Tea 114: Sweet Chai, Hallmackenreuther, Brüsseler Platz, Cologne.
Day 113. My first day in Cologne, and quite a easy going one. Usually my first day in a place is spent having a short explore around the local area to get my bearings. I had a wander to the park just around the corner, the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Park. There were people jogging and walking dogs as well as a few rabbits hopping around munching on the damp grass. The air was heavy with misty rain filled clouds, but luckily it didn’t rain. I wandered part way towards the city centre and then back again, to the park first, where I decided to feed the ducks in the strange big square pond, with water that is a strange shade of turquoise (I later found out that I’m apparently not supposed to feed that ducks here, but luckily no one stopped me), there are carp in the water too, so despite it’s colour it must be capable of sustaining some life, although apparently a few years ago they had to totally refill the thing because the water had gone toxic and was killing the ducks.
Walking past the flat and along the little high-street. Then back to the flat I met with Regina as she had finished her first day back at work. We went and did some food shopping at the asian supermarket. We had thought about cooking this prawn, fennel, pasta dish (with fake prawns as Regina is a vegan), but we couldn’t find the fake prawns anywhere so that recipe quickly changed into a Pak Choi, Green Tea Noodles, lemongrass and tofu invented dish, which turned out to be very very good, if I do say so myself.
After eating we spent some time unpacking boxes from Regina’s basement, most of her stuff is still down there as she has only just got back from traveling around for the past year.
Day 114. Today I wandered further into the city centre. I found a few galleries, most rather commercial, but one quite nice space called Galerie Karsten Greve. This is a big space with about 4 levels, and very, very clean and tidy. The work on show at the minute is by Jean-Michel Othoniel. Glass sculptural hanging pieces. They are clean and sleek, but I’m not sure of the artists intent with them, I got the impression they are simply meant to be pretty objects.
After that I wandered back towards the flat, via a bicycle / sports shop. Then Regina arrived home from work again and we decided to head out to buy a few things and then went for ice cream at this good italian ice cream parlour near the city centre. I had a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of Pistachio, delicious!
Then we wandered to the ‘Belgian Quarter’. To a little square with a church called Brüsseler Platz, and we stopped at a cafe called Hallmackenreuther, and I had the above tea, a Sweet Chai, with fennel and liquorice and cardamom. It was good, though not amazing, possibly because I had wanted a different one, that they didn’t have, oh well.
We went home after that and cooked a traditionally German Asparagus dish. The asparagus is the same plant as I am used to, but they dont allow it to grow out of the ground and turn green, so it is yellowy-white in colour. We made a vegan bechamel sauce and potatoes to go with it, and it was very tasty.
After dinner we met up with Regina’s work mate in town and went to a gallery called ‘Museum Ludwig‘. This houses a large collection of modern art work, some huge names, and therefore a very expensive collection. Currently there is a sort of retrospective of the work of Yvonne Rainer. There is so much there that it’s impossible to do it all in a day, let alone two hours. This day was a special day where people who live in Cologne can get into the galleries for free, and due to the time we arrived I managed to get in for half price too! There is also Cosima Von Bonin’s CUT! CUT! CUT!, a show that has toured around and grown, and is now in its ‘final resting place’, at Museum Ludwig. I’m not too sure what I really think about this show though. I’m going to reserve opinion on that one for the minute.
There is also Henrik Olesen on show. Who’s work ‘Mr Knife and Mrs Fork’ has won the Wolfgang Hahn Prize 2012. I actually saw this work for the first time a few years ago, when it was installed in a much rougher space in London. It was good to see it again, and quite strange to see it in a much cleaner and ‘official’ situation, with clean floors, and weirdly carpeted walls. The whole piece was set up exactly the same, except for the space and the way you enter the space. It was a kind of surreal experience to see it again!
After the museum we headed to a bar, a traditional Cologne pub where we drank Kolsh, the Cologne beer that comes in short 200ml glasses and is refilled until you signal by putting a beer mat on top of your glass. It is light and smooth, and pretty good.
After a couple of those we headed for a snack and then home!
