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Last year, IT and I went to visit the Vitra Campus – located just across the Swiss-German border in Weil am Rhein. See our earlier posts about the Campus and the company’s showrooms. We joined a walking tour of the private areas of the Campus – the factories, the warehouse and the fire station.


Zaha Hadid’s first completed building is perhaps the most famous fire station in the world. The building was commissioned after a disastrous fire at the Vitra factory in 1981.


Completed in 1994, the building housed a garage for fire engines along with another wing containing locker rooms, showers and common areas.


The slanting walls are not caused by my camera, they do not meet at right angles.


The sharp-angled sculptural forms yells “emergency!’ The walls seem to glide past each other.


According to her firm’s web site, the fire station “emerges as a linear layered series of walls, between which program elements are contained – a representation of “movement frozen” – an alert structure, ready to explode into action at any moment.”


This building is a key work of so-called Deconstructivism and of late twentieth-century architecture in general.


For architecture pilgrims, the Vitra Campus is a mecca and this fire station is a high point. Since it no longer functions as a fire station, we were invited inside to sit in the conference room.


The fire station represents the earliest attempt to translate Hadid’s fantastical, powerful conceptual drawings into a functional architectural space.


This Fire House project – a complex construction of tilted and clashing planes – looks very different from her later, organic designs.


Vitra’s voluntary fire fighting team decided to co-operate with the professional city fire brigade and dissolved the factory-based fire fighting teams. As a consequence Vitra no longer needed a fire station and the building became a space for lectures, concerts, and exhibitions.


Hadid was the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize, in 2004.


She worked for her former professors, Koolhaas and Zenghelis, at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, becoming a partner in 1977.


Hadid established her own London-based architecture practice in 1980.


On 31 March 2016, Hadid died of a heart attack in a Miami. We did a post about her building in Hyde Park, London (here) shortly after her death.



This is the third post on what we saw at the Vitra Campus.

The Vitra Design Museum is one of the publicly accessible building on the Campus. A major retrospective – “Alexander Girard – A Designer’s Universe” was installed when we visited. Much of what is written below came from their web site which is very informative.


The Vitra Design Museum was founded in 1989 by the company Vitra.


It is housed in a building by Frank Gehry (who else ?). Next to it is a gallery also by Gehry, where we saw an exhibition about the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong (see that post here).


The work of the Vitra Design Museum is based on its collection, which encompasses not only key objects of design history, but also the estates of several important figures (including Charles & Ray Eames, George Nelson, and Verner Panton).


It is dedicated to the research and presentation of design, past and present, and examines design’s relationship to architecture, art and everyday culture.


Originally envisioned as a private collector’s museum, major internationally acclaimed exhibitions were presented later, including retrospectives on Charles and Ray Eames, Frank Lloyd Wright and Luis Barragán.


It developed its own product lines to finance its activities and an independent publishing house was established.


Alexander Girard (1907-1993) is renowned for its fabric designs and collection of folk art.


In 1951, he was appointed as the director of Herman Miller’s textile department.


He recognized an impulse in folk art, based on a universal human heritage of patterns, motifs and design techniques that transcends the limits of  time and place.


Girard donated over a 100,000 pieces of folk art to the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A new wing was built at the museum—which Girard designed—to house the collection.


Vitra is licensed to make a range of products bearing his graphic designs as well as a series of collectible wooden dolls.


Check out the web site of the Girard Studio to see more of his works.

VitraHaus is Vitra’s flagship store on the Campus. One can see, touch, compare, test, and buy all of Vitra’s home and office furniture offerings here. We visited the Campus last year and this is the second of four posts. See the Campus overview here. Most of what is written below came from their web site which is very informative.


Designed to display the furniture brand’s Home Collection, the five-storey building consists of stacked volumes with pitched roofs covered in charcoal stucco.


The company commissioned Basel-based architects Herzog & de Meuron in 2006 to design the VitraHaus.


Each gabled end is glazed and cantilevers outwards up to five metres, creating the impression of a pile of houses.


A lift takes visitors to the fourth storey, where we started the circular tour. On that day, it was a space completed in different degrees of pink.


Internally, spiral staircases connect the intersecting interiors.


The furniture showrooms are seamless as one moves from one area to the next.


The lower floor is dedicated to office furniture.


