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Dear Readers, Happy New Year !

Continuing with our first post of 2016, this post takes a look back at the places we visited in the first half of last year. In 2015, there were 94 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 650 posts. The post that had the highest number of views in 2015 was about our visit to a durian stand in a night market in Malaysia.

Click on links, where provided to read more about the places of interest. There are usually a series of related posts per location, you can discover them easily in the calendar at the bottom of the post.

In reverse chronological order from June:

Berlin, Germany in June to see the Champions League final – a part of the wall

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München, Germany in April for work, Asam’s church

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Catania, Sicily, Italy during Easter – Teatro Bellini

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Taormina, Sicily

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Siracusa and Ortigia, Sicily

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Half way up Mount Etna and Meditterranean sea, Sicily

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Langkawi, Malaysia in January

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Hong Kong

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Georgetown in Penang, Malaysia

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Penang, Malaysia in January

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Goodbye 2015, Hello 2016.

 

 

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We were traveling with IT and MW in Copenhagen and they love flea markets and antique stores. The last time we traveled together we went to the flea markets at the Porte de Clignancourt (Les Puces) in Paris – see earlier post here.

Our last post here showed some of IT’s purchases, and here are some more, including MW’s collection.

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MW is interested in antique eyewear.

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The translucent frame of this pair of sunglasses is made with turtle shell and the lens with a mineral, possibly mica.

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Foldable opera glasses (?)

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Spring-loaded to unfold. Pretty cool, huh.

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One of these we believe is IT’s purchase.

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A ram-like candle holder.

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MW is into transportation. A model of a three-wheeled car made by Messerschmitt – a famous German World War II aircraft manufacturer.

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Lada, Fiat 124 ? (the tray belongs to the apartment, the graphic pattern came from the same era)

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MW is also interested in musical instrument.

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An ex-guitar player’s purchase.

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Happy hunting, and not too cumbersome to take home.

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We came to Copenhagen from Berlin after the Champions League 2015 Final (see earlier post here). The Final was held in the Olympiastadion, the original stadium used for the Berlin 1936 Olympic Games.

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In 1936, the Olympic Games were held under the direction of Hitler who exploited it for Nazi propaganda purposes. IT picked up this official souvenir book about the 1936 games from a flea market in Berlin.

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The book was in excellent condition despite its age.  The photographs in the book were not printed directly on the paper. Instead, each photograph is an original and glued on top of the page next to the text.

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James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens (September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980) was a black American track and field athlete and four-time Olympic gold medalist at this event. At the time in the US, the blacks and whites were segregated. There were controversies around the fact that Hilter avoided shaking his hand after he won the gold medals. Well, there is proof in this book that at least his achievements were etched in stone.

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After the UEFA Champions League Final game on a Saturday in June (click here to see the post), we stayed an extra day in Berlin. As expected on a Sunday, most of the shops were closed. So we were pleased to discover Volkswagon Group’s “flagship” store, not far from Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstrasse 84/Unter den Linden. See the Forum’s site here.

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Apparently, it was only a month old when we visited in June 2015. Following extensive remodelling with a completely new design, the former Automobil Forum reopened with all of VW group’s twelve brands under one roof.

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The Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT, ŠKODA, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, Ducati, Volkswagen trucks, Scania and MAN brands are presented.

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The VW brand was represented by a rally race car.
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Apparently, all Porsche dashboard looks the same.

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In Europe, more than one in four cars are made by the group. Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft is the largest company in Europe, apparently, and this is their communication platform on mobility.

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Not following auto news, we had no idea that Lambo and Bentley are both VW brands.

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The Lambo’s shark look is comical, as is the over-tanned rolly polly Bentley.

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According to their website (click here ):

“The Volkswagen Group Forum gives us the opportunity to further enliven its economic and social role. Here in the heart of the capital, we want to establish a continuing dialogue with people.”

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The Group operates 119 (May 26, 2015) production plants in 20 European countries and a further 11 countries in the Americas, Asia and Africa. Every weekday, 592,586 employees worldwide produce nearly 41,000 vehicles, and work in vehicle-related services or other fields of business. The Volkswagen Group sells its vehicles in 153 countries.

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Interacting with digital exhibits, the visitors can discover both the past and present of the Volkswagen Group.

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Of course, they are selling the brands here not the actual cars, but they sell books and other branded paraphrenalia. But the range of merchandise here pales in comparison with what was on offer at BMW Welt in Munich (click here to see the post).

