Last night’s catwalk show by designer Charlie Le Mindu and make-up artist Isamaya Ffrench at the Berlin Fashion Film Festival was spectacular–I think the photos speak for themselves. Thanks to Emily, who was left holding the camera while I was stuck at the bar (tbf there are worse places to be stuck).
Designer and inventor Werner Aisslinger doesn’t just come up with ideas – he also designs the technology that turns them into functioning items. His exhibition at Haus am Waldsee is a Wunderkammer of jaw-dropping innovations, inspired by and employing nature to create sustainable solutions for 21st century living.
March finally arrived in Berlin to barely restrained euphoria from its residents. The greyness was interrupted by flashes of colour from exposed human skin and optimistic crocuses; not forgetting that glorious blue sky. Bikes all over town were tentatively awoken from their winter slumber, fed a dose of oil and TLC, and resumed their place at the top of the transport food chain for another season.
Alas, it was not to last. We should have known not to trust those early signs of spring. As the mercury slunk back below zero and the streets disappeared under a blanket of snow, cycling could easily have been the last thing on everyone’s minds. But whether it was that sunny little teaser or–more likely–just because, deep down, Berlin is a bike-loving city whatever the weather, this year’s Bike Show at STATION was packed to the exposed rafters.
Families, couples, singles, old folk and young, all turned out to sample the city’s tastiest two-wheeled offerings, from sleek single-speed steeds, handsome handmades and vintage classics to gnarly, suspension-heavy mountain bikes. Lesser-spotted species like a chainless tandem and bamboo bike also made guest appearances alongside cutting-edge and design cycling paraphernalia.
Hearts really started racing in the events arena, with its ramped racetracks hosting tournaments and tests all weekend. Helmet-clad hopefuls of all ages hurtled around the circuits to a soundtrack of punk rock music and screams from the sidelines. But with such a vibrant and enthusiastic crowd of visitors and participants, this weekend’s true hero was the Bike Show itself, and the overall winner was–and still is–Berlin.
It all started with a picture. A bright white building soaring countless storeys from the drab riverside below, its sides aglow like a spacecraft coming into land. The hypnotic structure, with its inexplicable incandescence set in stark contrast to the darkness of the surrounding city, was nothing if not daring. At this stage, it’s only an architects’ impression, but the headline below foretold every neophobe’s nightmare: Berlin Wall to be torn down for luxury flats.
Though the plans had been public for some time, a canny editor somewhere reignited the story with impeccable timing, “breaking” the news on a grey Wednesday in late February, as the city’s arduous winter continued its oppressive regime. Berlin’s blogosphere immediately set the well-rehearsed wheels of petition and protest in motion, but construction work started the very next day, causing an already exasperated opposition to balk in horror.
Berlin means something different to each and every one of its three and a half million residents. To some, it’s an affordable playground of hedonism. To others, it’s the setting for a bitter battle of split cultural identities and torn loyalties. To many, it is simply home. To me, and probably countless others, Berlin continues to uphold the illusion that some things really do last forever. Ironically, it is because the city is changing so quickly that time appears to stand still. It’s as if the fact that we’re all moving together somehow negates the passage of time; like a jet hurtling towards earth, its passengers floating weightless in zero gravity.
“I can’t understand how destroying something so integral to the city can be justified. It almost seems like a work of evil,” tweeted one angry resident in response to the news. “It’s the best place for me to come and have any sort of an inkling of what it must have been like to live in a divided city. If this goes, then that opportunity goes too,” a Spanish tourist told the Guardian.
And it was not just a crumbling piece of the Wall under threat, it was Berlin’s longest remaining stretch, named the East Side Gallery for its colourful murals by international artists. The juggernaut of disapproval continued to gain seemingly unstoppable momentum, with around 600 protesters turning up at 9am on the Friday to form a human chain, which–although predicted and intercepted by Police, who arrived hours before–succeeded in disrupting the Wall’s removal. By the Sunday, thousands of impassioned demonstrators descended on the site, forcing the developers to call a temporary hiatus until mid-March.
Though the fiasco attracted attention from local, national and international media, the underlying narrative is already old news to the city’s long- and medium-term residents. Since the first time the Wall fell at the end of 1989, those mysterious, complex forces of globalisation and gentrification have been attempting to drag Berlin, kicking and screaming, up to speed with its contemporaries.