In addition to the display area for the company’s products, there is an exhibition space for the chair collection of the Vitra Design Museum.



These collectible miniatures are everywhere in this building.


Technicolor Eames.



One can order a custom-made Eames chair at the Lounge Chair Atelier. The choice of every component can be made by the customer.


There is also the Vitra Design Museum Shop and a café with an outdoor terrace.






There was so much to see and buy in this building.


According to their website, the VitraHaus has a daytime view and a reversed night time view. During the day, one looks out onto the green landscape, but when darkness falls, the illuminated interior of the building glows from within, while its physical structure fades out. The glazed gable ends turn into display cases that shine across the Vitra Campus.

We did not stay late enough to see it.

Last year, IT and I went to visit the Vitra Campus – located just across the Swiss-German border in Weil am Rhein. Much of what is written below came from their web site which is very informative. They also have a great drone video of the campus here.


The Vitra Campus comprises a public and a private area. In the public space, you will find the Vitra Design Museum, the VitraHaus and the Vitra Silde Tower. The private area, where the production facilities are located, can only be accessed as part of an architectural tour (on which these photos were taken).

VitraHaus (see later post)


In 1981, a fire destroyed the majority of the production facilities used by Vitra. The resulting reconstruction provided an opportunity to produce various buildings with renowned architects. The company decided to built its own firehouse. The Vitra Fire Station was the first full-scale work by Zaha Hadid ever to be realised. See later post.


Nicholas Grimshaw was chosen as the first architect to rebuild the Campus. As the insurance funds only covered a six-month interruption in production, Grimshaw designed a factory constructed from simple prefabricated metal elements.


The horizontally striated façade made of corrugated sheet metal bears witness to the industrial purpose of the building as well as the technological competence of the company.


The Vitra Design Museum building was designed by the American architect Frank Gehry as his first project in Europe. See later post about this museum.


Designed by the Japanese architectural office SANAA, the Vitrashop Factory Building was completed in 2012. The building has a nearly circular footprint and consists of two adjoining semi-circular concrete shells.


The flowing character of the building’s exterior is created by a white curtain façade made of undulating acrylic panels.


Although the production hall is larger than any of the other factory buildings on the Vitra Campus, the façade gives it a light, almost floating appearance.


The Schaudepot is the second building on campus by the architects Herzog & de Meuron. The new structure was not yet opened when we visited but opened later in 2016. It combines the simple appearance of an industrial building with the complex requirements of a walk-in museum repository.


Balancing Tools by Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen


The sculpture was commissioned by the children of Vitra company founder Willi Fehlbaum as a gift for his seventieth birthday. It depicts the three main tools employed by upholsters who play a central role in the production of furniture.


Dome by Richard Buckminster Fuller


Petrol Station. Jean Prouvé was an important engineer, architect and designer of the post-war era. He developed furniture and buildings based on carefully constructed metal structures produced in his own metalworking shop.


The Conference Pavilion by Tadao Ando was the architect’s first work outside Japan.


The centrepiece of the building consists of a sunken courtyard that seems to conceal the surrounding environment and lends the building an almost monastic tranquillity and intimacy.


Posts to come will cover the VitraHaus, Design Museum and the firehouse.

IT and I visited the Vitra Design Museum at Weil am Rhein in April 2016. It is a beautiful, well-designed (duh), starchitect-built campus – more about this place in future posts. From 26.02 – 29.05.2016, in a free-standing gallery next to the museum,  the exhibition titled “Objection! Protest by Design” was held.

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The exhibition presented a number of objects that was spawned by the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement 雨傘運動 in Hong Kong that took place between 26 September 2014 and 15 December 2014. Much of what I wrote below came from the Vitra-distributed exhibition guide.

vitra HK-1

In a reaction to proposed changes in the electoral process in Hong Kong, spontaneous student protests erupted in Hong Kong. The protesters created numerous informal and improvised physical structures, graphic images, digital art, and online networks; protesters used the umbrella that gave the movement its name to protect themselves from the police.

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“Broken” by Jonathan Mak. Notice the fractured leg and an off-balance star and the tiny umbrella beneath it.

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There were two large “tables” which were overlaid with a large scale birds-eye view of the streets in Hong Kong.

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Protesters were highly organized in their occupation of three main heavily trafficked protest sites: Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay.

Do click on the map below here to see in details the Admiralty site.

