Saturday, June 29, 2013

In Search of the Perfect Croissant in Berlin

Vollkornbäckerei Hartwich
Last weekend while in France, I was able to indulged my appetite for croissants, but here in Berlin, trying to find a good croissant is difficult, if not impossible. So today, I tried my luck on the Internet. I typed, "Best Croissants in Berlin," and discovered, to my surprise, that number 2 on Yelp's best croissants list was Vollkornbäckerei Hartwich, just around the corner from where I live. 

Café Des Négociants

Clemont L'Herault
I had high expectations. The reviews seemed promising, the photos enticing, and the price reasonable. Unfortunately, Vollkornbäckerei Hartwich was a big disappointment. A good croissant should be light, almost feather-like. The crust should have a pale golden color that is crisp and flaky; and, above all, the ideal croissant should have a buttery and slightly sweet taste. The croissants at VH were dark brown, heavy, and bland! It just proves that if you want a good croissant, you need to go to France. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Bert and Ernie Come Out: You Go Boys!

Moment of Joy

Despite the controversy surrounding next week's New Yorker cover, I love it! Inappropriate? Promoting a gay agenda? Trivializing an important moment in civil rights history? Nope. It's just a sweet symbol for gay marriage and love.

Discrimination still exists and most states still forbid same-sex marriage, but the train has left the station and there's no going back. Homophobia is losing steam, and this week's Supreme Court decisions mark a giant step toward equality for all Americans.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

How many Museum are there in Berlin? Wie viele Museen gibt es in Berlin?

Zerstörte Vielfalt Exhibition
It's often said that you could visit a museum in Berlin every day of the year and not see them all. That's a bit of an exaggeration. In truth, Berlin has 175 museums, including the famous Alte Nationalgalerie, the Pergamon, and the Gemäldegalerie. It also has a number of unusual ones, such as the Schwules Museum (Gay Museum), the Deutsches Currywurst Museum (dedicated to Berlin's famous snack), and the Sugar Museum.

However, one of my favorite museum's is, in fact, not a museum at all. It's Berlin's Open-Air Exhibitions, which are temporary installations displayed throughout the city. This year, the Open-Air Exhibition is Zerstörte Vielfalt (Diversity Destroyed). Located at 11 historic sites throughout the city, Zerstörte Vielfalt tells the story of the many Berliners that were persecuted, deported, or murdered under the Nazis. Zerstörte Vielfalt looks at Berlin's lost artistic and scientific community of the 1930s. It's moving, informative, and worth seeing. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Millau Viaduct: The World's Tallest Bridge!

The Millau Viaduct
Last week, Berlin experienced a heat wave. (This week, it's cold and rainy.) On Thursday, the day after President Obama's visit to Berlin, the city had a high of 36°C (97°F). Luckily, I had booked a mini vacation to the south of France and was able to escape the blistering heat. The trip was wonderful: good food, excellent wine, friendly people, and joie de vivre. (I had a croissant and coffee every morning. I was in heaven!)

The Millau Bridge as
compared to the Eiffel Tower

One site that I visited was the Millau Viaduct near the charming city of Millau. The Millau Viaduct is the world's tallest bridge (270 meters or 890 ft), and it's absolutely amazing. The two visitor centers detail the engineering feats that went into its construction, which took just 4 years to build. The surrounding countryside and the city of Millau reminded me of Switzerland. All that was missing were the snow covered alps.  

On the negative side, my plane ride was less than ideal. Air France has succumbed to the nickle and dime approach to revenue generation. My ticket (not cheap) did not permit a checked bag and my total carry-on items were subject to a 20 kilo weight limit, which Air France strictly adhered to. I was stopped two times on my way to the boarding gate to have my bag and small satchel carefully weighed (11 kilos). 
Millau on a quiet Sunday afternoon

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Berlin Streetscape Summer 2013

There's always something to see on the streets of Berlin. 

This temporary art installation just appeared overnight. It's located near the Schlesisches Tor U-Bahn station
in Kreuzberg. 
A bronze face located near the Foreign Ministry
in Mitte
Beautifying a parkway on
Libauerstr. in Friedrichshain
Located on Karl-Marx Alle and
surrounded by Stalinist style apartments
this kiosk is in the shape of a baby bottle.
It states, "Finally Grown Up"
On the corner of Warschauerstr.
and Friedrichsstr. this street light
is the victim of too many posters

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How To Insult a German

Want to insult a German? Tell him he's "typically German." In truth, Germans don't seem to like themselves or their country. For example, Germans shy away from displaying their national flag. In the USA, Canada, and Britain, the flag is displayed everywhere. In fact, it's almost unpatriotic for an American elected official to be seen in public without a flag lapel. Remember when President Obama was criticized for failing to wear the obligatory flag lapel during his first run for the White House.  

But in Germany? You'll find the flag on only a few government buildings. But elsewhere? Forget it. Nearly seventy years after the end of World War II, German patriotism isn't evident. German patriotism gave rise to two World Wars and the Holocaust. Ask a German whether he loves his country and you'll generally get a "no" or an awkward silence. Even the newly erected German monuments are really anti-monuments like the Memorial to the Murdered Sinti and Roma (Gypsies). Germans are still troubled by their past and avoid anything resembling patriotism or nationalism. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Berlin's "Communist" Cemetery at Friedrichsfelde Friedhof

The Memorial to the Socialists (1951), Friedrichsfelde Friedhof.
The Central Obelisk states,"The Dead Remind Us." It is surrounded by 10 graves commemorating East Germany's foremost socialist leaders,
including Wilhelm Pieck and Walter Ulbricht.
On Monday, Germany marks the 60th anniversary of the June 17, 1953 uprising in East Germany when thousands of people took the streets against the Communist government demanding transparency, free elections, and reunification. The uprising was quickly quashed leaving scores of people dead and injured. The uprising would mark the first time an eastern block country would unsuccessfully try to wrestle control from the Soviet Union. Hungary would do so in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Poland in 1980. Not until 1989 would East Germany realize freedom. 

The Memorial states,
"What has passed will not return again,
but it left brilliant lights." 
On the eve of this important anniversary, I paid a visit to the Friedrichsfelde Central Cemetery (Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde), also known as the Memorial to the Socialists. Tucked away in the borough of Lichtenberg, not far from where I live, the Friedrichsfelde cemetery is a lovely and almost deserted place. Away from the sights and sounds of the big city, it's just you, the trees, and the lush foliage.

Unlike the Dorotheenstadt Friedhof, where many of East Germany's artistic and cultural elite are buried, Friedrichsfelde was reserved for East German leaders and activists. For example, this is the final resting place for Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg (co-founders of the German Communist Party), Walter Ulbricht (East Germany's ruthless leader), Käthe Kollwitz (pacifist and artist), and Klaus Fuchs (physicist and atomic spy). 
A No Nonsense Socialist Headstone

This quiet and bucolic space is the perfect escape from the summer heat, and a good place to learn a little history. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Cafe Colectivo: A Spanish Gem in the Heart of Friedrichshain

Cafe Colectivo is an absolute gem. Located just off Boxhanger Platz in the heart of Friedrichshain, Cafe Colectivo is like going to someone's house for coffee. Its cozy atmosphere and soothing music is a pleasant escape from all the high energy of Friedrichshain.

Cafe Colectivo has top notch coffee, desserts, and wonderful Spanish dishes (on Sundays they have Paella). There's free Wi-Fi, interesting art work, outdoor seating, and plenty of reading material. I live just a few blocks away, and unlike many of the tourist filled cafes and restaurants in the neighborhood, you will find real locals at Cafe Colectivo. It's one of my favorite places to read and enjoy the company of fellow Berliners. 

Bicycle in Berlin for Free

One of the best ways to see Berlin is by bicycle. Berlin's flat terrain and vast network of dedicated bicycle lanes makes it easy to go anywhere in the city and its environs. There are literally hundreds of bike rental shops, which usually charge around €10 per day for a standard bicycle. However, if price is an issue, you can also rent a bike for free.

BikeSurfBerlin lets users rent one of its bicycles for up to 7 days absolutely FREE! Just reserve a bike on BikeSurfBerlin's website and hit the road. Now, you can see this fabulous city on wheels and get some exercise at the same time.   

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Far-Fetched Murder Could Be Fiction, But It Isn't

Ms. Wells-Burr with Rafal Nowak,
found guilty of murder
Here's a fascinating story from today's Guardian. It could be from an Agatha Christie novel, but it isn't. It involves murder, conspiracy, jealousy, love triangles, life insurance, and of course, money.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Watching a Movie and Need to Pee? A Solution is Here!

Ever need to pee while watching a movie? Your dilemma is solved. The app tells you the best times to run and pee during your favorite movie without missing anything important. It's regularly updated with the latest movie releases, and its built-in timer can be programmed to discreetly vibrate as an additional reminder. Welcome to the 21st century. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

100 Beste Plakate aus Deutschland, Österreich, und der Schweiz 2013

Cafe und Bar Fuchsbau
(The Fox Building Cafe and Bar)
Sebastian Dittman
Der Pirat und der Apotheker
(The Pirate and the Pharmacist)
Henning Wagner
Now through June 23, 2013, the 100 Best Posters (100 Beste Plakate) of 2013 from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are on view at the Kulturforum in Berlin. Admission is free. Here are a few noteworthy examples:

My favorite poster was an advertisement for Fuchsbau, a cafe and bar in Kreuzberg. The poster's childlike portrayal of various animals enjoying a night on the town conveys merriment and fun. It appeals to our sentimental notions of childhood. 

I also enjoyed Henning Wagner's poster for the German translation of Robert Louis Stevenson's, Der Pirat und der Apotheker (literally "the Pirate and the Pharmacist"). Its comic book style and lively color palette caught my eye even though I am unfamiliar with this particular Stevenson's work. 

 Voll Banane (Full Banana)
Amnesty International, Berlin
Fons Hickmann, Raul Kokott, und Björn Wolk
Amnesty International's Voll Banane is simple, yet straightforward in its message of protecting human rights. Finally, from the University of Art at Zürich comes a clever and whimsical series of posters advertising films about crime.   

Verbrechen Lohnt Sich: Der Kimininal Film
(Crime Worth It: the Criminal Film)
Züricher Hochschule der Künst/
Museum für Gestallung Zürick

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Best Falafel and Schawarma in Friedrichshain Berlin

You could easily miss Oase, a small nondescript restaurant located on Warschauerstraße in the heart of Friedrichshain. On the outside, it doesn't look like much, but don't judge a book by its cover.

Oase in the Heart of Friedrichshain
On the inside, you'll find some of the best falafel and schawarma in town. A falafel is an Arab dish usually served in a pita, which acts as pocket. Falafel is a deep fried patty made from ground chickpeas, fava beans or both. It's topped with vegetables, hot sauce, and tahini. On the other hand, a schawarma is a wrap filled with chicken or lamb, and served with tabbouleh, fattoush, tomato, and cucumber. Toppings include tahini, hummus, pickled turnips and amba.

Oase gets a well-deserved five star rating. The prices are reasonable, and the staff is friendly. On the negative side, there's limited seating, and there's usually a long line of people waiting to be served.  

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Park am Gleisdreieck is Finally Complete

Overhead Subway Gives Riders
a Glimpse of the Park

One of my favorite parks in Berlin is now complete. The west end section of the Park am Gleisdreieck officially opened to an enthusiastic public this past weekend despite rain and thunder. 

Dog Park
A former rail yard, the Park am Gleisdreieck shows how a little imagination and a lot of hard work can transform a toxic brown field into an eco-friendly space with meadows, playgrounds, sport fields, bicycle trails, and areas dedicated to native plant and wildlife preservation. This park also has a cafe, open air theater, vegetable garden, and dog run. The Park am Gleisdreieck incorporates elements from its past (rail ties, tool sheds, and towers) into a modern multi-functional design.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Secret of Chimneys: "You Won't Turn People Into Angels by Appealing to Their Better Natures"

The Agatha Christie Challenge: Book Number 6.

The Secret of Chimneys (1925) is an entertaining book that requires a healthy suspension of disbelief. There's royal intrigue, blackmail, romance, dizzying plot twists, and a far fetched story line. It's a witty exercise in puzzle solving that's full of clever dialogue and red herrings. I enjoyed it immensely. 

However, the book has its faults. Christie's use of stereotypes and ethnic slurs, suggests that she shared many of the prejudices of her time, including a skepticism of democracy. This was the 1920s. Mussolini governed in Italy, National Socialism was on the assent in Germany, and political unrest in Spain would eventually lead to civil war. Anthony Cade, the book's central character, puts it simply:
You won't turn people into angels by appealing to their better natures just yet awhile--but by judicious force you can coerce them into behaving more or less decently to one another to go on with. 
For some people of Christie's time, the idea of a strong and authoritarian leader seemed like a logical alternative to the problems and uncertainties associated with democracy. For example, in Escape From Freedom (1941), Erich Fromm explored the psychological conditions that facilitated a retreat from democracy and a shift toward fascism in the 1920s and 30s. In The Secret of Chimneys, Christie reflects that shift with her implied endorsement of monarchical rule.

Rating: A-

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Joy of a Bird Singing

It's spring in Berlin, and I'm enjoying it. My morning ritual is to go outside with a cup of coffee around 6 AM. In the mostly silent morning, I sit on my balcony and listen to the birds sing. I love listening to them say good morning to each other. There's a particular bird that perches directly across the street. Listening to his simple but wonderful song is a great way to start the day.