Category Archives: Culture

My Favourite Things About Hannover

It has to be said, when one is planning a holiday to Germany, much less thinking of MOVING to Germany, Hannover really isn’t the first city to come to mind as a very exciting or attractive option.  In fact, it probably wouldn’t even make it into your top 10 list of possible German cities to visit, ever!  I first moved here 4 years ago and, to be honest, I often ask myself how I could have ended up in such a place as this.  Hannover is a typical regional German city; it’s pretty low-key and quiet, with not MUCH going on, and for most of the year we wake up to that characteristically dark, grey, northern German sky.  Hannover was also completely decimated during the allied bombing of World War II, so a lot of the city is made up of ugly, new infrastructure.  All in all, life can get kind of miserable here.

However, Hannover has been a city that I have made my home for the last 4 years, and this has forced me to seek out the great sides of the city that ARE there – they do exist!  Even when I am fed up of life here, there are things and aspects of this city that I really do appreciate, even more so when I visit other cities which lack them.  I have also found some special corners of Hannover that I know I am going to miss when I move away, so I thought, while I am still here, that I would write about them on my blog.  Perhaps this will be a post that I can look back on if I ever feel homesick for this place (doubtful).  And if, for whatever reason, you may find yourself with some time to spend in this city, maybe you can take me up on some of these suggestions!

The first thing that I particularly like about Hannover is how convenient it is to get around the city.  The main hub of the city is pretty small which means that I can pretty much get around everywhere fairly quickly by foot – for someone like me who doesn’t drive, this is wonderful.  It’s also a very bike-friendly city, with proper bike paths on basically every street. The street tram and bus transport system works really well too, if you do need to get to a more remote area, and the lines will even take you way out-of-town to neighbouring villages.  Local transport is also very cheap; a day ticket for zone 1 is only about €5.50 and for all 3 zones it still costs under €10.  Just knowing that transport is there for me if I need it is very freeing and I am thankful to have been able to make use of it.

 

Something that I have noticed about Hannover which I think makes it a really unique place, especially in comparison to other German cities, is that the culture and lifestyle of the people here is very normal and pretty low-stress.  Wealth is not at all displayed in this city; there are very few expensive or designer shops, there is no ‘super-rich area’, no pretentiousness and no feeling of disparity between the different classes of people.   It really doesn’t matter which neighbourhood you say you live in, in Hannover, and I appreciate that people across the whole city have a general feeling of community – everyone is just going about their normal day-to-day business, and that makes it an easy place to live.

The amount of green space that this city holds is wonderful.  There is a huge forest called the Eilenriede, or Alder Moor, right in the centre of the city, directly behind the Musik Hochschule actually, and Hannover is full of other smaller parks, trees and nice greenery.  The river that flows through Hannover, the Leine, also has lovely green parks running alongside it, which makes for some nice walks and is also a great place to drink a beer or cook up a barbeque on a warm summer evening.  One of my favourite spots to go for walks, especially as it is around the corner from where I live, is up around the Deister Berg.  You walk up a small hill and instantly feel like you are in the countryside.  The best time of year up there is in the spring, when the bluebells come out and are just gorgeous.

Bluebells up on Deister Berg

An autumnal walk around the Deister

 

I couldn’t write about Hannover without mentioning beer – beer culture here is just as strong as it is anywhere in Germany.  There are two particular features of how the Hannoverians treat beer that I especially enjoy.  The first conveniently leads on from my previous point about the city’s green spaces and nice walks, and that is the wonderful beer gardens that Hannover boasts.  I know they exist elsewhere too, but I do love to spend evenings with friends at the beer gardens here; the atmosphere is always so friendly and jovial and it’s always a fun time!  My favourite beer gardens in Hannover are situated in the middle of nice walks around the city, which is why these two things go together no nicely!  There’s the one on top of Deister Berg, located in an old water tower called Lindener Turm, there’s one at Waterloo Platz, which is huge and great for watching big football matches, and there’s a smaller and more hippie one called Biergarten Gretchen which is very nice too!  The second way I like to enjoy beer in Hannover is by something called KioskKultur.  Hannover has the largest number of kiosks (like a newsagent or corner store) of any German city, and a very strong part of life here is to get together with friends, grab a beer from a kiosk and enjoy it outside together while wandering around or sitting somewhere in public.  On any normal Friday evening, or Feierabend as we call it, this is what you will see most people doing – the vibes are definitely very chilled and it’s a really nice way to unwind at the end of the week.

The beer garden at Lindener Turm, one fall Sunday

Delicious pumpkin cake also served at the turm!

 

Germany is so steeped in history, and although, as I mentioned earlier, Hannover was mostly destroyed during the Second World War, there are small souvenirs of history dotted around the city which are really interesting to see.  If you head into the Neues Rathaus, the new town hall – also quite a fine and impressive looking building with nice views from the top, you can look at the four miniature models of Hannover that have been set up.  There is one to represent what the city looked like during the Middle Ages, one at the outbreak of the war, another just after the war, and one showing what the city looks like now.  It’s remarkable to see all the different stages of development and destruction that Hannover has gone through.  Across from the Rathaus are the remains of an old bombed out church called the Aegidienkirche, originally built in the 1300s.  These remains have been left by the city as a war memorial and every day, four times per day, the restored bells ring out over the city.  There is also a ‘peace bell’ located in the bell tower – a gift to Hannover from its sister city of Hiroshima, Japan.  Every year, on 6th August, both cities ring their bells together as a tribute to their sad histories.  Another interesting sight to see in Hannover is the Maschsee, although it too has a dark story.  During the years of the Third Reich, Hitler ordered for this lake to be built out of slave labour by the persecuted Jews.  Today you can still see where the old Nazi monument stood, although the city parliament has done it’s best to deface it and now even holds food and music festivals around this lake!

Old Nazi monument at the Maschsee

View of the Rathaus over the Maschsee

 

Speaking of festivals, there are so many going on in Hannover, all year round.  The best one though, and the one that I truly will be missing, is the Weihnachtsmarkt, or Christmas market.  Of all the Christmas markets that I have been to all around Germany and Austria, Hannover’s is honestly the best one!  There are so many different sections to it, each with their own special delicacy; the cosy pine forest, the Scandinavian log fire-roasted salmon, the medieval street performers, the blacksmiths, the amazing sausages and spicy mustard, the mead, the little market stalls selling handmade decorations and textiles… And the Glühwein!!! Glühwein with rum, Glühwein with amaretto, Glühwein with brandy.  Oh, it is so delicious and so perfect for a cold winter night!

‘The Pyramid’ – The notorious meeting spot for Glühwein at Hannover’s Weihnachtsmarkt

 

Lastly, I thought I would just mention a few other things I like to do in my spare time in Hannover, and the places I like to go.  In Hannover’s most famous attraction, the Herrenhausen Palace, is a building called the Orangerie – a large room totally decked out with insanely beautiful (and original!) murals all over the walls.  Perhaps I am biased because I have seen only fabulous concerts here, including one by Isabelle Faust that I won’t ever forget, but it is such an amazing space to see a performance in, so I definitely recommend checking out what’s on there.

The beautiful interior of the Orangerie

We don’t get very many movies in their original languages here in Hannover, and most English films are unfortunately dubbed.  However, every now and then there are a couple of really cool cinemas that do show original movies and they are really fun to see.  The Astor is a bigger cinema, with lots of screens and the full popcorn-movie experience, although it’s not the cinema that the kids choose to go to which makes it a much more pleasant experience!  If you pay a few more €’s, you can also be served wine and beer at your comfortable reclining seat!  Another tiny independent cinema is called the Hochhaus Lichtspiele – they show only independent or foreign films in their original version, about once per month.  There is only one screen here and it’s a very casual atmosphere, with scattered comfy seating and simple cushions on the floor, if that’s what floats your boat.

The Altstadt flea market, which takes place every Saturday along the Leine, come rain or shine, is something in Hannover that is not to be missed.  It is Germany’s oldest flea market and it’s huge!  You can find lots of treasures here; from unique LP’s to bits of handcrafted furniture, jewellery and old china wares.  It’s also where I got my Zassenhaus coffee mill for 20 Euros!

Some scenes from the Altstadt Flea Market

 

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Beautiful world, where are you?

Today, I simply want to share a stanza from a poem by German poet Friedrich Schiller, Die Götter Griechenlands – The Gods of Greece.

This poem, written in 1788 and later set to music in the form of an almost painfully beautiful song by Franz Schubert, is originally 25 verses long, although Schubert chose only one of these for his lied.  Having just spent some time in Liverpool, a city that is currently in the midst of its 2018 Biennial of Contemporary Art – a festival, set this year to the theme of Schubert’s particular chosen stanza, Schöne Welt, wo bist du? – Beautiful world, where are you? – I felt compelled to share these touching, emotional and very relevant words.

 

Schöne Welt, wo bist du? Kehre wieder
Holdes Blütenalter der Natur!
Ach, nur in dem Feenland der Lieder
Lebt noch deine fabelhafte Spur.
Ausgestorben trauert das Gefilde,
Keine Gottheit zeigt sich meinem Blick,
Ach, von jenem lebenwarmen
Bilde Blieb der Schatten nur zurück.
Fair world, where are you? Return again,
sweet springtime of nature!
Alas, only in the magic land of song
does your fabled memory live on.
The deserted fields mourn,
no god reveals himself to me;
of that warm, living image
only a shadow has remained.
English Translation © Richard Wigmore

The Biennial writes of this poem,  “Today the poem continues to suggest a world gripped by deep uncertainty; a world of social, political and environmental turmoil. It can be seen as a lament but also as an invitation to reconsider our past, advancing a new sense of beauty that might be shared in a more equitable way.” (Visit their website here)

 

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Why I Love Live Theatre

As I write this, I’ve just spent the last week or so attending shows and events at Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada.  I have to say, everything I have seen has been marvellous; from a beautiful production of Julius Caesar (cast as a woman!) to a modernised Coriolanus on a jaw-dropping set, and a Rocky Horror Picture Show that was every bit as raunchy and scandalous as it should be!

Spending so much time at the theatre this week has really got me thinking about why I love it so much, why reading the stories, watching movies or listening to music recordings at home just isn’t enough and why live theatre is SO important.   I know that we may all feel differently about it; some of the reasons that I’ve put together here may strike a chord with some and not with others, and may be just completely meaningless to those who do not enjoy live theatre at all.  Nevertheless, I hope you will enjoy reading a few of the reasons why I find live theatre so captivating and that it may motivate you to seek out some live events near you!

(These are in no particular order – each one is just as important as the last!)

 

A piece of art comes to life! 

When we see a play performed live, or musicians playing music right before our eyes, these wonderful pieces of art become real and understandable!  They are no longer words or notes on a piece of paper; they are real characters, plots and stories being put out into the world at that very moment, as they were intended by their creators, and you are a witness to it in the audience!  At home, there is always be some kind of barrier between us and the art – a book that we have to read to get to the story or a device through which we could hear the music.  But at the theatre, the art is being given to us directly, with no obstacle separating us from it, and we can therefore totally engage with it and be immersed in it.  And not just the piece of art itself, as in the play or the string quartet (for example!), but the actual art form too.  Watching talented and professional actors and musicians doing their jobs make those very art forms a real thing and this is something to behold in itself.

 

Different interpretations

I always find it so interesting to watch different interpretations of any piece of art – I feel like the more interpretations of something that I see, the more I explore the art and the better I get to know it,  finding its own meanings for myself.  Whether these are different interpretations as presented by the performers, directors, choreographers, writers, or even those as experienced by other audience members during one performance – seeing a new understanding or meaning to a piece of art that I hadn’t thought of before is really exciting!  This week I was lucky enough to catch two Shakespeare plays, and they couldn’t have been more different.  Coriolanus was set to a modern backdrop, with all modern clothing and even references to modern culture, with things like mobile phones and Facebook messenger.  Julius Caesar was totally old school – the set was minimal, no frills or trills, costumes were old-fashioned and the performance really centred only around the actors and their speech.  For some, the modernisation made that play more entertaining and relatable, while for me personally, I felt much more involved with the old style one, where I really locked into the plot and the language.  At home, we are very limited in what we have available to us – just the book, or a particular recording or two.  One really has to see art live to get these different interpretations and fully understand them.