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A large number of installations (barricades, means to cross the expressway median), first aid stations, study areas, press stands and camp sites appeared in the 8-lane expressway and two shopping districts to become voices and means of protests.

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The appearance of these installations were recorded and mapped, and shown on these two tables.

vitra HK-5Mong Kok

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A number of barricades were set up to create a safety zone in order to make a defined space for resting. They were recreated here by 3D printing.

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The Lennon Wall was created by students and social workers with Post-Its on a wall of a stair leading from a street up to a pedestrian footbridge in Admiralty.

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They invited people to write down their hopes and reasons for staying in Admiralty after the police tried to disperse the protestors with tear gas.

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At the end of the occupation, the Wall was taken down and parts of it were preserved.

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The exhibition wanted to show how design not only shapes and define products, but can also function as an agent of change in politics, communications and social innovations.

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I hope the people of Hong Kong all voted and voted wisely today.

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


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


Catania, Sicily, Italy during Easter – Teatro Bellini


Taormina, Sicily


Siracusa and Ortigia, Sicily


Half way up Mount Etna and Meditterranean sea, Sicily


Langkawi, Malaysia in January


Hong Kong


Georgetown in Penang, Malaysia


Penang, Malaysia in January


Goodbye 2015, Hello 2016.



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.


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.


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.

Apparently, all Porsche dashboard looks the same.


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.


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


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


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.”


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.


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


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).


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


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.


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


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


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.

berlin food-2

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.


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.


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.


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.


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


Juve was the underdog team.

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


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


The game started with a short opening ceremony.


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.




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.




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.




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


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.


All thanks to IT.



H a p p y  2015 !

Now that we are back from our year-end vacation, we are taking a look back at some of the places we visited last year. This is the second of two posts; Part 1 is here.

The photos are organized in reverse chronological order. Some of the trips are business trips and some are vacations. Click the links where provided to see the actual posts. There are usually a series of related posts per location, they are uploaded around the same time – you can discover them easily in the calendar at the bottom of the post.

June 2014 – Val de Loire, France – It was a road trip with our “new” car and we saw V and her families.







Chez Liz, Orleans – thanks, we had a great time seeing every one.



May 2014 – Cologne, Germany



April 2014 – Milan, Italy – I (Chris) went to see the Salone Internazionale del Mobile.


April 2014 – Korea – Sue went with her family for a tour.



Busan (부산, 釜山)


Jeju Island (제주도, 濟州島)



April 2014 – Morges, Switzerland – Annual Tulip festival



February 2014, Chateau d’Oex, Switzerland with IT who came to see ballet, eat fondue and buy accordion.



January 2014, Times Square, New York. I (Chris) took this from the building where I worked many years ago on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 44th street.


We are wondering where we will go in 2015.


Dear Readers, Happy New Year !

This is our first post of 2015. It is time to take a look back at some of the places we visited last year.

Some of you who knew me from New York probably think, judging from the posts here, that since we left for Switzerland, we travel a lot and do not spent much time on work. While it is true that I (Chris) get more vacation days per year now, workload is certainly heavier than before. So these vacations are really important counterbalances.

The photos are organized in reverse chronological order and there is a part 2 to come. Some of the trips are business trips and some are vacations.

There are usually a series of related posts per location, they are uploaded around the same time – you can discover them easily in the calendar at the bottom of the post.

December 2014 – Kuala Lumpur and Penang

We left on Christmas eve for Malaysia. The photos are being selected and touched up as we type.

Georgetown, Penang



Suria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur



December 2014 – Munich, Germany



October 2014 – Budapest, Hungary



September 2014 – Piedmont, Italy



September 2014 – Lac de Joue, Switzerland



August 2014 – Aosta, Italy


Near Aosta



July 2014 – London, England


Photos from first half of 2014 to come.





My (Chris’s) eyesight is not getting better and as a result, I have to change the prescription on my lens – it is getting thicker but not quite coke-bottle thick. I changed my glasses about six months ago.


I wrote about my loyalty to the ic! berlin brand of eyeglass here – click to see the other models I wore in the last 8 or so years.


I am sticking with this German, handmade-in-Berlin (handgefertigt in eigener herstellung, berlin) brand a third time around. In retrospect, the shape and curvature of my first pair were quite special; the second and now third are quite similar to each other and somewhat conventional.


It was a bit of a decision since they are well known for their light-weight frames made with sheet metal, as were my two earlier purchases. Now I am trying one of their plastic model.


The plastic model still uses their unique screw-less hinge that works by the springiness of the metal. Having a white middle layer seems very popular at the moment as many brands are coming out with it.


The frame is made with a three-layer sandwich of acetate resins – the one closest to the face is translucent light grey-ish blue, the middle layer is white and the outermost is imitation turtle shell. It is a big, size 56 frame.


The frame did not come with a nose bridge but the store ordered one from the factory specially for me.


The model is named Harmonic Oscillator and there is even a little diagram etched on the inner side of the frame to illustrate the concept. I have no idea how this concept is connected with the design of this frame. My first pair was named “roman” and the second pair was named “hotel neutor”.


The limbs of the frame are partially metallic and are finished with a matt brown coating (it says black although it is really dark dark brown to me). On closer inspection, the coating on the metallic part reflects multi-color light. Look at the spots of colors on the edges.


I am quite happy with it and hopefully my eyesight does not deteriorate too quickly.


The brand’s website is here. It appears that they now offer a factory tour, I will definitely check the place out when I am next in Berlin (hopefully in May 2015).

I enjoy visiting bookstores.

Several posts here are dedicated to the bookstores I have visited in other cities. For example, MIT Press bookstore in Boston and Livraria Cultura in Iguatemi, Saõ Paulo. This is my second post on a bookstore in Köln. The first one on Siebter Himmel is here.

Warning: there are only photos of books here, stacks and stacks of them !



This bookstore simply named Büchermarkt (book market) occupies at least three floors of this brick building on Breite Straße 79 , 50667 Cologne.




It may very well be a chain store and I just went to one of its branches. But this is one with the largest collection of art books I have seen recently. Very cramped and stocked with many different titles.




Near the entrance, they have the new and discounted books including many of the coffee table tomes put out by Taschen and Phaidon.





And then it is just wall-to-wall books. From fashion to fine art to film.




Even more liberal art and cultural books upstairs. I read somewhere that Cologne produces most of the TV shows of Germany. There is probably a sizable population of media types to keep such a bookstore alive.





There is a “balcony” where the two floors are connected by a double height space.




Without this double height space, it can feel very claustrophobic.




There is another floor… a narrow wooden staircase leading up …  I have found the out-of-print section. There are some Artists’ books (Künstlerbücher) on display here.




There was a desk and a storekeeper at the top who asked me to leave my bag at the entrance. This place really felt like a library – the smell of old books. There were no price tags on the books here.




Art books are full of pictures. I can spend days in here even I do not read German.


I visited two very different bookstores in Cologne. Located in the Belgian Quarter (Belgisches Viertel), see our earlier post about the area here.

Siebter Himmel means Seventh Heaven.


It was quite a surprising discovery since I had no idea of what it was supposed to be when I first walked in.


Is it a bookstore, a gift shop or … ? Well, a bookstore and lifestyle/design store.



According to their web site here :

 Our book and Design Shop “Seventh Heaven” was born from the belief that book and design can be connected to a special shopping experience. In a total of seven themed worlds, we satisfy your curiosity about unusual products, your right to quality and your desire for personal recommendations. … Expect the unexpected. Let yourself be inspired. Welcome to the “Seventh Heaven”.



It is a small shop with a deep and narrow footprint but they have managed to create several distinctive spaces within it. Quite a feat.

7heaven-9Mannequin on a swing !



Most of the books are in German.


They further subdivided into thrillers into political, nordic and regional.


Siebter Himmel is one of the best lifestyle-themed bookstore I have seen.


Glad that they did not have a coffee bar inside, just because every other bookstore already has one.


They sell clothings and music as well as design objects.


Every city should at least have one such bookstore !  See my earlier posts on some bookstores in Sao Paulo here  and here.


My next post is on a more traditional bookstore, also in Köln.


Continuing with my exploration of the Belgian quarter of Cologne (see earlier post here), I came across this unusual combination of enterprises on Brüsseler Strasse 74-76.


The shop floor is divided into two halves, the front is a laundromat while the back is a retail store.


The two businesses share the same entrance.


So one pass the washing machines and dryers before getting into the skateboard and street wear shop.


