What a Load of Kropkakka

April 5, 2011 § 2 Comments

Be it a dumpling, dampfnudel, or der knödel, a carbo-bomb always sounds good to my ears. In preparation for our Bavarian Easter Adventure (sure to include my favorite elements: velvet costumes, live animals, large pretzels, pomp and circumstance), Alexander cooked up traditional bread knödel for the international crowd at his kitchen table (one Dutch, one Japanese, one Swiss, one Japanese-Swiss-German, and me). Floating in a creamy mushroom bath, it was a dish that united nations.


If You Love Paris in the Springtime …

March 30, 2011 § 1 Comment

Okay. So maybe my neighborhood doesn’t have the traditional charm of a Parisian arrondisment. But, there are a lot of surprises on the grimy streets, beyond the graffitied walls. You just have to poke around a little.

Does this place scream spring or what? It’s a very sweet Austrian cafe that serves Czech pastries, of course.

The bar has been raised. As the temperature goes up, the thought of leaving gets exponentially more difficult.




His and Her Beers

March 30, 2011 § 4 Comments


Banana Bunker

March 28, 2011 § 2 Comments

Even in this progressive, bohemian city, reminders of war are everywhere. Awkwardly shaped parks reveal watch towers from the Wall era. An ornate cathedral discloses gaping holes in its nave — now a courtyard garden. Indestructible air raid shelters, showing distress from bullets and bombs, gets adapted into theater space.

The extent of the damage (physically, psychologically) is impossible to grasp. But the resolve is pretty remarkable.

In 2003, a monolithic Nazi bunker in Mitte (used as a Red Army prison, Cuban fruit storage unit – nicknamed Banana Bunker – then ’90s underground fetish club) caught the eye of a prominent art collector named Christian Boros before catching the wrecking ball.

A team of architects and curators spent years carving up the four-story building (the walls are 10 feet thick in some places!), to create an interior with the right light and flow for displaying a wild collection of contemporary art.

Artists were invited to the bunker to install their work as they saw fit. In some cases, they changed their works to comply to the space; in others, construction was done to accommodate the art. Some of it is quite heady. Some of it just makes you feel very good (or very bad, depending on the artist). The overall effect is pretty mesmerizing. You have to book weeks (or months!) in advance for a special guided tour of the Boros Collection, but it’s well worth the wait.

I wasn’t allowed to take photos. But I found a few images on the Internet:

A stunning (and very soothing) glass orb by Olafur Eliasson.

Santiago Sierra‘s uncompromising sculpture.

Anselm Reyle‘s stripe painting and reclaimed kitsch.

And Then We Drank the Sculpture

March 28, 2011 § 1 Comment

We topped off a very artsy Saturday with the Kunst Werk opening party. Inside the main gallery we found Cyprien Gaillard’s enormous beer pyramid entitled The Recovery of Discovery. People were climbing all over it, hanging out, drinking beers they broke free from the cases. We found a spot on the sculpture and kicked back.  At the time, it didn’t occur to us that the artist was exploring the “absurd aspects of dystopic architectures and their remaining ruins,” but it did feel like a good party trick. This quick video gives you an idea.

Tadshikische Teestube

March 26, 2011 § 3 Comments

I’ve been using the same Berlin map for the past four years. It’s a great map (I would be lost without it. Ba-dum-dum!). And even though it’s crumpled and marked-up, I like it as a kind of visual diary of all the routes I’ve taken.

The Tajikistan Tea Room’s initials have been on that map for years. But I never got around to checking out the place until today.

The first super awesome thing about it is the location: It’s hidden away from the bland tourist promenade Unter den Linden, on the second floor of the spacious Palais am Festungsgraben, an 18th century palace residence — and, later — the Soviet House of Culture.

The second awesome thing: Back in the ’70s, the whole tearoom was on display at a Leipzig trade fair, and was presented to the GDR as a host gift (at the time Tajikistan was part of the USSR).

We walked up the stairs, past a ballroom or two, and came upon a little South East Asian jewel box. Thick Persian carpets line the floors, and folks lounge on ikat divans next to low tables (there’s a no shoe policy).

We got there just after 6 p.m. and stayed until nearly 10. It was so chill. The waiter kept bringing us shots of vodka (a vestige of Russian patronage), which we drank in between bites of mushroom blinis, Russian pierogis, biscuits, ice cream, and tea.

Next time, I’m going to order the Russian tea ceremony, which has a silver samovar plus a slew of accompaniments — like rum raisins, marmalade, crystallized orange (I hear the vodka cuts the sweetness).

The tea house is at Am Festungsgraben 1, in the building adjacent to the Gorki theater. Go up the stairs, past the ballrooms. You’ll know you’re there when you see a pile of shoes in the hall.

King of the Hill

March 23, 2011 § 3 Comments

A French photographer visiting from Milan asked me to join him on an early morning adventure to the Grunewald forest on Berlin’s western edge. He had heard about an abandoned “listening station” erected by the U.S. National Security Agency (for eavesdropping on the commies), and wanted to snap some pictures of the strange compound.

What makes Teufelsberg extra intriguing is that it resides on top of an 80 meter hill of debris from post-war Berlin. Grass, trees, and running paths now cover the rubble of some 400,000 buildings, including a still-standing Nazi military-technical college (so sturdy it was easier to bury than blow up).

The station and the hill were abandoned after the wall fell. In the ’90s, kids would break into the towers to party and vandalize. These days, the walls of the ten-story tower are gone. The elevator’s gone, too. The grounds are blocked off. But with help of wire cutters, we were able to “find” an opening in the chain link fence. So up we went.

Onto the grounds. (Note abandoned hobo camp.)

Into the tower.

Under the canvas.

On top of the roof.