Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cafes in Berlin

It seems to me that cafes say a lot about a city. Here are some in Berlin:

Under the railway at Hackischer Markt.

On the river almost opposite Parliament House.

Restaurant in Oranienstrasse.

Gendarmenmarkt Cafe.

In the arty Auguststrasse.

and in the unrenovated part of East Berlin. At this cafe your sausage, potatoes and sauerkraut costs Euro 4.95. Just along the street in the touristy Nicholaikirche area the same sausage costs you Euro 16.95. It pays to get lost in the East sometimes.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Art in Berlin

Berlin has a very vibrant art scene and last week I went in Berlin to see the Berliner Liste and 14th Art Forum, two big exhibitions where gallerists exhibit their artists.

First I explored the area close to my hostel and discovered Auguststrasse, which is a long stretch of galleries and related shops. I paid an entrance fee to see a group exhibition from the KW Institute of Contemporary Arts. It was housed in three stories of a rather ancient complex. If I had not negotiated a student fee of Euro 4 I would have been tempted to ask for my money back. The exhibition space though enormous was almost empty.

KW Exhibition

In the photo above, taken on the first floor, you might be able to see the exhibit on the back wall. It was titled Monochrome Till Receipt (white), Ink on paper with spray fixative. It was the sort of receipt you are handed with your groceries. The very light coloured lettering (like a faded receipt) made reading it too difficult to spend time deciphering so I didn't bother to study it in detail to see if there might be a satirical side to it. I just wondered if all Berlin art was so behind the times. (This sort of art statement seems very last century to me.)
Gallery in a courtyard on Auguststrasse

Fortunately this was not the case. Other galleries showed intriguing and thought provoking works. I don't remember the artist who created these interesting textile works (photo above) which I photographed through a window in an inner courtyard. The coloured figures are photographs and the white figures are thread and they were about life sized. Somehow they seemed very appropriate to this area which is revitalizing itself and in which you feel the hand on history on your shoulder.

There is a lot of interesting public art in the area, like these indoor outdoor paintings. Paintings in an inner courtyard of a community complex (above and below).

The Berliner Liste Fair for Contemporary Art was housed over three stories of a glass fronted building not far from the National Gallery.
Buying refreshments at Berliner Liste Exhibition

This exhibition purported to show artists who had been chosen because of their innovative methods and it was a fascinating if exhausting journey. I am not sure why looking at art is so tiring, but it is, especially if there are a lot of artists you have never seen before and who are presenting really interesting work.In all there were about 300 artists represented: painters, photographers and a smattering of sculptors.

I collected brochures instead of taking photos but one work I did photograph was by Cony Theis who paints seaside pictures using oil on transparent paper (below). Capturing tiny swimmers in the surf is difficult and I thought the method that Cony Theis used enabled her to achieve the effect of the seaside better than most.
Work by Cony Theis

By the time I had seen all the 300 artists I was exhausted so next day, instead of going to the Art Forum (which I thought would probably be more of the same) I visited the Emil Nolde Gallery near the Gendarmenmarkt and spent time luxuriating in the work of my favorite artist.

I love Nolde's colours and his figurative work, in particular his series of unpainted pictures, small scale colour masterpieces created during the years un which he was forbidden to paint by the Nazis. The letter from the authorities to Nolde, informing him that his work had been confiscated because it did not fit the direction of art that had been determined by the Fuhrer was on display with these paintings. This typewritten letter on typical beige coloured paper had obviously been folded and unfolded many times as it had come apart in the middle and was stuck together with sellotape.

In the evening I amused myself by making little paintings in the style of Nolde.
Berlin Woman.

Backpackers Pool Game

A Backpackers in Berlin

My heart did rather sink when I found the hostel in Berlin where I had booked a bed via Internet. The stairs looked the type of stairs that featured in who-dunnits. At the top of three flights of stairs (old building = no lift) was a friendly reception and a lounge that looked as if it was the last of the hippy generation. 'Relaxed atmosphere' apparently meant that it was fine to smoke in the lounge room which was a constant fug of smoke. Then into a room with an artist's touch ...

The good thing about the hostel was its position, right in the middle of the art center of Berlin. In neighbouring streets one gallery after another was interspersed between buildings that had been reclaimed by residents. Pleasant inner courtyards, ruins made into cafes ... and playgrounds.

It was just around the corner from the world heritage Museum Island, a river island with four magnificent museums.
There are pleasant walking paths along the river and one evening I sat on one of the benches to sketch the Bode Museum below. My bench neighbour was a friendly drunk who had finished his carton of white wine but kept raising it to his lips, forgetting it was empty. He peeped at my drawing between non-sips and very much admired the end product when it was finished. Ink sketch: Bode Museum

The hippydom hostel had another interesting feature. It was right behind the Friedrichstadtpalast, home of Berlin's musicals. Looking down from my third story window in the evenings I could see ushers and the occasional dancer smoking behind the building.

Above them on the second story, I watched young men donning their gold lamé trousers through one window and the costume manager hanging and sorting racks of costumes through another. As I drifted off to sleep I could hear the musical as if next door. Old buildings have little sound insulation.

On Saturday evening, as the the music floating over from the Friedrichstadtpalast was ending, the music in the club downstairs was starting. It was a techno club and the music reverberated through the building and the beds until the early hours. In the morning a room-mate told me the hostel offered free ear-plugs at reception.

Berlin: bricks and mortar

Berlin. Full of whopping great buildings. The Brandenburg Gate must be one of the most photographed buildings in the world. It is busy and noisy and it would be easy to walk past a small door built into the gate which leads to the Silent Room. The silence in the silent room is so profound that it almost hurts to sit there for the first few minutes. As time passes you notice a faint movement as a train passes below. As you sit a bit longer you feel the tension leave your body and the healing begin. Finally, you feel ready to emerge and see some more great whopping buildings ...
like those on the Gendarmenmarkt, a neoclassical square whose name dates back to the Napoleonic occupation of the city. On one side is the French Cathedral (in the photo) and on the other is the almost identical German Cathedral.
Between them is the Konzerthaus (Concert Hall), home of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra which had a red carpet running down the stairs (a permanent feature?).

In front of the Konzerthaus stands a statue of Schiller surrounded by seated damsels.

Self portrait as tourist in Berlin.

No all of Berlin is so monumental. One day I got lost in East Berlin and landed in an area that had been redeveloped. A passing Berliner said that the architects had been given the dimensions of the buildings but could then do as they pleased. This is the result, a place that woudl be nice to come home to.

What a pity the city planners and architects responsible for Sydney's Green Square didn't show such discernment.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Just married

Philipp and Miriam.


After a week going slow in Hamburg I have recovered from the rigours of drawing/hosteling/traveling. I am looking after Cedrik while his family are away.
Cedrik is an old dog, a clever dog and also a stubborn dog. He plays tricks on his carers. He limped dreadfully for a time a few years ago but it turned out that he was not hurt, it was just a trick to get attention. He comes and lies at your foot, wherever you are. He would lie on your foot if you kept still long enough.

Cedrik has to take a fitness walk twice a day. He and I walk down the drive and out the gate at a great pace, then a few steps along the street on the way to the woods he stops. He pants and looks mournful and at least 90 years old. If you don't know his tricks you would be tempted to take pity on Cedrik and take him home but instead it is a battle of wills to get along the street and into the woods. I am as stubborn as he is, so we always get there and once there he is happy and sniffs his way along the rest of the walk.

Dornava: Braiding onions and singing

One of the concerts of the Maribor Music Festival was held in Dornava Mansion about 45 minutes from Maribor. A bus was arranged for international guests.

Onion growing is a very important industry in the area and the women of the Onion Growers Association entertained guests before the concert with an onion platting demonstration.

Next door to the mansion is a small farmers cottage that has been converted to a museum.

The cottage had two rooms each with a big ceramic stove: the farmer and his family would have lived in one room and his parents in the other. I wonder which used this ancient sewing machine.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Maribor: Music with Atmosphere

This photo was taken at a concert in Maribor called Musical Tide. It combined surfing images and music. Images by Jon Frank and music by Elgar, Tognetti, Shostakovitch, Bach and Richard Strauss.
The last night of the festival was a sell out performance of Bach's St Johns Passion in Maribor Cathedral. Richard Tognetti played violin and conducted the chorus (from Ljubljana) and orchestra.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sharing space in Maribor

Maribor is not a tourist town (yet). There are few hotels and only two hostels so there is little competition and beds are expensive. A backpacker at the Maribor hostel who had been traveling in Europe for 5 months told me that this was the most expensive place she has stayed in yet (20 Euro/night). The room we shared was a 6 bed mixed dorm, a big light room with windows onto the street and high ceilings. It was actually an apartment bought by an English woman a couple of years ago at the time when all those property programs were on TV. She has converted it to a hostel and does a brisk trade.

