Ilana on the road travels in UK

I love London a lot and every time I can find new and old friends and places to see again or discover. Especially the parks, in any season. However, in the last 10 years since I’ve first landed in the city, I haven’t been able to go not even one single mile outside. This summer, after another splendid week enjoying the London sun, I decided that it is about time to change the pattern of my trips to the UK. And thus the wonderful journey of 5 days through the countryside was born. ImageThe novelty was that I did not spend more than 5 hours in the capital city. I changed local trains and buses and did a lot of walking. The adventure started at Victoria Coach station, one hour after I arrived from Berlin with a very stormy yet comfy and elegant British Airlines flight. Image

The first stop was in one of the mother cities of universities: Oxford. Very crowded with tourists not only on Sundays. I walked around for a couple of hours and admired the old architecture and inviting coffees and restaurants and headed by bus to the new stop.

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For a long time from now, I will keep Birmingham close to my mind – and heart – for a long time from now not only for the spectacular architecture, a bold combination of classical English politeness and enthusiastic industrialism, but especially for the kindness of the people. Nice bus drivers accepting on board people not accustomed with the local rules of buying tickets, locals helping wholeheartedly with directions. After less than 24 hours of stay, it was about to get closer to the final destination and playground for the next days: Wales.  Image

Llandrindod Wells used to be a very popular spa location at the beginning of the 20th century, but in the last 100 years its place on the map of treatment tourism was challenged. Nowadays, the memory of the old times is kept by the Victorian buildings, but by far the biggest potential of the area is the wonderful scenery. Quiet green hills, with cattle and horses. Everything is middle sized and encourages moderation. ImageThere is not too much to do in Llandrindod Wells: limited shopping opportunities, a couple of small museums that can be seen in a couple of hours. But this is not the reason why someone will hurry up to go in the heart of Wales. Many shops and restaurants are promoting local products and if all are so delicious as our favourite treat during the stay: melon and peach smoothie, you may consider moving there for good.ImageAfter 2 full days of rest, it was about time to start a new journey, this time on the road back to London, using the network of regional trains. On the way to and from Wales, we stopped at Shrewsbury, a very cute middle age town, with a castle and many colourful flowers on the streets.ImageAfter so much quietness and sporadic Internet connection, the final stop of the journey was in the famous outlet village shop of Bicester. ImageEnd of the week, end of the trip. Time to return and start writing. And plan a new trip to London with more local destinations in the program. 

Be back soon!

A pleasant journey to Quedlinburg

The advantage of intensively working to finish my project 100 Places to See in Germany is that I am rarely bored. The disadvantage is that I realized that maybe I may need to add more places on the list. I am getting closer to the half of the project and my bucket list for Germany is going far beyond 150. Especially after having my first trip to Harz for visiting Quedlinburg, I instantly enlarged the list, including some hiking opportunities that I would love to try myself before the beginning of the winter season.

ImageI spent my first 2 hours in the city walking as much as possible, and taking a lot of pictures of the old architecture. The main street from the Central Station – Bahnhofstrasse – goes directly to the open market in the center – that till 3-4pm has a lot of cheap products of all kinds, from shoes to vegetables. The shops are small, some of them, especially those selling old books, being in the business from the 19th century.

Quedlinburg is associated on the cultural map with a rich heritage of around 1,300 half-timbered houses that qualified the city to be included onto the list of UNESCO World Heritage. Most of them are completely reconstructed and after a couple of hours of walking on the streets I had the feeling that I am back in time. The people, shops and restaurants were looking from my advanced century, but inhabiting an old ambiance. And I was sure that I am not in the middle of the making off of a historical movie either. Due to the intensive reconstruction work, walking in the center of the town, where is situated the Tourism Office, was not extremely easy and even less recommended was to have a coffee or a cup of tea in the area. Too much dust and noise, but this can be a reason to return to see how the new centre looks after the intensive renovations.

