Berlin: Teil zwei

If there is one thing Berlin has plenty of, it’s patios. I like this. I don’t think there is any scenario in which I take umbrage with there being unlimited options for outside dining and wine drinking. It’s how I would spend all day every day if I had my druthers. And Graffiti. They like their chaotic street art in Berlin. Patios and graffiti. Oh, and their bicycles. Patios, graffiti and bicycles. And depressing, grandiose memorials.  I should start over….

Truthfully, I was taken aback by Berlin’s laissez-faire attitude. Particularly as it is located in a country who’s people are stereotyped as being strict and rigid and preoccupied with maintaining order. As evidence of its go-with-the-flow personality,  I submit to you their aforementioned lax policy on building defacement, as well as the fact that in Berlin, it’s perfectly acceptable to stroll down the street with a beer in hand–in glass bottles no less! Definitely a no-no stateside. Further, during an afternoon outing to one of the city’s community pools, we witnessed no fewer than 3924761432342 children sliding down a water slide at once. And running on wet cement–an activity the American lifeguard community views as being on par with smoking a cigarette indoors—is not only not reprimanded, it seemed downright encouraged. Then, there’s the part where before Heath jumped off the diving board, he politely asked the pool’s only lifeguard whether doing flips was permissible. He was met with a befuddled response: Of course this is fine. Why would it not be?  Perhaps I’m applying the community pool’s gentle policies a little to liberally to the entire city, but still, Berlin as a whole seems content to let its people be.  It’s likely the result of a long and tragic history marked by a series of oppressive and totalitarian regimes. But Berlin seems to have learned a thing or two from its past, and today enjoys a vibrant and resilient atmosphere.

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Berlin Wall East Gallery

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But I say all this before arriving at the crux of my argument. Berlin–like every place–is made more special by the people you experience it with. Our German vacation was made what it was by the company we kept. As I’m inclined to list off all the things that make Berlin unique, I’m also inclined to include Nick and Melissa on that list—two people who were pivotal to the good times had.

Berlin Breakfast

Berlin Breakfast

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Street beers are definitely allowed in Germany. What a magnificent culture.

Street beers are definitely allowed in Germany. What a magnificent culture.

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Austria in pictures

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Prater

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I was very excited when I found these mini bottles at a market in Vienna for a euro a piece!

I was very excited when I found these mini bottles at a market in Vienna for a euro a piece!

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The Natural History Museum

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Vienna by day

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Vienna by dusk

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Three days in Prague (Or “our hoo-haa in Praha” if you’re Heath)

Prague is a fairy tale of a city, if not an idiosyncratic one.

First, I’d categorize Prague as perhaps the most claustrophobia-inducing city in all of Europe, at least in my experience. Prague’s old town is chock-full of bone monsters. (That’s Clickhole’s sardonic terminology for “people.”)  Really though, the tourist headcount here is unrivaled—even by the crowds at New York’s Times Square or at Orlando’s bouquet of theme parks. Perhaps the human population seems so dense because of the close proximity of all the town’s biggest tourist attractions to one another. Maybe too, it’s the narrowness of the streets. It could also very well be attributed to the fact that we chose to visit at the peak of tourist season, but nevertheless, expect to battle your way through a current of slow walkers, pan handlers, and backpack toters when you visit Prague.

I don’t bring this up to in anyway hint that Prague is a city to be passed over on any European vacays that might be in your future. On the contrary, it’s a delightful destination where they deeply value Pilsner beers, bacon stuffed dumplings, breathtaking city views and a perplexingly popular astronomical clock.

Let’s start with the clock, as it’s where Heath and I pretty much began our foray into Prague’s Old Town. If you have never heard of Prague’s 15th century astronomical clock, allow me to enlighten you. It starts with a very novel concept: it chimes every hour on the hour. I know, it sounds…absurd, unfathomable, outrageous? But stay with me. There are also little figurines that, when the clock chimes, follow a mechanical track in a circle until the chiming stops. It’s the stuff of black magic, I say. This enchanting ritual lures people from all over the world who marvel at the clock’s mysterious wonder.

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How the clock came to be Prague’s unofficial mascot I’m sure I don’t know, but people go apeshit for this thing. What’s even more frustrating is how crowds gather in unbelievable masses beneath the clock before the top of the hour to witness the “miracle” in person, only to obstruct their view by holding their cell phone cameras in front of their face. Though, with so many distracted tourists gathered in such close proximity with arms raised overhead, it does make for a petty thief’s dream. If I were the editor of Pick-Pocket Monthly, I would most definitely feature Prague’s Astronomical Clock in the “10 Places to Pick Pockets Before You Die” issue. One thing I will say for the clock, however, is the tower offers up some of the best views of the city. That experience is one not to be missed.