 

Each one on their own journey

Every time I watch a live performance, I like to be aware of what’s going on around me, to observe the reactions of my fellow audience members.  There is always so much happening in the audience!  Everybody is feeling something different in connection with the art that they are experiencing, each person is on their own journey with it.  In the Shakespeare plays (and in Rocky too, actually!) I found it interesting to see where some people laughed, when people were shocked (even though we all know Brutus kills Caesar, this point still got a few gasps), if some people felt bored, if others looked uncomfortable… And the artists themselves are on a journey too.  We can’t know the details of what led them to this specific performance, about the work that went into it and the mental space they had to get to in order to produce something that they had envisioned or heard in their own heads.  We don’t even know what might be going on in their personal lives which could be affecting their performance, or their relationships with each other on stage, or how they approach the art of performing.  Art makes us feel real emotions, and we all feel them differently.  Being part of that, while experiencing your own personal journey at the same time, is special.

 

Human connection

Similar to the last point but not quite the same, is the importance of watching art unfold together with other people.  At home, we read alone, listen to music in the background while doing other things, watch movies in silence.  But at the theatre, there is a sense of human connection, of experiencing our own personal emotions and journeys with the art WITH other people, audience and performers together.  In that moment, those precious hours while the performance is in progress, we are all as one group doing the same thing.  There is nobody on their phones, answering emails, working or chatting with friends.  We, as one big organism, are going through the same experiences together, and all of our attention is in one place.  In a world that often feels very lonely and hectic, this is so so so important and valuable.

 

There’s only one shot

This is something that is just as meaningful for both performer and audience!  Although it can riddle any artist with performance anxiety, the fact that they only have one chance to deliver, here and now in this exact moment, adds an electricity to the theatre.  They know this, and the audience knows it too.  Whatever happens, happens – there ain’t no do-overs.  As an audience member, knowing that the art that I am experiencing only exists now, once, in this moment, has caused me to sit up and try not to miss a single thing.  As a performer, this feeling is what has encouraged me to take risks, to just ‘go for it’, and also to feel incredibly nervous.  It is what makes every second of a performance really matter and be something that I care so truly and honestly about.  And isn’t it wonderful to sit in the audience and watch a performer who really cares, to watch them take risks and to see the sparks that fly because of it?!

 

Mistakes!

And following on from the ‘one-shot’ philosophy, are the inevitable mistakes.  I love mistakes.  I think they are brilliant.  Because you can’t get more in-the-moment than a mistake.  When an artist makes a mistake, it means they are really experiencing something real; maybe they took a risk and it didn’t work, maybe they care SO much about what they are doing that they got carried away, or maybe they are just real human beings and not computers!  To me, mistakes are life and they are wonderful.

 

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Pekka Kuusisto and The Reddress

Photo courtesy of Pierre Boulez Saal

 

When someone asks me to tell them who Pekka is and what he does I find it pretty difficult to answer in any coherent way!  I can tell you that Pekka Kuusisto is a violinist from Finland, that he can play ANYTHING in an astoundingly beautiful way but that he can also create new sounds that one has never heard before.  Pekka crosses boundaries, challenges you to consider life and music in new ways, to listen with new ears and seek out new meanings and ideas.  Whether he is playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, old Scandinavian Folk tunes or even just improvising on the spot, there is an artistry in his work and a special humbleness in his character that creates something truly magical and utterly unique.

I have to admit that Pekka has been a hero of mine for many years (maybe then, this post is a little biased…!).  Throughout my student years, I was that annoying violin pupil that sat in my room for hours, watching and re-watching videos of him playing any repertoire that I was working on, making notes about every small idea or movement that he would make and trying to copy and implement it into my own playing (God, this is embarrassing). When I got to meet and work with him on Beethoven’s Op. 127 String Quartet a couple of years ago, it was a DREAM and I still feel inspired by that experience!   Pekka treated my colleagues and I as equal musicians, listened eagerly to our ideas, cared about us and our group like it was honestly as important to him as it was to us, worked with us for hours and hours after the schedule ‘told’ us to finish and then continued to sight-read Haydn Quartets with us late into the nights, ate ice-cream with us and made us laugh.  It was such a joy to realise that this violinist whom I SO admired, was also such a nice, friendly and beautiful person, and as a result I am now able to call him my friend.

Unforgettable days working on Beethoven Op. 127 and having so much fun! With Hannah Nicholas (Viola), Carlyn Kessler (Cello) and Pekka Kuusisto (Violin)

 

Alright, I think I’m doing OK so far, I think you get who Pekka is – great violinist, great person.  Now let me try to explain the Reddress.

I first heard about the Reddress during those 2 weeks of working on Beethoven with Pekka, when he told me all about its concept and design.  Very literally, the Reddress is like one huge organism; in the centre and high up on a podium is the nucleus of the dress, where the performer stands and commands, and throughout the body and folds of the dress, which take up the entire auditorium, are little pockets (200 in all) where members of the audience nestle in and become part of it.  The dress was designed by artist, Aamu Song, who questioned the traditional concert set up of a musician on stage in relation to their audience, who are usually so far away from them and sitting in de-humanising rows of seats.  She wanted to invent a new way of connecting musician and audience, make them all part of one event and overcome physical separation and distance.  And this is exactly what the Reddress does.

Song originally envisioned the Reddress for a female performer, and you might be wondering what it’s like to see a male artist, such as Pekka, at the centre of such a dress.  Well, when  Song first saw Pekka playing in the dress, she found that he kind of became part of it, that the dress was gender-neutral and that the whole experience was about so much more than just the dress – it became about the power of music and connection in performance.

In the miraculous and  incredible way that life sometimes works, I was lucky enough to get the chance to see Pekka perform in the Reddress at the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin.  It was one of those pinch me moments – I somehow got a very last-minute ticket, jumped on a train from Hannover and just went for it, because I knew I might not get the chance again.  When I arrived at the hall, dry ice and atmospheric electronic sounds greeted me in the foyer and all the way up the stairs and into the main auditorium.  I heard other audience members gasping as they also arrived at the hall, asking ‘What’s going on here?!‘.  Because it was such a spontaneous decision to go to the concert, I sadly hadn’t managed to get a ticket for one of the pockets of the dress, which meant that I was sitting on the balcony and viewing from above.  But actually I found this to have some advantages – I could see the whole thing in action at once and, because of the magnitude and height of the dress, I still very much felt involved.

When the music died away and the lights dropped, Pekka walked out into the room, whistling and making sounds with his voice into a microphone, as he walked between the people in the pockets of the dress.  When it came time to get into the dress, a woman helped him up into it, zipping him in and Aamu Song passed his violin up to him from her own spot in the dress.  Pekka began to play folk music, alternating between deep and moving sounds, upbeat dance movements, cold and shuddering harmonics and improvised ideas.  He played each tune in many different fragments, which were then electronically looped, on top of which he added the new fragment, creating a really rich tapestry of music.  Sometimes the looping stopped and he took the mic off his violin, letting himself play alone, just a sweet violin playing a simple Finnish folk tune in a red dress.  The Reddress also had the capacity for 360 degree rotation, and this gave Pekka the freedom to constantly move as he wanted; he played to every single person in that room, constantly switching his direction, moving left to right and vice versa, up and down, sometimes bending right down to the ground, other times reaching as far up as he could, and I felt that he was always trying to establish a connection with everybody that was present.

When he came to the end of the performance, the ritual of exiting the dress began; the violin was passed back down to Song, the woman who had helped him into the dress unlocked him from it and he climbed back down into the folds of the audience.  The concert ended with Pekka walking again among the body of the dress and the live bodies inside it, playing the Sarabande from Bach’s D minor Partita for solo violin, adding his own ornaments and decoration in his typical ‘Pekka’ style and silently leaving the auditorium and Reddress behind.

I found it really interesting to watch the emotional reactions of the people who were inside the dress.  There were those who sat up, wanting to be actively a part of the event, those who were tapping their hands along to the beat of the tunes, couples who shared the experience together, children who were fascinated by everything, and even those who were probably asleep.  The Reddress gave this audience total freedom to be who they wanted to be during this performance, and they in turn made up part of the performance itself.

Like me, you might be bursting with questions about the physical logistics of the dress.  How is it maintained?  How do they pack it up and transport it?  What is it made of?  When I first laid my eyes on the Reddress, I was immediately struck by the sharpness of its colour and by how perfect it looked.  The majesty and passion of the red colour that was totally unblemished was extremely powerful.  I was so interested to read about the cleaning process of the dress, which is of utmost importance to Aamu Song, who insists on this for each and every performance.  Apparently the dress, which is made of wool, felt and satin,  is vacuumed and frozen at -20 degrees, and it takes several people to set up and lay out!  Once you see the vast size and sheer volume of the dress, you can only imagine how much work this takes.

Song and Pekka have both remarked on the addictive quality of the Reddress;  Pekka commented that he now misses that same connection to the audience in any normal concert and that the Reddress is his absolute favourite performance platform.  And I can also say, as a member of the audience, that I will definitely miss feeling so much part of a performance as I did on that night.  Both as an audience member, watching concerts from some distant little chair in the dark, and as an artist, performing from a stage which feels so lonely, just seems to make NO sense now!  It feels so unnatural and false.  Of course something like the Reddress is so huge and awesome that it would be practically impossible to bring it, or even something like it, to every performance.  But being part of the performance of the Reddress has really got me thinking about how we, both as musicians and as audiences, can work to make this connection something real and break down that silly boundary between us.  Should we be rethinking the design of the typical concert hall?  Should we reimagine our performance style altogether? Are the general public of audiences and of artists on board for this transformation?  Personally, I am hoping that the Reddress starts a revolution!

So, for now, that’s the best I can do – and I hope I did Pekka and the Reddress justice!

 

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A Few More Berlin Gems For A Lazy Day

It’s fair to say that I’ve written about Berlin at great length here on my blog.  It is truly a fascinating city, with SO much going on and so many different kinds of life being lived there – if you are curious to read more about my thoughts on the city and why I love it, please check out my post ‘5 Things I Love About Berlin’.  If you are heading to Berlin and are in need of some specific recommendations, I also wrote a trilogy of blog posts featuring my favourite ‘Restaurants’, ‘Drinks’, and ‘Attractions’ in the city, so feel free to explore those too!

The thing about Berlin is, every single time you go there, you uncover some new amazing place that you didn’t know about before!  The city is constantly evolving, new eateries, exhibitions and shops are springing up all the time and the city is so progressive, which is something that I love so much about it.  I recently had a free day to spend in Berlin, and I decided NOT to return to any of my old favourite haunts (where I would normally go), but instead chose to explore only new places that I hadn’t yet been to.  I found some real gems that you may not yet know about, as well as a couple of more well-trodden corners that you probably do, so I thought I would collect them all here in one post, for the next time you (or I!) might need some fresh suggestions for ways to spend a lazy free day in Berlin.

Bites To Eat

First off and most importantly: food.  Always a very difficult decision when in Berlin, because there is SO MUCH good food on pretty much every street.  I do have a couple of new recommendations for you though, and they are both incredible and must-gos.

