Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Three Favorites: Museums in Berlin

Berlin is definitely not a city short on museums. I like to think I've been to all of them at some point, but in gathering photographs for this blog post I discovered there is even a Museum für Kommunication (Postal Museum). Just look at all of the colorful mailboxes they have there! I've also never been to the Technisches Museum (Technical Museum), though maybe I'll be spared that one since I have daughters and not sons. Anyway, over the years I've developed a definite fondness for several museums and have gone back again and again. Oddly enough, each of them is housed in a truly amazing building, but then what museum here isn't? Maybe the Postal Museum. I'll check it out and let you know. ;) Ok, here is my little list:

1. Das Museum für Naturkunde (The Museum of Natural History)

Anyone who has read this blog with any kind of regularity is probably saying to themselves "Well, duh!" True, this is not the first time I have blogged about the Naturkundemuseum. It's one of my girl's favorite stomping grounds; indeed, we even went there today which was how I became inspired for this post. The building is colossal and Victorian, filled with train-station-like skylights and wrought iron staircases. The displays are musty and impressive if not somewhat outdated. But hey, Miss Mia already knows the names of all the planets and what they look like (Jupiter is her absolute fav.) When she's learning about the solar system later in grade school she's probably going to roll her eyes and say, "Gawd, that's so 2010!" Did I mention it only costs 5 bucks admission? What more could you ask for.

2. Martin-Gropius-Bau

Martin Gropius Bau (building) was built in 1881 by the architect Martin Gropius, father (I think) of the architect Walter Gropius of Bauhaus fame. The building has revolving exhibits, usually charging different admission prices for the one upstairs and the one downstairs (or a combi card, of course.) One of the best exhibitions I've ever seen was held there in 2000. It was called Sieben Hügel (Seven Hills) and it took seven different concepts (core, jungle, space, civilization, belief, knowledge and dreams) and explored them through art, noise, light, object and room design. Truly mind-blowing (obviously since I remember it ten years later.) I've seen many good exhibitions there since, though none in particular come to mind. Recently they had a Frieda Kahlo exhibition which was nearly impossible to get into (a four hour wait to buy tickets I heard.) I would have to be a pretty hardcore fan to wait four hours for anything, so I didn't go. Frieda Kahlo was definitely a very interesting person, but I've never really been all that impressed with her work. As a good friend of mine said, "In the end, it's just a whole lot of chick with a uni-brow."

3. Das Ethnologische Museum (The Ethnological Museum)

One of the world's biggest museums for ethnology, the ethnological museum is housed in leafy Dahlem on the campus of Die Freie Universität (The Free University), founded by us Amis for Berliners after the war. The museum is across the street from the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies which, by the way, has the most amazingly kick-ass library and, no, you don't have to be a student to use it. The museum is in a beautiful 1960s building and is separated into several wings: Asian (lots of pottery and kimonos), South Seas (scary masks, shrunken heads and full-sized boats), Native American (tee-pees, headdresses, and one full-sized horse), just to name a few. They have a pretty amazing Voodoo exhibition going on right now. I went there yesterday with the babies (lots of rain these days=lots of museums...) You go under a blue curtain to this dark maze they built with particle board walls. Inside are lots of life-sized (or, rather, people sized...) statues of spirits and demons. Definitely interesting, but not exactly toddler-fare (some of it even spooked me out.) When we were finished, Miss Mia said, "Mama, I don't want to go back to that museum until I am older." If you do go to the museum you definitely need to also go to the Dahlem Dorf U-Bahn station around the corner. Dahlem (part of the district of Zehlendorf) is quiet and affluent, filled with impressive villas and an older, academic crowd (not many students actually live there), but the benches at the train station are in the style of the museum. They look like African art, some of them with fairly impressive breasts and watch out or you may end up sitting a large wooden penis (no lie.)