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There were several walls full of miniature models on display. The model cars were not available for sale. They serve a documentary purpose.

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Volkswagen started producing Sambas in 1951. In the sixties this version became popular as a hippie bus. Instead of a sliding door at the side the Samba had two pivot doors. In addition the Samba had a fabric sunroof. At that time Volkswagen advertised with the idea of using the Samba to make tourist trips through the Alps. Sambas were standard painted in two colors. Usually, the upper part was colored white. The two colored sections were separated by a decorative strip. Further the bus had a so-called “hat”: at the front of the van the roof was just a little longer than the car itself to block the sun for the driver.

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We assume they would make a model only if the real car existed – but Porsche police car ?  Only in Germany !

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The forum offers conference spaces and two restaurants – the eateries sounded interesting but we did not have time to try them.

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A fun place to spend half an hour.

Just a quick post about what we ate while in Berlin. The places mentioned in these food diary entries are all memorable for various reasons and definitely recommendable.

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Don’t remember why we wanted to have ramen in Germany. IT’s friend recommended this place Cocolo Ramen in Kreuzberg.

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Since we were hungry, we took a cab from our hotel (near the zoo) to Kruezberg, an area with a lot of immigrants and a canal runs through it. The restaurent is on Paul-Lincke-Ufer. We were sure the driver did not take the most direct route.

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This area feels a bit like the canal area in Milano – numerous bars and restaurants line the sides of the canal, very local and without the touristy fares. Click here to see our post on the Naviglio Grande in Milano.

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Cocolo was packed on the outside since the weather was agreeable. We quickly found a table inside next to a big window.

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The locals must love it because the inside was quickly filled up too.

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Standard ramen on the menu. Nothing surprising. Authentic and tasty is how we would describe it.

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Definitely worth the trip seeking it out if you crave ramen in Berlin.

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But on the next day, we found a second Cocolo (probably its parent) in Mitte. Cocolo is apparently a growing enterprise.

Just a couple of short posts about what we ate while in Berlin. The places mentioned in these food diary entries are all memorable for various reasons and definitely recommendable.

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KaDeWe is a large luxury department store in Berlin, equivalent to Harrods in London or Shinsegae in Seoul. They have the most extensive gourmet food retail area on the entire 6th floor.

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I(Chris) had sang praises about this place in earlier posts, some of which reported on my attempt to count how many different types of sausages were available for sale in the store. If you are curious, click here and here to find out. At that previous visit, I was by myself and chose to enjoy a bowl of bouillbaise on a bar dedicated to serving this dish. Click here to see it.

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This time, there were four of us, and since all the food bars were serving interesting and delicious-looking dishes. It took us quite a bit of walking around and debate among ourselves before settling down for the seafood and oyster bar, Austernbar.

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The place was packed and the staff was very energized. One guy’s job was mostly opening oyster – he used a long hinged blade fixed onto the counter rather than a small shucking knife. He had to be fast. See the orders in front of him.

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The variety of oysters on the menu was extensive – originating from Scottish waters (which was the tastiest in our opinion) to French Atlantic coast, around Sylt, and the Mediterranean, etc. We had a sampler of six different kinds.

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IT had the smoked eel which was very tasty – just the right amount of smoky flavor with a touch of natural sweetness.

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We also had a couple of grilled seafood platters. Yummy.

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Definitely a fun place to have a chilled glass of champagne and oysters.

This June, we were the lucky guests of IT again for the UEFA Champions League Final 2015 which was held in Berlin, Germany.

Beside Sue and IT, we were joined by MW(HK) and MI(CH). We arrived at the Olympiastadion around dusk after much traffic congestion, despite being transported in a VIP bus provided by the game’s sponsors.

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The Olympiastadion was built for the 1936 Olympic Games, the 11th Summer Olympics. Adolf Hitler wanted to use the stadium for propaganda and ordered the construction of a new sports complex rather than renovating an existing Deutsches Stadion.

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We waited quite a bit on the outside before being let in through a VIP entrance. As we learnt afterwards, there were as many as 5000 counterfeit tickets in circulation and UEFA was trying to deal with it outside the stadium.

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The stadium was renovated in 2004 and hosted 6 matches including the final for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Its capacity is about 75,000 spectators – the largest football stadium in Germany.

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The two teams in this year’s Champion League final are FC Barcelona, Spain and Juventus from Torino, Italy.

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Juve was the underdog team.

