Magdeburg’s come back


Magdeburg was one of the first cities I visited when I moved to Berlin seven years ago and at the time, I did the usual tourist checking: the Hundertwasser complex, the central old city with the city hall and the famous golden horseman, Technical and Natural Science and History museums. This time, I was back for another one-day trip, but without any travel focus, just for some work assignment. This how I discovered a different face of the city, off the beaten path.

20150819_111324(0)After the reunification of Germany, Magdeburg was often quoted as an example of failure to bring the East at the same successful level with the West. The keywords often associated in the local media with this city were: unemployment – two digits till 2006, communist ugly Plattenbauten, neonazis and despair. Thanks to the smart subvention policy and the EU various fuding, the wisely used money was spent for infrastructure and education and from the Cinderella of the East, upgradet its status in 2012 as ‘Germany’s most dynamic city’.

20150819_112422Compared to Dresden and Leipzig, that are considered one of the most attractive destinations for both tourism and investments, where the prices for rents are slightly increasing, Magdeburg remains a good deal among the real estate investors. Especially the area near Neustädter See, close to the highway from Berlin, with many new apartments recently offered to rent. The precarious economic situation pushed many people to leave Magdeburg but in the last years, people from other part of the country and from abroad are moving here. Compared to many countries in the world, people in Germany prefer to rent instead of buying properties, with many people who never owned a real estate. Prices for rents are controlled by the state and in this particular part of Magdeburg, you easily find 2-room apartments for around 400 Euro. As for now.20150819_124204

The communist standard buildings were dramatically repainted and refurbished, and added impressive concierge services with cleaning services and other facilities included. But there are is another advantage that may bring people in this part of the city: the green area in one of the greenest cities from this part of Germany. The water sports facilities created around the lake, the new parks and restaurants as well as the advantages for families with children are also added to the list. Since 1993, the city also has its own university, the youngest in Germany, which brings in this area a lot of international students. Huge former industrial spaces were converted into business hubs for startups and engineering workshops.


From the top of one of the highest Plattenbauten around, the buildings introduced to the real estate market as samples of the ‘1970s flair’ – I have enough communist memories to remember how flairless they used to be, boring buildings for grey people – are painted in happy colours, every block a buildings assigned a different colour. A young face to a city with history.


The 1,200-year old city created by Charlemagne is changing his face and is getting back on its path to the future. Nothing stays the same and in a way, I am grateful that I had the chance to see this city besides the usual travel-touristic stereotypes.


Cold War Memories in Klein Machnow


I did not know too much about Klein Machnow until a couple of months ago when someone outlined the real estate potential of this place, as many local VIPs, of various calibers, do have villas here. The decision to spend a whole summer day here was more the result of my curiosity than determined by some economic purposes. Plus, I assumed that I know quite a bunch about Berlin and its neighborhoods. What happened that I missed this apparently famous place?


I arrived there with a local bus from Berlin. Then, I took the Karl Marx Street for around 20 minutes, not before a long stop at the local weekly vegetables market. Triangle-roofed houses hidden by the high vegetation were the first noticeable observations in my first hour of exploration in Klein Machnow.


If at the first sight there were not too many traces of the former communist legacy, those little details familiar to someone that grew up in this (crazy) world were easy to spot. Maybe the attitude of some local people towards foreigners, or some buildings or just the overall impression…


Many buildings were renovated in the last years and sold to successful entrepreneurs from Berlin. The situation of real estate in Klein Machnow was subject not only to economic considerations. During the Cold War, this locality was part of the communist part. Following the reunification, around 8,000 people lived their houses that were in fact occupied illegally from owners that went in the West. It seems that history repeats itself, but this particular dispute was assigned a name: “Klein Machnow Syndrome”.


A couple of streets before we were reading about what to do when meeting wild boars, a frequent presence around it seems, but now we are in the middle of the small central area and everything make you feel centuries distance from the above mentioned wilderness.DSC01768

The main shops and restaurants are concentrated in the area around Sehquartier. There is nothing exquisite, just everything you need to make your life bearable before the first ride to Berlin.


The same when it comes to food. The Salumeria is the most attractive place for food and I took a seat outside, a good observation point to notice the locals between the food bites. The bruschettas are edible, not too elaborated in terms of taste – was expected more spices and maybe a bit more olive oil.DSC01771

The pasta arabiatta are spicy as expected, but not too well cooked. The sauce compensates everything though, including the clumsy customer service.


With renewed forced, I continue my trip, convinced that there must be many hidden histories in these places. The street art is colourful, a testimony that there must be young people with ideas around.


The architects seem to try their hand here too, as the Bio Company shop is hosted in one of the most interesting buildings dedicated to this business, the repeated wood detail and the transparent entry being a good illustration of the messages of this company.


The only school in the locality bears the name of the Russian (Soviet) writer Maxim Gorki, a memory from the old communist times maintained in Germany without the similar shame from other communist countries – as the Karl Marx street that lead me to the city.


After a little bit of bus riding and more hiking, I arrive at one of the trademarks of this neighborhoods of Berlin. The Teltow Kanal, inaugurated in 1906, that played an important role in developing the trade network between Berlin and different locations in Germany or Poland.


Nowadays, here you can follow some short historical tours. The entire place is too peaceful to make you dream about the busy trade that used to be here just couple of decades ago.


Nearby, the old tram tells a different story. Now part of history, the 96 tram was took out of service following the establishment of the new borders of Berlin. As nothing went further the Checkpoint Bravo, this tram witnesses the isolation and alienation between the two parts of Berlin. The interior is decorated with black and white pictures from the old times and the custodian of the place is kind enough to answer my many questions around the topic: And how was is then?