For breakfast/brunch, I decided to try Commonground (a sister cafe to Silo, which I have also mentioned on my blog before and also an AMAZING brunch spot).  Commonground is a big open plan cafe – I happened to visit on a hot summers day, and they had all the front windows and doors wide open which was heavenly.  The food is ridiculously great; I had poached eggs on their unique Sironi bread, smashed avocado and salsa verde, and LOTS of bacon (by the way, there are also plenty of vegetarian and vegan options!).  The coffee is also spot on.  I would say Commonground is perfect if you have a group of people, the staff are all SO friendly and the vibes are just great!

The Commonground breakfast!

Brunch at Commonground pretty much kept me going all day, until about 9pm, which is when I decided to grab some dinner at Cocolo Ramen.  I chose this place because I fancied some ramen and all the reviews online claimed that this was the BEST ramen in Berlin, so my expectations were pretty high.  Things to know about Cocolo Ramen before you go there: they take no reservations, and it is a tiny and extremely popular restaurant, so you have to be prepared to queue out the door for anywhere up to an hour (at popular times).  I would suggest going later, maybe around 10 or 11pm, and not to go in big groups – as I was by myself I actually got seated ahead of a lot of people which was a plus.  I have to say though, the ramen is totally worth it – it is delicious.  The kitchen is right out front, and if you can manage to bag a seat at the bar, you can watch them cooking which is fun.  The menu is pretty small – you can basically choose from about 4 or 5 different ramens (and a few other things on the menu), ranging in price up to about  €10 – and their turnover is fast, so don’t take too long over your food!  But the atmosphere is fabulous and this place is a real little gem!

I got the pork broth – delicious!

Coffee

If you are like me, then coffee is an absolute priority, and just spending an hour in a cute coffee shop is the perfect plan for a sunny afternoon!  Berlin offers some really fantastic and locally owned independent coffee jaunts – they are all over the city so please never, ever, feel like you have to rely on Starbucks for your pick-me-up!  This time, I tried a new coffee place, Ben Rahim.  It is absolutely tiny, and totally hidden away – if you didn’t know about it, I don’t think you would ever find it!  You sort of have to find your way through an alley and then a courtyard and then another alley and then you might spot it.  If the weather is good they put little tables and benches outside, and as it is so tucked away, it feels very peaceful and lovely to enjoy your coffee outside. (But there is also some seating indoors for the cold days too.)  Ben Rahim specialises in Arabian coffee and tea, and you can definitely also get your own preferred style of coffee there too.  As it was such a hot day when I visited, I decided to try their iced latte, and I thought how they made it was genius; they make the espresso shots in ice cubes and freeze them, and then add them to milk when one is ordered.  As you drink it the ice-cube melts and the coffee gets stronger as it slowly dissolves into the milk, which I just loved.  It was a beautiful coffee and I would love to go back there and try their other blends too.

My iced-latte at Ben Rahim

Independent and Vintage Shopping

Of course, Berlin has a large (and slightly tedious) shopping district.  But if you are more into cute little boutiques and vintage shops then I have a few suggestions for you!  For clothes, I would definitely recommend checking out Paul’s Boutique.  It is a little hole-in-the-wall style shop, full of second-hand and vintage clothes for men and women.  They have lots of cool brands and vintage style garments, including a selection of Doc. Martens and Levis.  Even if you don’t find something you like, or you aren’t particularly looking for anything, it is really fun to just look around and see what you can find.  If you are looking for a larger selection of second-hand and vintage clothes, check out Humana – there are actually a few of these stores around the city, and they tend to be pretty big.  Humana offers a wide variety of clothes and ‘stuff’, for men and women, at a range of different prices, from €2 to €200, so again, it’s just fun to see what you can find.  I have had a lot of luck there was things like concert clothes, jeans, shirts… it’s a cool store!

If you are a bookworm looking for some great deals on second-hand books in Berlin, definitely head to St. Georges English Bookshop.  There is a huge selection of all kinds of books here, from floor to ceiling (literally), mainly in English but also in a few other languages too.  From novels to cookbooks, books on Hitler and the war, religion, kids books… it is definitely a little nook to get lost in for a while!  They also sell some new books at regular prices too, and if you are looking for something in particular and are going to be in Berlin for a while, they will happily order it for you.

Attractions

If you fancy spending an afternoon at a museum or an evening at a concert in Berlin, I’ve got you covered.  Berlin is FULL of artistic events going on all the time; every single day there are literally 1000s to choose from.  I wrote a blog post recently on my experience visiting the ‘Wanderlust’ exhibition at the Alte Nationalgalerie (read it here!), and if you happen to be in Berlin until the 16th September 2018, definitely get yourself to that!  If not though, or if painting isn’t really up your street but you are interested in other mediums of art, Museum Island is a great place to start in Berlin.  It is a little island in the middle of the city, where all the big museums are located.  If you really want to throw yourself into art and culture you can purchase a day ticket which will allow you entry into all the museums in one day!  Otherwise, I can tell you that the Pergamon Museum (also mentioned previously on my blog!) which houses the Gates of Ishtar, amongst several other amazing things, is seriously awe-inspiring, incredible, mind-boggling and you HAVE to see it.  I mean, you get to actually see a whole Greek temple inside the museum.  It is awesome.

Alte Nationalgalerie, Museum Island, Berlin

If you are seeking a good concert to go to that is maybe a little removed from the mainstream concerts of the Philharmonie hall (which are nevertheless fantastic), check out the newest addition to Berlin’s concert hall scene, the Pierre Boulez Saal.  This hall, nicknamed the Oval Office of concert halls, is the result of a project initiated by Daniel Barenboim.  It is a smaller, more intimate chamber hall which is dedicated to hosting exciting and innovative concerts and music projects in Berlin, which don’t stay strictly true to old-fashioned style classical music concerts.  Keep an eye out for a blog post coming soon on the breath-taking concert that I was lucky enough to witness there when I visited (and which was the sole reason for this day that I got to spend in Berlin!).

Sneak peek of an upcoming post, telling you all about this unique and stunning concert that I saw at the Pierre Boulez Saal

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Wanderlust at Berlin’s Alte Nationalgalerie

What does ‘Wanderlust’ really mean?