We had seats in midfield, half way up the side facing the player’s entrance.

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The Barça fans are on our left and Juve fans on the right.

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The game started with a short opening ceremony.

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Having been to Camp Nou – the clubhouse of FC Barcelona (click here for the post), I(Chris) knows the Barça team better. Now they have 3 South American star players – Messi, Neymar and Suarez.

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The game was very exciting, top-level play, without excessive pushing or tripping. We were truly surprised when the half time whistle was blown as the game was so engrossing that we did not even look at our watches.

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Barça won the game 3-1, being the overall better team. Juve had its moment after they scored an equalizer but their high spirit was quickly lost when Barça scored its second goal. Even before the third goal was scored in the last minutes of the game, it was all over for Juventus already.

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This was our third attendance of a Champions League final game (lucky us) and this game was the most enjoyable to watch.

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We saw the other two games – 2012 in Munich (Allianz stadium, Chelsea beat Bayern Munich, click here to see us holding the actual cup before the game and also here) and 2013 in London (Wembley, Bayern Munich beat Borussia Dortmund, click here). The stadium and hospitality service in Berlin was better than Wembley and on par with Allianz.

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All thanks to IT.

 

 

On my last day in Berlin, while wandering in Mitte, it came to me that my eyeglass frame by ic! berlin must somehow be related to this city.  After googling the brand on the street, I discovered that their original store was located at Max-Beer-Straße, which is only two blocks from where I was.  So a random walk in this part of town became a pilgrimage.

The store was rather minimal, but unique in its use of old loudspeakers stacked up to form the service counter; and all the glasses were stored in carts that were once used on planes to store meals and drinks.  Honestly, the idea of using the carts is cute but impractical as you cannot see the merchandise directly. The storekeeper has to remember where all the different styles of frames are stored.

My frame was getting old.  So I have to buy a new frame from the mothership – the original store. For the merchandise, check out their website – ic! berlin.

Old glasses …

Brand loyalty is not my thing – after all, I believe “variety is the spice of life.” and there are so many different things out there waiting to be experienced. However, there are a few exceptions.  Eyewear is one.  I got my first of ic! berlin frame (model roman) about 5 years ago after a pair of Silhouette titan rimless.

The German shopkeeper spoke flawless English, and helped me patiently to narrow down the choices to a final selection (model hotel neutor, graphite). For friends who have not seen me for a while, that’s what I am wearing now. (The photo below reminds me of smiling eyes in a cartoon especially after you stare at it a bit.)

The few things I want to say about this German brand of eyewear (founded 1999)  is that the frames are handmade, super light, have great shapes, made from sheet metal and feature patented screw-less springy hinges.  The image is that of hi-tech minimalism, and the designs won them many prizes apparently in Japan.


same old hinge design, different model, same material, different finish

Since I did not stay long enough in Berlin to add the lens, the new lenses were fitted in Hong Kong. The optician also sold ic! berlin frames and was keen to compare prices. I might have paid a little more as there is no sales tax in Hong Kong.


Gotta love their ironic storage tube, the top of which is shaped like a giant screw. Yet their patented design is famous for being screw-less.

I passed their arch-rival Mykita which was just round the corner on Rosa-Luxemburg-Str. 6.  Mykita, founded by ex-ic! employees in 2004, also features a screw-less hinge design but ic! berlin’s hinges certainly look sleeker in my opinion.

ic! berlin also have great lens cloth.

By the time I finished my shopping, it was dark.

Berlin was great city to visit. Take a look at two my earlier posts about Berlin: Axica, the Reichstag.

While looking ic! berlin up on Wikipedia, I discovered that they collaborated with Freitag in designing a eyeglass frame for truck driver.  See this link about the frame and go here for my earlier post about Freitag.

 

Addendum: in 2014, I got a third pair of ic! berlin, Harmonic Oscillator, see the latest post here. In 2017, I got a fourth pair – cinja s. – click here to see it.

8 (107)

KaDeWe’s delicatessen is rumored to sell more than 1000 types of sausages. To test the rumor,  I started counting the number of price tags in each display case in my last post. Click here to see the earlier post (and more sausages… ).

The fun continues here … the bracketed number is the running total.

16 (123)

10 (133)

11 (144)    The yellowish Spanish sausages (Salchichon Iberico Bellato) do not look too appetizing and costs almost 5 euro per 100 g !

16 (160)

14 (174)   The salami studded with green peppers (Pepsala) looks interesting, only 2.78 euro/100g.

11 (185)

9 (194)   Some are tongues, not sausages !

8 (202)

I have only taken pictures of about 70% of their display cases with sausages inside, and I did not take pictures of those that were hanging.  Several pictures did not turn out well and are not included here.  I do not think they sell 1000 types of sausages all at the same time on the floor.  But easily, they have 250-plus different types on display on that day.

If you want to have a close-up look at the sausages, their names or prices, click on the photo for a higher res and bigger picture.

12 (12)

Rumors has it that KaDeWe’s delicatessen on the sixth floor carries more than 1000 types of sausages.  I did an estimate to test the rumor.  Here is the evidence, presented in two posts.

I have counted the number of price tags and put the number under each picture, along with the running total.

14 (26)

10 (36)

13 (49)

17 (66)

15 (81)

14 (95)

4 (99)

The sausage count continues in the next post. Click here to see it. Don’t miss the other 100’s types of sausages.

If you want to read the label, click on the image to get a bigger, hi-res picture.


On my last day in Berlin, it was raining and the wind harsh. Stay indoors was the advice offered by the hotel concierge.

KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) is the second largest department store in Europe, after Harrods in London.  But the food hall on the sixth floor, in my opinion, is bigger and better than Harrods.  They have numerous counters selling every gourmet item that you expect a “westerner” (it being located on the west German side of the Wall) would consume.  Several brands of champagne each has their own tasting areas on the floor. Lenôtre has an area in the middle of the floor and the woman behind the counter told me not to take pictures of their cakes.  The cake decorations are superb and people must have been copying them.

The best feature is the gourmet counters that allow you to consume the food, freshly prepared, on the spot – there were at least 20 or more specialties.  I had breakfast and lunch there.  There were counters for fried seafoods, lobsters (see below), sausages, roast chicken, Thai curry, Sushi, … and even a counter named Paul Bocuse which served food by his recipe, and Cantonese stir fry!  My lunch was at a counter that is dedicated to Bouillabaisse – one of my favorite ! And it was good.

All cleaned, waiting to be put in the pot.

I got a medium portion without the seafood platter but the bowl was packed with fish.  A cheap (by Swiss standard) and delicious lunch !

On the last evening of the meeting, the company organized a gala dinner at the Museum of Communications (Museum für Kommunikation Berlin at Leipziger Straße 16).  The museum is beautiful but the content is really suitable for family with children.

We had the whole museum to ourselves.  We roamed leisurely champagne in hand, explored and played with some of the interactive exhibits.

It has a four-storey high atrium and a tron-like ceiling, surrounded by columns, pedestals, and angels.

Above one of the areas where drinks are served is a suspended and deconstructed horse-drawn carriage.

Damien Hurst’s dissected horse would fit in well here.

Under the arches are selected iconic words in German or English in neon.  Macht, ziel, on, off, fake, news, code, …

Touch, Talk.

Food was good especially because it was catered.  But every dish has a bit of foam in it – I guess that is the trend.  For entertainment, a band was booked to play 1920’s music and there were performances by cabaret singers and dancers.  It was fun but I think cabaret is best viewed in a dark, smoke-filled, and more intimate venue.

After dinner, we were bus-ed to Felix, near the Brandenburg gate – apparently one of the top nightclub in town – we had our own VIP area with free drinks – overall great space with balconies, but it was really crowded.

What a way to close the meeting !

We had a private group dinner at a dining room/restaurant (“Dachgarten”) on the roof of the Deutschen Bundestag (German parliament building, formerly known as the Reichstag).  The location is truly unique; while the food is carefully prepared, it was not that special.

The original Reichstag building was built in 1890s, disused just before World War II and was abandoned after the division of Germany.  After reunification, Norman Foster renovated the building and added a glass dome.  The dome is open to the public and has a spiral ramp inside that allows visitor to walk upwards.  It is all very hi-tech – star wars death star ambience.

Not sure what this massive fin-like thing does. It looks like the back of my Aeron chair upside down.

From the top, the visitors can through an opening see the parliament chamber.  It is thus possible to see the German chancellor Angela Merkel speak at the podium.  An array of mirrors centrally suspended in the dome brings sunlight into the parliament chamber.  These features all symbolize the transparency of Germany’s democratic process to her citizens who are above the parliament.

The front of the building has a huge inscription “Dem deutschen Volke” meaning “For the German People”.  Too dark to see here.

Just before its renovation, the building was the subject of one of Christo’s art project – it was entirely, top to bottom, wrapped by white fabric. Check out the official photos and drawings of Christo’s Wrapped Reichstag on their site here.  Many pictures can also be found on Flickr.

Beside its “opulent minimalism“, another interesting thing about the Berlin Grand Hyatt is the way it provides dimmed lighting to the halls and corridors on the guest floors.  Instead of wall sconces, the light fixtures are made of a thin vertical strip of glass printed with a black and white photographic image. Each is lit from behind with a low wattage bulb resulting in a warm, slightly yellow glow.  On my floor, every image is unique and they all exude a sense of mystery with a tinge of melancholy.  The cropping of the photographs are imaginatively done.  There is something to look at on the walls of the dark corridors.  One can even use it to identify one’s room instead of a boring room number.

Inside the Reichstag

“Good morning”

No parking.

???

Chirp chirp

“No can do”

What are you looking at ?

Back to pictures of my Berlin trip. For two days, we had meetings in a fantastic conference center designed by Frank Gehry.  Axica, is located inside a squarish building which houses the offices of DZ Bank.  The bank is located next to the US embassy and the Brandenburg gate (Brandenburger Tor) in Pariser Platz.  To preserve the overall look of Pariser Platz, Frank Gehry provided his magic touch inside an otherwise mundane looking building.

Entrance view: Whale ? Amoeba ? It looks as if it is spitting out a torrent of reflective glass.

Alien?  Squid ?

View from the top. Sculptural clouds.

Just before the meeting.

Another conference room on the top floor with view of the city.

The conference room inside the mouth of the organism is pure Gehry –  curved surfaces everywhere.  The room is notable for its layout which dictates the seating arrangement of the room users – an oval table in the middle, a fixed podium for the speaker, 2 giant monitors,  two rows of facing balcony seats on either side of the room.  The room engulfs those who enter, and subtly invites a face-to-face discourse.  There is only a narrow entrance into this cozy space – the attendees walk in together to solve a problem, cannot leave until a resolution is reached, and walk out together into the light.

The coolest looking meeting space I have ever been !

Grand Hyatt, like all chain hotels, look alike – the one in Berlin is an exception.  It was one of the 19 buildings built in the no-man’s land near the Wall (Postdamer Platz), by José Rafael Moneo.  The interiors was described by Wallpaper as “opulent minimalism” – I am not sure what it means or how it should feel.  But I liked my bathroom, especially the enclosed shower and tub combo, and the blueish gray marble.

There is a TV above the shaving mirror, is it necessary ?

The conference rooms are each named after one of the 19 architects.Anyone could have done those wall paintings, just need a ladder.

Just in case you are stuck in the elevator, you can sit down while waiting to be rescued.

You can tell the floor by the sculpture in the elevator lobby, this is the donut on the 6th floor- the balls and flute above is on the 3rd floor.

Eames …

My employer organized a week-long conference in Berlin.  It was a chance for members of the group from around the world to meet each other and us in the operating center.  Of course, there were training sessions every day but they did provide entertainment and dinners at spectacular locations.  Three of the locations were even mentioned in Wallpaper’s Berlin 2010 city guide.  I stayed an extra day and explored the city.  There was so much to do, I really liked the place.  So, I will be doing a Berlin special in the next few posts.

First up is a panorama of the city which was divided by the wall until about 20 years ago.   The area near the wall (including the kill zone on the east side) was empty of buildings since the 60’s when the wall went up.  Since reunification, the empty land was reoccupied by brand new skyscrapers erected by star architects.  In the middle of it is the Postdamer Platz, a hotel, shopping, entertainment complex planned and built by a team lead by Reno Piano.  My hotel is one of the 19 buildings located in this area (see next post).  These pictures were taken from Panoramapunkt on the 24th floor of the Kollhof Tower which claims to have the fastest elevator in Europe (24 floors in 20 seconds).  Click on the image to get a bigger hi-res picture, it is worth a look, especially the one below.

German parliament building (with the glass dome) on upper left and Brandenberg gate on the lower middle-right

Tiergarten in the background, Sony center by Helmut Jahn

Postdamer platz atrium below the tent roof

Holocaust memorial by Peter Eisenman

GSW Hochhaus on the right in a distance; Detlev-Rohwedder Haus in the foreground (Europe’s biggest office building)

Peter Eisenman