As it happens often, intuitively my steps are taken to places with interesting histories. I am walking through the yards of the Hakeburg castle, a construction built in 1600, supposedly turned soon into a posh real estate destination. Old stained glass and statues covered by the rain, winds and snow, large interior yards and high walls. Used first as a castle, during the war as a private residence of the Reichpostminister, Wilhelm Ohnesorge. Destroyed by the bombings, it was opened again only in 1950, first as a school for party leaders, but also used as a private residence for various guests of the communist leadership. DSC01801

Such a small place, so many histories, many of them not yet revealed to me. As my long years of travel taught me, there is no single new place on Earth were you cannot learn something. You just need keep following your journey.

For more insights about what to do and see in Klein Machnow, check the dedicated Pinterest board

Bikes, castles and the longing for the sea at Senftenberg


The first time when I wanted to visit Senftenberg was following some short notice read in a newspaper regarding the castle there. As I feel that I neglected this noble side of travel, felt compelled to have this trip in mind for the next one day trip. But time passed and more than 10 days after this first acknowledgement only I was on the road with my Berlin Brandenburg Ticket in my pocket. After too many stops, I arrived at the train station, enoying the sunny Sunday.


Right from the train station, arrows are heading the tourists to the historical area. As usual, I like to go off the beaten path and thus after I made a short turn from Bahnhofstrasse I ended up in the front of the Theater Neue Bühne, a local cultural institution sharing the building with a local high school, a Bauhaus style construction originally erected in the 1930s. Besides hosting the most important cultural events in the city, it also has a cadrillon (Glockenspiel) donated by the local Greek-German businessman Sokrate Giapapas.DSC00374As a reminder that Senftenberg used to be part of the former communist Germany, recently painted and renovated Plattenbau are surrounding the area.  DSC00376

I return on the main road, heading back to the historical area. Metal billboards presenting in medaillons old images from the city are creating a bridge between the modern present and the industrial past. DSC00381The locals are right now busy in the main square in the front of the historical city hall with an open air celebrations that involves, naturally, beer, a lot of music on the stages organized around and many shopping, including of local products. DSC00388But I do have my own travel agenda and this time I am decided to follow up the plan which has as top priority the visit at the castle. The first encounter is with the art gallery – Gallerie am Schloß – which is closed this time. DSC00392In order to arrive to the castle, I go through some long dark paths bordered by stone arches. Outside, one explore the fortification systems and the Bastion built in the second half of the 18th century. Wonder where a princess can hide here…DSC00398

Back to the light, right in the front of the entrance, there is not a white horse waiting, but an original bike model between two citizens. No prince today,  it seems.DSC00407

Let’s enjoy life then. The castle is hosting a temporary exhibition presenting various models of bikes from the beginning of their history till the communist Germany and beyond. Even not passionate about technique, you still can enjoy the cultural histories told by the bicycles. DSC00406The prototypes, some of them very interesting, especially if we think about the different models produced separately for men and women, are scattered among pieces of local history, many presenting local colourful costumes and interios of the interesting Sorb minority still living in the area. After the war, having a bike was the equivalent of having a horse in the time of the princes and princesses, hence the saying: If you have a bicycle, you are king. (Hast du ein Fahrrad, bist du ein König).DSC00408In a way, this two voices dialogue of various historical times makes sense. Senftenberg was part of the industrial area near Cottbus, providing energy for various industry. A mini-mine, another local activity, can be visited at the museum too. Nowadays, there is not too much of this past left, following the fall of communism and the resettling of the economic priorities. DSC00418The castle, displaying a simple and strict elegance that I encountered in many such residences in the North and Central part of Germany, also hosts an art collection of artists originally from the area.  DSC00422Outside, the gardens are more inviting and the preferred transit areas for the many biking routes across the city and the region.  DSC00430I am heading closer to the sea this time, with a short stop at the Tierpark, which was recommended as a local travel attraction. It can also be visited by bike, otherwise, it has a couple of funny residents, many of them welcoming their guests out of their little residences. If you are patient enough, you can even cross paths with some hurried peacock going fast who knows where.DSC00443With more than half of my to-do-list for the day covered, I am finally free to enjoy the quiet view of the lakes and the shaking boats.  DSC00446The best standpoint is the busy Pier Eins terrace, where I find a nice place near the water and get ready for at least two hours of doing nothing, except having a meal and probably an icecream too. My zen mood is troubled though by a waitress who just refused to take my two orders: a pasta, plus a special home made icecream. ‘Pasta is enough’, she kept saying and I feel like a disgusting hungry animal. After unsuccessful negotiation and the promise that I will pay here everything, she only bring me the pasta at the end, which are not as a huge portion as I might excepted: not too much oil, well boiled, with some interesting spices and the refreshing leaves of ruccola. I order also some fruity icecream after all, from another waitress, which does not have a spectacular taste, but keps me around the shore for the next half an hour.DSC00449For the siesta, I keep my eyes on the boats and walk around the shores. Besides bikes, also Segways can be rented and I promise to myself that one day I will be back in a good shape trying various healthy transportations during my trips too – not only cars, trains and airplanes. DSC00455There is so much nature around in Senftenberg, that I forget sometimes that some ugly former communist buildings are just around the corner.  DSC00460But not everyone is ready to take an aggressive distance to the communist (recent) past. Back in the historical area, the celebrations continue but people are more busy to check the good deals. Among the offers, former books and other popular objects from the time of the DDR, presented on a table decorated with the flag of the former communist Germany. DSC00465

My obligations of travel writer are bringing me to a different part of the city, where I can go only by walking around 20 minutes. No sea or nice sky at sight, only gas stations and some dusty buildings till I am in the garden city from the Brieske area.DSC00467It is a settlement built at the beginning of the 20th century for the workers involved in various industrial sectors in the area. Protected buildings from the end of the 1980s, the complex is considered an example of industrial architecture. DSC00471The quarter was provided, besides the buildings for the new industrial class, with a church, a shop, a school and kindergarden for children and big street whose cobblestones are kept in the original shape. DSC00475Nowadays a quiet residential area that was looking almost empty that Sunday afternoon, it has a strange architecture though, with very small windows attached to big walls and conic roofs that may look with the military metallic hats from the time of the Prussians.  DSC00483