This combination makes a lot of sense. I am not sure if they are both owned by the same business Rock On but their web site is here.


While the customers are waiting for laundry, they can peruse the merchandise of the store. The demogrpahics also make sense in that those who use a laundromat are likely to be interested in skateboard and paraphenalia.


There is also a waiting area near the entrance where one can ignore the retail activities in the back. One can read the papers and pick up leaflets for concerts and parties here.


But could the arrangement of the two businesses be reversed and give more exposure to the retail shop ?  Just like supermarkets that place eggs and milk, the necessities in the corner furtherest from the entrance.

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I (Chris) wanted to visit Köln because it is another big city in Germany (No.4 by population). I liked Berlin (No. 1) and Munich (No. 3) and wanted to see more urban life in Germany. You will see it in the next few posts.

Köln is a very compact cityas far as tourists are concerned, because most of the sights are clustered around the main train station and the cathedral (Dom). The train station and the Dom are both next to a bridge that crosses the Rhine.


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Here’s my theory: Köln is big enough of a city where a critical mass of like-minded people congregate to form a neighborhood with a distinct identity/culture.  New York has enough people to support many such neighborhoods – e.g., East village, Astoria, Harlem, etc. Alright, I sound too serious or am just stating the obvious here.


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Any way, Cologne has the Belgian Quarter (Belgisches Viertel) which is situated within the inner city boundary and within walking distance from the main streets and pedestrianized shopping areas (on the other side of the Hohenzollering).


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The best way to characterize the area is that it is the Greenwich Village of Cologne. Brüsseler and Antwerpener strasses.


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At the heart of the Belgian Quarter is the Brüsseler Platz, or Brussels Square, dominated by St Michael’s Church, built around 1910.


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Here are some of the businesses in the area.

Madam Miammiam cakeshop

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Monsieur Courbet record shop

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RockOn cafe (?)

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One of the main streets of Köin – Aachener strasse – forms the southern border of this neighborhood and is lined with restaurants.


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I had lunch here. Herr Pimock – bar food, friendly, casual.


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Filmkunst 27 is probably the best looking video rental shop I have visited. Initially I thought they sell Apple products and software but no …

Did rental service not disappear a decade ago?  This shop seems to specialize in hard-to-find, cult movies – all titles are sorted by the movie director and grouped according to the country of origin.


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This cafe (Salon Schmitz) and its sister eatery (Metzgerei Schmitz) next door on Aachener strasse are best known for the ambience, the artists and the art it showcases.

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I had dinner here – on the edge of the Belgian Quarter – Colina at Flandrische strasse, the steaks are recommendable.


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More pictures about the shops in the area to come.

During one of the long weekends in May 2014, I (Chris) visited Cologne (Köln), Germany.


Cologne, situated on the Rhine in the North-Rhine Westphalia region, the 2000 year old city is world famous for its cathedral – it is the largest church in Germany. The main train station (Hauptbanhof) is located right next to it – architecturally setting up a clash of the modern against the medieval.


Construction started in 1248 and this gothic masterpiece was completed 600 years later, in 1880, according to its original plan. The Sagrada Familia basilica of Barcelona only took 130 years so far and is still a work-in-progress – see our blog post here about that famous church.




There are volumes written about this church so I would not say much here … the cathedral also has an excellent web site providing virtual tours, click here.


The “swallow’s nest” organ, installed in 1998, was suspended from the ceiling above the nave by steel wires.


Aisles on either side




Gerhard Richter designed these windows according to the colors of the older stained glass.




Shrine of the Magi (three kings) – the relics were brought to Cologne from Milan in 1164. From about 1190 to 1220 a number of artisans worked on the shrine in the workshop of the goldsmith Nicholas of Verdun and in workshops in Cologne. The photo below does not do justice to the artistic and religious significance of the piece.


Altar-piece of the city’s patron saints in the Lady Chapel, painted around 1441. Mass is said in the Lady Chapel every day, this altar-piece is in daily liturgical use.


Transept and crossing





According to the website, “the cycle of angels depicted in the spandrels of the arcades in the high choir was executed by the Late Nazarene painter Edward von Steinle between 1843 and 1845 using a fresco technique on a gold background. “, replacing 14th century fresco that was deemed too damaged to be restored.