During the early 90s, expensive cars were routinely set alight by anarchist groups in a violent socio-political struggle whose symbolism retains its potency to this day. In 2011, the problem of car torching flared up again, with around 400 cases over the course of the year, proving that opposition to gentrification still burns strong. Indeed, for those neighbourhoods currently going through the painful metamorphosis, the writing is on the wall. Between self-consciously shabby bars and calculatedly cool cafes, the streets of southeastern districts Kreuzberg and Neukölln are ridden with rough graffiti inciting residents to “kill your landlord,” and “yuppies” and “tourists” to “fuck off.”
Every time an old building is destroyed or a new one erected; for every venue that is forced to close to make way for whatever is to replace it, there is a protest–online, in person, and usually both. Although demonstrations are predominantly peaceful, these confrontations represent a deep ideological divide between those implementing changes and those opposed to them.
“Emotions were running high, facts were scarce” reported Berlin podcasters Maedels with a Microphone in their coverage of the East Side Gallery protests. “It’s not as if they’re moving it for for us, the citizens. It just shows that they’re selling out Berlin, no matter what,” one protester told them. “Messing with history makes it inauthentic,” said another.
In this factual vacuum, exacerbated by many media reports, most demonstrators remained unaware that a 22 metre section of the (already gappy) 1300 metre stretch of the Wall is planned to be removed, and that the piece is going to be moved, intact, only a few feet from its current location; that the work is mainly to make way for a foot and cycle bridge, and that this bridge, the Brommybrücke, actually predates the Wall, the original having been destroyed in WWII. Few thought to cast their mind back a couple of years and consider that the East Side Gallery, adorned with art and scrawls in those blissful early days of freedom, had its “authentic” history effectively wiped out when local authorities decided to paint it white and start from scratch in 2009.
By the time work started, it was far too late for constructive discussions and reasoning. Protesters felt, and openly said, that they believed this was a trick; that “they”–some obscure but omnipotent forces–had kept it quiet until the last minute to prevent protests. Basically, people acted exactly as humans tend to when faced with shock: emotionally.
Berlin is clearly anomalous, having taken lessons not only from its own heart-wrenching history but also from that of its European neighbours, to whose generic modern narratives it refuses to conform. Sometimes protests fail, sometimes they succeed, and compromises are often reached, yet what remains constant is this emotion and ideological violence that ends up reducing a complex set of interrelated issues and agendas into an irrational and one-dimensional story.
Maik Uwe Hinkel, CEO and owner of Living Bauhaus, the company behind the planned high-rise, called Living Levels, stated that “contrary to what has appeared in the media, our project does not interrupt the East Side Gallery.” The company has held planning permission since 2008 and made no attempt to keep their plans for the site secret. The removal of the Wall “has nothing to do with to do our building, but is a requirement of the district,” said Hinkel. Living Bauhaus is quick to point out that Mr. Hinkel had already been involved in roundtable talks earlier in the year to consult with various groups about his project’s impact.
This much is true. The roundtable they refer to is an initiative called Forum StadtSpree, and is organised by the Stiftung Zukunft Berlin (Berlin Future Foundation), an independent platform for civic responsibility. Starting out as an association in 1993 and operating as a foundation since 2008, the Stiftung Zukunft has, for the past year or so, been working to address the city’s problems of urban regeneration by ensuring that conversations between all stakeholders–politicians, developers, local businesses and citizens–happen, and that decisions about Berlin’s future are made jointly.
“Our main question is where the city should be in 20 to 30 years. What are the strengths we can depend on, what are the challenges, and how can we turn them into assets?” explained Anett Szabó, a project manager at Stiftung Zukunft Berlin. We meet in a serene office near upscale Tiergarten, the walls crowded with the art collection of one of the founders. “Berlin, as any other urban society, is made up of people with a variety of interests. What hardly ever happens, is that these people sit together in the same room and talk about not only what is good for them as individuals but also for Berlin as a city.”
The area between Jannowitzbrücke and Schillingbrücke has long been earmarked for development, with the instigation of the MediaSpree investment project dating back to the 1990s. As plans start becoming a reality, with the closure of institutions like Bar 25 in 2010 and the threatened closure of other long-standing venues such as Yaam, Forum StadtSpree held its first meeting on 30th January this year, and not a moment too soon.
The series of three roundtable events involves Berlin’s senator for urban development Michael Müller, Mitte mayor franz Schulz and Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg mayor Christian Hanke, Mr Hinkel of Living Bauhaus, along with around 40 other interested parties from a cross section of society, including ecologists, waste authorities and organisations and companies such as the Deutsches Architektur Zentrum, the University of Art, and former Bar 25 owners Katerholzig–who also have popular plans to develop another Spreeside plot into a cultural venue called Holzmarkt.