There are regular guided tours introducing the area to the visitors, as well as a small museum that was closed at the late afternoon time of my visit. The anxious feeling of living in a big house with small windows can be balanced by the view of big yards connecting various buildings, a guarantee that some social life was in sight for the busy residents of the area.DSC00490

I keep developing my sociological consideration on the solitary way back to the center and after, on the way back to the central station waiting for my train back to Berlin. Maybe I did not find here a spectacular castle, worthy of a Disney movie, but at least I did enjoy the quietness of the waters and the sunny day and realized how much I am missing the sea. Plus, some party gang of international students dancing in the train. Life can offer funny things sometimes…

For more insights, photography and recommendations, check the dedicated Pinterest board:

Spring Western adventures in Templin


One year ago, I celebrated the beginnging of a beautiful spring day in Templin, and 12 months after I was back in the small Brandenburg city which is the hometown of Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel for exploring the other part of the city.


Shortly arrived in the train station, I headed direction Westernstadt, an adventure park that promises a lot of Western-like experiences. Although there is a bus that connects the city to this area, it works only during the week and thus, I had to walk a couple of kilometers. Luckily, the weather was nice and the road was quite sure. Close to a wood deposit, a train platform was presented as a possible attraction for visitors, but there were no one to give more information about tickets and schedule. Maybe later in the year…


After another half an hour of walk, I stumbled upon a small antiquities shop near the road, stuffed with everything, from old family pictures to metal garden tools and furniture.


Nothing compares though with the view of beautiful horses enjoying too the coming of the spring. In the quietness of the place, they offered a silently moving fragment of life and beauty.


But what is this noise? The serenity of the previous scenery was suddenly interrupted by the broken sound of repeated shootings. Hopefully, it was no war or frozen conflict getting heated nearby, I was just approachign the destination of my travel day: Westernstadt.


With most part of the activities taking place open air, the Western City is usually open from April to November, between 10am and 6pm. It has a huge parking place, as the car is the easiest transportation during the weekend, when the bus is on break. I arrived shortly before closing -something went wrong with my time management the whole day – but not late enough for not seizing the local ambiance.


There are different experiences offered to the big and small visitors, from photo boots where you can picture yourself and your family in the specific ambiance to live shows.


Beautiful horses are patrolling the sandy streets of the city, friendly enough for being approached by children.


Once in a while, one can also learn some country dancing steps. You are in El Dorado, after all…


Everything I go, I was more and more getting into the local feeling. Some colourful totems at a crossroad encouraged me to explore more the place instead of going down near the lake to see admire a quiet slice of nature.


If I would have been a child visiting Western city, it would be hard to resist the temptation to hide in one of these tents hidden beneath bushes. DSC09585

There is also a little animal farm and an adventurous playground.DSC09591Don’t forget about the golden washing places as being in El Dorado always involved the search for some precious gold. DSC09595

Just in case, if you need to defend your treasure, you can get some special shooting training for being ready to react against your enemies, just in case…DSC09598In the saloon, the dark corners gives you intimacy and the time to think where can be the best undiscovered source of gold. As the closing time was getting closer, groups of parents and their children were heading to the exit and doors were locked behind. The silence was taking control of everything and sooner, the lack of movement will wrap perfectly the entire place.DSC09618Remnants of some communist youth activities on a wall near the Westernstadt were reminding that Templin used to be part of the red part of Germany. But right now, there is the Western spirit who won and with the new constructions being built ahead, those times will be soon only history books memories. DSC09627For me, it is about time to take the road back home, walking my portion of kilometers on the way to the train station. At mid-distance, I made a stop near a beautiful lake, that confirms the fame of Templin as the ‘pearl’ of the natural area of Uckermark. DSC09634

The huge storks hosted on the top of houses kept me company most part of the hiking. Maybe I did not spend a full day in Western style, but at least I was back in time to check how the winter finally surrended to the sunny spring. See you in one year, Templin?

Disclaimer: I was offered a free entrance to Westernstadt, but the opinions are, as usual, my own.

For more pictures from Templin, check the dedicated Pinterest board:

Strawberry jam and shopping in Elstal


For someone used to intensively travel at least 4 times the month, this spring went surprisingly quiet. After spending some good and travel-rich months in Israel, the return to Berlin and especially its short dark days did not make me feel too good. But once the first raw of lights lightened the grey sky, I gathered all my strength and went back on the road again. In the beginning, not too far away, only around two hours away from the city, at Elstal. With my ABC ticket, I went first by bus – till the Tegeler Weg and from there by train till Elstal stop. The serious shoppers can find a better and comfier way, by booking directly the shuttle bus that goes directly from Ku’damm on the Outlet website. The offer is available on Fridays and Saturdays. If not so many people heading to the bus station leading to the shopping paradise, I would have think that I arrived in an abandoned place, as the train station was looking grey and not very welcoming.


More action and colours – and a huge parking place – were waiting on the other side of the Brandenburg-styled massive entrance. The outlet store is closed on most Sundays (it may sound unusual for anyone used with the intensive shopping programs, but Germans cherish their Sunday free day very much) and on Bank holidays, and open from Monday to Thursday from 10 am to 7 pm and Friday to Saturday from 10 am to 8 pm.


Because Elstal is mostly known as the best provider of strawberries for Berlin and Brandenburg, invitations to visit the famous farm cannot miss from this mini-shopping paradise. I plan to go there later in the day anyway but for now, let’s look for some glamour.