ImageMy first serious stop was at Hof 17, a big yard hosting various small shops selling hand made hats, jewellery and glass made under the eyes of the curious tourists. From there, one can take the mini-train touring the city. I was not in the mood for touristic guidance and I continued my solitary walk through the city.  ImageDuring my documentation about Quedlinburg, I have read about several Jugendstil buildings that are embellishing the old medieval streets, and in one of the bookstores I had a look at a book with images about some samples of such art. But I was not ready to see such a wonderful work of art, decorating with details an entire building. Later in the day, when I was wandering through the residential area, I spotted another hard-worked decorations. For a couple of seconds, I dreamt I am in Vienna.

Switched to an artistic mood, I was extremely pleased to spend some time at the Feininger Gallery. The modernly designed building is hidden in an old yard, but visiting it was one of my main priorities in Quedlinburg so it was almost impossible to miss it. The collection of Lyonel Feininger, a member of the Bauhaus movement, is presented at the first floor. Among the works, one of the few self-portraits, and many paintings that show different artistic stages. Feininger’s connection to Quedlinburg was Hermann Klumpp, a local friend that himself studied with Mies van der Rohe and rather a collector of his works. The Gallery hosted at the time another temporary exhibition of several modern artists, such as Daniel Richter, Roy Lichtenstein and Donald Judd.ImageOnly 5 minutes away from the world of modern art, in another half-timbered house, I changed the century and visited the Klopstock museum. Here was born the poet that influenced R.M. Rilke or Paul Celan in 1724, but the house, situated close to the castle, was also for various periods of time the residence of the creator of the science of geography, Carl Ritter, of the local Romantic painter Wilhelm Steuerwaldt and Johann Christoph Friedrich GutsMuth who introduced the physical exercise into the school curriculum. The memorial house is presenting in a simple way fragments from the life of the illustrious inhabitants and of their works. A lot of history on my shoulders, but the sweet smell of chocolate of the coffee house nearby brought me smoothly back to reality. ImageThe next serious trip before another couple of long hours of walks on the streets of Quedlinburg was at the castle. Its construction was started in the 9th century, by Henry the Fowler and played both a strategic and symbolical role. The museum presents its history, connecting the dots with the European Middle Age. In the 20th century, it was assumed an important role in the propaganda of the 3rd Reich, whose craziness is explained through various videos displayed at the exhibition.

I enjoyed having a tour of the castle garden, with some funny looking putti guarding a fountain, one of them looking as a little Cossack. After I saw the beautiful landscape and the green mountains, I started to make plans of a hiking adventure in the Harz. But best view of the castle and of the area is possible only if you go down from the castle, and walk to the Münzenberg, the highest location in Quedlinburg. As the best spot of the castle is possible only from the coffee house facing the castle, get ready to have a coffee and relax soon.

After another small walks around Münzenberg and another couple of minutes spent admiring through the lenses of my camera the Jugendstil buildings and the green woods as seen from the quiet residential area, I returned in the city, to see more local life. I did not see too much information local cuisine, except some sour-sweet mustards labelled as Made in Harz. End of August mid-September it is the high season for chanterelle, but those are specific to other areas as well, such as Brandenburg.

Due to its fame as a picturesque UNESCO treasure, the city hosts tourists from all over the world. The accommodation options are diverse for all budgets and styles, from hostels to elegant suites, many of them hosted in old buildings. One hotel, for instance, is a former brewery whose big copper vessels can be admired in the main restaurant. As in many other cities in Germany, the offer of private hosting is generous, with prices starting from 21 € pro person.

My last cultural stop was at Palais Salfeldt. The palace belonged to the son of a mayor in the 17th century, Erckhart Salfeld. The building was renovated several times, and nowadays it hosts wedding ceremonies and big corporate parties, but also an interesting exhibition of ceramics and porcelain, from the private collection of Jutta and Harald Wohlthat.

Overwhelmed by so much history and lessons in only a couple of hours and equally exhausted after so much walking on the old cobblestone streets, I finished my journey with a very interesting discussion at a tea shop, with a lady that knew everything about teas.

Time to go back to Berlin and plan a new trip to Harz.

For more pictures, here is my Pinterest board: http://pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/quedlinburg/

How much planning in the travel plans?

