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reflections on berlin

brandenburger tor
first we take manhattan, then we take berlin.

a city of contrasts – steeped in history and yet oh, so modern, i thoroughly enjoyed berlin. the culturally diverse and cosmopolitan city has the most impressive monuments, and yet surprisingly, also lots of green space. in fact, there are 2,500 public parks and gardens in berlin!

museum island
charlottenburg
victory column
if you’re into art, berlin has a prominent art scene. you can find vibrant street art and interesting architecture most everywhere. plus berlin is home to 175 museums and 300 art galleries and a whole island of museums? come ON. i put that 3 day museum pass to good use and i still ended up seeing a couple more museums on day 4.

noir berlin
i liked how berlin admirably did not hide its shameful past. in fact, the WWII memorials act as a testament to those who lost their lives during the nazi regime and as serves as a warning to us today of what can happen when hatred is allowed to come to power.

so whether you’re a history buff, art lover or diner of michelin rated restaurants (or you just love that currywurst!), berlin has something for everyone. there’s still so much to explore that i’ll need to come back for another visit!

for a look at everything i saw, press play on the slideshow or click here for my flickr!

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a night at gatwick’s bloc hotel

bloc hotel gatwick
bloc hotel for the win!

there used to be a time when the thought of staying at an airport hotel would be unthinkable. i always imagined it to be 3 star quality – offering the basic amenities – a pre-flight bed – with no design quality whatsoever. the only advantage would be that it would be easy and convenient to get to one’s gate of departure.

however, it seems that hotels are looking to up their game at airport locations, and for that i’m super thankful.

on the outbound portion of my trip, i stayed at gatwick’s yotel hotel to crash for a few hours before checking into my airbnb. the capsule hotel best advantage is that you can book it for 4 hours minimum, but the size of the room would slowly make you feel cabin fever-y. especially if you’re faced with a long haul flight.

on the return portion of my berlin to london trip, i booked a room at the bloc hotel in gatwick’s south terminal. chic, spacious yet cozy, and affordable. every bloc hotel room offers free WIFI, king sized beds, roca monsoon drench shower, ambient artemide lighting technology, samsung LED smart TV, and a samsung galaxy tablet that controls the blinds, mood lighting and climate control.

bloc hotel 809
bloc hotel room
bloc hotel controls
bloc hotel beds
bonus! gatwick stores were opened 24 hours, so i could just head out to eat or shop whenever i like!

by the time my flight from berlin had landed, it was around 9ish, so i did not feel like i needed to go back out to london. instead, i had hot shower, chilled, watched some telly and got some sleep.

the best feeling? knowing that i don’t have to rush like mad to get to the airport on time for my flight. i just had to check out via tablet, drop off the keys and walk to my departure gate.

i’m an airport hotel convert, thanks to bloc hotel.

5/29 – as much as i’m now a believer of well designed airport capsule hotels, i’ve also become a believer in economy plus services on long haul flights. if you can afford the $80-$100 upgrade one way (depending on the airline) – and i do know that i’m lucky – then i say, yes! do it!

not only do you get more privileges, such as priority check-in, priority boarding, priority baggage handling, and other perks (eg. welcome kit, small bottle of wine). but what trumps all of that is your seat selection offers more legroom, pitch and width, which makes all the difference for an enjoyable flight.

at econo plus
econo plus seat
at the risk of sounding like a total princess, i know being five foot nothing (ok, five two and a half), i should have nothing to gripe about, but seats with leg room still make a difference – even at my height. especially on a long ass flight.

maybe i’m just getting old (get off my porch!), but a little leg room is a luxury that is a must for me for any flight over 6 hours. (it’s a grey area even at the 5 or 6 hours mark). with air travel sucking nowadays – passengers packed in like sardines – one must find small ways to feel civilized. (without busting the bank)

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marlene dietrich exhibition at deutsche kinemathek

Deutsche Kinemathek
my last day in berlin and i chose to spend it at the deutsche kinemathek and museum fur film und fernsehen at potsdamer platz. because marlene dietrich permanent collection! also exhibits on media, film and television from the beginnings to present day germany.

the marlene dietrich exhibition came from her extensive private collection and included costumes from her films,  thousand of items from her personal wardrobe, her touring luggage, film clips, posters, sound recordings, photographs, love letters and correspondence between yul brynner, maurice chevalier, noel coward, ernest hemingway, orson welles and countless others.

also displayed were models and props from the 1927 iconic film, metropolis, as well as, exhibits from the cabinet of dr caligari (1920), props and costumes from the golden age of german cinema (1918-1933) and post-war cinema. plus louise brooks!

i only wish that photography was permitted! (boo). there were a couple of places that it would’ve been so easy to snap a photo or two, but decided to be the good tourist. so here are some google’d images of the museum:

sony centresource: sony centre

marlene dietrichsource: sofitel

well worth the visit if you’re a marlene dietrich fan and/or film buff and a great way to end my trip.

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we’re all angels at siegessäule

tiergarten
i’ve always wanted to see the siegessäule aka golden lizzie (to berliners) aka berlin victory column to the rest of the world. ever since watching wim wender’s wings of desire, in which the column acted as a gathering place for angels. and as a huge U2 fan (their earlier music), i was absolutely in love with the stay! (faraway, so close) music video – also directed by wim wenders.

siegessäule mosaic
you can find the 203 feet high siegessäule standing in the middle of tiergarten. the column was erected to commemorate the prussian victory against denmark in the war of 1864. siegessäule was later crowned by a 35 ton gilded statue of the goddess victoria in 1971. victoria sports a helmet and is holding a laurel wreath in one hand and a staff bearing an iron cross in the other.

siegessäule victoria
siegessäule wings
to get to the very top of siegessäule, you have to first access it through underground tunnels and then climb all 285 steps of the tower’s spiral staircase. i wouldn’t say that i’m out of shape, but i would say that my cardio is not where it should be. however, all the walking during the past couple of weeks probably helped. like climbing the eiffel tower, you will feel fatigue. you will need to catch your breath. and hopefully you’ll have a bottle of water to help you out. fellow travelers will encourage you with words about how close you’re getting.

and if you stick it out, you’ll be rewarded with some amazing, unobstructed views of berlin. plus your senses will be all fired up – what with the platform being narrow and crowded, the wind whipping through your hair and the fact that you’re really high up there. it’s scary as it is exhilarating. at points, i found myself walking the circular platform with my back pretty much pressed to the wall!

siegessäule top down
after such excitement, i opted for a bit of reverence and headed to the kaiser-wilhelm gedachtnis-kirche, a ruined neo-romanesque church in busy ku’damn. the church was consecrated in 1895, but severely damaged during the bombing raids in world war II. the ruins of the church tower, which is nicknamed “the hollow tooth”, serves as both memorial and stark reminder of the horrors of war today.

kaiser-wilhelm gedachtnis-kirche mosaic
kaiser-wilhelm gedachtnis-kirche mosaic
a new hexagonal bell tower was built next to the church ruins in 1963. inside, you’ll find a golden figure of christ suspended above the main altar. what makes this church stunning and unique is that windows made up 21,292 stained glass inlays with the predominate colour being blue, creating a calm, soothing effect.

kaiser-wilhelm gedachtnis-kirche
fun fact: due to the shape of the new church buildings, berliners affectionately nicknamed it “the lipstick and powder box.”

after a spot of lunch, i headed to the museum für fotografie – home to the life and work of helmut newton. inside this non-descript building, the museum presents a vast collection of photographs from one of 20th century’s leading fashion and nude portrait photographers. he was the go-to photographer for fashion magazines and designers, capturing the famous, rich and beautiful since 1947.

photography was not permitted (boo!), so i’ve googled some images because this museum is really worth seeing:

museum für fotografie
photo credit: berlijnblog

museum für fotografie
photo credit: timos l.

also on exhibit were photographs from june newton, under the pseudonym alice springs. the retrospective showcased more than 100 portraits, plus street photography and the california punk and hip hop scene in 1980s LA.

there was also a smaller exhibit helmut newton’s work called “yellow press”, featuring paparazzi pictures, police photography and crime stories – some of which were never before published.

having stayed so long at the museum für fotografie didn’t leave me with much time for the bauhaus-archiv berlin. 30 minutes in fact, by the time i got there.  unfortunately, unlike other museums, they weren’t in the practice to offer reduced admission prices, close to closing time. and i didn’t feel like forking out 7 euros to dash around the museum, even if they do have the largest collection of bauhaus furniture, ceramics, paintings and photography in the world. the exterior was pretty cool though.

east side
i headed to the east side gallery to cap off the day. the outdoor gallery is the biggest remaining stretch of the berlin wall, with contributions from 118 artists from around the world. famous murals include a trabant busting through the masonry, thierry noir’s head with big lips, and leonid brezhnev and erich honecker kissing.

east side gallery
east side gallery
east side gallery
leave it to me to cram so much in a single day that i was all but exhausted by the time i arrived. having the hot, humid summer day beating down on me all day, and the fact that the east side gallery goes on for 1.3 km, i couldn’t walk its entire length. plus it was behind fencing! the permanent feature being used as a deterrent against vandals is ironic, given the historical context of what the fall of the berlin wall represented – a symbol of freedom.

i know that i would come back to berlin because sean hasn’t been yet, so i made peace with the fact that i wasn’t going to even try to walk the 1.3 km and back. there’s always another trip.

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insta-berlin: berlin siegessäule III

berlin siegessaule III
285 steps in a narrow and steep climb up to an observation platform that’s no wider than 2 adults standing shoulder to shoulder. you better be fit, not claustrophobic or scared of heights. #wimwenders #victorycolumn #goldenlizzy #goldelse #heinrichstrack #farawaysoclose #berlinsiegessäule #siegessäule