‘Wandering’ is an expression that feels somehow very luxurious and romantic to me; it makes me think of a movement that is slow, unhurried and meaningful, of someone who takes pleasure and joy in walking at their own gentle pace, taking the time to contemplate life as they wander – I can’t help but be reminded of the hymn, ‘I wonder as I wander’!  At the same time, I feel that wandering could just be about the act in itself, the very journey that is being carried out as one wanders.  I know that when I set out for a wander, my only intention is to do just that, nothing else must be achieved during my wander except the actual wander itself and maybe that is what is so luxurious!

When we pair these feelings about wandering with a kind of lust or a desire, ‘wanderlust’ seems to embody a deeper state of mind, a psychology combined with a passion.  Perhaps wanderlust symbolises a connection with nature or a world traveller, maybe it’s about an artist looking for inspiration.  Perhaps too, at its core, wanderlust really epitomises the tumultuous journey through life.

I hadn’t really thought much about the meaning of wanderlust, or how I felt about it, until I visited the wonderful ‘Wanderlust’ exhibition at the Alte Nationalgalerie on Museum Island in Berlin.  The exhibition aims to explore all of these different concepts surrounding wanderlust, it’s many dimensions and the allegories that represent its ideas, found in the paintings of artists such as Caspar David Friedrich and Auguste Renoir, and it is the first ever art exhibition in the world to focus on this theme!  I actually found the exhibition and the artwork that was presented so powerful and enlightening that I just can’t believe that this has never been done before!

Firstly, if you are a fan of the 19th century German Romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich, you absolutely have to get to the exhibition.  There is an entire room dedicated to his work, which includes the infamous ‘Wanderer Above The Sea Of Fog’, completed in 1818.  I had wanted to see this painting for a long time, so this was a definite pull for me, and I was pretty awestruck by it!  It is so immense in its ideas, one lone man facing the world, shrouded in a mysterious haze, not knowing what lies beneath the fog… David Friedrich was one of the first painters to present figures with their backs to the viewer, and I find this adds such a personal but dramatic element to the ideas of the painting as well; we see what the man standing in the painting sees, his view is also our view so we could almost be him.  Our attention is drawn, not to him, but to what he is looking at, and that is so interesting!

 

 

I was extremely happy to be introduced to some other incredible paintings by David Friedrich at the exhibition too. I find his work to be very quietly powerful.  It’s not pretentious, or ‘showy-offy’.  It is humble and yet it addresses huge questions concerning life, the world, humanity… There was another portrait at the exhibition which was painted of David Friedrich working in his studio.  I was interested to learn that his workspace was utterly minimal; literally just an easel and canvas.  Apparently, he hated any kind of mess in his work environment, as when he was painting he wanted only to live in that world, with no reminders of his ‘real’ life.  I love to learn these snippets of information about artists whom I admire; it gives them such a character and personality in my mind and lets me see their work with more of them in it.

 

 

I saw several other fabulous paintings, but one that really stayed with me was ‘The Wetterhorn Mountain’ by Karl Eduard Biermann, from 1830.  It is difficult to see clearly in the photo below (click on the image to enlarge it), but there are two haggard and struggling climbers which contrast so starkly with the awesome and brilliant white mountain peaks.  Nature is all-powerful in this painting, while man seems so weak, human life so short and fleeting compared to the indestructible mountains and valleys.  I love the darkness and the light, I love the personality of both nature and humanity, and I find this painting altogether very inspiring!

 

 

The exhibition has so much to offer; there are, of course, very grand paintings as well as small sketches, sculptures and even music videos, including one by the Icelandic singer, Bjork.  In total, there are over 120 pieces of work on display, all arranged into different sections which showcase different aspects of Wanderlust, from ‘The Discovery of Nature‘ to ‘Life’s Journey‘, ‘Artists Wanderings‘, ‘Landscapes‘ and more.

As I wandered around the exhibition, it struck me just how poetic it all really was!  I was wandering through a ‘Wanderlust’ exhibition, contemplating beautiful works of art presenting ideas of wanderlust, as I myself experienced wanderlust.  In a beautiful twist of meta, wanderlust became the very act of going to the exhibition!

The exhibition is open until the 16th September (2018) and if you happen to be in Berlin until then I SO encourage you to go!  It takes roughly 2.5 hours to see it all, and I recommend getting the audio guide, unless all you really want to do is wander!

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Favourite Podcasts #2

Over the past couple of years, I have become something of a podcast ADDICT.  Podcasts are such a great source of entertainment – what could be better than listening to interesting people talk about interesting things?!  One thing I have noticed though, is that this is a platform that has grown massively and become quite saturated; there are SO MANY great podcasts out there, that it can be difficult to find ones that are most suited to you, or to even know what to search for.  I have definitely come to rely on other blog posts and articles with recommendations for podcasts to listen to, so I thought I would pass the favour on and write one of my own!  I did write an initial ‘Podcasts I’m Enjoying’ post a couple of years ago, which you can read here, but I figured it was definitely time for an update.  So, hope you enjoy and happy listening!

 

Secret Feminist Agenda

Comprised of two seasons so far, this is a podcast hosted by Canadian scholar, cat-lover and general bad-ass feminist, Hannah McGregor.  About a year ago, I started to get really interested in the hot topic of feminism, but couldn’t find a ‘way in’.  I was looking for someone who could talk about this issue in an articulate, balanced and inspiring way, while sparking an interest in me personally, and for some reason, I just couldn’t find this.  Everything I had read or heard I found stale, serious in a way that made me feel bad or helpless, or not representative of my own experiences and perspectives. Until I discovered the Secret Feminist Agenda podcast.  Hannah is funny and exciting, she has wonderful and interesting guests and listening to her podcast feels like I am listening to a thrilling conversation that I want to be part of.  Incidentally,  Hannah is also the co-host of the podcast ‘Oh Witch, Please‘, which is a podcast that I mentioned in my first post on this subject and is still one of my FAVOURITE podcasts!!