Tea 88, Fresh Mint Tea, Ankerklause, Berlin
Day 87, Thursday. Today I spent the day wandering around for ages, Abigail had gone to her studio so I decided to explore the city centre. It was one of those days of loads of inadvertent walking. I walked back to Alexanderplatz in an, ultimately futile, attempt to find a tourist information, god knows where it is! I should probably check the internet, but I keep on forgetting before it’s too late. I did by a little notebook with a map in it though, so that is helpful to me. It also makes checking maps in a more incognito fashion easier! From Alexanderplatz I walked West and past a large area of museums and tourists. I eventually, accidentally, made it to Checkpoint Charlie, the place was heaving with tourists carrying cameras and beggars carrying cardboard begging scripts. I didn’t really hang around here for any time at all, the crowds of people putting me off. There are two men standing in American Army uniform pretending to guard the checkpoint, which was one of the most tense and symbolic border crossings between East and West.
I escaped up a quieter street, which was a bit of a relief, walking past a car museum / rental place called Trabi world, the Trabi (or Trabant) was the most common car driven and produced in Eastern Germany. This little place is filled with cars that you can hire and drive around the city. Very old school…
A bit more of a wander, I thought I was on my way towards the Brandenberger Tor, although I never actually made it in the end, I think I did manage to walk all the way around it though! Much more walking around in a large loop around the city before I made it back home.
That evening Sergej and I went out for some more drinks, where some of his workmates and an old friend were hanging out. The place was so so smokey! By the time we got home I totally stank and had to have a cold shower to get the stench of smoke out of my hair and skin. It still surprises me that most places allow smoking anywhere in Berlin. And it is kind of weird to see advertising for cigarettes, especially that still promote them in a life giving kind of way!
Day 88, Friday. Today was a slow morning, Abigail and Sergej have gone away for the weekend, sort of for her birthday, which is next week. Eventually I got up and started some work on my website, which is part of the reason for these belated, bunched up posts. All the shops were closed today, it was Good Friday, though not the cafes and restaurants. I met up with one of Abigail’s friends, Ulijona, and we went for a cup of tea at a cafe called Ankerklause. This place is quite popular, and I am told, a good place for celebrity spotting (it’s apparently one of Quentin Tarantino‘s favourite places). The sun was mostly out, so we sat outside and I had a nice Fresh Mint tea and we chatted for a while about clubbing, Berlin, art, etc. Then we both decided that we were hungry so Ulijona took me to the place she considered to have the best Falafel (I imagine there is a lot of opinions for a lot of different places!) But it was good, I had Falafel with Halloumi and it was pretty good, and possibly better than the first place I went to, though mostly because the Halloumi had been cooked properly here. After that Ulijona went home and I walked around trying to soak up as much sunshine as possible, though it was a little cold in the wind. I got home and did a bit more work on my website and some more pondering about the future, which seems to be dominating a lot of my thoughts right now.
Day 89, Saturday. So, finally! A post that happens on the day it happened! Today I woke up and had breakfast and then left fairly quickly, compared to usual. However, as I got to the door and opened it, I was greeted by sleety, snowy freezing rainfall. I decided to leave anyway, although changed my original plan (which was a walk through the Tiergarten!) and went back towards town and browsed in bookshops and found the Lomography shop which I had a little look around (Marta’s experience with the Holga has still inspired me to look for something of my own to use) I basically did a big loop and wandered around some of the smaller streets, filled with high class galleries, and expensive shops. Then I got back home, via the Chinese market where I bought some rice crackers and a can of Aloe Vera juice. I sat and rested my legs for a while. Then the sun peeped it’s head out so I went out again to try to catch it, I wandered around the remnants of a little market next to the cafe I visited yesterday, most of it had been packed away, but there were still a few stalls left. I walked some more whilst the sun stayed up and then came back home, via the supermarket where I treated myself to some over priced Peanut butter, it was far too expensive, but I have been craving it for long enough to make it seem worth it!
Time for more work on the website.
Also, don’t forget to check out the Kickstarter Campaign, if you don’t mind.
So, day 84 was spent travelling from Warsaw to Berlin by train. It was about a 5.5 hour journey which was reasonably comfortable, there was only one incident of an altercation with a woman and an incorrect seat choice. But it was fine, though she seemed very angry for a woman who then started to read an esoteric book about Auras!
I made it to Berlin at around 3:30pm and met Abigail, the woman I run the Hello Collective with. We took a few trains to get to her place, in Kreuzberg district, the current hub of the creative world in Berlin, apparently. Also the heart of the Turkish community in Germany. There must be more Falafel, Halloumi and Baklava shops per square meter than anywhere else in the world! Including the middle east! We got home and I dropped my stuff, finally met Sergej, Abigail’s boyfriend to whom I have only ever existed through Skype (and visa-versa)! We sat a chatted for a while and then popped to a cafe around the corner for a coffee and Abigail had a pizza before she had to disappear off to a German lesson. I went back to the flat and chilled out for a while. When Sergej arrived back from his studio we started to cook a bit of food ready for Abigail’s return. She didn’t get back until late (normal for her German lesson days) and we ate, then went out for a little drink.
Day 85, Tuesday. We woke up and went out into the local area, a little market by the river, then I went to see Abigail’s studio and we carried on walking to the Neukolln area and visited a few art spaces and then ended up in a place called Agora, a cafe which is also home to a few artist’s studios. We sat with a coffee for a while and chatted about our plans for the summer residency program and what needs organising, including the fundraising issues! Another reminder about our Kickstarter campaign, please visit our page and if you can donate a little. Some guy made 3.8million dollars for a computer game development, so SURELY we can make a modest $2500! CLICK HERE!
We met up with Sergej for a bit of lunch, an aubergine Halloumi wrap, which was tasty, though very messy! The rest of the day seems to be a bit of a blur… hmm… We basically explored the city a bit more, then Abigail had another German lesson and I went towards the city centre, making it to Alexanderplatz for a while then headed home. After a while we decided to leave and wandered around a while longer then headed home. Later that evening we met up with Sergej and his brother and went for a couple of drinks in a bar around the corner.
Day 86, Wednesday. We spent the morning do more Hello Collective things, trying to get some more emails out to people to try and drum up a little more sponsorship and trying to investigate other avenues if we don’t manage to make it to our target. Then in the afternoon Abigail took me on another little tour of the area, taking me to this amazing arts supplies store called Modular. Everything you could probably imagine! Quite cool, though maybe a bit ikea arts ish?
We then went for a tea in a place called Betahaus, a very cool space near to Modular. It was very nice and chilled out in there though, and the green tea, though standard, was of very good quality. We sat there and chatted for a while, and people watched. A funny situation developed when a woman arrived, put her things down and went to get a coffee, whilst she was away from the table another gentleman arrived and sat at the same table. When the woman got back from ordering her coffee she approached with a rather confused expression and went to the table. The man had obviously not noticed her stuff on the seat and there was a funny looking (though unheard) conversation that took place before the man got up and went to another place.
That evening we had a night in and watched a film, the 80’s childhood classic, Flight of the Navigator! I love that film! Though it was maybe not Abigail’s cup of tea, for Sergej it seemed pretty nostalgic, one of the first American films he remembers seeing when Eastern Germany left communist rule.
Today (yesterday) was a lovely day. Lithuania is definitely a place I will need to go come back to. Unfortunately my time here is almost up and tomorrow (today) I will be leaving for Poland. My day started with another great breakfast, bread and cheese and then banana pancakes and yoghurt.
After this great start to the day I left the house and walked down the huge staircase (210 steps) to the town centre. First stop was the bus ticket office where I bought my ticket to Warsaw for another bargain price of 29litas, about 8.5 Euro. The lady in the ticket office was very friendly and helpful with everything, printed me off my ticket and then I headed into the town centre. I wandered down the long main high street Laisvės alėja, lined with trees and that leads all the way to the old town. The old town starts after you have traveled beneath the main road and come up the other side. Immediately recognisable as an Eastern European / Baltic Old Town, with the building styles and layouts. The first street is still the main street and leads directly to the town square. There are lovely little shops, a tea shop (though not cafe), which I popped in to have a look and a smell, but didn’t buy anything. Then I went to a little glass fronted photography gallery just off the town square. A nice space with some good work on show, though I have totally forgotten by who, and their website isn’t up to date yet. In the town square there were workmen taking down a huge christmas tree made from recycled green plastic bottles. I imagine it must have looked quite cool at night time. Apparently the tree is only just being taken down because some wise fellow decided that the weather had been much too cold for people to work outside at such a job and so it had been left until now, when the weather is reasonably milder. A very good idea! I wandered around and then decided to take a seat next to a sculpture of Maironis, Lithuania’s most celebrated poet, who had studied during his high-school years in Kaunas. While I was sitting there in the peace and quiet a delivery lorry turned up and two young people were, rather unceremoniously left holding a mattress. After a few attempts to lift and carry the thing I decided that I would offer some help to the young couple. So I got up, went over, apologised for my lack of Lithuanian but offered help. We carried the mattress the few hundred yards to their front door, had a little chat about why I was in Lithuania and what they did (students, one studying Music Technology, the other Medicine), and then I went back to the town square.
I then walked a little while north and found myself at Kaunas Castle, an old, semi-ruined, semi-reconstructed (and therefore sort of ruined a little more), building that stands more or less at the point where the two rivers, the Nemunas and the Neris, meet. It also marks the start of a small area of parkland that is the true point of the land where the two rivers meet. The little park is only a few meters higher than the river level, the ice of one river was pretty much mostly frozen, but on the other, the Nemunas the ice was breaking up and shifting. Huge great chunks of glacial blue ice slowly floated down the river, creaking and bobbing about. It was quite an amazing sight.
After that I went back into the Old Town Square, I had spied a place to get a little treat. Chocolaterie, as it is simply named, is a sweet little chocolate and coffee cafe. It isn’t cheap, and especially not by Lithuanian standards, but as a small treat it is ok. I had the above hot chocolate, and espresso sized cup filled with glorious liquid chocolate, I also treated myself to a piece of cake, true gluttony as the chocolate by itself was much more than enough sweetness. But the cake was really good, chocolate, cherries, more chocolate, and not just sponge but a layer of solid chocolate in the middle too. Very, very bad for you, and therefore very, very good for your soul…
I sat there for a while, then wandered through some of the side streets of the Old Town. Taking my life in my hands down the icy narrow, cobbled streets until I reached the Nemunas River again, but this time further up stream, by a large bridge that leads into the heart of the old town. A huge sundial sits on the wall of one building, it’s smiling face greeting all those that arrive. I then met up with Lina’s brother and one of his friends who decided to take me to the Žalgiris Arena, the huge black basketball arena that sits on a small island in the New Town area of Kaunas. Basketball is actually Lithuania’s national sport, and they are very passionate and proud about it. In the arena a competition was on between a lot of Lithuanian schools (though I don’t know if it was just local schools or the whole country). The stadium is mostly black, outside and in, which is actually quite nice to sit in, the focus is really on the basketball court. We sat and watched for a while. Small three person competitions taking up the time between quarters of the main game of the day. Then a small challenge for a member of the audience to throw a basketball from the centre of the court into the basket, but, as if this wasn’t hard enough, they were blindfolded. When they inevitably missed the audience was told to scream and shout as if they had made the shot. The guy throwing was very almost convinced!
After a while I decided I would head back home, so, leaving Lina’s brother and friend I walked across the main bridge back to the mainland, walked past the huge empty unfinished Soviet era hotel. This is an almost solid block of concrete, about 12 stories high and probably the size of a few football pitches. The thing is built so solid that it is apparently near impossible to break it down, the reinforced concrete latticed with steel. No one knows what will happen to the thing, but everyone hopes something will happen to it. It is like a huge, grey, gloomy reminder of the past. Making it back home, through the little park, that was once a graveyard, then a sports arena (another Soviet influence) and now a park with reference to the previous graveyard, and back up the 210 steps, myself, Lina and Algis sat a chatted for a while. Then we ate some traditional Lithuanian dumplings, little parcels of pastry filled with meat or mushrooms which are boiled and served with sour cream and salad. Very satisfying food! Then a couple of Algis’s friends arrived and we sat with some wine and a few card games, and another round of Dixit (the game I failed to explain yesterday). Then by the time all that was over it was time for bed!