*Disclaimer: My absolute favorite museum is still C/O Berlin, the museum for contemporary photography, but I'm heartbroken that they will be moving out of the Postfuhramt building. The Postfuhramt was the post office of the Kaiser (emperor) and the building is gorgeous and in a decadent state of post DDR decay. They will be kicked out come March because the owners probably want to make it into some trendy Vietnamese fusion restaurant or something. I'm sure they will also renovate the building to death until it's lost nearly all its charm. The area around Oranienburgerstrasse has been irritatingly touristy for a long time, but without C/O Berlin or Tacheles (renegade art squat that is also loosing its lease), it will be a lost cause. Don't even bother going there (though Dada Falafel is still pretty damn good!)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Plague Of Paparazzi Parents

Today Jasper, I and the girls went out to visit some friends who had rented a house in the Choriner Schorfheide. The Choriner Schorfheide is an rural area in the former East German state of Brandenburg. When you drive through the area you come across village after village, some of them picturesque, most of them depressing, the locals (if you even see them because they seem to stay in doors) often making neanderthals look overly civilized. Still, the nature there is truly beautiful and the area is well worth a visit, especially from city slickers like ourselves. We met our friends at this lake. It was a beautiful late summer day with just a dash of Herbst in the air, so all was well.
When we later drove to the woods, Miss Mia got a little spooked out. We've experienced this before when we rented a place in the same area a few months ago. Ten minutes into our hike she said she was scared and wanted to go back to the nice apartment. What can I say? I'm raising city kids. She was ok at the lake, though I suppose that's probably because it at least had a parking lot.
At some point I took her to this little shed up on the hill to take some photographs. She's used to this since both Jasper and I are hobby photographers. A little to the right. No, a little to the left. Now hold still. She knows better than to give us an overly posed smile.
Part of me thinks this is great. We have so many beautiful photographs of the girls and it's always the perfect opportunity to practice a little portrait photography. Still, the other part of me has to wonder, Jesus, are we warping them? From the very beginning we've both been constantly shoving these lenses in their faces, the plague of the paparazzi parents.
A while ago, I saw a documentary about the Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki.
He takes photographs of everything, including the death of his wife, including his many adventures with prostitutes. Although he has sometimes been criticized for this, he said his impulse has always been to document everything. I think I can understand him.

For example, shortly after I took this photograph I confiscated Little Li's pacifier because I wanted to take better photographs. But the photographs I ended up taking were mainly of her protesting, her arms outstretched, screaming for her pacifier. Sometimes I've taken photographs of the girls crying instead of comforting them. But then, I think such photos are important. These are the times we spend together and I want to capture them.
But, getting away from my thoughts and back to the day, Little Li and I took a nice walk in the woods, me in only my bikini, she in only her diaper. We climbed together for a while on these fallen logs and, of course, I took more photographs.
Someday, in her early teenage years, Little Li is probably going to want to have a killer tan but look at how white this arm is. A pale complexion and red hair. Sorry Little Li, god or whoever might be up there will say, it ain't gonna happen!
Here is a little self-portrait of my foot. I'm sure it's not hard to imagine that I have never ever in my life had a pedicure....
Later our friends went into the forest and collected some Steinpilze (I don't know what the English translation is, but big-ass mushrooms would suffice I think.)
We all went back to the house they had rented where they started slicing up the mushrooms for a pasta sauce or a soup or to lay out on a loaf of bread. Who knows? But we had to be heading back as the babies were getting mighty grumpy (and grumpy babies forced to stay up often means grumpy babies for a couple of days=not worth the risk!!)
On the way back we passed by this eerie swamp. The water was completely covered in duck weed and all the trees were dead (drowned I suppose, though it seems strange that a tree could drown.) Every once in a while you could see a ripple under the duck weed or an occasional abrupt leap from a frog. Creepy to say the least....
Good night, freaky swamp in the Choriner Schorfheide. Good night friends who have now most likely fallen into a gorged-with-Steinpilze-slumber. Good night babies, your paparazzi parents will greet you in the morning. Good night, anyone who reads this blog, oh yeah, and thanks for reading. :)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

(Re)Discovering Crafting, Berganza and More

So it's been a tough couple of weeks because the Kita (pre-school) has been closed since the beginning of August. People who don't have small kids can't possibly know what it is like to have them full time. Not one iota of down time ever (and don't you dare try to take one because you'll just be asking for trouble!!) Baby burnout hardcore to say the least, plus an absolute respect for any parents who are doing this full time with no nannies, babysitters or pre-schools....

To give myself a break, I did get our fantastic Ami (American) babysitter to come for three hours this afternoon. What a fabulous time that was. I rode my bike through a virtual rainstorm but I didn't care. On Goltzstrasse in Schöneberg I wrote a bit in Cafe Savo (mentioned in my previous post) but mainly just cycled around. I (re)discovered the fantastic old school Bastelladen
(craft store) Hobbyshop Wilhelm Rüther on the same street. Great stuff at great prices and a true Berliner charm, with middle-aged ladies with thick Berlin accents getting excited when you pay in cash because they get to use the antique cash register from (I would guess) the 1950s. Anyway, it inspired me to make some new things for Schaufenster for pretty much the first time this summer.

At home I poured myself a glass of wine and started crafting, with one of my YouTube playlists playing in the background. I hadn't listened to this particular playlist in a while and I made another great (re)discovery of one of my favorite classical singers, the Spanish Mezzo-Soprano Teresa Berganza singing several songs composed by Federico Garcia Lorca (yes, as in the famous poet. Apparently he also sometimes composed songs.) Truly beautiful. I thought I'd post them here because they just might change your mind about classical singing (assuming that, like most people, you don't particularly care for it....)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My Three Favorites: Cafes in Berlin

So those of you out there who read my blog have probably figured out that I write posts here fairly (ok, somewhat) regularly but what you most likely don't know is that half the posts I think about never get posted. Sometimes I'll be strolling down Bergmannstrasse or on the M140 bus on the way to the zoo and I'll think "Hey, xyz would make an interesting blog entry." Sometimes it's about something that has moved me or that I found amusing. Often it's about something that annoyed the hell out of me. Still, either way many of the posts die somewhere between Fürbringerstrasse and my apartment. I don't know if I just have a short attention span or if they simply weren't meant to be....

But I'm glad to be writing this post tonight. I would like it to be the first in a series of "My Three Favorites", but time will tell if this is going to happen. So, here goes: My three favorite cafes in Berlin.

1. Monsieur Ibrahim Kaffeebar, Körte Strasse 8, U-7 Südstern

What's there not to like about Monsieur Ibrahim? Besides having great ambiance (dark, classic style and richly green walls) the cafe also has a friendly staff, plays great jazz and has fantastic coffee. The owner is also extremely hot, that is if you go for the dark, brooding type. The cafe is on one of my absolute favorite streets in the city, Körte Strasse. Körte Strasse has beautiful Alt-Bau (victorian) buildings and is chic and urban but also laid back and not slick. There is also a great, (though somewhat overpriced) vintage shop just up the road. Oh yeah, and Körte Strasse caters more to a 30s /40s crowd which means no yipsters and 20 something hipsters driving me crazy with their unsettled, pie-in-the-sky-everything-is-possible energy (if you are reading this and happen to be in your 20s, then sorry babe! When you're 36, you'll see what I mean. ;) )

2. Cafe Savo, Goltzstrasse 3, U-7 Eisenacherstrasse

Though Goltzstrasse was the hubbub of hipster life in 80s Berlin, it has been largely forgotten by the newer crowds, though perhaps this is a good thing. The street is home to Cafe Savo, a cafe I have been going to ever since I've lived in Berlin. The place is truly an intellectual pick-up joint, always filled with a handful of 30 or 40 something single men in designer horn-rimmed glasses and black turtlenecks. Pull out a copy of Proust and a couple of them will surely inch in, hoping you might ask them for their phone number. The ambiance at Savo is somewhat cool as is the staff, but the food is not bad and they play good music (jazz mainly). What is it that has kept me going there all these years? Perhaps the magazine and newspaper selection (at least 15 newspapers, from the Süddeutsche to Die Zeit to the International Herald Tribune, and 30 magazines, mainly about fashion, art and design.) And the windows. Got to love the windows. Oh yeah, and I can always get a lot of writing done there for some reason (I write mainly in cafes, but it tends to flow better in some than in others.) Viva le Cafe Savo!

