January 2014, inspirations

The new year has started and the objective is to keep the momentum of our recent Berlin and Dresden break. But also to harvest from inspiring suggestions received in Milano, Trieste, Tokyo. Read inspiring books, have interesting movie experiences, go to live performances (music, dance or theatre) and walk in the city, when the weather does not inspire treks in the countryside. We want to remain inspired by architecture, fashion and photography. Pretty ambitious programme! How are we doing so far? The books which marked the switch to 2014 were very diverse.

The big novel read over Christmas on our Berlin couch next to candles and glasses of Russian tea is “La famiglia Karnowski”, by I.J. Singer, the story of a Jewish family across three generations, from Poland to Berlin to New York. Without mentioning a single date or event, the story of the Karnowskis is a big fresco of integration and immigration, of identity and relationships. I am really grateful that Adelphi translated this novel from Yiddish to Italian, and as a matter of fact it was a pleasure for me to read a great novel in Italian, after so much German and English reading and listening. But I am grateful also to my friend Giuseppe in Milan who suggested to me to get this book during a September Hotel Diana aperitivo. He knew I would have loved this novel…his bold book advice was truly inspiring!

It is always nice when a book gift hits the mark. Therefore it was a nice surprise to receive from a business acquaintance from Boston the essay “Engineers of victory – the problem solvers who turned the tide in WWII” by Paul Kennedy. The person did not know that I am an absolute junkie on topics related to WWII and Cold War, and this will make a nice reading for better understanding the people who were behind the leaders who dominate our history school books. A corporate view of WWII, a book about processes, projects and working groups.

Getting a fresh view on current affairs is always a way of starting into the new year, therefore I thank Stephi for bringing back from her recent Italian trip a copy of Limes, “Che mondo fa”, on geopolitical topics. A pity for those who cannot read Italian. Limes is an anthology of essays on geopolitical and economic topics. It is nice to remove a bit the worries and the news over Christmas, but it is also necessary to refocus and Limes is always an out-of-the-box, lateral thinking reading which cuts across the noise of daily news.

I love to buy books when I travel – and then I complain about heavy Rimowas. I had bought La famiglia Karnowski at Milano Centrale Feltrinelli bookstore during a trip to Milan and during the same trip, when in Triest, I noticed at the Tergesteo bookstore “Polska, rivemo!” a cheeky travelogue in Triestin dialect by Diego Manna and Michele Zazzara.  The book follows the trail of “Tre uomini in bicicletta”, the famous Paolo Rumiz travelogue. I was looking for another glance on Poland, a light and contemporary one, as all my Poland-related reading so far had something to do with WWII. Also, I love biking and the refreshing aspect about this travelogue is its use of ancient and contemporary Triestin dialect. I miss my city and reading dialect makes me feel all of a sudden 20-something. A nice feeling, in the tricky period between New Year’s Eve and my birthday…

Central Europe is always my obsession and after having edited all my bookshelves in Dusseldorf, I decided to re-read Eric Ambler’s “La frontiera proibita” – “The dark frontier”.  Central Europe is fascinating, fake Central European states are mesmerizing. Winter still has to deploy its icy power and therefore trains, stations, hotels, borders are fitting to the mood. Trains are my passion I received a beautiful photo book from MeinMann: “Unvergessiche Reisen”, which covers the most beautiful train journeys worldwide. It was nice to refresh our memories of our legendary trip across Australia with the Indian Pacific train, which we did in 2006.

Let’s stay in Central Europe but switch to photography. Two exhibitions marked the start to the year. First, the big retrospective exhibition dedicated to Barbara Klemm “Fotografien 1968-2013″ at the Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin. Watching her photographs, especially those printed on the first page of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, tell the recent history of Germany. Brandt, Schmidt, Kohl, but also Breznev, Hitchcock, Jagger…Barbara Klemm seems to have been always present when a political or social event shaped the public opinion. For me this exhibition was very personal as well since it covers my portion of the 20th century…events occurred when I was a child, and which I want to know better, or of my grown-up life. I love the black and white, sober resolution of newspapers prints, especially one of the pre-digital era, which were definitely better than today’s.

Back home, we saw Candida Hoefer’s “Dusseldorf” photo exhibition. The pupil of Berndt and Hilla Becher shows us a few decades of Ruhr and Rheinland life unfolding. I had spotted a few of her window-sill pictures in 2010 in Essen at the San’aa photo museum. In as much as Klemm depicts Germany with an unconventional, but nevertheless official, historical, international eye (Germany for the outside world), Hoefer shows more intimate places, some solemn and grand – the operas, the libraries, the headquarters – other more low-key: kebab kiosks, windowshops, streets. Last year we had seen Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition at the Kunstsammlung NRW, and I find there is a common thread. Hoefer’s exhibition made us more curious about our city. Her portraits of places, such as Benrath castle, Dreischeiben Haus grand entrance, Schauspielhaus are a door to more exploration in Dusseldorf.

MeinMann and I love exploring the urban texture of cities and, following Hoefer’s 1970s to date Dusseldorf view, he topped up the story with “Dusseldorf wie es war”, a photographic book about the pre-war era. Truly fascinating, it was the perfect inspiration for starting a post-industrial journey across Flingern, the neighborhod across the bridge, and its powerstation. Beautiful urban trekking on the day of my birthday!

Due to mild weather – so far – we privileged walking to going to movies and live performances. But we picked not only really nice plays and movies, but also fabulous venues. In Berlin, in order to lighten up the start of the business year and the end of the holidays, we saw “Cooped” at the Tipi am Kanzleramt by the MontyPythonesque Spymonkey. We loved the play and the Tipi will be on our agenda for our next trips to Berlin! On movies, we got into Zoo Palast mania – we love the place and the atmosphere. Now the goal is to explore the Rheinland’s pendant to Zoo Palast, ie the Residenz movie theater, in Cologne. Or smaller cinemas in Dusseldorf. There will be cold and rainy afternoons ahead in which a gemuetlich movie theater is required, the Winter is not over and there’s never been a warm Carnival as far as I can remember…and we will need ways to avoid Carnival!

Thinking of the mild season, we stocked up on “Infinitely beautiful”, a book about the UNESCO gardens of Woerlitz. Sooner or later we will be tired of cold weather, and planning travels in the Dessau-Woerlitz region will need some sound advice, which we will find in this beautiful book.

Additional inspirations, which are in the pipeline and will need further investigation or “implementation”, are the following: “The 100-year-old-man who climbed out the window and disappeared”, “L’educazione siberiana”, “La nonna vuota il sacco”, “Neoclassico”, “Berliner Chic: A Locational History of Berlin Fashion”, “German Fashion 1947-2013″, “The launch pad”, “Venedig-Dresden, zwei Kunstmetropolen im Dialog”, “Polonia l’Europa senza Euro”, “Aiuto, Hilfe!” (graphic novel), “Japan 8-9-3 – in search of Japan” (exhibition)…pheew!


Photograph of Berlin in motion, without a camera

I still have to decide whether to pay up for new uploading space – hefty fee… – or cancel some photos already published. In the meantime I will keep on writing. Things that are changing at present in Berlin. As usual. I’ll picture them without a camera.

City West, Charlottenburg

At Breitscheidtplatz there is a lot going on. Bikini Berlin is being spruced up – gone are the garish souvenir shops, but there are still some opposite side of the street to counterbalance the imminent glamour. Zoo Palast is back and looking very good indeed, we swing in between ZooBar and ZooLoge and we’re never tired of it. And now the worrying bit. A building has disappeared across the newly built Waldorf – what was it by the way? – and the Zwillingsturm will fill the gap by 2016 – a hotel, in case you may wonder.

Europa Center is still up and running, some stores have changed hands though. The fountain/hole opposite Europa Center is still there but rumor has it that it might be filled. A Curry36 can be found opposite the Bahnhof Zoo entrance – had it always stood there? Beate Uhse is still up and running but god knows until when – maybe worth a visit before it dissolves in thin air. The Amerika Haus is now hosting the c/o photo gallery. Here is something I regret, never to have visited the previous c/o, on Oranienburger Strasse, in the big Postfuerhramt  building.

Steinplatz, yet another hotel. But being honest I had never noticed the mighty building on the corner with Hardenbergerstrasse so maybe it’s only when buildings are renovated that we really notice them?

KuDamm, yet another hotel, but this time with reason. Cumberland House went back to its original destination, apartments and hotel, and grand Café…We never had noticed it before, as it was still a Finanzamt building. Its sheer size is so overwhelming that somehow it still goes unnoticed even nowadays. The Café Grosz’s Historicismus style is incredibly massive, its Mitteleuropean flavour recalls bits of Vienna and Triest. It’s a place for spending time, talking and eating and reading and observing. Welcome back.

Next to Cumberland House an angular building is shaping up as an Audi showroom, we’ll see more of it in time for the Berlinale. It does not seem particularly innovative, or with staying power, but this is the fate of the KuDamm. To mix the eternally graceful or powerful – Zoo Palast, Bikini House, KaDeWe – with the mainstream, “trendy”…or even the ugly.

It’s been around for a few months already, but the Apple store in the massive UFA Film-Bühne Wien cinema building  on KuDamm still hurts. The gray Neo-classical building had been empty for a while, and its fate was to become – obviously – a retail destination. Still the Cupertinist store – once a mighty foyer – feels so poor. The tablet is on the table. Alas.

The pain is not over. Hugo Boss has now replaced the once whimsical entrance of Hotel am Zoo , with its sloped glass canopy defying logic. True, the Boss glass boxes are probably the most stylish among the ones lining the KuDamm. But I always wondered what kind of encounters would have taken place behind the red velvet curtains of its tacky foyer. Too late. The hotel has been renovated, the reception probably moved up and the ambiguity should be also gone, now that “we’re on Facebook!”.

Barbarossa Kiez, Schoeneberg

Tomorrow night we’ll be back, I am curious to spot the difference vs the last impression I got last November, when, for the first time, I could glimpse the sunset from Barbarossastrasse across Eisenacherstrasse. Gone is the big housing estate (“the countless ringbells building” called it a friend of us). Wonder if the sky is still visible or if a new shadow is now cast.

Washington Platz, Mitte

We briefly glanced at it through taxi windows on an early morning. But it seems that more and more boxy buildings have appeared since last Summer? More hotels…what else?

Leopold Platz, Wedding

A neo-bauhaus 1960s library on stilts – quite nice I must admit – is now about to be renovated. Let’s hope the area will retain its community destination. Nearby a 1970s faded brown department store box still bearing the trace of its has-been C&A livety, yet another Fitness First building stares at the highstreet below, its diamond shaped glass windows like raised eyebrows. This one is a “Women” one. We wonder if the raison-d’etre of a female-only fitness club in an area full of Turkish stores is scarf-related?

Leipziger Strasse, Mitte

There was a big hole, more than 10 meters deep. And now you wouldn’t tell there had ever been one. A new shopping center has gone up. Yes sir. A new one.

Viktoria Kiez, Kreuzberg

We had spent some days in the former Schultheiss brewery newly built apartments back in 2007. We went to check out if the project had taken off or was still on hold. Well, quite a lot has been built on the site. Some apartments blend in within the brick and iron brewery structure. Others feel too uniform and anonymous, like an oversized Siedlung. Bruno Taut would not be happy. Too tall, too white, too repetitive. Thanks god there are still brick buildings.


A December copy of “Berlin Nord” reports that the Hertie dept store inaugurated with big fanfare in 2007 – and closed less than two years later – is still empty, in spite of its helicopter opening ceremony. Why not recycling the existing? By the way, also the Hauptstrasse Hertie looks still empty and lonely.


A lot has been written on the new mega architect competition for a giant library on Tempelhof. Uhm…


It was only by chance, that we spotted the newly built Landtag just days after its inauguration. Once again we were surprised. The last time we had been around here we entered a red Infobox with posters explaining plans and budget details. What should I say…we were happy of the result. The sunset blesses Potsdam in the most flattering way, and seeing now this New-Neoclassical building with its pastel colours and gilded crest feels so human. It does not really matter that it is not the original one. The overall skyline of Potsdam is somewhat restored to its roots, Nikolaikirche and the lot. Now only the Mercure Hotel stays in the way, and obviously we now long for its annihilation. Still we wonder why where we against the Palast der Republik destruction – and the Schloss reconstruction – and we love the same exercise in its Potsdam version? We still haven’t understood this. Maybe because der alte Fritz was known for creating Prussian copy-cats in architecture and not being ashamed of it? Or because the Palast der Republik looked out of place just like a totalitarian version of Beaubourg?


Berlin, Christmas N°7

It all started in Paris, on a cold Christmas…our Berlin idea.

In 2006, it was only a dream, reading an article on IHT. In 2007, it was reality, a round-trip of 24hrs to Berlin a day before Christmas, signing a contract. In 2008, it was all about camping in a building site, but it already felt like home…In 2009, it was our first proper Berlin Christmas! And then we had snowy and balmy ones…the two of us, or with family and friends. And so we come to 2013. All Christmas with their Berlin tradition.

Many things changed. We have a BahnCard25…and a Steuerberaterin. I wear glasses, MeinMann’s motorbike has a German plate full of “D”s. Ciccio is no longer with us. Micetta is at boarding school this Christmas. And some friends had a baby! And others had 2 babies!

We are now no longer BerlinRomExpress-ionists, but rather BerlinDusseldorf domestic travellers…this feels less exotic, of course, but the pleasures of recovering our German language skills are subtle and intense. Our new friendships are born in German, no longer in English. We meet with our French friends and the instinct for the 4 of us is to speak German, isn’t that cool? One of those things you don’t plan. Some friends who used to say “I am in Berlin/Munich etc but I will then go back home” now say the opposite “I am in Rome/Milan/Paris but then I will come back home”. We talk about movies and books and only then wonder “Was that in English? Italian? German? don’t remember…but it was good, wasn’t it?”.

Italy changed a couple of bespectacled and cold Prime Ministers, Germany sailed quietly towards the third Merkel term, and the second Grand Coalition. Genscher met Khodorkovskij back from Moscow, Stroebele met Snowden in Moscow. We have two Popes who wish each other Merry Christmas, and the Iranian Prime Minister joins in. Obama, 2.0. Putin, evergreen. Bachelet is back and Aung San Suu Kyi is free.

Berlin is changing too, but this is its essence. Berlin was always the place for change and never the place for tradition. People immigrate to Berlin, and want to leave stuff behind them and start anew, if Berlin becomes transfixed in its image Berlin is over. There was an era of obsessive office space creation. There is one now of compulsive hotel openings. Not the first and not the last. There are streets who change and become soul-less, catering to the average diluted and already obsolete hipster. And others who sail undisturbed across the years, subject to osmosis but never drowning in “anywhere-ss”.

And now time for tea…



we’re back!

…some technical difficulties…prova 1, 2, 3, prova….


First night in a new home!



Karlo’s onion omelette

1002500_picture_8684_1We need to empty our fridge ahead of moving house. Uhm let’s see what’s left for lunch…yummy eggs from dad’s hens and some onions…I thinks a nice “fritata con la zevola”, onion omelette, the favourite dish of my Slovenian neighbour Karlo, will do…


Cool Frankfurt

112537519-6d5b931d-f7fc-496f-a14b-eee44adf53e4I do not like the idea that this graffiti sprayed on the ECB building site sits now in some plutocrat living room in the US…I would have preferred it to remain in Frankfurt…

Photo source: La Repubblica

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