“During the first discussion, we tried to work out how to bring this all together,” said Szabó. She admits that for the East Side Gallery debate the conversation may have begun too late. Yet the date in mid-March everyone is holding their breath for is actually the 18th, and refers to the second installment of the Forum StadtSpree. “The events of the past few days are proof that this process is necessary and helpful.” Though initially time consuming, the procedure could save time and money in the long run if it helps prevent protests and delays that currently characterise Berlin’s development discourse.
While the Stiftung Zukunft represents the people of Berlin, and brings together interested parties, the discussions are independently moderated. On the 18th March, the plan is to hammer out over several hours questions like “What are the main aims of the area? Is it predominantly industrial, cultural, residential…? Everything will be put on the table and we will work out, plot by plot, what is important for Berlin.” Keeping the big picture in sight is no mean feat when you have over 40 separate, and often opposing, opinions.
Recognising the importance of structures such as the East Side Gallery and what it means to generations of locals and tourists as a moving memorial to significant historical events, whilst looking to the future and embracing change, is an incredibly fine balancing act. And while the Stiftung Zukunft’s initiative is still in its infancy and may stumble along the way, it is still leaps beyond anything that’s existed in Berlin before.
Whether Forum StadtSpree can affect what happens to the East Side Gallery remains to be seen, but as Szabó points out, “it’s the process that is most important. Even someone who is against the final decision might find peace with it if he has been consulted, listened to and informed, rather than merely appeased and talked at. If people have to gather and shout and confront the police, that’s a sure sign that the discussion has gone wrong, whatever the result. Berlin belongs to all of us, and we should all be able to decide what its future looks like.”
Some people will tell you that Berlin is like a different city during the depths of winter, and they’d be right. Different yes, but not worse than in the friendlier seasons. Actually, now I’ve lived here for the best part of four years, I’ve come to embrace the icy innercity, with its snowy streets fading to slushy brown. At any other time of year, you’ll share the parks and pavements with hoards of other revellers all enjoying a slice of Europe’s party capital, but between November and March, you can enjoy some quality one-on-one time with this most enigmatic and dynamic of cities.
Having started the day with cup of freshly brewed coffee (courtesy of my neighbours at Five Elephant), it’s time to get outside and face up to whatever the day has in store. It’s invariably not as bad as it looks from the cosiness of a warm flat. I always take my dog out — sometimes we walk, sometimes we jog — and his general enthusiasm and complete indifference to the weather are infectious. Cutting through the scruffily charming Görlitzer Park, a former train station forced into obsolescence by the Wall, we head towards the banks of the mighty River Spree.
Now well into what was once the East, grand avenues gradually morph into forest as the impressive villas become fewer and further between. This is Treptower Park, a sprawling labyrinth of towering trees and vast green spaces, the river at the northern edge providing a peaceful waterside promenade made just, it seems, for dogs and joggers.
We’re warm now, and my cheeks glow red. It’s time to head home, make myself presentable and jump on the bus to check out one of Berlin’s inexhaustible supply of exciting exhibitions. My final destination is often the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, host to any number of pioneering international initiatives from renowned Transmediale festival to the new and compelling Anthropocene Project. Then again, it could be the Hamburger Bahnhof, once the main hub for trains to Hamburg, now an innovative museum for modern art with a permanent collection featuring the likes of Andy Warhol and Gerhard Richter.
Another great thing about winter is that it justifies a perhaps unhealthy amount of visits to the pictures. I’m addicted to the handful of Yorck arthouse cinemas that show films in their original language with German subtitles. Forget generic blockbusters in a faceless multiplex, this is movie-going as it’s supposed to be done, with thoughtfully selected features, painstakingly restored cinemas and fairly priced tickets.
After all that solitude and reflection, a salubrious dose of socialising is probably in order. On its lesser-known list of benefits, winter also offers the opportunity to go to bars much earlier than is usually acceptable. When it gets dark just before four in the afternoon, 6pm can feel like the middle of the night, so meeting friends for a hearty German beer in a gemütlich bar is just what the doctor ordered. Some (most) continue late into the night at one or more of Berlin’s world-famous clubs. But me, I make sure I’m tucked up at a reasonable hour ready for tomorrow morning’s date with the great outdoors, well rested and ready for whatever this wonderful city has to throw at me.
For ‘the world’s biggest tech festival’, Campus Party Europe has already had a surprising number of ‘technical issues’ to contend with. A confusing website twinned with an equally baffling registration system meant we were kept queueing for an hour last night just trying to get in to see Hard Hob play the opening ceremony (which I unfortunately ended up missing).