I enjoy staying at backpackers. You can cook for yourself and you get to know people you would otherwise never run into. Most of the folk who shared my room were quiet, including the 4 Polish football fans who stayed one night, but I missed having my own space to retreat to while I was working so hard.

Painting from life

Non-artists would probably be surprised to learn that a couple of hours of life drawing leaves you drained and weary. It is tiring because of the concentration required.

Painting people from life is very much like life drawing and after 5 days of drawing musicians while they played, I was exhausted. So after Wednesday I changed my schedule a bit. I attended the rehearsals but tried not to push the envelope so much.

I had intended going on to Venice to see the Art Biennale after the Maribor Festival but you have to have lots of energy for Venice so I changed my plans and booked a ticket straight back to Hamburg instead. It was the right decision as by the end of the Festival I was ready for a week of doing nothing at all.

All up I produced about 50 sketches/paintings, so it was a productive time despite the exhaustion.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Musical immersion

The Maribor Festival was total musical immersion for me as I was there to paint musicians and I attended the rehearsals as well as the performances. Rehearsal, 11am concert rehearsal, 7:30 concert. It was wonderful. I drew whichever musician was sitting in front of me, both during rehearsals and at the concerts. Mostly I used ink and wash. Sometimes aquarelle.

This is Michael Kugel who is Professor of Music in Ghent, Belgium.

Maribor Music Festival, 2009

The Maribor Music Festival has been directed for the past two years by Richard Tognetti, Artistic Director and Lead Violin of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. He brings together an array of internationally renowned musicians with the aim of fostering links within the music community as well as producing wonderful music.

If anyone is thinking of going to an international music festival next year, this is the one to pick. It is dynamic, programmed with intelligence and delivers performances you will never forget. There are concerts at 11am as well as 7:30 pm (sometimes one at 5pm as well.) As the days pass you think 'this is extraordinary, it can't get better than this' but it does. I intended to stay a week in Maribor but by day 3 I realised I was experiencing something very special and I changed my plans to stay the full 10 days.

The musicians above are (from left) the Norwegian Atle Sponberg, Leader of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra; Slovenian Janez Podlesek, Concert Master of the Symphony Orchestra of the Slovene Philharmonics, and Finnish Satu Vänskä , Assistant Leader of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. (I am not sure who is hidden there behind Janez.)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

City of Maribor

My train ticket between the Austrian/Slovenian border and the city of Maribor cost only Euros 2.50 so I knew Maribor must be close. It was. Once the train started again after its extended border stop we rolled down the hill and were there in no time.

Maribor is an industrial and university city of something over 100,000 people, about the same size as Dunedin and with the same friendly feel. The surroundings are lovely, vineyards and distant blue hills and the city sits on the banks of a the River Drava. Postcards show city reflections in blue water but during the ten days of my visit the Drava was fast flowing and muddy brown. An ornate monument to victims of the plague dominates the town square. People don't congregate there but in the many cafes and ice cream palours in a smaller square a couple of blocks away. In fact Maribor is full of cafes and ice cream parlours which appear to be an essential part of the social fabric as all of them are very well frequented. White coffee is served in a variety of imaginative forms. The townsfolk are reserved but friendly and very helpful. If you speak German and English you can converse with everyone as older residents speak German and the younger ones English.

Austria, then Slovenia

Traveling south from Salzburg the train is only about 3 carriages long so it travels quite fast up and up over the alps.
Past houses with balcony boxes full of geraniums and characteristic overhanging eves and past lots sawmills and of piles of logs.
At one station there is a house that has been painted as if for an art school exercise, with the picture becoming ever more digitalised. I thought of my art school colleagues and smiled.
Eventually the train stops at a small station, a couple more carriages attached and then it takes off in the reverse direction whizzing downhill on the way to Slovenia. At the Slovenian border the train sits for twenty minutes. It bumps and jolts (perhaps they change the engines?) before taking off at a much more sedate pace, past countryside which is lush and green. Slovenia.

Thursday, September 03, 2009


Salzburg is extraordinary.I arrived on a hot train at about 4pm ... checked into the hostel, then walked in the direction of a park marked on the map. It seemed like a good place to escape the heat. The garden was surrounded by a high wall with gates. This garden was behind the wall. I expected persons with white powdered wigs to appear from behind the bushes. Persons with powdered wigs would certainly have liked this tea set in the window of a shop just along the road from Mozart´s birthplace.
No doubt they would have loved these baubles as well. They are 3D baubles, miniature sculptures though the photo does not show it.