Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Wishes for Spring

The German obsession with Easter is a bit overwhelming, and almost impossible to resist.  So in addition to chocolate bunnies (and sheep and eggs), we bought an egg-marbling kit and extra plastic eggs at Idee a few weeks ago.  Our Easter miracle is that we actually made the eggs before Easter came and went.  Luckily we're still waiting for spring so we're ahead of the game on that.

Why yes, I think they are toxic.
Our little Welcome Spring display

Getting to "Yuck"

The ladyfriend and I had a simple dinner of dumplings the other night (bought frozen from the local Asian grocery store).  It was over the course of the meal that I discovered how she builds a case, as it were.

It started like this  - My ladyfriend said, "One of these is kind of interesting."  (We had veggie dumplings, pork dumplings, and shrimp shumai).  I responded with, "When you say 'interesting,' it's usually not a good thing."  She agreed, but added "They're not bad."

Then she said, "The texture is kind of weird."

Moments later came, "These are the worst of the three."  Followed by, "These are my least favourite." - a slight softening of the previous statement.

By this time, I called her out on the progression of insults to the poor shumai, and we laughed.  But she was unable to stop herself.  She asked me, "Do you want my last shrimp shumai?"  There was no way I was going to eat that shumai even if I'd wanted to.

And then finally, "I'm not going to eat this one.  I'm full."

Case closed.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

London - (At Least One) Wrap Up Post

Here it is - the super quick, condensed version of all the other cool things we did, saw, ate, or bought while in London, with bonus photos from the ladyfriend.
St. John - this restaurant, one of the pillars of the nose-to-tail eating movement, was excellent.  I decided to do it right and ordered the bone marrow and parsley salad (which even the ladyfriend liked), the grilled lamb's heart (I love the sheep nose to tail to wool!), which was amazingly tender (I know, it's a lamb) and rich and tasty.  I also had dessert - rhubarb meringue (I love a good meringue and plan to make copious amounts of them when I return to my own kitchen).  Thinking about the meal now just gets me all dreamy.
Other great food?  Tayyabs Indian, Joy King Lau for old-school dim sum, good burgers (actually cooked to medium-rare!) although only okay onion rings at Byron (I'm also going to start trying to perfect the onion ring; Alana take notice, I'll be calling on you to help), a lucky find, the full English (plus a great pint) at The Blue Lion, surprisingly good pizza and antipasto at Spaghetti House (I know!), and one more meal at Ba Shan before we left.  Yum!
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time:  Both the ladyfriend and I had read this book and lucked out and got tickets although it had been sold out for awhile (be nice to ticket agents!).  The acting was superb, the adaptation worked well, and the staging was quite imaginative and inventive.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Modeling with Animals

Ever colour-coordinated!
Did I say mention the pigeons in London were huge?

Bike Lust & Font God

Today we braved the weather and went to the Velo Berlin bike show.  The show was definitely geared toward city cyclists, which in many ways was nice.  Too often, at these kinds of events, there's a lot of posturing around mountain bikes and road bikes, with the mere civilian feeling like they're just not cool (or dude) enough.  This show was very citizen-friendly (although I'm not sure how I feel about all the electric bikes).
Vintage bike 1914

Vintage child's bike

Surprise! Vintage.
That doesn't mean there weren't some very cool bikes.  I liked the bikes at Paripa, very sleek and quite sexy as well as the Schindelhauer bikes.  What was really great was the variety of brands represented.  In the States/Canada it seems like there are a few giant bike companies (e.g. Trek, Specialized, Cannondale) that have eaten up a lot of the independent brands, and then there are the custom builders (be still my beating heart).  It may be that I just don't know enough about the bikes I saw today, but it seemed to me that there were all kinds of rides we North Americans have never heard of.

But then, there was the bike that I've been (perhaps not so quietly) lusting after - the Batavus.  The Batavus Old Dutch Plus, to be exact.  It would be the perfect addition to my bike stable (read about justifying a growing collection of bikes here).  I could do the grocery shopping on it, ride it to the studio, etcetera, etcetera.
An Old Dutch (not Plus), but the colour! Oh, the colour
This is my sad face.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

I'm No Siskel or Ebert, But I Have My Opinions

While we were in London, we managed to see four films.  The movies covered a range of genres - Hollywood, indie, documentary, and film fest offering - and for the most part, they all had their strengths.  We saw Hitchcock (with Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren) and enjoyed it.  I always like a good period piece, and I love Helen Mirren.  This film takes place during the time when Hitchcock was making Psycho, and I'd say that one of the things I enjoyed most was the way the film illustrated his wife Alma's (played by Mirren) instrumental role in his career.  I'd call it stylish and smart even if was light on the way Hitchcock could be overbearing.

The second movie we saw was Vinyl, an indie film that has garnered some attention through the film festival circuit.  This is the film for aging punk rockers, who also happen to be the main characters of the film.  In short, bandmates from 'the day' get back together, record a song (while drunk) that turns out to be very good but face the ageism of the contemporary music industry when they try to get someone to listen to it.  So they make a fake band featuring high school students who, for the most part, can't play any instruments.  This is based on the true story of Alarm frontman Mike Peters'  rock and roll hoax of 2004 (yes, I know you remember it well).  Definitely a good time.

The London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival happened to be going on while we were there, and tickets sold out quickly for many of the programs.  We got tickets to a discussion of Chantal Ackerman (and her place in queer film festivals) that included a screening of the documentary, Chantal Ackerman, From Here.  I have to admit that I had really only known Ackerman by name; the ladyfriend had suggested that this would be a good program, and it was.  The documentary was shot in what I've now learned is similar to Ackerman's style, and I really enjoyed listening to her talk about her work.  The discussion that followed it, which included a paper on Ackerman, was also quite interesting, and the ladyfriend made a very good point about films in queer festivals (a point probably worthy of a post of its own).  I'm glad I went, and we'll be buying Ackerman's films to watch when we return home.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Wool House

I couldn't bear to try to update the blog while we were struggling with the internet connection that seemed to be powered by sleep-deprived geriatric mice, so there will be a few posts with some of the highlights of our trip to London.  Let me also say, before continuing on, that nothing makes you appreciate the snow in Berlin like the rain in London.

Wool House, held in Somerset House, was fantastic. 

Outside they had a pen with some English breeds of sheep, including the Cotswold, which I believe is the dred-locked one.

I can be sheepish.
Inside they had multiple displays of the ways in which wool can be used, from things like clothing to furniture to art, bedding, and more.
The ladyfriend enjoying a display.
The furnishings and wall coverings are all wool, but also notice the navy blue and white skeins in acrylic table.  Crafty!

A child's room.

Details from the child's room

There were plenty of examples of clothing, ranging from handknit sweaters to Saville Row suits and Vivienne Westwood designs.
I love the pattern pieces.  If you remember, there is a picture from Alabama Chanin that also has those kinds of pattern pieces.
One display I really loved was the clothing from Dashing Tweeds.  They make a some really great cycling clothes out of fabric that's 99% wool and 1% reflective yarn, so it glows when lights hit it.  The styles were great, and some of the jackets had sewn-in lights which you could manually turn on or off.  I have to say - super pricey but great designs and ideas.

It ends this weekend, so if you happen to be in London, you should definitely check it out.  It also happens to be free, which is always nice.
Proudly looking forward to more wooly adventures!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Things You Learn

This soap pretty much encapsulates what the Tavistock Hotel is all about - function.  What I've learned?  I'm over super budget accommodations with springy twin beds and a continental breakfast that consists of cold toast, doughy buns, stewed fruit, and weak coffee. 
Breakfast supplements
That's right, my standards have risen.  The fact that the wireless (available only in the lounge) is so slow that it takes over twenty minutes to watch a 10-minute recap of a hockey game just seals the deal.  Next time, despite the ladyfriend's family affection for the place, an upgrade.

Excellent Chinese food at Ba Shan.  My lesson comes from Chairman Mao, "You can't be a revolutionary if you don't eat chilies."  Note, quote is actually on the menu.
The Jurgen Teller show at the ICA?  I learned that he's more than a bad boy fashion photographer.  Great show; glad we went.  Made me rethink some of my conceptions of him as a photographer, what fashion is or isn't, and appropriate/interesting subject matter.  I also gained a new appreciation for how how amazing Charlotte Rampling is.  Seeing art really helps get the creative process going.
And I learned that there's always room for a walk in the park with the ladyfriend.  I'm looking forward to getting some of the shots she took with the fancy-schmancy DSLR she was using, including my "fashion" shots!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Style Counsel

I caught this trailer for the Advanced Style movie as I was making my way through some of the blogs I like.  I've seen the trailer before and can't wait for the movie, but yesterday this trailer caused a bit of an identity crisis for me.

You see, my current wardrobe is making me feel a a lesser version of myself.  Between Airberlin's strident baggage policies (yes, I'm still reeling from that) and my own desire to test what I can and can't do without, I feel like I brought the safest, most unimaginative wardrobe possible.  The fact that I packed for more temperate times (yes, I'm still talking about the cold) doesn't help.  This is not Little House on the Prairie (been reading some homesteading blogs, too).  Frankly, it's depressing.

Look at these women!  They are fantastic!  I bet they don't worry about baggage limitations, carry-on restrictions, or how many shoes they packed.  What was my problem?!  Ach, the missed opportunity!

Okay, now some will say, and many said this before we left, "You'll shop in Berlin."  I do not want to duplicate my wardrobe nor do I want to expand it just because I didn't pack the right stuff.  People often think that just because I'm into fashion, I want to shop all the time.  I don't; however, we're going to London tomorrow, and I may have to find an item or two that will transform the things I did manage to pack.  But the shoes, the hats, the things I left behind...

Monday, March 11, 2013

Kult-cha! Art and Craft

On Saturday we stopped by Mauerpark, where a section of the Berlin Wall, known as the Death Strip, remains.  The old graffiti has been replaced by what seems to be a constant updating of tags and images.  In some ways, it makes the Wall feel like just a wall.  The artwork and tags felt like they had little to do with the history, and I'm not saying one needs to stay in the past, but if you've kept a section of the Berlin Wall, I think it would be safe to assume you did it to remember its signficance.  What was also amusing is that there was really no indication that this was, indeed, a remnant of the Berlin Wall.  Good thing I was paying attention.

One of our main destinations for the day was 25Books, an amazingly well-curated shop that features only photography books.  The name refers to the books that Hannes Wanderer, the owner as well as a book publisher himself, highlights each month - both on his website and on a long table in the centre of the store.  It also has a small exhibition space in the front, where our new friend Silke Helmerdig had work up.  We'd originally thought we'd go see the show, browse some books, and then head back home.

However, it became so much more than that.  Hannes spent over two hours showing us his favourite books and talking about art.  It was great.  The bookstore carries a range of books, many of them limited editions, and Hannes introduced us to a number of European photographers with whom we were unfamiliar but whose work deserves our attention.  One of the books we picked up was Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs's The Great Unreal.  We bought a couple of other books, including the one associated with Silke's show, but we could've easily bought more.  Nevertheless we're not worried; not only does he do mail order, we plan to make 25Books one of our frequently visited spaces.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Destination Dining

One thing we've come to realize is that Berlin is not really a food town.  Oh sure, there's lots of food, but if you read my blog, then you know what I'm talking about.  Okay, it's not a foodie town.  When we first came to terms with this, we came up with the slogan "Good food, not just convenient food" because a lot of the food we'd been eating had been more convenient than good.  We then refined it to "Destination dining, not default dining," and we're using that now as a guiding principle when it comes to eating out. (Please note that we'll be trying out more places that serve German food in the near future and have no doubt that we'll find a lot to be happy about.)

On Thursday, we met up with a friend of a friend in Kreuzberg and were given some insight into the food culture of Berlin. For example, there is very little authentic Asian food in Berlin.  It seems that while there is a sizeable Vietnamese population in Berlin, food trends didn't support Vietnamese food at first, so people opened Chinese restaurants, which were in fashion, that then became Thai restaurants, when the trend shifted, that became Vietnamese restaurants that became Japanese restaurants and so on.  Oftentimes neither the proprietors nor the customers knew much about the cuisine to begin with, or they made it for a German tastebud.  This explains why there are a ton of sushi restaurants that serve Thai and/or Vietnamese dishes as well and spicy food is hard to find. Sooooo, we had our work cut out for us.

I'd been excited to try Kimchi Princess in Kreuzberg.  I like Korean food (and love kimchi) and thought it had potential (their bold graphics on their website as well as the fact that they also run a place called Angry Chicken piqued my interest).   We had dinner there on Thursday night, and while it was good, it wasn't great.  I had the bibimbap whose veggies were a bit cold, and Liss had the daeji galbi (spicy spare ribs), which were a little tough.  I felt like it had the basic flavours down, but it was missing something.  It lacked depth.  I'd probably eat there again, but I don't know if I'd make it a priority.

Yesterday we went to MaoThai Stammhaus in Prenzlauer Berg, which had been mentioned in Fodor's Berlin's 25 Best, a book my mom bought for us and has been a good guide so far.
A radish bird taking flight!
Our meal was great.  We ordered thod man pla (fish cakes), yam wunsen (glass noodle salad with ground pork), som tam jeh (spicy shredded papaya salad), and kiehwan ped krob (duck in a green coconut curry).  It was our main meal of the day, and when you're doing destination dining, you want a good sampling of the dishes.  There wasn't a disappointment among them, and we both agreed that we'd make the trip to Prenzlauer Berg just to eat there.  Yay!  Good Thai food!  Better even than a lot we've eaten in Canada or the States.

Not all of our meals will be or have been big splash-outs.  We went to Witty's, a food stand on Wittenberg Platz, to have organic currywurst and bratwurst, and that was good.  Of course, next week we're going to London, and I've made reservations for us at St. John's, but there will be plenty of street food and cheap eats as well.

We've gotten some recommendations of other places to try in Berlin, and we're always open to more.  If you know of a great place, let me know.  I'd be happy to make it a destination.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Balcony Summit & Resolution

After all the independent meetings, it was clear a summit had to take place.

Yes, people just popped up over the railing like this.

I did, eventually ask them if they wanted to come inside.  They declined.
So, it wasn't really surprising when I answered the door this morning (yes, in my pajamas - I have no shame) to the young man who was going to make all the modifications the committee had come up with.
It was clear both that he needed some advice and that she didn't approve of the aesthetics of the balcony.
The boss came to see that things were moving along as planned
The major changes we can see are end-caps for the window boxes, and this life-saving adjustment.
Look, ma! No guillotine!
I'm hoping my neighbors sleep well tonight, and well, quit hanging around outside our balcony.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Berliners Cannot Parallel Park

I think that the following photos support this assertion.  Berliners cannot parallel park, but it doesn't seem like anyone cares.
Nope, not pulling out; just parked.

Even a SmartCar!
We see this everyday  We even saw another SmartCar pull up to a space where we could've easily fit our Honda and reject it, going for a larger space down the street.  I'd open a parallel parking school, but I don't think anyone would bother to come.