3. Brezel Bar, Friesenstrasse 2, U-7 Gneisenaustrasse

Ok, so I have to admit I've never even sat inside Brezel Bar, but come winter I know I will. Brezel (as in German for pretzel) Bar has great soft pretzels made by an Israeli owner, as I learned while getting the link for this post. The pretzels are chewy on the inside and hard on the outside just as a pretzel should be and come in several different varieties. I think they are fantastic, but then you will probably have to ask someone from Munich if they really are because Bavaria, and not Berlin, is truly Brezel land (getting a tip on pretzels from a Berliner is like getting a tip on bagels from a Californian....) I often buy their pretzels to go for me and the babies on the way to the playground. The staff is young and somewhat surly, but I love the atmosphere and (so far) the music seems good. I have the feeling I could write well there. I'll let you know come November. :)

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Big Brother Childhood

When I was a child growing up in Tucson, on the days when we didn't have school, my mother would basically open the front door sometime in the mid-morning and we wouldn't come home again until the mid-afternoon. We went to our friend's houses (most of them lived on the Cul-de-Sac Limequat Way which was just around the corner) or we went to the acres of desert across the street, an area that is now undoubtedly tract housing.

Even in College town in Sacramento I'm pretty sure I played alone outside, but I was only a maximum of two so maybe my mother was somewhere in the background. I do remember alone going to my "boyfriend's" house. He was five and slept with my picture under his pillow. In his room he kept showing me this robot that shot little pellets, like I was supposed to be impressed. I was only 2, but I'm pretty sure I was thinking, "What the heck is it with boys and robots?"
But there's no use pining over the good old days. Times have changed and besides, I'm raising my children in a major city, not in suburban Arizona. Still, sometimes I think things have swung way too far the other way, or at least here in Berlin. I was struck by this again this morning when I hung out on the playground on Chamisso Platz. All around me were uptight hipster parents, shadowing their children's every move, barely letting them make even a few steps by themselves. And I'm not talking about one year olds who are not yet steady on their feet, I'm talking 2 to 3 year olds, even a girl who looked almost 4. Of course, you have to make sure they don't get into any real danger, but they also have to learn things for themselves and have a little freedom, yes, even room to make mistakes.
Last week I saw a father there, also shadowing his three year old son, who had the audacity to have one foot on the ground and one foot on the edge of the fountain. There was no way the boy could have fallen into the fountain and he wasn't being wild. If he had somehow freakishly fallen, the worst that could have happened would have been a skinned knee. Still, his father said "No! Either put your foot on the fountain or on the ground. You can't have one in each place!" What's the message there? Never have fun or be playful. Never try new things or take risks. Hmmm...Sounds a little bit like German culture.....

Sometimes I think Mia and Lilly's generation is going to be filled with extremely neurotic people who have a hard time ever making any decisions for themselves. Prove me wrong kids, prove me wrong. ;)

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Tenth of an Augenblick

Sometimes there is a word in a certain language that gets straight to the point in a way that you would need a phrase or perhaps even a paragraph in another language to reach the same meaning. Take, for example, the German word Augenblick.
Literally translated, Augenblick means in the blink of an eye. While this phrase sounds poetic and almost biblical (or is it just me?) in English, the German word is much more earthy and prosaic. You can say Augenblick or Augenblick mal for Hold on a sec. But mostly the word is just used to describe a moment.
One thing I love more than just about anything is going on photography hunts throughout the city. I often have my camera with me, but it is only sometimes that I pull it out and wander, floating through space like some slow, invertebrate creature of the sea.
Until that certain Augenblick draws me in like a beam of light and "zack" (another German word...) I'm there and I'm alive. I'm capturing. It always comes so suddenly that there is no room for thought.
One of my favorite places to go on the hunt for images is a busy marketplace. You have only a tenth of an Augenblick to capture that image you somehow found interesting or beautiful, that somehow moved you. Everything is sped up and in constant motion. You have to be quick.
Like with these photographs I took at the Turkish Market on Maybachufer last Friday. So many photographs were ruined by a foot out of place or a moved hand, or someone pushing me too far to the right. So many lost images. But when you do like one of the photographs, you are more pleased than you would be had you had all the time in the world to arrange it.


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