Thursday, September 29, 2011

21st Century Landscape Architecture: Park am Gleisdreieck

Neighborhood Playground/Park
Berlin is broke. It has no money. But looking around this city, I find little evidence that “Berlin ist pleite.” There's new public infrastructure everywhere. Across the street from my apartment is a new park and playground, the city is re-building the Berlin Stadtschloss (Berlin City Palace) at a cost of over $800 million, and phase one of the Park Am Gleisdreieck has just opened.

Park Am Gleisdreieck
The Park Am Gleisdreieck is landscape architecture at it best. Following the theme established at High Line Park in New York City, Berlin decided to transform an old rail yard into a modern urban green space. This place was once a toxic blight in the center of Berlin, but now, with a little imagination and a lot of money, it's been transformed into an garden oasis. 

Skateboarding: Gleisdreieck
However, unlike High Line Park, which pays tribute to its transportation history by incorporating rail elements in its design, the Park Am Gleisdreieck has, for the most part, looked away from its past. Instead, the Gleisdreieck park is a public open space with an eye toward the future. The Gleisdreieck park has playgrounds with interactive play structures, habitat preservation areas for native plants, a skateboard park, tennis and basketball courts, bicycle lanes, spacious meadows for informal gatherings, a water play area for children, garden plots to grow flowers and/or vegetables, cafes, and venues for cultural events.

Gleisdreieck: Forest Play Land
The Gleisdreieck park does have a few reminders of its former self: some corroding rails, an old brick warehouse used as a visitor center, and a tower that will become a cafe/restaurant. The park isn't so much a tourist attraction like High Line Park; but instead, it's a place that meets the needs of the local residents.

Gleisdreieck Public Gardens:
Growing Corn
The Park Am Gleisdreieck is near the Yorckstr. S/U-Bahn and is located between the neighborhoods of Schöneberg and Kreuzberg. Construction on phase two of the park has begun and when its completed in 2013, the Park Am Gleisdreick will double in size. In the meantime, I'm going to simply enjoy this peaceful place. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Eel Enter Man's Penis and is Surgically Removed

Eel and Forceps

Yes, it's true. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. According to the story, a Chinese man was bathing with lives eels, hoping that the eels would eat the layers of dead skin, making his skin more youthful-looking. This type of treatment is similar to those pedicure procedures that were all the rage a few years ago, in which fish eat away the dead skin off people's feet.

The Chinese man was bathing (apparently naked) with the eels when he felt a sharp pain. He quickly realized that a 6-inch eel had entered this penis and was wriggling up through his urethra. He tried to pull the eel out but its tiny body was too slippery to hold, and it disappeared up his penis and into his bladder. Luckily, the eel was removed and the man suffered no permanent damage. According to parasitology studies conducted at Kansas State University, there are bacteria, viruses, and even some types of parasitic catfish that have been known to invade the human urethra, often while humans are urinating into a body of water.

So next time you think of urinating into a body of water, think again.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Britzer Garten: Wunderschöne Park und Dahlienfeüer

This weekend the weather in Berlin was perfect: sunny, warm, and clear. I took advantage of the unusually warm weather by cycling to the Britzer Garten. The Britzer Garten is about 9 kilometers (5.5 miles) from my house and makes for a good workout. The Britzer isn't just a garden, but a large park (90 hectares or 222 acres) with a lake, small railway, cafes, restaurants, art works, and animals.

In the spring there's a famous tulip festival, and in the summer and fall, there are rhododendron and dahlia festivals. And throughout the year, there are other activities, including a pumpkin festival, music concerts, horticultural classes, and an Oktoberfest.

After my visit today, I think I've seen just about every kind of dahlia. I was awash in a sea of dahlia's. Personally, I've always had trouble growing dahlias. But after seeing these glorious flowers, I'm determined to give them another chance. Perhaps, the Maine climate will be more agreeable than the climate of California. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

The 9th Annual Going Underground International Subway Film Festival!

Each year Berlin subway commuters are treated to a film festival. From September 22 – October 4, 2011, ultra short films (usually less than 90 seconds in length) are shown on subway car monitors. This year, the films are being viewed in both Berlin and Seoul. Each day a new film is shown and commuters can vote for the film they like the best.