The outlet village as such looks like a small white-clean villate in Brandenburg. It is Friday afternoon, but the streets are not roaming with shopper as I encountered during my short stop to the Bicester Village two years ago. The discount season is not yet open, but there are some important offers, the most tempted for me being the one offered by Home&Cook. Overall, expect to find a moderate offer of brands – adidas, NOA NOA, Samsonite, Libeskind Berlin, Fossil, Desigual, True Religion, WMF, Escada. The visitors are relatively quiet and do shop modestly. Nike Factory seems to be a main destination for many tourists, at the moment, the busiest spot in the outlet, with customers chatting fast in Turkish, Russian or various Nordic languages.


The foodie offer is limited, but in process of expanding, with a big Marche Superstore. There is a big Asian flavoured buffet – elegantly designed – and a Nordsee restaurant, and many kiosks offering pancakes, traditional bretzel and beers. There is also a babysitting station, and little kids cars can be rented for 2 Euro the hour. The musical background echoing the entire village makes the visit special. DSC09082

As for me, I rather prefer the company of the San Franscisco Coffee Company and its clean bio flavours. A bit surprising to find this genuine slice of America here, but I am satisfied with the offer of various muffins and flap jacks, plus the coffee flavours.


Time is running fast, as usual, and I am decided to see the strawberry farm too. I am taking the regular bus back to the train station, waiting for my next connection in the opposite direction. With some free time to wait, I adventure into a short spring walk into the forest around trying not to bother the many bikers enjoying the beginning of the summer on two rows.


Near the farm, quiet little poney are having their outdoor lunch.


The Elstal Strawberry farm shows a busier side than the outlet. Parents with many kids and visitors from Berlin are coming here for some entertainment or fresh shopping. The strawberry season is not open yet, but there are enough attractions that may compensate this absence. It was created in 1921, and it part of a larger network that includes locations in Rügen too.


The good news is that the previous harvest was pretty good, as kilos of strawberries are waiting to be smashed into jam in huge bath tubes fixed on a red and white mosaique.


But although red and strawberry inspired products – from alcoholic drinks to various sweets and vinegar – there are also other interesting things to see around, such as the wooden shelves with cup teas and tea pots elegantly displayed till the end of the ceiling.


Special porcelain specific for the Brandenburg area brings my mind back to reality, out of the pinky reddish bubble created by the intensive smell of strawberry marmalade in the making.


Outside the darkish shopping entrance, there is more action and freedom. Everything seems to be tailored to make the children happy, from the truck carts, the little safari and the easy lessons teaching the kids how to make bread on stone (a skill that seems to be learned to German kids from an early age it seems).DSC09129

In another part of the small village, you can also start having your own taste of adventure and if you grew up without enjoying spectacular descents from the top of a hill, it is never too late to try it now.DSC09134

There are also small exhibitions, explaining how to make honey or labyrinths to put on trial your orientation skills. Most places are open for children birthdays celebrations and in most cases – if you ignore the intensive smell of cowshed – educational lessons about the life at the countryside are offered in a creative, non-intrusive way.


As many of the kids will discover themselves, living in the middle of the nature, surrounded by various animals is not that easy, especially when stubborn goats seem to ask you something you don’t understand. But, you can at least try to alternate between city parks and countryside adventures. Living in Berlin offers often such opportunities that I promise to consider more seriously in the next months.

For more pictures from Elstal, check the dedicated Pinterest board:

Dresden, a bridge between the old and new city


I’ve been to Dresden several times in the last years, but never had enough time to spend a full day exploring the city. This autumn, I decided that I should hurry up to find some sunny day for spending more time outdoors and for some quality time in the city. Apparently, I had enough luck to took the pictures of the places that were either covered by snow or by the dark during my last visit in February. But I also had a couple of surprises. For instance, the building of what I first thought it must be a mosque. Once I come closer and made my way to the building, I found out that, in fact, there is the building of a local cigarettes factory, Yenidze, hosted in a building whose architecture was aimed to remind Turkey, the main provider of tobacco at the time. Built between 1907-1909, nowadays it only hosts various local offices. It also has a restaurant with a stained glass dome and almost 600 windows framed in various styles.

??????????From the unusual presence of the former cigarette company, I kept walking the Ostallee, passing near the Pressehaus and the headquarters of the Morgenpost, straight away till I arrived at one of the most important destinations of my trip for the day: the rococo-style of Zwinger. The name refers in German to the enclosed ground near the castle, filled with water right now reflecting the beautiful geometry of the place. The only danger is to come closer and want to jump into the water to reach faster through the castle’s gates.

??????????I followed the usual way and decided to spend more than one hour going up and down to the stairs of the smoked stone building. Every corner was revealing new spectacular geometry and windows to a delicate world: the Porcelain permanent exhibition, that reminded me that I’m only less than one hour away from the Meissen porcelain factory; the Old Master’s Gallery  with its Tintoretto, Cranach and Tizian, Vermeer and Rembrands, or The Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments.

??????????Before entering the exhibition rooms, I am doing my best to do not look too much at the tempting gardens. After my cultural hunger is calmed, I am back on the terraces, trying to figure out the secret meanings of the garden’s geography. I’m glad to enjoy the pleasant presence of the carefully manicured green lanes that were completely out of sight covered by snow the last winter.

??????????From the large perspectives of the gardens, the sight is forced to focus on small interior yards, with fountains hosted within the stone limits of symmetrical shapes, guarded by exuberant statues that look like ready to go out of their corners in any moment.


Such a passionate outburst of passion, hard to believe that can be encountered in a place surrounded by stones keeps inspiring artists that moved their workshop here.


Leaving the Zwinger with a heavy heart, only the huge statues of scary fighters helped me to forget my sadness thinking that I have no idea when will be able to spend my day admiring such a green view.