I like to be as organised as possible and to be able to manage my time as an expert, especially when I am on the road. Before going somewhere, I like to carefully research my topic, to set up a list of the topics I want to cover and to find out through social media and direct discussions how much time I will need to do the proper documentation on the ground. Eventually, I keep in mind various safety and weather concerns that are very important. I also want to know when I go and when I return, where I do stay and what are the possibilities to use the Internet. As I am working online, my time and revenue when on the road depend on the wi-fi facilities. 

If I am on journalistic assignment, and I do have on the menu a specific topic, the most part of my travel time will be dedicated to properly cover my theme. Such trips are usually the easiest one but not necessarily the most rewarding – unless that I publish something which is already a great achievement -, as I know for sure what I should write and photograph about and find something else to do only if it is some time left. 

But there is still an element of surprise that I want to keep as the best piece of cake at the end of the lunch. I always like to walk for hours on the streets trying to feel how it is to live there. I am a big fan of architecture and I want to improve my knowledge about volumes and decorations, especially doors’. I like to see the parks and the shops and the products and fruits and vegetables sold, in order to get an idea about the culinary tastes and how the local people like to spend their time and raise their children. In case that I know the local language, I like to have little conversations with people on the street. This is especially a pleasure in France, where people are happy to interact spontaneously in their mother tongue with funny tourists. 

Very often, those unplanned encounters reveal the best insights into the place. What about a museum whose only disadvantage is of not being located on a central street? Or some streets with interesting stories painted on their walls? What about discovering a hidden episode of history that is well known though among the people living there? Maybe in some cases you may need to stay longer or you will feel the need to spend one day out of the city for finding out new connections and discovering different places. Especially when I am spending time in places close to the borders, I like to spontaneously go in the other country, comparing customs, nature and languages. Often, the cities near the borders are amazing examples of cultural diversity. This is the case with many German and Polish localities situated near the border, or with many villages close to the border between France and Spain. 

I am a traveller, not necessarily a tourist and I prefer to take any trip as a journey revealing more from the world. This is the reason why I promise to never stop travelling. 

Any questions and insights regarding travel and travel planning? Feel free to share them with me at:

ilanaontheroad (at) gmail (dot) com

Keep in touch!

Discovering London: The Royal Opera Arcade

After I visit a city more than once, I like to get lost on the streets and let myself surprised by new corners that are not necessarily in my ‘books’. It happened recently with the Royal Opera Arcade in London. ImageSituated between Haymarket and Lower Regent Street, it is the first arcade of London, inaugurated in 1818. It is considered one of the first works of Sir John Nash, the mind behind many modern constructions of the city, such as Regent Street or the Marble Arch. It survived dereliction, blitz and fire. ImageShortly after the war, the Government of New Zealand leased the site and built what is still today the New Zealand House. Nowadays, the Arcade hosts also a couple of art galleries, a flower shop or a Koh-i-Noor Diamonds representation. The entrances leading into the theatre from the arcade are no more, but the shops with the bow-fronted windows, as in the initial plans of Nash, are still maintained. ImageThe Royal Opera Arcade is situated very close to Trafalgar Square, and to a lot of traditional centers dedicated to the arts, such as Christie’s Royal Academy of Arts or the National Gallery.

Underground in London

The London Underground is celebrating 150 years in 2013. It is the oldest subway in the world, with 250 miles of track and 287 stations. Daily, 1.1 billion passengers, many of them tourists as me, are using its gracious services. Until I needed to use it during the hot summer days, I highly appreciated it, but after surviving the sauna ambiance I realized that maybe some changes are needed. At least by introducing a little bit of air condition. For the sake of humanity, it would be perfect. ImageAccording to Andrew Martin, who wrote a well documented book about the tube – Underground/Overground – the design of the London subway was never properly planned at a city level. It developed piece by piece, at the same time with the development of the city. This is mostly available for the Northern line, with its complicated junctions. For instance, Edgware was welcomed in the network after its 1924 promotion from village to suburb. As in many other cases, the geology and social and political considerations played an important role in the expansion of the metro.ImageEach station looks different and for each station, different patterns of tiles were chosen. 

Over 100 years ago, a journey with the tube was considered a very exquisite occasion and the dress code used to be very strict. However, the social idea of the tube was to offer as many people as possible to go out of their world at affordable prices and enjoy the life in the city.

Times changed and nowadays, everyone is using the tube: it’s fast, you avoid the traffic jams so annoying after 3pm. There it is a risk though, especially during the weekend, when you may be ready to meet a lot of inebriated people. The bad news is that everywhere in the world is the same. But it is only one London.ImageDoes it look similar with…let’s say the Moscow subway? It is a reason why: the underground engineers offered advice to the Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev for the creation of the metro system in the capital city.

The posters were started to be used in the 1930-40s as a source of revenue. Another aim was to educate the masses. Between 1919-1932, a publication called Metroland and distributed in the tube was aimed to promote the modern lifestyle. 

The city is always looking for funding and the advertising in the tube is an important source of revenue. Interested to put your name on a station? Get ready to pay around 500,000 £.

ImageDuring both world wars, most stations were used as bomb shelters. However, the trains continued to operate while people were underground. 

In 1933, the Lost Property Office was open. As of 2011, around 200,000 objects are found out of them only 22% will return to their owners. ImageModernism and the art of the local Craft movement are the determinant art style of the stations. Regularly, programs aimed to support young artists, including poets, are developed. 

If you see newspapers laying on the floor or on the chairs, don’t wonder. There are left for being read. Thus, a journey with the tube can be a good occasion for getting updated with the latest news. Unless you don’t have your own book with your. Or you have something to read on your computer – it is possible to plug in. People are using their trips with the tube in the most diverse ways. During my first visit to London, I was amazed of the determination of ladies to set the perfect make-up despite the high speed of the metro. I am still jealous of their dexterity. ImageThis is an old train, displayed in the Golders Green station on a Sunday, on the occasion of the 150 year celebrations of the tube. The design keep the pace with the times and the behaviour of the citizens of London and their guests. From 1984, the warning ‘Keep Feet Off Seats’ was introduced and the popular ‘Mind the Gap’. 

Do you want to see real Londoners and see the city as fast as possible? Nothing can be done without the old good tube. 150 year old and counting. 

Little fashion and make-up tips for the road

Fashion and travel can go very good together, not only when it comes to purchasing the latest accessories. It has to do a lot with the way one looks and take care of herself. 

Every time I travel, I have with me some basic accessories that I cannot live without and some that I discovered at a late date that are very useful in my travel bag. 

Let’s have a look of what I am preparing to take with me to London and Wales:ImageI discovered Anastasia Beverly Hills back in my corporate life and I loved not only Anastasia’s amazing love story, but also her 5-element brow kit. It’s a high quality product and very easy to use, even for a clumsy person as me. It is that kind of product that once you found it you will be the most trustworthy client for the rest of your life.ImageI am also using regularly everything Ahava has produced in terms of body care especially their mud masks. For my adventures on the road I prefer to use the samples that can be easily carried without bothering the vigilance of the airport controllers. Image

A couple of months ago, I discovered via social media Beecology. Healthy made in the US products that I am happy to carry with me all the time. The lipbalms are very efficient and easily create a good dependence – especially the honey balm made primarily of bees wax, coconut oil, shea butter, propolis extract, honey and natural honey flavor. The hand and body creams are very rich and give a special skin texture.  

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The list of basic maintenance products may vary from a trip to another. I need to have a good face cleanser, a mask, to keep my skin hydrated day and night. Especially during the summer, the list is longer, as the sun is not the skin’s best friend and extra protection is always needed. Especially if I am expected to be on the road the whole day, I should spend minimum 30 minutes each evening taking care of my skin and I need to have a minimal choice with me. Otherwise, I do have a look at the local market and love to buy new products. I did with a great pleasure in Japan – Shiseido products there are completely different and much diverse than the offer available in Europe – in France or Italy. German products are mostly reliable at affordable prices so it is no risk to use them regularly.ImageThe basic make-up may change from a season to another or from an occasion to another. The list of the bare necessities keeps constant: I like to have a little bit of colour around my eyes, a good eye liner – waterproof as the mascara, as very often I forget or simply don’t like to carry an umbrella with me – a decent colour of nail polish – always – and lipstick if I go to a restaurant or a visit in town. I don’t need too much space and I can carry them in my bag. I need a modest simple line that make me feel as a well kept lady. ImageThose tea tree wipes are very efficient and easy to carry. They clean very well the dust accumulated during the day as well as the serious make-up painted in the morning. 