One can climb stairs to reach the roof where I can imagine great views of the city and the Rhine. But the long line of people waiting to go and the number of steps deterred me.

A true masterpiece landmark.

How does it compared with the Duomo in Milano ? See our blog post here on the Duomo.


The Black Forest  (Schwarzwald) is a wooded mountain range in Baden-Württemberg, southwestern Germany.

On our return trip from Baden-Baden (See earlier posts), we decided to take a scenic route, instead of the autobahn (which offers fun in a different way). Running east and then south from Baden-Baden, this route is a part of the German federal highway (Bundesstraße) B500 which took us right through it.


The route is known as the Schwarzwaldhochstraße, or “Black Forest High Road”, is the oldest and one of the best known themed drives in Germany.  It is about 60 km (37 miles) from Baden-Baden to Freudenstadt. Below is a profile of its elevation, and along with the above map, both courtesies of the official website – here.

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As a mountain road, it was a pleasure to drive on with few sharp bends and a generous width for the entire length.


As we climbed higher, the area was still covered in snow.


Against the white snow, the dense forests do look black from a distance.


The Black Forest occupies part of the continental divide between the Atlantic Ocean drainage basin (drained by the Rhine) and the Black Sea drainage basin (drained by the Danube which originated from the Black Forest).  Pine is the predominant tree in the forests.


Spring came late this year as we were traveling during the Easter weekend. Some ski slopes were still open.

Mummelsee-10This could be a nice trail for cross-country ski or snowshoe-ing.


At the mid point, we stopped by at Mummelsee, a popular lake along the way (#13 on the map), for lunch. See later post. After we reached Freudenstadt at the end of the Schwarzwaldhochstraße, we went to Furtwengen to see the German Clock Museum (see later posts) before returning to Freiburg (see earlier post here) via B31. One section of this highway passes through a narrow canyon, known as the Hell’s Valley (Höllental).


The narrowest part of a valley was marked by a bronze statue of a deer (Hirschsprung) ready to leap over the gap which is reported to be about 9m. We did not stop here but saw the statue high up on a cliff as our car sped pass it.


There are lots of hiking trails in the Black Forest and a hike through this canyon would be really fun. Alternatively, one can take the train – the Höllentalbahn (Hell’s train) – one of the steepest track in Germany, which we luckily caught it on camera while it was going across a viaduct.


Excuse us for the fuzzy pictures as many were taken from a moving car and some were taken through a less than clean windscreen.

While I am fixing the pictures taken from our June trip to Paris, we will continue with pictures of our Easter trip to Baden-Baden in the Black Forest. The earlier posts on Baden-Baden are here and here.

As usual, we were rushing around trying to catch as much as sights as possible on this trip to the Black Forest. After having gone up by a funicular to the summit of Merkur overlooking Baden-Baden, we came back to the city center and wandered in the direction of Lichtentaller Allee (Light Alley) – a 350 year old, 3 km walk along a river among the city’s parks. A white modern building can be seen situated next to a classical stone building joined by a connecting bridge.


The older neoclassical building is the Staatlichen Kunsthalle and the new one (on the left) is the Museum Freider Burda (which has a beautiful website, don’t miss it).


Museum Freider Burda, completed in 2004, is the work of Richard Meier – an architect famous in the 80’s.

FriderBurda-6He won the Pritzker prize in Architecture in 1984 with Los Angeles’s Getty center.


He is well known for using white materials and built with early to mid-century styles in spirit – think Le Corbusier.

FriderBurda-5Here in Baden-Baden, apparently much has been done to harmonize the new building next to the old museum and at the same time preserve the identities of the two buildings.


The interior has a ramp system that allows visitor to slowly ascend to the higher floors in the building.

FriderBurda-7Lots of natural light.


According to the museum website, the fascination of color and emotional expressive qualities of painting are the driving force behind the collector’s interest in art. Freider Burda is a locally-born, leading commercial printer and publisher in Europe.


We visited another one of Richard Meier’s white museum – the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona or MACBA). Here is a picture we took of it 2 years ago.


We like visiting museums. But sometimes the building is more interesting than the contents. Like a box of bonbon, the container is sometimes more attractive.


Is this the case with the Museum Freider Burda at Baden-Basen ? We never knew because we did not have enough time to see the exhibits – paintings by Matta Fiktionen. But there were some sculpture on the grounds to look at.