In the Market area, it was the time for the Autumn Market, that was open till the beginning of October. It seems that the winter markets are that successful that people do need some intermediate seasonal entertainment to keep the festive mood.


With almost half of the to-do-list done, I reward myself with a vegetarian meal at Capetown’s Restaurant, my first full South-African menu. Finding a vegetarian selection out of a long list including crocodile, zebra, ostrich and kangaroo was not easy. My Zulu potatoes with pesto were simple with good concentration of oil and pepper. The veggie burger with cheddar cheese, and an onion and tomato salad were not the biggest culinary achievement though, as the tastes simply did not match or maybe because they were not warm enough to melt together successfully. The chilli honey sauce re-established the balance and almost saved the meal.


With fresh forces, I am heading in the different, not yet explored part of the city, where the old communist kind of apartments are predominant. The local authorities were smart enough to repaint them in a very colourful combination of colours that gave them a more modern look. The ones in Strasburgerplatz kept my eyes entertained while waiting for the tram.


I haven’t visited a zoo for a long time, and it seems that the welcome at the one in Dresden was a subliminal message that I should keep my contact with the animal world: tram stations with bamboo sticks and a background noise of birds. Once inside, I preferred to observe the Mandrill Monkeys at Afrika Haus. They were not bothered by the curious eyes of the visitors and kept playing or check their fur.

??????????Australia is well represented, especially by the happy kangaroos jumping one near the other around the yard. More time was spent photographing the snow leopard, the North American porcupine or the Humbold penguins. The Zoo also has a very colourful collection of season’s flowers, among which the beautiful autumn dahlia.


From the Zoo, I headed to a completely new area for me: the Neustadt, the new part of the city, that was turned into a huge workshop of street art, local handworks, ethnic restaurants and a lot of meeting points for the young people of the new Dresden.


Lloyd’s coffee, with its yellow leather couches, purple wallpapers and fresh flowers on the table, it’s also offering afternoon tea for the Brits-in-the-making locals. Too busy to wait for around 40 minutes till the tea would be ready, I chose an Ayurveda herbs and ginger tea: deep herbal perfumes added to the wake-up call of the ginger.


All over the streets, but especially on Bohmischestrasse, there is a lot of street art – different styles and messages, from the world of the video games to the abstract paintings. The English bookstore on Rothenburgerstrasse – Beyond the Pond – also sells various products Made in the USA. So bad that not enough time to check properly the jongleria shop, on the same street, or the fashion atelier Sumeria.


The highest concentration of creativity is in the Artists’ Court – Kunsthofpassage: from various ateliers of local artists to shops selling handmade jewellery or clothes. So much concentration of creativity left colourful and ingenious footprints on the walls, yards and almost every corner of the buildings.


After diminishing my thirst for art and interesting things in general in the creative ambiance of the Neustadt, I’m back in the historical area where creativity, although from a different area, keep surprising the visitor with unclear artistic messages.


The early autumn dark reminds me that it’s time to leave again Dresden. But this time, I was finally able to carefully document its old and new faces, two equally interesting sides of a city able to balance both its future and past. If you ask me, I dream to go back and properly explore the life of Neustadt. Maybe a next time.

For more insights from Dresden, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board:

Konstanz, the Southern Wonderland

??????????From the objective distance of the almost one month that separates me from my first encounter with Konstanz, I keep my initial revelation that this part of Germany is a real wonderland. Once entering the territory of Baden Wurttemberg, the sun kept its presence for longer than a couple of hours and the fields of corn and sunflower are sending a message of abundance and well being. A happy life that can be celebrated with the wine produced by the many vineyards on the hills around Bodensee. As in any serious wonder story, the entrance to this special world is made through a special transportation, in this case a ferry carrying cars and buses from Meersburg to Konstanz and back. When the weather is good, the journey is the first revelation of the wonderful world you are about to step in.


The following revelation takes place when you start to get in touch with the (old) city: beautiful painted buildings, that used to belong to rich local merchants.


In the old city, it’s hard to find an area without a special decoration or embelishment that reminds either of the history of the city or various local stories not always known to the superficial short-term visitor.


The Rosgarten Museum is the main source of information for the more or less recent history of Konstanz. Most explanations are available in German, offering an extensive overview of the architecture, economy, religious history and culture.


The old city houses either bear names associated with various businesses or the names of the owners themselves. When not, the massive presences are clearly showing the high social status enjoyed by the owners. Another interesting feature of the local architecture is that the various religious reforms changed dramatically the initial destination of the buildings, as many of them were turned from monasteries to living spaces or even restaurants or pubs.


Although relatively predictable, the old city with its cobbled stones and houses co-existing so close near each other is the place where I spent most part of my time. Here you can find all the fashion shops, many of them displaying local products and restaurants serving various tasty foods (A dedicated foodie post coming up very soon!) Outside the city, a couple of stations away from the central area, there is the industrial area where most of the factories and working places are focused, but there is not too much to see there, except some cheap hotels and hostels where you can stay at a more convenient prices than if located in the central area. Compared to the rest of Germany, the prices are relatively higher, but also the services are much better.

??????????All round the day, but especially late in the evening, the street musicians are carrying out their instruments and move from a part to another creating a special lively ambiance.


The shore around Bodensee offers quietness and long lanes for biking, jogging or hand-in-hand family walking. The boats are quietly waiting their owners, many of them living on the other side of the border, in Switzerland. From Konstanz to Switzerland, to Kreuzlingen, one can simply walk and one step away he or she is in another country. During the week-end, the Swiss neighbours are promptly ready for their German date – ‘you should come to see the invasion then’, as one bold citizen of Konstanz confessed – either for the cheap shopping or various other opportunities.