I rarely use the subway these days since I rely on my bicycle to get around. Luckily, I can view the films online and cast my vote. This year I had a lot of favorites, including Egg Rolls (Korea), Lucky (Great Britain), Low Consumption Hero (Iran), Daydreams (Great Britain) and Missing (Germany). There are 26 films in the festival so there is something for everyone.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Gesichter Der Renaissance (Renaissance Faces)

Da Vinci's Lady With An Ermine

At the moment, the hottest ticket in Berlin is for “Gesichter Der Renaissance” (Renaissance Faces), an exhibition now at the Bode Museum. The exhibition traces the evolution of Renaissance portraiture, and includes the works of Italian artists Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Giovanni Bellini, and Pisanello. There are paintings, busts, medals, and drawings depicting the development of portraiture as an independent genre. Although I'm not a fan of Italian Renaissance art, I do appreciate its beauty and technical skill. The exhibition is breaking all attendance records, and tickets are sold out within hours after the ticket office opens each day.

The Bode Museum located on Museum Island
Yesterday, I decided to see what all the excitement was about. After waiting 1.5 hours to purchase my ticket and then another 45 minutes to enter the exhibition, I wasn't disappointed. Often these mega-exhibitions turn out to be all hype and no substance. Moreover, I feared the exhibition would be so crowded that I would be unable to appreciate the individual installations. I needn't have worried. Only 300 people are allowed into the exhibit at one time, and the curators have made sure that there is plenty of room to display each individual work.

Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci
by Botticelli.
Simonetta died at the
age of 23 of tuberculosis,
a year after this was painted
The exhibition also uses the latest technology to enrich the experience. For example, the price of admission includes an audio guide but not just any audio guide. The audio guide is a Smart Phone that provides commentary about individual works and also has video commentary and musical accompaniment. You can see what the inside of a 15th century bust looks like, how works of art are arranged in an exhibition to maximize their appeal, and how imagining helps art historians discover more about an artist and his style of art. There is even a commentary just for children. I also learned how oils replaced egg tempera as the artist's medium of choice.

Portrait of Giovanni di Francesco Tornabuoni
by Ghirlandaio
The exhibition travels to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art later this year (December 19th). However, some of the pieces can only be seen in Berlin since some of the lenders do not want their pieces to make the costly and dangerous transatlantic flight. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Life of Reilly

There's more to a person than meets the eye. A few weeks ago, I was browsing through Netflix and saw the filmed staging of Charles Nelson Reilly's one-man play, The Life of Reilly. I picked the movie not expecting much. This is probably the best one "man show" I have ever seen. It was funny, touching, and at times sad.

I remember Charles Nelson Reilly from his appearances on TV game shows (i.e. Match Game) and the TV sitcom, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I never found him particularly entertaining or interesting. Boy, was I wrong about him. He turns out to have a quirky sense of humor, a compelling persona, and above all, intelligent wit.  This is what entertainment is all about. What a wonderful man he was. I recommend this DVD!

Friday, September 16, 2011

"I'm An Obama"

It reads "I'm an Obama."
I saw this political poster today and it caught my eye. I'm not sure what it's trying to say. It shows a man in black face mimicking President Obama. Is it ironic or just stupid? Nevertheless, it wins the "Most Bizarre" award this election season in Berlin.

The poster comes from "Die Partei." Die Partei is a satirical political party in Germany founded in 2004. Partei is an acronym for Partei für Arbeit, Rechtsstaat, Tierschutz, Elitenförderung und basisdemokratische Initiative (Party for Work, Rule-of Law, Protection of Animals, Advancement of Elites, and Grassroot-Democratic Initiative). At the same time, "Partei" is the German word for party. Usage of the article "die" is also evocative of totalitarian parties.

Die Partei refers to itself as the party for voters disappointed with the other political parties. Its goals include: a reduction in working hours; rebuilding the Berlin Wall; the abolition of public assistance; and, reform of the health insurance system. Die Partei's goals are clearly tongue-in-cheek; however, in recent elections, it garnered close to one percent of the vote. It's not expected to do that well in Berlin.

On a side note, the Pirate Party is getting nine percent of the vote according to a recent poll. If the Pirate Party does that well, it will be the first time it gets representation in government. In Germany, a political party needs 5 percent of the vote for seats in government.

In a newspaper article today, it was noted that the Pirate Party may be a victim of its own success. The party put only 15 candidates on its election list and if it wins 10 percent of the vote, it will get 16 seats. That means one seat will remain unfilled. In past elections, the Pirate Party got around three to four percent. According to the Pirate Party, it never expected its message of a "free and open" Internet to resonate with the voters to this extent. They should have asked me. The Internet has become such a critical part of living that any impediments placed on it will likely result in voter anger. 