A little bit of colour always bring a good mood! Happiness can be made of a lot of little small beautiful things. 

A little bit of shopping in London. And something more

If one will ask me if I already finished all the museums, sophisticated exhibitions, boutiques and top attractions in London and what I am left is to visit Harrods and Harvey Nichols, I will answer innocently that I’ve hardly seen 5% of the city. Most probably I will discover another 0.25% the next week when I will spend some time in the city. I am no more the shopping girl I used to be and I dearly miss the right company for a serious shopping session in town. But true is that I am not snobbish enough to refuse to have a little look at some of the big shops when I don’t have anything too heavy on my travel agenda. One month ago, I spent some time in the area, first and foremost for a discovery of the different world of fruits and vegetables, but also to see the latest products from some of my favorite brands that I cannot find in my part of Europe. ImageThe first stop: Harvey Nichols for a little tour of the food court. But till I arrive at the fifth floor I could not resist to see what’s new in Anya Hindmarch’ shop.Image

And there were some things since the last time I’ve been there. But I better go to the next floor.ImageThe passage from a floor to another was relatively easy. As flying on a cloud with many shoes. It was a dream, isn’t it?Image

Finally, I arrived at my destination and did a careful check of the latest local products, the menu of the restaurant and some other nice objects that will make my life in the kitchen a summer afternoon dream. ImageAt less than 15 minutes distance, there were someone waiting for me at Harrods so I hurried up to be in time. The next hour was spent not only admiring the new and colourful fruits and fashion boutiques – presenting the autumn/winter collections mid-July – but also for observing the art deco ornaments.   ImageAfter a lot of walking and talking and walking again, what can be better than a cup of champagne ?

Reading recommendations of the month

I love to read as much as I like to write. Especially in the last months, I focused my attention on writing handbooks and travel books that can help me advance with my writing. Also, I was looking for books that can help me to discover new places and inspire for finding new destination to feature.

Every time I travel I have at least one big book in my bag. The time has a different dimension when I am away of the computer and the reading goes smoother. In the last three weeks, I did a lot of trips together with some good and interesting books.

As I need continuously to improve my German, I found at my generous local library a couple of books with a travel topic.

Das Paradies liegt im Pommern, by Liselotte Schwiers is a memoir about childhood in this green and lake-rich area. I crossed Pommern several times in the last months and loved the picturesque landscape and the quiet green fields.  It is a classical book, not necessarily entertaining or surprising, telling simple stories. The kind of book that can fill your time when all the other good books are gone.

Tine Wittler is a famous media star, but the country girl me did not know about that before finding her book about a trip to Mauritania to document the standards of women beauty. Written as a diary starting months before the trip per se, and it is interesting from the point of view of the travel planning tips, especially for a destination that presents certain safety issues. I was not extremely interested by the ‘beauty’ part that took though the most part of the story, but for an easy reading, it is not that bad. 

My third and last German lecture was Nadine Gruenter account of the summer life in Trouville. A book that I liked for the ironic yet warm descriptions of characters, the architectural detail and the social relevance of every single move in such a crowded place. We are talking about France after all, where the bakeries are playing one of the biggest role in connecting people, events and latest gossips.

The next book is fascinating and it is that kind of wake-up call that I want to read from time to time. Alexandra Horowitz’s On Walking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes is a reminder of why we are writing and how we need to better use our senses to see, hear and understand the city. Even if it is about the two streets away from our house that we cross at least 3 times the day. I haven’t been so enthusiastic about a book since I discovered James Elkins’ How to Use your Eyes during my art classes years ago (as I did have a lot of free time, I also had some institutional artistry experiences).

I finish my bookish recommendation for today – some more books are on my shelves waiting to be featured – with a book about how to write freely, without complexes and getting the best possible voice, regardless what other people say: Brenda Ueland, If you Want to Write. The book was written in…1938 – it is not a misspelling – but republished several times, and did not feel anything outdated. An encouraging book for anyone coping with mistrust, misplaced jokes about the quality of their writing and other sarcasm, especially from the part of people that their whole life kept editing, but never publishing something valuable. ‘Even if I knew for certain that I would never have anything published again, and would never make another cent from it, I will still keep in writing’. Keep this in mind and don’t give up writing. It is only Tuesday so a lot of time left to publish at least 400 words this week. 

Happy writing and reading everyone!

My newest discovery: Rheinsberg

Summer Sundays in Berlin are beautiful, but I am somehow restless these days, always looking to see more and more new things outside the city. Because in the last weeks I had enough time to see almost all exhibitions and newest cake and coffee places in town, why not trying a new adventure from the series 100 Places to See in Germany? With a Brandenburg Ticket in my pocket I headed to Rheinsberg. Let’s the discovery start!

This small and green coloured locality is situated 2 hours away from Berlin. The train changed directions a couple of times, and I had time to say hallo again to Neuruppin, another recommended destination for those looking for a quiet Sunday afternoon. Did I already revealed the happy ending of my stay in Rheinsberg? Haven’t say the whole story yet.

ImageAfter I pick up the destination for the Sunday travel, I did my documentation homework, but apparently there were some information that I missed: the long history of ceramics. The first factory was created in 1762 and since then it continued to produce various colourful plates and cups. I’ve read all the history in the cups of tea and coffee presented at the Keramikhaus, a shop open daily close to the Carstens porcelain factory. Carstens introduced in Germany the tea service in 1901, almost 20 years after the UK. Its specific mark is the deep black with various email decorations. Also characteristic for the local porcelain is a certain marble appearance, that gives a certain weight to any small cup of tea.

A couple of minutes later, at the Tourist Information Center, I was admiring other ceramic works, this time done some local artists in glass and marble porcelain. A similar exhibition was also available at the small Museum of Ceramics, situated close to an open market where a big fair of pottery will take place mid-October.

For the next hour, I continued the exploration of small streets and had a look at the architecture of the places and checked some of the local menus. Rheinsberg reminded me a lot of Potsdam – no wonder as the famous Friedrich left some architectural traces here too – but less touristy. One of the reasons of the relaxed ambiance can be that it is not that close to Berlin, and the connections by train are limited to the summer time. The train that brought us there will stop operating from mid-October till the next spring. However, the accommodation offer is richer meaning that people keep coming here during the winter too, with all categories of hotels plus a lot of private rooms offered. There are also a lot of restaurants and icecream parlors – one of them offer a different type of icecream each day of the year, among the previous flavours being mayonnaise, strawberry/basilicum. The restaurants are serving a lot of fish-based meals – fishing is a common activity in the area. One of the famous restaurants here bears the name of Kurt Tucholsky, the rebel author who apparently was almost everywhere in Poland and Germany, including in a small town at the Danube where he was an apprentice police chief for a couple of months. A Tucholsky literature museum can be visited at the Castle, my next and most pleasant stop of my destination.

ImageThe most pleasant experience I had by far in Rheinsberg was the long walk around the lake visiting various domains of the castle. Initially the property of Friedrich the Great, that was intimately involved in the planning of the domain, especially the gardens, it was later transferred to his brother Henryk, who continued the work and brought some of his architectural ideas. Nowadays, the castle looks as a perfect Romantic retreat: a big castle in the middle of the lake, with a baroque garden and boats, with a wonderful green wild walking area through the woods, where you can find ruins of Temples and an obelisque with inscriptions in French in the memory of the 18th century wars. 

My next 5 km of walk and around 2 hours of my time were spent walking around Grienericksee, breathing deep the silence and the fresh air of the woods, with only short stops to take some pictures and gulp some water. Because the access to the castle is not possible by bikes – the coblestones from the yard and garden are very fine and can be seriously damaged by the rolling tires – I did not care too much to watch my path. We crossed path with many groups of tourists, including a family with children looking for a place to camp, but did not feel like the forest is very busy, as it happens sometimes in Berlin where I feel like somewhere close to a shopping center. 

ImageI had the luck of a perfect weather, despite some threatening clouds at the horizon, and the perfect time of the year for a long walk in the woods. On the way back to Berlin, I felt a bit tired, but carrying on a lot of good energy that may help me to resist the urban life for another couple of days. The next time I don’t have scheduled travel plans, I will return to Rheinsberg. It has the simplicity that I need for a perfectly relaxing time.

For more visual insights of Rheinsberg, have a look at the Pinterest board: http://pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/rheinsberg-brandenburg/

Travel. With or without apps.

A couple of hours ago, I caught on social networks a discussion about the pros and cons of travel apps against the ‘pure art and freedom’. Of course that such a discussion was referred to a place from Berlin, a cult destination for all the hippie alternative people, but also for some curious individuals keen to discover the history of the Cold War: Teufelsberg listening station. The app in discussion presents a combination of various texts and audio guidance aimed to explain the history of the building. The author was accused of aiming to turn this place of pure arts and spirits into a fancy hipster location, altering its ‘Romanticism’.

During the Cold War, at Teufelsberg – a hill created from the debris of the bombed buildings – the US, with the approval of its Western Allies, created the biggest listening station in the free world. It was said that all the conversations held in the East  where only sounds away from the ears of the analysts from West Berlin, qualified to decrypt and interpret the exchange of messages in order to understand what was going on the other side of the Curtain. Apparently it seems that the decoding was not easy to be make as long as the Cold War lasted for so long. In 1992, the activity was resumed. In the good days, I am sure that the place was looking interesting and with the latest technology at the time plus a nice green view – it was hidden by the trees of the Grunewald forest. Nowadays, it is a cult place where even those without the single interest in the Cold War will visit it for the graffiti art and the journey through various dirts and rests of drinking and smoking sessions. You walk through rests of windows and cables laying on the floor like the Americans left only a couple of weeks ago. I recognize that I still don’t understand why all those deserted former official buildings give this impression of being recently left, decades after they stop being used. I ‘visited’ the former embassy of Saddam’s Irak where impressive amounts of propaganda files are flooding the entire place. It’s like you expect a grinning Saddam to pat you on the back and send you to the prison for overpassing property.

At Teufelsberg, the deserted place is huge and not necessarily recommended to be visited during the night. There are people specialized in offering tours of the place – including a former American employee of the station, because without some guidance and explanation, anyone curious to learn something about the history of the building will never understand what was all about. Try to explain to someone in his or her 20s, for instance why were all those cables about? And what about the while big balloon on the top of the building? (Offering a proper phonic isolation, among others) Officially, it is illegal to visit the place, but unofficially, around 80 people are going there each week, especially during the week-end when it can be as crowded as a museum. 

Hence, I think that an app or written guide or any support to the traveller for the first or second time in Teufelsberg is useful. This place, as the Iraqi Embassy and other similar places – it is a deserted former Soviet base in Potsdam as well, with military uniforms left on chairs -, is already a kitsch. (Parties at the Iraqi embassy, anyone?)  Feel free to pick 10 beers and spend the entire vacation there, reading the not-always-so-inspired scribbling on the walls. Or start a graffiti work. But for the less talented and sophisticated ones, everything that can bring more light into the strange recent history of Europe is more than welcomed. For years, the area is already considered as a good real estate investment and I am not sure that the former listening station will resist as such in the next 5 years.  At the normal human scale, it takes an average of around 3 years to pass over a big distress. In historical terms, maybe it is about time to go beyond the cables left and try to look to something different. 

Apps will not destroy tourism, as the GPS did not eliminated from use the simple paper maps. I love my Kindle, but will buy physical books as well. Everything that can help someone be more than a visitor is openly welcomed into my world. Technique in itself is not prone to destroy anything. People without education and not understanding the past can destroy everything.