Especially this year, Konstanz has one more reason to attract not only its Swiss neighbours, but people from all over the world: the celebration of 600 years since the beginning of the Council of Konstanz, that in 1418 put an end to a schism that threatened the Catholic Church. The Czech reformer Jan Hus was kindly invited to take part to the sessions in order to explain his position, but ended up being incarcerated and burned to stake here. At the Cathedral where the Council was held regular tours are organized, in addition to some late evening theatre plays and other happenings aimed to outline the cultural and religious heritage of the city.


The vicinity to Switzerland played in the advantage of Konstanz, that was protected by the intensive bombings during the WWII and thus, it preserved greatly its old heritage, especially the Medieval architecture.


Konstanz is also proud of being the place of birth of the famous count Zeppelin, the revolutionary aircraft manufacturer whose memory is outlined by a monument on the shore.


The most spectacular presence in town is the 18-meter statue of Imperia, dominating the shore. A project of the artist Peter Lenk, it was erected in 1993on the private property of a rail company and thus, was safe from the calls of being put down as it might offend the public opinion. Lady Imperia, a well educated courtesan, inspired by the character of a short story of Balzac placed in the city, is holding two men on her hands: Pope Martin V and Emperor Sigismund who were re conciliated after the Konstanz Council, both represented naked except the signs of power on their heads. The message of the huge statue that turns around is not very pleasant for the high clergy, but otherwise, the grotesque presence turned into one of the main attractions in the city. Its location is situated near the many boat tours around Bodensee, that last around 1-3 hours, running till late in the evening during the summer.


One of my favourite architectural presences are the painted houses, many of them built around the first half of the 19th century.


The history painted on their walls either explain episodes related to the religious past of Konstanz, either various other historical sagas. Even though one might not have all the hints of the story, with a bit of imagination, one can easily reconstruct the narrative finding out more messages and understanding. We are in Wonderland, remember?


Given this special imaginary geography of the place, even the town hall is situated in a special ambiance, with big roots hanging on the walls and a backyard garden with statues and benches where shy bureaucrats are having a chat during the cigarette break.


I easily fell in love with this place, for what it is and what I wasn’t able to discover during my too short stay. This is one of the many reasons I started my ‘100 Places to See in Germany‘ Project: getting out of my Berlin comfort zone and discovering hidden gems as far away as possible.

For more insights and pictures from Konstanz, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board:

Sunday in Göttingen


With only a couple of hours free to discover Göttingen, I felt a bit of pressure, and possible disappointment, that I will not be able to see too much of the sightseeing. But as usual in such situations, I was able to find a relative compromise to myself: what about just following the unbeaten path, trying to taste rather the surprise of unexpected stories. Shortly after my arrival by bus at the Zoo Institute, I arrived near a conical building, bordered with the signs of the zodiac. It is a monument in the memory of the mathematicians that successively discovered the asteroid Ceres, in the 19th century: Piazzi, Gauss and von Zack. Welcome to Göttingen, a city famous for his scientists and the tradition of university life!


Starting from the vicinity of the central station and till the old city, slices of green, with benches, trees and enough space for jogging and biking called me for some meditation before being exposed to new scientific information. Given my poor achievements in high school, I would better stay around in the woods. The parks crossed urban areas, like Augustrasse, Gartenstrasse, Berlinerstrasse. The shops, some of them open on Sunday, displaying Asian foods or Anatolian carpets or restaurants covering flavours of the world, from Vietnam to Italy, were the reminder that I am not yet in any of the natural parks I visited the weeks before.


Leaving the parks, I arrived at Johanistrasse, the perfect square to observe the local world while sipping your coffee. Half-timbered houses hosting posh restaurants or shops told stories about the good relationship between the rich past of the city and its present.


The delicate Gaenseliesel (Goose Girl) in the front of the historical city hall, is the favourite background for graduation photographies of the fresh doctors from the local universities. No one was celebrating around this time. However, the young spirit always present in an university city is changing completely the general mood of a historical city. The streets were echoing various languages, especially English, talked not by tourists but by short or medium-term residents of the city studying many of the academic specialities.


The dynamics of the city area given also by the spectacular statues appearing in the most unexpected places. Even though the artistic message is not always very clear, any encounter with them put your mind at work and it’s at least half way the effect expected of art on the daily human existence.


The colours of the old city are inviting for more and more walks. My favourite architectural discoveries were on Kurze Geismar, Bruystrasse, Rote Strasse and Wendenstrasse. Don’t forget to keep always an eye to the small interior yards where special cultural events may take place. As I visited a couple of hours after a night-long of events and various cultural events, most places were quiet. However, there were many gourmet restaurants and summer gardens that might require another visit in the city as soon as possible.  Most of the houses were built in the 16th-17th century.


As in the case of Heidelberg, another university city I visited the last year, the visitor should pay attention to the mentions of the famous visitors that lived or simply spent some time sharing the knowledge accumulated in the high-ed establishments. Among them, Benjamin Franklin, philosopher Heinrich Ritter, Maurice Halbwachs whose writings about memory and history were fundamental in developing my own PhD work.


Although my time in the city is limited, I cannot resist the temptation of having a brunch at the newly opened bistro Löwenstein, for a good salad, with many spices and nuts and a delicious shakshuka, prepared according to the highest standards of the recipe. The bistro is serving vegetarian meals, of Middle Eastern inspiration and even though the place in itself is rather simple, the meals and the friendly customer service may call you back.


For me, it is time to go on the road again, for more rapid discoveries. As I go further in the central part of the city, most of the buildings were erected in the 19th century, the predominant style being Art Nouveau. The style goes very well with the creative spirit hosted by the universities as well.


At the end of the Theaterstrasse, a mini open air exhibition in the park, in the front of the building of the Deutsche Theater. The good weather encouraged many of the locals to give up any inhibitions and take some sun baths, eventually with a book to keep an elevated company.


On the same street, I observed another itinerant scientific project ‘Planetenweg’ taking place in different points in Göttingen , aimed to outline various astronomic discoveries, many of them made by scientists that studied in the city.


The German Theater is one of the most serious cultural institutions in town, presenting a varied programme, featuring classical theatre, but also music festivals or short plays. Keeping up with the specific of the city, it also includes Bertol Brecht’s play, The Life of Galileo.


After an unsuccessful try to visit the Stadtmuseum/City museum, I succeeded to visit the last 30 minutes of the Art Collection hosted by the Art Academy. It includes a collection of various reproductions studied regularly by the students, but also a temporary exhibition open till March next year, about English Mannerism, gathering also interesting information about the way in which the English style entered the German lands, especially through the connection of the house of Hannover.


The Botanical Gardens, with its special collection of cacti, was one of the best moments of the trip, because it allowed me to keep enjoying the beautiful sunny day while learning something new about the city. The entrance is free, and there is also an open air garden.


Back in the old city, I had a look at the old city hall, that can be visited in more details. The main hall has a wall painted representation of all the German states. The city hall was initially built in the 13th century, but fundamentally repaired several times, the most dramatic taking place in 1981.


As I still have some time left, I am exploring Goethe Allee, with its elegant Gebhards Hotel, a Romantic destination in the city since the second half of the 19th century, but also with Michaelihaus, where Gauss and Benjamin Franklin, among others, conducted various experiments later considered significant contributions to the advancing of aerodynamic knowledge.


Leinekanal is a quiet spot, especially for many of the barefoot students. With many icecream parlors and restaurants around, the alternatives abound.


The last stop was at the monument from the Synagogue Square. Built in 1973, it is situated on the place where the local synagogue once stayed before being destroyed in 1938. The monument, that doesn’t look very much cared of, has the name of the victims murdered in WWII.

On the way back to Berlin, while trying to fill in a useful way the long 4 hours of bus ride, I modestly congratulated myself for discovering a new city that calls me back soon.

For more insights from Göttingen have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board:

Visiting Wildpark Frankfurt (Oder)


After the beautiful hike in Thale I decided  to spend even more time outdoors, and that next travel destination would be in a place with more nature and eventually, with much more little animals. As on my bucket list for this year I also included the visit to some natural parks in Germany, I decided to start with the one closest to Berlin: Wildpark Frankfurt (Oder). It is situated only one hour away from Berlin, and the trains are going there regularly. I went down at Rosengarten train station and kept walking for another 30 minutes. The neighbourhood is very quiet, more beautiful than the other part of the city I visited a couple of years back.


There are flowers everywhere. Big billboards announced the past Rose’s Festival held a couple of days ago. The closer I am to the Wildpark, the more beautiful the scenery. Wheat crops with delicate patches of poppy and blue flowers invite me to stay more and have a full experience of the life at the countryside.


Next experience: life in the middle of the nature. The experience of walking in the middle of so many beautiful animals, most of them free in the park, is unique. My first encounter out of many others is with the deer, who after instantly hearing the presence of the intruder, are gathering into small groups, facing me with their back.


The park is a relatively new presence on the map of natural reservations in Germany. Previously a training camp of the Soviet Army stationed in the area, it was changed into the current shape little by little from 1994 to 2000. It covers 16 ha., with more than 300 animals from around 30 species.


The funniest encounter by far was with the very active prairie dogs. Spread on an open field, they go out of their holes to communicate with their neighbours through short screams. Although the majority of them are running crazy to hide in their holes when they feel my presence, one is more courageous and come closer, allowing me to make him the hero of a short movie.


From behind the trees, I am observing a family of lamas doing their daily walk. In a big wooden cake, the hamsters are having breakfast and I am allowed to touch and play with some of them. Some of them were brought here after their owners, small children sometimes, were no more able to take care of them. Everyone is friendly around, and the animal caregivers are ready to share with me their knowledge about the little residents of the park.


There are also some very funny goats, bleating on different tonalities when someone is approaching. They jump or run together from a place to another, probably expecting some substantial dinner that unfortunately seems to have been postponed for now.


After many hours of wandering through the natural park, sometimes in the company of children brought here with their school or kindergarden for some open air activities, I decided to continue my natural experiences, with more hiking. I cross path with people of all ages, some of them doing Nordic walking, some of them simply spending outdoors a beautiful summer day. A small path invites to bar foot walking, and if not so many insects around, I would love to give a try to this walking alternative too.


The area is marked and there were different walking alternatives, of an average of 2-3 km. It’s quite easy, but one has to be careful with the cars crossing often the paths.


I am walking for more than one hour, enjoying the singing of the birds and the fresh air of the forest.


At a crossing point, I receive a message congratulating me for entering Poland. Although in the main part of the city, there is possible to cross a bridge to Poland, I don’t see any clear sign this time, but with the volatile borders of Schengen, you never know which country you are exactly, and this is good.


With more golden wheat crops and a beautiful sky, there is nothing  left to worry about. Summer is such a precious encounter in this part of the world and I am decided to make the best of it in the coming months.

If you have a look to more insights from Wildpark Frankfurt (Oder), have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board:

Erfurt, an exercise of admiration


After the culturated Weimar and the very intellectually Jena, Erfurt was naturally the next destination in Thuringia and I wanted to visit this city at least 2 times in the last 4 months. But my travel experiences of the last year taught me that I better wait and go when I am ready for the meeting. And what a meeting it was: with beautiful architecture, a pleasant ambiance and many stories. The first one shortly upon arrival, about Willy Brandt – maybe my favourite German chancellor if you ask me –  who visited the communist Erfurt in March 1970 – the first such German-German meeting after the creation of the Iron Curtain, opening the ways for the reunification a couple of decades ago. He appeared at the window – Willy Brandt ans Fenster! – of the building situated opposite the central station and the event is remembered since. The square – named after Willy Brandt – is right now a plaza with many restaurants and coffees, where to spend your free time in the summer.


