiting the local bourough museum, hosted in a former high school building. Besides an exhibition dedicated to the Jews deported to Minsk (Belarus), I visited a permanent exhibition dedicated to the daily life in the borough. Home interiors of workers and their family are reconstructed in the smallest details, opening the doors to the secret life behind the old buildings just spotted on the street. 
During the Cold War, in this area was opened one of the first secret tunnels used by the East Germans to escape the 'communist paradise' to the West, many using the complicated network of bunkers already in place during WWII.
After the unification, the borough went through different administrative reorganisation being nowadays together with Kreuzberg, one of the most diverse ethnic areas in the city of Berlin, but much more affordable in terms of renting and daily shopping basket. 
As I arrived without a clear plan, I follow the arrows direction Humboldhain bunkers, keeping my camera ready for new surprising pieces of architecture.
Soon, I arrive in a park, with muddy alleys after the fresh spring rains. Expect some dogs with their quiet owners and I guy running in a hurry from the top of the hill, was no one around. I walk slowly yet carefully trying to check if I am save enough to go further. 
The bunker area is a sample of ugly architecture embellished by colourful graffiti from a corner to another. The mixture of dirt, quietness and ugliness is too much for the day, so I rather prefer to make a quick tour of the place.
 On one side, a highlight of a slice of Berlin, a mixture of new, old, ugliness and secret beauty.
On the other side, the unexpected beautiful Rose Gardens, closed at the time, looking as a labyrinth of well controlled creativity and, again, secret beauty. This is Berlin, and my trip to Wedding offered me another sample of local life and history.