Things seemed to be running smoother this morning, however, as I settled down to my first talk of the festival by Kate Andrews from LoCo2. I blogged about LoCo2’s beta site back in March 2011 and have been watching the development of the business with interest ever since, so was excited to find out how things were going and finally put a face to a name.
LoCo2’s ultimate goal is simple – to make trains as easy to book as flights. According to Kate, there are three factors that people take into consideration when booking travel: price, length of journey, and ease of booking. The business – owned by Kate and her brother Jamie – focuses on the latter and works backwards from there: a smooth and comprehensive booking website allows users to find their most suitable route and the best price.
It all sounds pretty simple so far. If Skyscanner can do it for flights and Direct Ferries for boat journeys, why isn’t there already the equivalent for trains? Apparently, it’s all a matter of data. More to the point, it’s about getting train companies to share this data so that LoCo2 can provide a consolidated, user-friendly pan-European train booking service.
Unfortunately, each national train provider has built and run their timetable and booking system independently, and moreover, they are tentative about sharing it. LoCo2’s challenge is to convince these companies – and rightly so – that working together will bring more ticket sales to all parties, rather than divert or divide profits. Eurostar, for example, has not only taken 80% of the market share in travel between London, Brussels and Paris, but also actually increased the market.
Then there’s the environmental benefits of travelling by train, of which 80% in Europe are now electric. As more countries follow the lead of Scandinavia and switch to renewable energy sources, train travel will only become more environmentally friendly. Plus, as I’ve long maintained, it’s a lot more fun!
It was a breath of fresh air to hear Kate speak about these issues, as I find myself having the same conversation with people who are already sold on the idea of slow travel, but stumble once they start looking to book. (Apparently only 2% of people fail to make a flight booking, compared with 67% for trains). I often end up offering to do the painstaking research on behalf of others, but this of course is no solution. The answer, in 2012, is surely technological and, ideally, instantaneous. That’s why I’m glad LoCo2 are taking on the challenge and, it seems, – slowly but surely – conquering it.
LoCo2′s Off The Rails hack day takes place in London on 13th October.
It’s a dark night in dilapidated Berlin. The looming clouds part to reveal a dim, dubious and spherical light source as City Redevelopment Robot Deco4, alone and confused in the post-apocalyptic landscape, spots the crumpled, destroyed remains of a kindred droid and begins a panicked dash across the city.
The Quest for a Real Hard Hob is an audio-visual journey following the plight of Deco4 as he navigates the dangerous dystopia in his Ozian search for an element, or hob, robust enough to be his android heart. Providing the dramatic soundtrack is a live, four-piece band of accomplished musicians whose thunderous percussion and chest-trembling bass complete the experience, which had the crowd hypnotized from start to finish.
Beneath the backdrop of Galiläakirche Friedrichshain’s soaring spires and imposing pipe organ, the Hard Hob team last night delivered Act One of Four of the animated adventure, leaving everyone present desperate for more.
Aside from the music, one of the most captivating parts of the experience is seeing the artists’ rendering of some of Berlin’s best-loved buildings and monuments as crumbling ruins. The soldier’s bright image at Checkpoint Charlie is partially destroyed and barely recognisable, and the Sony Centre’s iconic glass ceiling is smashed, splintered and on the verge of risky collapse.
It’s exciting to see the destruction of these familiar landmarks, because it reminds us of how fragile these seemingly solid structures are. And if they can fall, so too can we.
As for our hero, Deco4, let’s hope there’s not long to wait before we find out if he, at least, can defy dystopia.
If you take a 50 minute bus journey from central London, I’m pretty sure you won’t end up in the forest. Unless it’s Waltham Forest. Berlin is different. A few stops after Hermannplatz, the M29 bus stops outside my house, so I decided to take it to the other end of the line and see what’s out there.
The last stop is Roseneck. Then it’s only a few minutes’ walk along Eichhörnchensteig to Grunewald forest and lake.
It turns out that the whole of the area around Grunewaldsee is a Hundeauslaufgebiet (dog exercise area).
Jagdschloss Grunewald (hunting lodge) ^
A heartbreaking amount of lost dogs… ^
Berlin startup, Coffee Circle, began life in a humble corner of Betahaus. Two years later, they’re housed in a typically cavernous ex-warehouse office space shared with a handful of similarly youthful businesses. Plenty of room, finally, to host a Gidsy event to share their passion for coffee.
This afternoon’s workshop was led by Robert, one of the three founders of Coffee Circle. The remaining two are currently soaring at speed in a south-westerly direction, bound for the Ethiopian capital, Addis Abbaba, on their annual quest for the best coffees the country has to offer.
Unlike most other coffee traders, Coffee Circle buy direct from growers in Ethiopia. Due to a lack of infrastructure, employment and welfare in the country, people generally have to sustain themselves by growing their own food. Families often club together in cooperatives to farm small plantations, producing some of the world’s best coffee, completely organically. By cutting out the middle man, the company can source the best coffee and make sure the growers get a fair deal. For every kilo of coffee purchased, Coffee Circle gives €1 back to local development projects. Farmers see the benefits within their community and increase their efforts to produce the best beans, driving up quality of produce for the company and ensuring ongoing investment in local development projects. Hence the name Coffee Circle.
We learnt a great deal about the different coffee producing areas of Ethiopia and the difficulties in finding, getting to, tasting, choosing and eventually purchasing coffee – and that’s before it even gets to the roaster. The process is painstaking, adventurous, competitive (Starbucks is also a major direct purchaser in the region), fascinating and incredibly complicated, requiring expertise at every stage. Two years down the line, Coffee Circle seem confident in themselves and their product, so it was time to start tasting their fare.
In this spirit of complexity, there were five different coffees to taste and five different brewing methods – far too many variables to elicit a clear winner in both categories without proper scientific process, but more than enough to get us started on the road to coffee connoisseurship. The coffees included three Coffee Circle products: Limu, espresso and Sidamu; one Square Mile Bolivian filter coffee; and a Kaiser’s common-or-garden filter coffee.
The brewing techniques:
A familiar favourite on a particularly impressive La Marzocco machine. Obviously only the espresso beans were sampled in this test, and we learnt some of the finer points to the barista’s art. It’s called espresso, of course, because of the short brewing time – the water has only a maximum of about 20 seconds to pass through the coffee, so ideally the beans should be finely ground and also need to be roasted for longer during the roasting stage to ensure strength of flavour and aroma.
#2 Drip filter
Another classic and relatively old-fashioned method, the drip filter has been improved by the Japanese invention of adding small ridges to the funnel, which prevent the filter paper sticking to the wall and improve the flow. The paper must be rinsed by pouring warm water over it before adding the ground coffee, to avoid that papery taste.
#3 The syphon
Also known as a vacuum coffee maker, this method is visually amazing. It works by varying the temperatures of two connecting vessels, firstly increasing the pressure to force water upwards and then lowering it to allow it to soak back down through the coffee. It’s been around since the 1930s but has recently enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, possibly due to its gimmicky look (apparently it pulls in crowds at events, but I didn’t rate the results – see my verdict below).
Much like the drip filter but with thicker paper (which again must be rinsed before use) and a slightly different vessel, the Chemex produces a noticeably smoother cup of coffee by filtering out all the residue. Its diligence as a filter means it does take a while, but the result is well worth waiting for.
Currently a very popular choice of brewer, especially among singletons for whom one cup is just enough, the AeroPress is a quick, simple and highly effective method, even if it does lack the glamour of its contemporaries. Consisting of two cylinders that create an airtight chamber, the device works much like a syringe.
The espresso was perhaps a bad place to start, because it was by far the most overpowering taste and possibly my favourite, though I can’t be sure my views haven’t been influenced by that magnificent machine. The Sidamu coffee tasted underwhelming from the drip filter but exceptional from the AeroPress, which gave it a cloudy texture and strong taste. Sadly, both the Limu and the Sidamu tasted bitter and burnt through the syphon. The Chemex-brewed coffees were impressive, especially the Square Mile sample, which tasted too fruity for quotidian dosage but perfect for a special occasion.
After all these amazing samples, it was only left to try the supermarket special. I often drink similar coffees and was completely unprepared for the taste that hit my tongue after all the high quality we’d just experienced. To quote one of the other participants, Philip, “it just tastes so… empty”. Empty indeed, and stale, and bitter and – frankly – awful.
Apparently, in the name of efficiency, supermarkets and other producers of cheap coffee roast their beans at high temperatures for three to five minutes to reduce the roasting time required. In order to get rid of the fruity acid and other toxins, and to preserve a delicate and desirable aroma, beans should be roasted at much lower temperatures for longer – up to 20 minutes or so. The result of cutting corners during the complex roasting stage is a poor tasting and unhealthy coffee.
So there we have it. Another expensive taste developed in a few short hours. Having said that, coffee is a staple in our household and I’m more than willing to pay the price for high quality, ethical produce, so these few eye-opening hours with Coffee Circle were well worthwhile, as well as highly enjoyable.