Once starting the exploration of Bahnhofstrasse and Anger boulevard, my camera hardly had any free time. Buildings creatively mixing Art deco, baroque, Art nouveau influences introduced me to the eclectic universe of Erfurt.


Although part of the GDR, the old city was not terribly affected by the typical grey urbanism plans. The new constructions are modern and playing rather with the volumes than with the facades, but with the exception of some outskirts areas, nothing destroyed the historical elegance of the city.


One of my favourite places is Anger, because of the interesting architecture, but also because it offers anything you want to do as a short-term visitor in town: shopping avenue, restaurants – Vietnamese, German as well as Catalan cuisine are well represented – coffees, small bookstores and street musicians.


On the same Anger, there is the Bartholomew Tower, built in the 12th century, whose carillon can be heard daily between 12 and 18 o’clock. This part of the city is well covered by the mini-guided tours for tourists, mostly in German.


As everywhere in Thuringia, famous people like Schiller and Goethe visited and even lived in Erfurt too.


At the ground level of the beautiful buildings, one will often discover bakeries, such as Bretschneider, selling various sortiments of local pastry. From the central area of the old city, I arrived at the unexpected Art Nouveau apparition of the Presse Club, on Karl Marx Square.


The city wall, built in the 12th century, can still be seen in various parts of the old city, intercalated between modern buildings or squares. One of the longest part is near the Bruehen Gardens, a green area with old trees, benches and playground whose silence was broken only by the phone conversations of the corporate men taking a talkative lunch break in the park.


Another interesting presence is the local theatre, situated in the middle of a running water installation, that brings versatility to the glass and steel serious presence of the construction.


From there, I climbed the small stone stars, reaching the Martin Bastion, part of the bigger construction of Petersberg. The Citadel is considered only extensively preserved baroque fortress in Central Europe.


The view from the top introduced the diversity and many histories of the cities. The citadel itself is telling one of the many stories. Built on the site of a former monastery, standing upon a maze of passageways, it was more recently used as a political prison in 1933. The former intelligence services of the communist Germany, STASI, were situated nearby. An exhibition of military history can be visited, explaining the intricate relations between military and religious power in this part of Germany. A restaurant hosted in a glass building – Glasshutte – allows the visitors to have a lunch or only a coffee with a view over the city.


Is was hard to leave the smell of freshly cut grass but the time was running and I still had so many things to see and learn about in Erfurt. I arrive at Andreasstrasse, and further on, at the Domplatz, with even more details of the various histories of the city, well reflected by the different architectural style of the city. The city is part of the famous Via Regia, connecting the East and West of Europe for more than 2,000 years and 4,500 km. A symbol of the united Europe, with all its differences and historical memories.


A landmark of the local museums is the Noah’s Arch, exhibited at the Museum of Natural Sciences, a local reconstruction of the Biblical story. Besides, the museum also has an interesting collection of local stones as well as some insights into the fauna and flora of the region. Surprising, for the visitor used probably to encounter only stuffed animals in such a place, some small and very active mice are also part of the permanent exhibition.


At least for the most part of my trip, the sun was shining, and I hardly resisted the temptation to take a seat and spend some time in the Domplatz or maybe at the Fishmarkt. I was feeling in the middle of a small Dutch or Belgian city, probably because of some French influences in the constructions, typical for this part of Germany.


For now, I offered myself a scoop of vegan icecream, from Zucker und Zimt – Sugar and Cinnamon – a very tasty and good choice for the summer time.


For centuries, Erfurt also had a Jewish life, nowadays mostly history. The first communities established around the 12th century, but were often wiped out because of pogroms. After the war, only 15 Jews returned from the concentration camps. Late after the end of the war, a synagogue was built here, the first in the GDR at the time. Nowadays, there is a small museum – within the former small synagogue nowadays a conference center that was in use only for a limited amount of time, between 1840 and 1884 – as well as at the old 12th century synagogue, considered the oldest standing Jewish religious building in Europe. There can be visited the Erfurt treasure, an exhibition of various coins and pieces of jewelry, probably from the time of the Black Death. The treasure was discovered by accident in the walls of a medieval neighbourhood in 1984.


There are some unexpected corners of Erfurt, such this Venetian-like view near the Gera river.


On the small streets around Krämer bridge there are plenty of small shops, selling form traditional clothing to pottery, icecream and spices.


There is also the famous Krämer bridge, part of the Via Regia, originally built in the 12th century. The half-timbered houses as well as the bridge itself, often consumed by fire during the centuries, were intensively protected during the communist times and now are the favourite area for organizing various local festivals and shows.


The city has a rich variety of organic and vegetarian restaurants, and I chose to have a delicious vegan pasta lunch at Cognito. The sunflower seeds and the fresh tomato sauce – although a bit salty – were more than welcomed after such an intensive journey. The restaurant offers also some books to read to the lonely visitors, and spend my dinner reading about Beuys opinions on advertising.


Before the hour of intensive rain, I had continued my discovery of the old and new streets of Erfurt, including some street art close to Waagegasse.


When the rain went too far, I used a couple of free minutes visiting the small mustard museum. It is mostly a shopping point for products produced by the famous local company Born, with some insights about the history and the evolution of the tastes and products (such as the exotic figs mustard).


Although I said  ‘good bye’ to Erfurt on a rainy hour – that did not stop me though to see some special buildings near the Central Station, hidden on Schmidtstedterstrasse – I know that I should come back soon. Some more intensive travel in Thuringia is also on the menu.

For more pictures from Erfurt, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: