Thursday, 27 August 2015

At the Registration Office for Refugees on Turm Strasse

Today, I went to the 'Flüchtlingserstaufnahmestelle' (Registration Office for Refugees) on Turm Strasse. Located in the multicultural heart of Moabit in a former factory, consisting of several buildings surrounded by a sort-of park, this is one of several such registration offices, scattered all across Berlin. What I found there, were masses of people, most of them from Syria (as far as I could tell), sitting on the ground, looking worn out, exhausted, and just simply desolate. Desperation was written all over their faces. I was especially astonished by the huge number of children, who, perhaps unsurprisingly, didn't look quite as desperate and sad as their parents did, for given that they were somewhere between 3 and 7 years old, they most probably haven't quite grasped yet what's going on. Or, maybe, they were so taken by Lucas (my dog), that they forgot about the fix they're in. Unfortunately, Lucas being one of those dogs who's scared by children (especially in great numbers), he started to get nervous, unable to cope with all the fuss made over him. 

A female volunteer, in full burqa, came over and suggested (in accent-free German, I might add), that I carry Lucas and get him out. Apparently, this wasn't the first such incidence, according to her. Moreover, the grounds were full of volunteers from all walks of life - carrying makeshift name tags - assisting the refugees, some of them translating, others helping them with the registration or getting their medical. Several tents were scattered across the huge factory plot, some for giving out food, others for medical care. There also was a mobile x-ray truck as well as a string of portable loos. I tried to get in touch with some of the refugees, spoke to them, but sadly, none of the ones I spoke to had any English, nor French, let alone German. The answer I usually got was, '... from Syria ... only Arabic ...', which sadly, I myself don't speak. As a result, making contact - which was the primary reason why I went - was limited. Still, it was an interesting, a moving, experience. 

Initially, I'd been hoping to get involved through a Volunteer Agency, but all four agencies I contacted turned me down, saying that "they're inundated with requests for volunteering", something which I instantly believe,for even in those 45 minutes or so I was there, there was a constant trickle of people walking in, carrying boxes and bags to donate food, clothes, and other things. The idea was to take some pictures and post them here, but once I was there, I quickly dropped the idea for it struck me as indecent and, quite frankly, rude and invasive. So the only picture I dared taking is the one here, and as you can imagine, this can only give you an approximate idea of the whole situation:

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The Anarchic, Radical Chic of Mitte

An extended stroll through Berlin's Mitte district is most rewarding. Nowhere in the city - with the possible exception of Kreuzberg - are the changes Berlin has undergone more striking and more in your face. Mitte went from a derelict neighborhood to the epicenter of all things hip. And yet, remnants of the old Mitte, as anarchic and radical as it once was right after the Wende are still very much in evidence. What's more, these remnants have merged with the new Mitte, coexisting next to swanky shops and ritzy hotels and apartments buildings. 

And it is precisely this edgy, exciting blend that make Mitte so fascinating ...

... may it last just a little longer ...

A shop on Novalisstrasse 

A newly completed building that is part of the Forum Museum Island, architect: David Chipperfield

One of the last remaining clubs in Mitte, Schokoladen

Courtyard of a building on Torstrasse 

Confiserie Orientale on Linienstrasse 

The former Hollmannsche Wilhelminen Amalien Stiftung, now converted into luxury apartments 

Entrance to one of the last non-renovated buildings on Auguststrasse 

Hamlet on the streets, a theatre performance on Museum Island 

A fire escape on a building on Max Beer Strasse 

Cafe Altes Europa on Grosse Hamburger Strasse 

The wonderful Vietnamese hideaway, Chen Che, on Rosenthaler Strasse 

... on Steinstrasse ... 

... on Almstadtstrasse ... 

... a bridge near Alexanderplatz 

... on Mulackstrasse ... 

The infamous Sodom&Gomorrha on Torstrasse 

The trendy Kaffee Burger, which calls itself a Tanzwirtschaft 

The Happy Shop on Torstrasse 

Dog memorial and emergency water bowls on Rosa Luxemburg Strasse 

The newly completed Simon Palais, part of the Forum Museum Island project, architect: David Chipperfield 

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Reichstag Lightshow

For the third year now, starting in June and ending on October 3 (German National  Holiday), the German Government has been showing a documentary movie & light show on the steps between the Reichstag and the Paul Löbe Building. 

The show, which is projected onto the facade of the Marie-Elisabeth Lüders Building on the other side of the river, begins at sunset and lasts around 30 minutes. There's a second show at around 11pm. Told in a nutshell, it's a sort of image film about Germany's history with a focus on the Reichstag and on German democracy and how it evolved. 

I saw the show when it first started in 2013. Last night, I just happened to walk past as I was walking Lucas and was so taken by the atmosphere, the many people from all over the world gathering on the Reichstag steps - picnicking, enjoying a few beers or sharing a bottle of wine - that I watched it a second time round, drinking in the vibe and spirit on a sultry summer evening:

Thursday, 6 August 2015

The Thai Meadow

The so-called Thai Meadow (Thai Wiese in German) is the nickname for a curious event that started some 20 years ago at Prussia Park in Berlin's Wilmersdorf neighborhood: Berlin's Thai Community gathering and socializing while selling their homemade food on the side. Starting out as a purely social affair with no more than 20 people, with Berlin's Thai Community continuously growing, today Thai Meadow attracts hundreds, if not thousands, of people - Asian and non-Asian locals as well as some clued-up tourists - particularly on weekends. On a hot summer Sunday, the whole meadow is dipped in a sea of colors, covered as it is by parasols under which the Thai ladies seek shelter from the boiling heat. 

Local authorities turn a blind eye to the goings-on, something that cannot be said of some of the many Thai restaurants across Berlin who - fearing competition for their own businesses - were hoping for the local Council to clamp down on it. Luckily, so far it's business as usual at Thai Meadow, and anyone who's into Thai food is highly recommended to give it a try: It's an experience not to be missed! Needless to say, the food alone is worth the schlep to Wilmersdorf, but watching these women preparing and cooking it, is a whole different kettle of fish - literally! You can see how food for these ladies is so much more than mere nourishment -  it's a way of life! Cooking, it seems, is deeply ingrained in them, as they turn a day under their parasol into an event, simply by peeling, slicing, chopping and mashing their ingredients, which are freshly bought (as I witnessed myself) at one of the many Asian supermarkets. 

However, with all that delicious food to taste plus the whole ceremony around it, it's easy to spend a whole afternoon at Thai Meadow, especially as there is also a tea-room close-byone of Berlin's last that's still in operation, and so time spent at Thai Meadow is stimulation not just for your taste buds, but there's lots of eye candy as well!

... as always, please click on any image for the gallery to open: 

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Körner Park

Yet another one of Berlin's best kept secrets ... I'm almost ashamed to admit it - but it's taken me 4 years to find out about this beautiful little gem - Körner Park - which I immediately dubbed The Sans Souci of Neukölln

No one can deny that Neukölln has a lot going for it, and it is without a doubt one of Berlin's most interesting neighborhoods. Very popular with tourists, hipsters, and immigrants alike, Neukölln is associated with many things - vegan grocers, Halal butchers, Arab barber shops, Turkish cafes, street markets, and so on - but one thing Neukölln is definitely not associated with is a landscaped, baroque style, park, as parks like that are few and far between in Berlin, anyway

And yet, that's exactly what Körner Park is: a beautiful little gem of a park with well maintained green lawns to stretch out on, fountains aplenty, and a lovely little cafe that offers a most delicious Sicilian Orange-Chocolate Cake, which alone would be reason enough to rush back there, even if it weren't for the wholly unexpected beauty of the park itself:

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Rüdesheim Square

Undoubtedly one of Berlin's most beautiful, if not most romantic, squares, Rüdesheim Square is located in the staunchly bourgeois neighborhood of Wilmersdorf. But even a neighborhood like that does have its highlights, and next to Preussenpark - or as it's come to be dubbed: Thai-Park - and Paris Street, Rüdesheim Square is one of them!

And just so you know: it didn't exactly take the New York Times for me to realize what a gem this square is. Still, I must admit that I was as surprised as I was thrilled to read one of their articles recently, where they named Rüdesheimer Strasse (the street that leads up to the square of the same name) one of Europe's most beautiful.

No, as someone who lives relatively close by, I've long appreciated the wonders of this Berlin hideaway, perhaps because of its distinct Parisian feel ...

please click on each image to enlarge: 

Rüdesheim Squre is named after the City of Rüdesheim, located in Germany's south, on the river  Rhine. References to Rüdesheim's age old wine growing tradition are evident in the Bacchanalian detail on the entrance door belonging to an apartment building located near Rüdesheim Square. 

Rüdesheim Square and its surrounds are known for their grand period buildings, many of which feature stunningly beautiful details:

The centre piece of Rüdesheim Square is the actual square with its landscaped garden and its impressive fountain at its top end:

This former phone booth on Rüdesheim Square has been converted into a book exchange, named Villa Libris, where anyone can borrow - as well as lend - books for free (and, of course, without the  additional hassle of having to become a member or anything): 

One of the best things about Rüdesheim Square is its variety of shops, bars, restaurants, organic food stores, and cafes ... there's everything from hearty German (Landauer) to haute cuisine French (Pastis). But there's also an organic bakery (Bio Backhaus), a  vinotheque (Hertz), and even a pet bakery (Königsplätzchen), offering only vegan (!) cookies for dogs, all organic, of course :

Rüdesheim Square can best be reached by underground. It is located along Line 3 - Berlin's metro line with the most beautiful stations -  and even has its own stop: