Frankfurt, du bist so Businessclass

As much as I enjoy travelling through Germany, Frankfurt was never a destination of preference. To be honest, it wasn’t a destination at all. Circumstances brought my cousin Juliana to this city, and circumstances made me get a ticket and fly to the Mecca of finance, the city of business: Frankfurt am Main.

The good thing about not having any expectations of a city is that you won’t be disappointed once you get there. Besides, after having experienced Berlin – known for its sexy ugliness – I knew that Frankfurt would only be one pleasant surprise after the next. And indeed it was.

Frankfurt is home of the European Central Bank,  it is home base for one of the largest stock exchanges on the planet and has one of the biggest airports in Europe. Nothing that would actually make me want to go there, yet what makes this city surreal and worthy of a visit, is its paradoxical chain of events that are changing its landscape: for the creation of such a ‘business hub’, a counter reaction to this culture of consumerism and capitalism has been taking off  in the past years. Be it in form of leftists movements, organic and locally produced food habits and cultural, arty and intellectual activities. There’s something in the air of Frankfurt am Main and that something – beyond the cash, the banks and the financial district – is slowly but surely changing the soul of this city.

So instead of strolling down ‘money-making straße’, Jules took me to small shopping streets, green spots and cosy local restaurants where I was able to soak up a bit of the less fancy but much more fascinating Germany. The Germany with the old typography in its signs, with shops that seem as if they had never left the 80’s and cafés that, in their passion and simplicity, will take you, as it were, to the land of coffee makers.

Vinotek

Some kind of Wine bar that passed on to a better life.

Infoladen

Comet

Café de la tierra

Another good cuppa Joe.

Kilogramm

Weighting time in coffee spoons

Tasse bitte

...heimer Warte

Cafe

Detektiv

verboten

Licht

Laden II

Ventana

Himmel

My city guide.

My favourite guide

Back in Berlin: In Between Moscow Mules and Whisky Zauers

Life brought me back to Berlin for a few days, something I honestly never expected it’d happen that fast. Before I knew it, I was wandering through the streets of the hub of the cool –again–, this time in between Moscow Mules, Dutch lovers and melodic techno.

Sometimes you stumble across people who change your life, or at least write unforgettable chapters on your personal biography, leaving traceable memories and even changing you on a personal, intellectual and spiritual level. It’s quite an irony, that even when believing in serendipity, you always expect something or someone until life becomes too busy for you to wait and you end up with no expectations – life happens and you embrace it as it comes. That’s the exact moment when magic sparks and great people cross your path, people you hold on to, at least for a while.

Daniel ended up being one of those characters. He crossed my path and did in such a way, I felt the need to hold on to him, hopefully for more than a while. Daniel, who’s a live performer, composer and electronic musician, has made me dive into the world of electronic music and the alternative dance scene of Amsterdam. What led to this encounter, was a trip to the Mecca of contemporary electronic music, the place of places, the capital of DJs: my beloved Berlin.

And so we departed in a bus full of fans, groupies and party lovers. The destination: Ze German capital, the reason: The ‘Zauer Tour’ – the tour from Daniel’s record label for a once-in-a-lifetime-performance in Katerholzig, the renowned Berlin club. Life was taking me back to the city I once called ‘home’ and once arriving, I felt as if I had never left it in the first place.

Zauer-6413

Friends and party lovers take a break on the Autobahn.

Zauer-6424

Party host, travel manager and music maker: Daniel.

Zauer-6431

ciggy break, somewhere in between Amsterdam and Berlin.

Going back to my Berlin of faded colours and melodic cafés.

Lights

Daniel at Tempelhof

Daniel Walks

Tempelhoffin

The Kietz

A Day with the Beatles: less than 24 hours in Liverpool

It’s quite overwhelming how life can change its path, laughing at our written plans to somehow control it. While planning on moving to London this summer, I instead ended up helping my mom move to the UK and driving her all the way up north to Liverpool. Not a bad plan B if you ask me. It was a chance to drive awkwardly and spend a day -or even less- with the four of Liverpool – The Beatles.

Having loved the Beatles since I remember listening to music, planning a trip to Liverpool only revived childhood musical memories. Shamefully, I hardly know more about this Northern city besides football, the harbour and some war stories – and so is the knowledge of most of the tourists I saw there. Still, I was spending less than 24 hours in Liverpool and not caring much about football, the thing to do was to go to Penny Lane and experience the birthplace of British rock ‘n’ roll.

Of course, the Beatles experience is what you want, yet what we ended up having was a kitsch museum offering a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ screening of the history of the Beatles. – mind me! The film is in 3-D and apparently worthy of thirteen pounds! -Ugh- Tourist extortion anyone?

Considering my knowledge of the band and the gorgeous late august weather, there was absolutely no way those 13quid were going to that museum. I instead opted for the live experience. I was going to spend a day with the Beatles, not them personally, but with the other fans that like me, wondered abouts the city imagining what it was like to be there in the 70s.

And so I got myself a pretty photo with a canvas and took off. The point was to talk to people a bit and get them to pose for me with the Beatles. That way, I was experiencing the city, the band and its visitors. This is what I came up with after a lovely less than 24hours with the Beatles and the city that saw them become who they are today.

Disclaimer: We never made it to Penny Lane, this is the Beatles’ story museum in the centre.  I will surely go back and pay a proper visit to this magic city soon, promise – ‘Above us only sky’

A day with the beatles.

I met this girl at the museum shop. She absolutely loved the experience and wants to come back soon. Good for her, glad those 13 quid were truly worthy after all.

A day with the beatles.

This lady didn’t think she was pretty enough for a photo. I disagreed and convinced her by telling her the photo was NOT going to go viral – I’m nearly sure it won’t.

A day with the beatles.

There she is, look how pretty!

A day with the beatles.

Practically the nicest Liverpudlian I met… machinist of the Mary-go-round with a hilarious accent.

A day with the beatles.

She was shy and having her photo taken while her little brother mocked her was no fun… oh well. She has a lovely smile though.

A day with the beatles.

The craziest mum in the world – now based somewhere close to Liverpool. It was her LP collection that got me to fall in love with George Harrison.

A day with the beatles.

These cute ‘gals’ live in London but are originally form Birma -I know-. They had no idea who those four funny looking lads on the photo were, but they liked being photographed.

A day with the beatles.

Me. Spending an afternoon with the Beatles. Classic, innit?

Berlin: sitting, waiting, wishing and sipping a beer

Berlin has claimed to be the ‘greenest’ capital out there or at least, rumour has it. Yes, I know that the European Commission declared Copenhagen as the “European Green Capital of 2013”, yet I am not talking about the environment here, but mere green spaces and in this sense, Berlin comes up the list, easily.

With more than a fifth of the city being covered by trees, Berlin is a place where, once summer arrives, green is the colour you will stumble upon and in all its varieties.  Considering this, the most delightful thing  about the extent of nature and green spaces here, is the freedom one is given to explore them.  Whether you head to the Zoo, stroll down the Grunewald forest, ‘climb’ the mountain and enjoy the view from Viktoriapark in Kreuzberg, get lost at the Spreepark, do Sunday Karaoke at Mauerpark or go canoeing on the Müggelsee: Berlin offers nature at its best and the chance for you to take full advantage of it.

viktoriapark

Viktoriapark, Kreuzberg, Berlin.

Accordingly, people do take nature and outdoor activities seriously. And you should, if you consider the wintery months. Winter is tough, very. It is so dark, grey and especially mercilessly cold, that once you start feeling your limbs again, you want to get them properly heated up with some sun. As a consequence, as soon as spring makes space for some proper sunshine, the whole city goes absolutely mental, the state of euphoria is such, you feel the pressure of getting out there and never coming back inside. Eventually, you end up joining the three and something million Berliners either by grilling the entire city’s stock of sausages in public parks, swimming in the thousand and one lakes that surround the city or doing one of the most typical things you do: get a beer at a späti (spaeti) , find a (green) spot and sip away.

Sunsets

Summertime, from the Maybachufer, Neukölln, Berlin.

Summerbreak

Picnic at the Maybachufer, Neukölln, Berlin

On the bridge

Admiralbrücke, Kreuzberg, Berlin.

Summer afternoon

Maybachufer, Neukölln, Berlin

The Spätkauf

Better known as späti, this phenomenon is one of the most ubiquitous things I’ve encountered in Berlin. The concept of the ‘convenient store’ or night shop is not precisely typical from Berlin, but you will stumble upon one on every single corner of the eastern part of the city. So convenient, so omnipresent that before you know it, you will make use of it, a lot: on your way to the park, from the park, on your way back home or your way out. The späti is the propeller of the summer nights in the city, as it provides cheap and cold drinks for you to take. Likewise, the beer or club mate ‘to go’ are incredibly popular, becoming the main characters of the Berlin scene of sitting, waiting, wishing and sipping away.

Sitting

Sitting featuring Vodka/Club Mate. Admiralbrücke, Kreuzberg, Berlin.

Daniel and Ruben do the ufer

Daniel and Ruben get their drinks to go. Maybachufer, Neukölln, Berlin.

In a place where the drinking culture is based on the ‘drinks to go’, it is hard not to fall into the cosy trap of spotting a green area and publicly sipping a brew or my personal favourite: a ‘Rhabarberschorle’- sparkling rhubarb juice. Also, viewed that public drinking is basically allowed, the temptation of grabbing a brew and setting camp wherever is constantly there. You just can’t let go of it… On top of that, Berlin has such an amount of green and lovely spots; you tend to forget you are in a city, a German one.

Couple

Admiralbrücke, Kreuzberg, Berlin.

Club Mate

Club Mate.

The Coffeeshopification of Berlin II

How the coffee house has taken over our lives and the mecca of creativity: Berlin.

In current times,  when we can easily recreate our educational institutions, start-up businesses and personal workplaces, it should not come as a surprise that they might all end up looking like your favourite coffee shop. Following my last post on the ‘Coffeeshopification of Berlin’ and how noteworthy the café culture has evolved in the city, it is interesting to see how the process of turning universities and workplaces into coffee shops a.k.a ‘Coffeeshopification’ was already discussed by writer Steven Johnson who argued that coffee fuelled the enlightenment and that it was exactly midst the coffee house culture where crucial events took place. Already in 17th century London, people would hang out, exchange ideas and share a cup of coffee: the key combination which sparkled life changing events in our history.

Es Riecht Nach Kaffee

‘It smells like coffee’ Café Kunst und Schinken, Neukölln, Berlin.

DM

Old cash register. Kadó, Neukölln, Berlin

IMG_4592

Café on Boxagener Square. Friedrichshain, Berlin.

A Caffeinated Working and Learning Environment

Artists and writers have often, if not always, worked in coffee shops, but now in the era of the digital office, everyone can basically work from wherever as long as there is wifi. In this sense, artists and writers have been joined by young entrepreneurs, programmers and, like me: journalists. “…the remaining function of the office,’ says Stephen Gordonis to be that place that clients know to find you…and that kids and other distractions of home can’t’.  This sounds very familiar: I literally moved away from Belgium with this exact same premise of being able to work from everywhere as long as I had a decent Internet connection.

Besides the office re-emerging in the shape of coffee shops, Gordon who is also mentioned by Browning in The Alpine Review, touches on the need for alternative forms of education, especially in the U.S where tuition fees reach outrageous levels. Modern learning and teaching institutions demand an improved working environment that would enhance creativity and the exchange of knowledge: the coffee shop. The matter of fact is that this process is already taking place in our working space and slowly but surely in our universities and educational institutions as well.

Kunst

Café Goodies, Friedrichshain. Berlin

Magnolias

Café Factory Girl, Mitte Berlin.

Berlín, Germany

Café Luzia. Kreuzberg, Berlin.

It is therefore indisputable  that many cafés in the city are appearing and by doing so, bursting with young and upcoming artists, entrepreneurs and tech savvy individuals. Berlin has become the birth of the cool and the resurrection of the creativeness. It is the perfect place for both café owners to start a business (due to its relatively cheap levels of financial investment) and for coffee drinkers to enjoy a drink and get their creativity on. If you are new to the city or have had enough of the well-known Café St. Oberholz where an epidemic of tech and apple-aficionados take over each and every single table on a regular basis. You might want to explore other areas of the city where emerging cafés are popping out and where you will get the space to first: boost that oh-so-precious ingenious mind and second: enjoy a beautifully made cuppa Joe.

On the other hand, If you belong to those who are stuck in a good old office, don’t collapse in despair: Coffitivity will bring you the vibe of a coffee shop right to your desktop. Yes, the sound of a normal coffee house right at the office! Science has proven that those of us who experience certain levels of noise (like those experienced in a coffee shop) enhance performance on creative tasks. Hard to believe? Read more about it here.  So, why on earth should I ever leave home then if I can make decent coffee and listen to coffee house ambient sounds right at home?   too much for the ‘Coffeeshopification’ of my own house.

Ground Floor

Café Chapter One, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Mondiaal Café

Five Elephant, Kreuzberg, Berlin

The Caffeinated version of The Best of Berlin

A city is an evolving and ever-changing entity and so is Berlin. Places close and other pop open; areas are left forgotten to later be re-discovered. Somewhere I read that ‘anyone who tells you it was better before hasn’t been here long enough or doesn’t realize that this city is never what it was and will never be what it should’.  In the middle of this caffeinated revolution follows my own ‘best of’ in terms of coffee shops and divided in themes. Enjoy:

The best espresso:

Espresso

The Barn.
You actually taste the berries here.
Five Elephant.
A bit pricey but very friendly staff and the perfect working spot.
Chapter One
Coffee purists by excellence. The prices make up for the quality of the drinks and humbleness of the owner.

The best roastery:

Blaue Bohnen

Blaue Bohnen.
Beautiful people and gorgeous beans. Good for improving your German skills!
Pro Macchina
Everything in its right place
Tres Cabezas.
Goodness.

The best service and good coffee:

Pretty Americano

Antipodes, Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin.

Antipodes.
Amazing staff and gorgeous eggs Benedict during weekends. Their facebook profile is brilliant, absolutely brilliant:

Did you know that tomorrow it is: “HOLY-SMOKE-THAT-WAS-A-GREAT-TIME-AT-ANTIPODES DAY!” Held every 12 July and 13 and 14 and 15 and 16 and 17 and so on für immer …

Best scones and pastries:

Katiesbluecat

Katies Blue Cat, Neukölln, Berlin

Caties Blue Cat
To.die.for

Cookie jar

Antipodes, Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin.

Aunt Benny
Canadian shortbread cookies and amazing pies
Cucuma
Cosy and lecker!

Best blends of coffeeshops and other things:

Lamp in a cage

Sing Blackbird
You can have a coffee and get a shopping spree of vintage, fancy second hand clothes.

Shop and Cafffeine

Sing Blackbird, coffee & vintage clothes. Neukölln, Berlin

Klötze und Schinken 
Coffee and Art. Mostly young, emerging and totally wacky artists, but very cool and great coffee.

Best Colombian coffee: 

No Morning, No Glory

No Fire, No Glory. Prenzlauer Berg. Berlin

Gets her colombian coffee on!

Colombian Filtered Coffee, No Fire, No Glory. Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin

No Fire, No Glory
Very comfy couches, friendly staff, the most fruity and delightful Colombian filtered coffee. Right here.
The Barn.
Yes to Colombian lungo!
Macondo
Coffee ain’t the best, but you will get a full Colombian breakfast for a fiver!

Best Italian:

Outside

Barretto
Forget about your German and learn italian here.

Best Turkish:
Simitdchi
Fantastic Turkish bakery and café smack in the middle of Kottbusser Tor


Best German bread rolls:

IMG_4543

Zeit für Brot
Cinnamon rolls will never be the same again
Vollkornbäckerei Hartwich
Die beste der Welt.

Best juice bar:
Funk You
Guanábana at your service!

Best short break:
Passenger espresso
Simply good coffee, gooooood.

Best coffee in the middle of the west:
Giro Coffee bar.
Spooning
Pfeffer Kuche

The Coffeeshopification of Berlin

Being originally from a coffee producing and to a much lesser extent, coffee-drinking country, I first discovered coffee -ironically- when I had already left Colombia. Luckily for me, the praises people would sing about it, made me yearn for it soon after I had left.  I had always loved the concept of coffee, but by then, had not yet gone beyond gigantic pots of filtered coffee that would last throughout the entire day and eventually become so bitter; one would wonder whether it was ‘premium café de exportación’ in the first place.

.

Summer in the city

By this time, I was already in The Netherlands, where the Dutch sip an amazing 8,4kg of coffee in a year (compare that to the 1,8kg Colombians consume over the same period). Being surrounded by proper coffee drinkers –and makers-, I then began to pay attention to the way baristas would prepare their brews in local cafés to the point of being fascinated by the machines, the beans and mostly, the smell of the entire process: from roasting to actually tasting it. It was all something so accurate that it seemed impossible to achieve, let alone recreate with the machinery I had at home.

Eventually, I got myself a fancy second-hand espresso machine and started experimenting at home and even though I had shifted my focus on quality above quantity, the brew I was making, never seemed to even simulate those gorgeous coffees I was romanticizing about so badly. Apparently, the machine never worked properly and I was spending money on way-too-expensive beans for a worthless machine. Sigh. By this time I realized I didn’t need a fancy nor expensive machine to make decent coffee at home; while I still adored a perfectly brewed cup of espresso and I still ‘counted time in coffee spoons’, I had tasted so many different varieties and had experimented so much at home, I figured that I enjoyed a cup of filtered, medium to fully roasted and accurately made coffee the most.

Chemex

Chemex II

Snobbery? romanticism? Or mere enthusiasm?

One of the many reasons I decided to move to Berlin, was it’s emerging and constantly growing coffee culture, with its thousand and one roasteries, cafés and fancy coffee shops scattered all over the city. Coffee making in this city can be taken to such levels, the words ‘snobbism’ and ‘cult’ immediately pop in my mind when I pass by certain of these cafés. Places sometimes look more like science labs with glossy magazines instead of regular coffee bars. The seriousness of coffee drinking takes over with rules such as ‘no sugar, no laptops, no baby strollers’ which are of no surprise in coffee shops where coffee brewing is more of a ceremony rather than a business.

The Coffee Lab

Coffee Brewing, Chapter One Espresso Bar. Berlin, Kreuzberg.

Vietnamese Coffee II

Vietnamese Coffee. Coco Café. Berlin, Mitte.
Vietnamese coffee is prepared with condensed milk and filtered right on top of your cup. It is such a sweet and gorgeous looking process that I knew I wanted to photograph it more than taste it. I had to order one, it was after all Vietnamese style coffee. So I did, then photographed it and swallowed the coffee instead of my pride. It tastes as sweet as it looks.

Mind me and my passion for the brew, I often find myself talking for long periods of time with café owners and baristas and my conversations sound more full of enthusiasm and curiosity than mere snobbism and smugness. Indeed, I am on the one hand fascinated by the passion and romanticism people have when brewing a ‘cuppa’, yet on the other I often asked myself: ‘is this really necessary?’; am I supposed to taste the blueberries and dark chocolate in this €2,8 Americano? Maybe, maybe not.  It is noteworthy though, that when coffee is roasted carefully and brewed correctly, you can taste, perhaps not the wild cherries or Belgian chocolates, but you can definitely taste the difference.  So, yeah, go ahead, call me a snob or a coffee geek, I like to call myself an enthusiastic coffee aficionado: a connoisseur. Right, Lars?

At any rate, I stopped trying to find exotic fruits in my cups and chose to rather enjoy the experience of coffee and the coffee shop as a whole; after all, the choices when it comes to coffee (and good one) are endless in Berlin. Call it snobbery, sophistication or coffee evolution, what can rightly be said about Berlin is that it is going through a profound “Coffeeshopification*”, something you shall never hear me complain about.

Best of the Best

Krantenlezer

*Coffeeshopification is a term used by Dominique Browning in The Alpine Review’s first issue that describes the process of turning institutions and working places into ‘coffee shops’. I shall come back to this term shortly.

My very own German ‘Datscha’

Being in the city can be overwhelmingly tiring from time to time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a true homos urbanus and have been enjoying Berlin more than ever -believe me, it feels as if I’ve been living here for two years-. Yet, getting away from the chaos and the noise of the city is very rewarding and at times even necessary.

For the first time in history, most human beings live in large urban areas and many in megacities and suburban extensions with populations of 10 million or more. Being a ‘Homo Urbanus’ is the rule rather than the exception nowadays. This phenomenon, of millions and millions of people crammed and stacked in huge urban metropolises is somewhat new, especially if you consider that no more than 200 years ago, the average person could have met 200 or perhaps 300 people in a lifetime. Today, says the north American economist Rifkin: ‘a resident of New York can live and work among 200,000 people within ten minutes of his or her home or office in downtown Manhattan.’ Hey, and I thought I knew loads of people.

Let’s not get started on cities such as Tokyo or Mexico City, but considering these numbers, Berlin is somehow a lucky capital with, statistically speaking, ‘only’ 3,809 Berliners for every square kilometre. Next to the 26,939 per km2 New Yokah’s living on top of each other in Manhattan, Berlin is one green spacious capital.

And yes, even though there is a sense of space here, I had the need to leave it, at least for a day or two and fortunately I was able to go visit my very close friend Luisa in Hanover, where she’s living now. Things got even better when she proposed going to her family’s hunting house for the weekend. And so we got some snacks and along with my other very close friend Laura, we drove to this ‘hunting house’ in the middle of the woods.

Hunting House

 

Untitled

 

Our trip to Datscha

Getting away and going to a house in the woods, made me think of this Russian café in Berlin’s Friedrichshain called Datscha. The word  comes from the Russian verb to give: ‘dat’, and was once associated with a gift from the Tsar, given in a form of property, Datscha then evolved into the term describing a holiday house. According to this café/bar, the constitution of the Soviet Union implemented a law that guaranteed a holiday right for all citizens who had their own ‘datscha’. By then, no one could wait to get out of the city on the weekends and every single Russian who lived in a city longed for a few days away at a place where they could enjoy evenings with friends, grilled food and sip vodka or two or three… and indeed, we were heading to our own German version of a Datscha, leaving all worries behind and clearing our minds for a while.

 

Horses

 

Absolute Isolation

The first thing that struck me as ‘life liberating’ was the lack of Internet access, how much I longed for such a deliverance from constant messaging, tweeting, liking and emailing. What started as an issue for not being able to get work done, ended up being pure and pure pleasure, pleasure from this sense of ‘letting go’.

Cuppa

Morning brew in the woods

 

 

Tree

 

Besides, after spending an entire morning having food outside, reading, chatting and enjoying the surroundings, I couldn’t get enough of the noise, or rather, the lack of it. Sleeping was a bit scary at some point, since there was absolutely no noise, it was a sense of nothingness that seemed threatening at first and extremely calm at last. After a few hours of not being able to hear anything, my ears started to get accustomed to the sound of silence and began to record the sound of the woods… that’s when I wished I could be like those old people that know which bird is which and are able to talk to them, in their language. Sometimes I wish I could speak like a bird…

 

The Forrest

Blue/gree

Nature

L

Laura enjoying the sun

Untitled

Luisa and myself in the middle of the forrest. Photo taken by Laura

 

Coming back home to the city was quite odd to be honest, after three days of total isolation from people and the world, a few hundred Homo Urbanus seemed more like the 200,000 you are likely to meet in the green apple. And however much I love being in the city and consider myself a perfect example of a city person, I truly missed times spent in pure nature and with friends like Laura and Luisa. I even remembered the times I spent as a child in my very own Colombian Datscha and wished I could stay in the woods a bit longer.

 

Lesen und Lesen Lassen

Me enjoying a good read under the sun.

 

P.S: I truly recommend going to Datscha, at least to grasp the notion of a Russian getaway lifestyle while enjoying traditional Russian dishes and a whole lot of different vodkas. They are located at the Gabriel Max Straße 1, in Friedrichshain.

The Fellowship of the Ringbahn

When I started taking photographs of Berlin for work, I soon found out, not only empirically but also from friends and colleagues, that Berliners have a fellow relationship with the city’s Ringbahn.  It was then not only my interest but also my sheer duty to scrutinise what was behind the ring and the relation commuters had with it.

Ring (from the Ring-Bahn Series)

The fastest and probably the easiest way to travel vast distances in Berlin is, without a doubt, by making use of its Ringbahn, and the entire S-Bahn system to be honest. For those who haven’t experienced it, the Ringbahn, meaning circular railway in German, is a 37km/23.2 mile long railroad that goes around the city of Berlin. It encircles the main city and passes by its outskirts, making it possible to crisscross it in less than 60minutes. -Take that London or Paris! – In fact, The Ringbahn is a mere particle of a massive system of public transport that indicates just how influential railways have been in Berlin’s history as a metropolis.

Going back in history

Unlike Paris or London, whereby railroads were constructed after the cities had grown to humongous proportions, Berlin had still enough space and mind-sets to build a high-speed overground railway system that would encircle and link the entire city. Urban development in Berlin was therefore exactly the other way around. First came the ring and then came the city behind it. When the Ringbahn was built, back in the 1870s, it was actually done so on what was practically green lands of nothingness, a city yet to be born there. Just to think of it, linking the city centre with the rest of its outskirts took Paris over a hundred years and London inaugurated its suburban overground system only in 2007. Here again: Berlin 1, the rest: 0.

Until the construction of the Berlin Wall in the 1960s, the ring made a complete circle, but it was during the cold war period that the lunacy of the division of the city played a massive role in the partition of the ring in two places: a three quarter ring for the west and a the remaining section for the east –between Schönhauser Alle and Treptower Park-. It was exactly this kind of craziness that made the reopening of the entire S-Bahn system and its ring a main priority after the fall of the wall. After a few ups and downs, the Ringbahn was reopened in 1993 and put into full circular service soon afterwards… This also explains why so little is left as a reminder of just how lunatic things were back then: Efficiency above nostalgia.

Touring the ring

Putting the cultural and historical value of the Ringbahn aside, taking the entire tour makes you acknowledge firstly: just how big Berlin is and second, it gives you a lovely view of parts of the city you would have otherwise never seen. -Ever wondered how Westkreuz areas looked like?- It is also a gorgeous window from which you can watch the urban landscape unfold before your eyes…
 
From the train (from the Ring-Bahn Series)
 

Rust (from the Ring-Bahn Series)

 

Personally, loving to watch people’s behaviour and photographing the simplicity of us humans, riding the Ringbahn gave me a thousand a one facettes of the Berlin and of Berliners alike.  Also, taking the entire ride and spending a whole cycle on a train made me ponder about just how easy it is to forget how ridiculously divided this city once was and how things such as a train or a train ride create that recognised fellowship between the traveller and the city being travelled.

 

Blues (from the Ring-Bahn Series)
 

Bayer (from the Ring-Bahn Series)
 

Selfportrait (from the Ring-Bahn Series)
 

Ostkreuz (from the Ring-Bahn Series)
 

Ostkreuz II (from the Ring-Bahn Series)

The multifaceted, multi-layered and multicultural Tallinn

Many say Tallinn is the prettiest city in Europe and indeed, I kid you not when I tell you that the world heritage-listed city centre is as cute as a fairy tale and as sweet as maple syrup. Yet behind and beyond this lovely town, there are many faces, both historical and overwhelmingly contemporary, both pretty and nostalgically hostile. These various facets that coped with the extremely different influences, have made Tallinn not only a cute little pie to visit, but a city whose different identities will make you wonder whether this is actually a single city and not several emerged into one.

Street lamp

My personal expectations before arriving were basically non-existent; with only Helsinki being my point of reference and me having been told that the Finns use it as a party and shopping spree destination. When arriving, I was stunned by the tiny size of it as it took me barely 20 minutes to get from door to door, form plane to hotel room. And indeed, the city has a population of a mere 425,000 habitants, which it isn’t that big of a number if you consider that this is the oldest capital city of northern Europe…

50 shades of grey

View of the Old Town, city centre of Tallinn, Estonia.

Invasion after invasion after invasion after invasion

The capital of Estonia has gone through a thousand and one periods of siege and foreign invasions, external  influences can therefore be seen and felt wherever one goes. First considering the name of the city, which it is thought to derive from Taani-linn or Danish-castle, as it was once taken over by the Danes. After the Kingdom of Denmark took over, the Germans followed, then the Swedish, the Soviets, then came the Germans again with Hitler as their Führer and today Tallinn is mostly overthrown by the zillion Finns that come visit the city whenever possible. It shouldn’t be hard then to imagine the potpourri of influences in this place, from architecture, to food, to language… you name it.

From medieval, to Soviet, to Nazi to hip

Going from the medieval gems that you and every single tourist are likely to find, the Old Town has got some very interesting mixtures of 1300 architecture and a few souvenirs from the darkest periods of the USSR. Likewise, if you are able to avoid the beaten paths and try to explore less known streets, the creativity of local artists is palpable every now and then which makes one feel as if the city wanted to talk to you, as if there was a message meant to be received, a notion meant to be felt.

The phone

What is left over a Soviet room at the Vuru Hotel. Tallinn was once known as the capital of Russian spionage.

typewriter

Russian Typewriter. Vuru Hotel.

The Truth

Streets of the Old Town.

Since the size of the old town was remarkably small, I took off with my colleague  Lubo  who told me that deserted warehouses were the trendiest part of town nowadays and that on the way to them, there were wrecked wooden houses worth checking out and photographing. And so we went on exploring the not-so-fancy parts of town and ended up walking through streets that could as well be found in poor parts of Philadelphia or forgotten paths of Prague. These wooden houses were mostly in extremely bad shape and seemed as if no one had ever meant to care for them. As charming and photogenic as they were, they also emanated a sense of forgotten pain and suffering. Consequently, the feeling that took over me was such that it made me overpoweringly sad; it was Weltschmerz all over again.

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Old wooden house. In decent stage.

Das Auto

Soviet car

Rusty

Rusted pipes

Fortunately once we kept walking, we reached the mentioned warehouses that seemed somehow less detrimental than the areas we had walked through a few minutes earlier. These former soviet depots were horrendously grey from the outside, but when paying closer attention to the interiors, we were able to notice the birth of the cool and the evolution of the ‘hip’ inside. The industrial area was once, not so long ago, taken over by students and young entrepreneurs to start creative hubs, trendy bars and restaurants. It felt a bit Berlinesque to be honest, with young people hanging abouts with their books and laptops in immense rooms full with both soviet artefacts and modern props. I felt in my element, the industrial architecture, mixed with broken walls and old buy very comfy sofas served as the perfect combination for an afternoon break. Everything was so different than a few minutes before and again another few hours before that, I wondered if I hadn’t visited three or four different cities in one. This was and still is for me Tallinn’s charm, it’s multifaceted and multi-layered identity, one that plays with your sense of nostalgia, history and belonging.

Backgrounds

View of the warehouses

Drag

View from the outside of the industrial complex.

Carafe

Trendy carafe

Contemporary Café

If you are ever in Tallinn and fancy getting lost into oblivion with a bit of trendiness next to it, visit the Telliskivi industrial complex. Not far away from the centre and with nostalgic views on the way. The place you want to stop by for a bite or a drink is called F-Hoone, on Telliskivi street nr. 60.

Windows II

F-Hoone

B-ware! The Cinema of Nostalgia

The way in which we experience film and cinema has changed in such ways the past 60 or 70 years that we hardly remember how classic films are supposed to look or we barely notice how projectors are supposed to sound. Even in the past decade, from the venue, to the quality of the film and the technologies used to make it have influenced and transformed completely the way we watch and experience films.

We now even have to cope with the domination of the 3-D extravaganza, I personally, have never enjoyed the idea of having another extra pair of glasses on my nose while watching a film, and don’t get me started on the Google Glass project, but this is another matter. This three-dimensional film revolution has got me longing for simplicity, for creating a galaxy from a cup of coffee, nothing else and nothing more.

Longing for old cinema-making felt stronger after having watched the film ¡No!, a 2012 Chilean drama film on the campaign of 1988 over whether general Augusto Pinochet should have another 8-year term as President. The film was filmed with cameras used in the 80s and it was precisely the texture, colours and lights of the cameras used that gave the film the atmosphere and context of the Chile of 1988, it was beautiful.

Whilst walking abouts, I stumbled upon this ‘Kino’ the other day and encouraged my flatmate to join me for a film. The place looked more like a brothel or some kind of dark bar where people either play poker or risk their lives with Russian roulette. Old canvases hang on the wall with broken mirrors and old images of virgins and holy spirits. The atmosphere was so surreal I could only believe such places could exist in Berlin and in Berlin only. This is also when I realised how the ambiance of cinemas has changed dramatically, to such extent that we hardly get to feel the arty and bohemian experience of enjoying a good film. Traditional theatres hardly exists anymore, except those which have adopted a vintage look to attract either those of us who long for the past or those who feel extremely trendy when going to an art-deco, old-fashioned theatre.

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Far from being vintage or trendy, this B-ware Kino, which translates to ‘B merchandise’ or B-film genre, takes both the alternative and the classy to its extremes. What struck me the most was the setting: what could have perfectly served as a café –or then again a brothel or a dark Russian bar- was suddenly turned into a ‘living room’ whereby people would move their sofas or old divans towards the screen, out of nowhere. It felt as if the thirty of us who paid to go to the cinema, were unexpectedly in an old family room from the 40s. It definitely felt more social than any other cinema I have visited before.

On top of that, the massive projector displaying the film on the other room made such a gorgeous noise, I wished I could have one at home that would make such a sound, the sound of old film watching and making. Call me a nostalgic, -I love the way my old Canon AE-1 sounds when taking a photo-, but the mechanics of it all reminds me of how fast things are moving between us and how less and less attentive we have become to how things used to look and how machines used to sound.

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If anyone is interested: B-ware! Ladenkino is on the Gärtnerstr. 19, in Berlin Friedrichshain.

DISCLAIMER: I’m terribly sorry for the lack of quality, but this is all my iPhone could get from it. The sound makes up for it though.