Image of the Day

A Woman lies in an installation that is part of the Tomas Saraceno's
Cloud Cities exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin.
Photo Courtesy of the Guardian

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Berlin Elections: Beef Cake to Boring

The Left Party wins the "Beef Cake"
Award for its Poster of Candidate Valgolio
I'm back in Berlin and just in time for the Berlin state elections. The elections will be held this Sunday. Berlin's current mayor, Klaus Wowereit, is likely to be re-elected despite a Berlin unemployment rate twice the German national average, a terrible educational system, an unreliable public transportation system (Berliners should live in the USA if they think their public transit is unreliable), cars being set on fire on city street, rising housing costs, and over 600 Billion Euro of debt.

The Animal Welfare Party wins the
"Pull Your Heart Strings" Award for its
Poster Entitled:  Your Voice for
People and Animals 
What I find interesting is the number of political parties seeking a place in the Berlin House of Deputies. In addition to the established parties: Social Democrats (left of center), Conservatives (right of center), Greens (environmental), Free Democrats (pro business), and the Left (extreme left), there are a number of smaller parties seeking a place in the government, including the Pirate Party (advocates free and unfiltered access to the Internet), the Animal Welfare Party (seeks the elimination of animal experimentation, wants the government to encourage a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle, and advocates for the end of fur production and industrial animal husbandry), and the NDP (often described as the Neo-Nazi Party).

The Big Party wins the "Politically Correct"
 Award for its Poster Entitled: Courage To Diversity
The Pirate Party wins the "Truth in Advertising"
Award for its Poster Entitled:
Trust No Poster-Inform Yourself!
The Social Democrats win the "Most Boring"
Award for its Poster of Mayor Wowereit Entitled:
Whoever Wants Wowereit must vote SPD
I've included some political posters worthy of mention. 

Cat Found Alive After Five Years

What an amazing story. A cat from Colorado was found on the streets of Manhattan (1,800 miles away) after she went missing five years ago. How she got to Manhattan and survived is a mystery. Read the story

Friday, September 9, 2011

Roberta's, a Hip Place for Good Food: Not!

Located in Bushwich, one of Brooklyn's up and coming neighborhoods, Roberta's has a lot of buzz these days. Apparently, it's one of New York's hippest places to dine. My friend Daniel sent me a link to a NY Times article about Roberta's while I was in New York. The Times article described Roberta's as “one of the more extraordinary restaurants in the United States.” It said that “Roberta's pizzas are marvelous things, . . . . They are just good ingredients married well, then cooked in hot, fragrant smoke and quickly served.”

Roberta's sounded like my kind of place. And even though it was a 30 minute commute by subway, I decided to give it a go. For those of you familiar with the San Francisco Bay Area, Bushwich is a lot like a pre-gentrification Emeryville: a gritty industrial area just beginning to attract artists, lofts, and upscale retail.

Luckily, on the weekday afternoon that I visited, I easily got a table with no wait. (I was told by the waitress that on weekends, expect a 2-3 hours wait.) After a cursory glance at the menu, I decided to have one of those “marvelous pizzas” from “one of the more extraordinary restaurants in the United States.” Unfortunately, the pizza was simply mediocre. In fact, it was slightly burnt. It was thin crusted, the way I like, but it was bland and unremarkable. There was certainly nothing special about it. It was a pizza I could get at any pizzeria. The restaurant did have a patio (I guess that makes it extraordinary by New York standards), but the interior was lack luster. In short, Roberta's was just an ordinary restaurant.

Lesson learned: be suspicious of buzz and hype. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Drink Up: Coffee May Be Healthy


Coffee lovers who drank 5 or more cups of caffeinated coffee a day had a 40 percent decreased risk of brain cancer, compared with people who drank the least. A 5-cup-a-day coffee habit reduces risks of oral and throat cancer almost as much. Researchers credit the caffeine: Decaf had no comparable effect. But coffee was a more potent protector against these cancers than tea, which researchers said also offered protection against brain cancer. There also seems to be evidence that coffee can prevent Alzheimer's disease as well. So drink up!

Naked Man Shows Off For TV Audience

There's always somebody trying to ham it up. Last week, during Hurricane Irene, a man decided to drop his shorts in front of the TV camera. What some people will do! Watch the video closely for the guy running behind the reporter.