S-Town

If you are into real-life crime drama, this is a podcast for you.  Think ‘Making a Murderer’ and ‘Serial’ (also a fabulous podcast by the same producers).  Divided into a season of episodes, this podcast uncovers the story of a man from a tiny town in the deep south of Alabama.  The podcast involves a mysterious murder, lots of secrets and a few surprises too.  Full of suspense and made even more hyper-dramatic because it’s completely REAL and all of the people in it are REAL, I guarantee you will be hanging on the end of every episode of this podcast.

Ctrl Alt Delete

For me, this podcast provides the simple joy of listening to an interesting conversation.  Hosted by Emma Gannon – intellectual internet chick, influencer and writer – each episode comprises an interview with a different guest, from someone like movie director Greta Gerwig, to director of GIRLBOSS Jerico Mandybur.  The interviews generally turn into lively discussions about current events and issues faced by today’s typical ‘millennial’, and I find them to be intelligent and relevant.  Emma also co-hosts the podcast, ‘Get It Off Your Br**sts’, a podcast where women talk about things that annoy them in a humourous yet meaningful and honest way, and I can also highly recommend giving this podcast a listen!

All The Books

I had to include one podcast in this post that was book-related and for now, this one wins this category!  If you are looking for a podcast to garner some new book recommendations and reading inspo, this is IT.  New episodes of this podcast come out once per week, in which co-hosts Liberty Hardy and Rebecca Schinsky of ‘Book Riot’ discuss that particular week’s new book releases.  It is a conversation about books and the love of books, and I can attest that these women have very good literary taste!

Homecoming

I thought I would include one fiction podcast in this list as, sometimes, when I am looking out of train windows or walking to the supermarket, I just don’t want to think, and prefer to have entertainment put directly into my ears for me.  This podcast is reminiscent of a radio play; its a thriller, it has a wonderful cast and a good dramatic storyline.  It also takes the clever form of overheard snippets of conversations and phone calls – something that I find really effective and captivating.  It’s difficult to ‘put this one down’!

 

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The Craft of Poetry | Banff Diaries 3

I got to hear a live poetry reading for the first time! The experience of hearing writers read their own material, often about very personal stories or political feelings, made me pretty emotional, so I’m glad I talked to the camera about it straight after, to document that feeling.  In this video I also sum up how my project is going at the end of my first week at The Banff Centre; the challenges I am facing as well as the things I am loving. Hope you enjoy!

Check out my last video, where I talked about some really important questions, and especially about forgotten women artists

Please subscribe to my channel to keep updated with my video diaries!

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Why The ‘You’re Too Young To Understand’ Argument Just Doesn’t Stand Up

I have recently encountered, in various different areas of my life, an argument being thrown around by the older generation towards my own age group, that says we are ‘too young’ to be getting  involved in serious political or social issues.  Perhaps it has been one of those things where, once you notice it happening once or twice, you start to see it all over the place.  Regardless, I find so much at fault with this mentality, so many important messages to be taken from it, that it sparked a blog post within me, so here we go!

To give some context, I thought I would talk about a couple of examples of when I have directly faced an argument like this.  The first happened a couple of weeks ago.  I have been planning a concert in London for a while now, with my newly formed, diverse and ‘cutting edge’ ensemble, Hauptstimmen.  The goal of this group of classical chamber musicians is to bring our music to a wider audience, to break down boundaries that we have experienced in our world of classical music and make it an all-inclusive art form, something that everyone can share in and take something away from.  We have organised a concert ourselves in London next week (see all the details here, please come!!), and the theme of our programme is ‘war, time and death’.  I know it sounds a little dark and depressing, but actually it is really fascinating; we are going to be performing unique music that is very rarely heard, including Gideon Klein’s string trio, which was the last piece he ever wrote, just two weeks before being deported to Auschwitz.  It isn’t just going to be a concert – it is going to be a real experience, with cool lighting, sound effects and stage design, where the audience will be encouraged to feel completely at ease with drinks and snacks and also totally engaged with our performance.  In short, this is an event that we have put a lot of thought and work into and one which we think will really create huge impact.

Now, in organising this concert, finding the right venue has obviously been extremely important – the space is paramount to the whole experience, and so it was something we knew we had to get right.  We were overjoyed to find The Red Hedgehog, a cool and intimate venue with easy access in London.  When our group leader met with the venue director, she seemed totally on board and supportive of all of our ideas, so everything looked bright for us.  Two weeks ago, we received an email from this same director and let’s just say that it completely contradicted everything that had been agreed on previously and everything we are striving to achieve.  Her overarching message to us was that we were far too young to be presenting a concert that placed war as its central theme.

My initial response to the email was anger, of course, followed by a real sense of sadness.  I felt so sad because, here is a group of young musicians who are trying to do something different and creative and combine their art with important world issues, only to be shot down by someone older and with more ‘power’.  Today, after having dwelled on it for a while, I feel so strongly the error in her way of thinking!  The fact is that war and death are very much part of our world, and unfortunately this is something that is becoming  more of a scary reality everyday.  To think that only people of a certain age should be talking about it is naive; I am in my twenties and part of a generation that will have to deal with the remnants of what is left post-Trump, or with whatever the future holds for North Korea, Syria, ISIS etc.  We are exactly the ones who need to be talking about it and understanding what is happening and why – we are the ones who can help the future.  As musicians, we have such a special way of sharing these ideas.  Through music, we can reach out to people and bring people together, we can talk about fears of war and death through our playing and use music to make it relevant to everyone, no matter their age.

The second example I wanted to mention was something that I saw on a social platform a few days ago.  A friend of mine had posted an article about veganism – a topic sure to fire anyone up, I know, and of course it did.  But the most offensive response to the article, in my opinion, was from someone from a slightly older generation who advised my friend that she was too young and shouldn’t be concerned with issues like veganism, rather she should just live her life and spend her time ‘dreaming’.  I am just so confused how anyone could suggest that talking about veganism is only for people of a certain age!  What is this age, exactly? Because I am definitely not looking forward to turning this mysterious age when suddenly the weight of the world will be on my shoulders.  And, as my friend pointed out in her reply, isn’t bringing up issues such as veganism on social media exactly what ‘dreaming’ is? Dreaming of a better world, dreaming of what the future could be.  I am not purporting to be an advocate of veganism or not – that is not the point here – only that I certainly think that anyone who wants to talk about veganism, or war, or death or any other huge political or social issue absolutely can and even that we, as young people, should!

And this ‘young’ thing… I mean, I’m 26! I am not exactly a spring chicken.  I have been old enough to vote for a long time, and I have definitely held strong political views for pretty much my whole life.  I am lucky enough to live in a society where I can freely express my views, so who is to tell me, or anyone else in my generation, that I shouldn’t because I am too young?!  In fact, in recent elections, basically all the ones where shit really started to go down, it has been shown that young people really do have a voice and really do know what they are voting for and the consequences of what they are voting for – it’s the older generations that have really screwed things up for us all.

Basically, I want to make it clear that, yes, I am young and yes, that absolutely means I will continue to use my voice and my art to share ideas and fears and issues that I believe in or that I believe are important.  I hope that if young people like me are also facing this ridiculous argument from our elders – that we are too young to be concerned with these important topics – that we can feel inspired to rise above and speak even more loudly.  Age doesn’t equal power, and with our youth comes a responsibility for the future, so let’s engage with each other NOW and make the world a better place.

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A Mesostic on Kerouac

On creating a mesostic poem using a” Mesostomatic” – a mesostic poem generator.  Try it out here!

I decided to choose one of my favourite passages of writing from Jack Kerouac’s infamous novel, ‘On The Road’, as my source text for this mesostic.  Here is the original passage of writing:

“…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

I paired this passage of writing with ‘Kerouac’ as the spine word; I originally wanted two spine words – ‘Jack Kerouac’ – but this could not be achieved as there is no ‘J’, nor two ‘K’ words, in the text.  After playing around for a long time with different formulations, adjusting the sparseness of the text etc., this is the result!

I found it quite difficult to produce a poem from this generator that I was happy with; I think this was largely due to the many repeated words in the source text, such as ‘mad’, ‘ones’, ‘burn’.  Many of the poems I received on the first few attempts were so repetitive, lacked variety and were just not very interesting!  Because of this, I decided to go with this very sparse  and simple mesostic which I have come to love!

From this poem, I get a sense of being alone, perhaps in an exclusive or lonely way.  The first and last words, ‘only’ and ‘Centrelight’, are somehow connected as both words indicate a uniqueness ; a ‘Centrelight’ is one single object, by itself, and ‘only’ gives a feeling of one, of something limited, alone.  Perhaps the poem itself also reflects this idea of loneliness; many of the lines are just one single word, it is a very sparse, simple and limited poem, excluding many words from the original text and enhancing the feeling of being alone.

The first line of the mesostic is extremely interesting to interpret; ‘only the mad talk, mad’ could mean that only mad people talk in a mad way, and no one else can talk as ‘mad’ as the ‘mad’ people ‘talk’.  Note also the word ‘the’ attached to ‘mad’ – ‘the mad’ are a set of people, not just anyone but ‘THE mad’ people.  Because of the use of punctuation in this line, it could also point to the meaning that it is ‘mad’ that ‘only the mad talk’, as in, it is crazy that ‘only the mad’ people ‘talk’ and people who aren’t really ‘mad’ don’t really ‘talk’ – you have to be one of ‘the mad’ to ‘talk’.  Perhaps ‘mad’ also means angry, like ‘only the’ angry’ people ‘talk’ – this interpretation reminds me of how people generally tend to speak up and complain when they are angry, or write bad reviews because they are angry about their bad experience and the rest of the time, when people are content, it is easy to stay quiet and not ‘talk’.  One last possible meaning for this line could be that ‘mad’ refers to lunacy, and the poem is really telling us in its first line, that this is just silly, ‘mad’, non-sense writing and not to bother trying to make meaning out of it!

Punctuation may indicate that the words ‘be’ and ‘burn’ come together; this could symbolise that to ‘be’ is to ‘burn’, like to live is to ‘burn’ and if you are alive then you are burning, really living each moment, and if you are really ‘mad’ and really ‘talking’ then you are being and burning.  Could there also be a dark religious undertone here?  We live and then we die, we ‘be’ alive, living ‘mad’ and talking ‘mad’ and because of this – because we didn’t live a normal, chaste life but rather a ‘mad’ one – we ‘burn’ in hell when we die.

The burning ‘yellow’ and ‘blue’ flames could suggest that to really live and to be an extraordinary person, as Kerouac aspired to be, we must ‘burn’ not only ‘yellow’, like normal people’, but we must ‘burn blue’ hot like the ‘mad’ people.

With the words, ‘pop And goes the Centrelight’, perhaps here is an idea that the ‘Centrelight’ goes out and we arrive in darkness at the end of the poem.  This darkness, lack of ‘Centrelight’, further supports the idea of loneliness, being alone, in the dark, alone in your own thoughts and dreams.  In this way, perhaps this poem does relate to Kerouac and his original text; maybe Kerouac really did feel alone and that he couldn’t find his people, ‘the mad ones’ who ‘burn, burn, burn’.

‘Centrelight’ could also refer to a stage light; maybe at the end of the poem, this stage light goes out because we have come to the end, and all of this ‘mad talk’ has just been acting, from a script of a theatre piece, and not real life.  When the ‘Centrelight’ goes out, we are plunged into the darkness of reality, with no more ‘mad talk’, or burning ‘yellow’ and ‘blue’.

The ‘yellow blue pop’ also makes the poem highly sensory – we can see these colours and hear the ‘pop’ sound.  Perhaps this is a further indication that this is a play on the stage, full of colours and sounds that we are watching and hearing before it comes to an end.  Maybe we are watching the play of life!

I find this poem hugely dramatic; each single word and each line builds the tension… as we wait for some kind of culmination.. and with a pop, the words explode ‘like spiders across the stars’.

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