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The food in Prague is another topic on which I’d like to share a few thoughts. Now of course, it stands to reason that any urban center is going to have diverse offerings that hail from all regions of the globe, but where I want to focus my efforts is on what I  understand to be traditional (yet modern) Czech cuisine. Suffice it to say, vegetarians ought to take heed in the Czech Republic Capital.  In my limited experience, I encountered virtually the same menu at every Czech-oriented eating establishment: dumplings, bread, meat, cabbage and, if you’re lucky, goulash. Now, was there variety among the dumplings and breads and meats and cabbages? Oh sure. Sometimes the dumplings were potato, sometimes bacon. Meats, well, the sky is really the limit. Pork knuckle? Pork shoulder? Pork head? It it’s pork, they have most definitely got it. Cabbage comes both in red and white, though it is most definitely always stewed and sweetened. This might sound like I was not enthused with this steady stream of meat and potatoes, but that would not be the case. It’s rare I get to dive headfirst into a never-ending pool of dense carbohydrates, rich proteins, and syrupy vegetables. So I quite enjoyed this deviation from the typical shrimp taco or chicken sandwich that I’m known to plop onto my plate. Though, you’d be correct in assuming I didn’t experience many hungry evenings in Prague.

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Bonemonsters, superfluous meat plates and clockster-f@#ks aside, Prague is right up my alley. It’s one of the only major European centers not destroyed in WWII or culturally annihilated by the subsequent oppressive communist regime. What I’m trying to say is, Prague has a lot of experience just being Prague. And it seems comfortable in its own, cobblestone-covered skin.

Granted, most of our experience there was limited to 3 days in a tourist-heavy area, but I’d still say it’s a delicious city that celebrates the old without bathing in nostalgia, and welcomes the new without moving too rapidly toward a complete industrial overhaul. Blackening castles tower over street musicians who serenade tourists with Bob Dylan covers. And Pilsner beers can be ingested by mug or by bathtub (we tried both). The red roofs and spires of the skyline can be viewed from modern TV towers or park-laden bluffs. And absurd black light theaters are positioned next to classical churches, while lights from modern, high end fashion retail shops illuminate centuries old Jewish cemeteries down the road. But the juxtaposition doesn’t feel dichotomous. On the contrary, it’s harmonious.

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Fun Fact: the blackening of the exterior is a natural process the stone goes through overtime and there have been extensive renovation efforts where a natural chemical is applied to the stone to keep it the sandy yellow color. It’s a controversial practice in Prague where some argue the castle should age naturally

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Watching the sunset from a Prague biergarten.

Watching the sunset from a Prague biergarten.

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These are mostly observations taken while in Prague’s downtown, but as is true in any well-loved community, off the tourist-beaten path, there is a lot to appreciate about Prague and its people.

During our stay in Prague, we took up residency with Tomas and his equally blonde female counterpart in their first floor airbnb apartment in a idyllic Hradčanská neighborhood. Upon arriving, Tomas made a point to show us where we were, where the main tourist sights were, and recommended places we should see that aren’t also recommended to 234228394753986436 other people by way of Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor, what have you. As a result, we wound up spending a few of our mornings and evenings wrapped in the warm cloak of the easy-going and cordial keepers of the Cafe Calma, Indian by Nature, and Restaurace U veverky.

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View of a fountain from a morning coffee at Cafe Calma. Note: If you Where’s Waldo the fountain scene, you’ll notice both homeless men taking their daily bath and a toddler on the waters edge taking her daily toddle.

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We were on the first floor of this slightly pink, slightly art deco building.

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Well, for lack of a more eloquent synopsis, here ends my Prague Blague.


Berlin: Teil eins

Berlin is teaming with street-front patios, confusing traffic signs, gratuitous graffiti and swiftly moving bike paths. Of course, I knew virtually none of this before landing in Germany’s vibrant capital and experiencing it myself.

It’s sort of funny to think about the series of events that led Heath and I to Europe. The whole trip was practically born from a drunken happy hour (as if there is any other kind) with my female soul mate Melissa. She and hubby Nick were about to depart for a 5-month bike tour through the European country side before relocating permanently to Seattle. Rather than lament her loss, Melissa and I instead tipsily planned a reunion for the four of us in Germany. I promptly returned home and recounted our plan back to Heath. Not for approval, mind you– we don’t have that kind of relationship–but for the sake of healthy discussion. For what it’s worth, Heath’s and my original plan for summer travel was to do a relatively cheap backpacking excursion in the Rockies so that we could save the big bucks for some much needed electrical upgrades. Sexy, I know, but as many homeowners know, when you’re on a budget it’s touch sometimes to relinquish your liquid assets on a plane ticket over something with some actual ROI. After crunching the numbers and recounting our promise to ourselves that we wouldn’t start our human family until we’d traveled together to 3 continents, we both decided now was as good a time as any to cross the pond and butcher a few languages. A few clicks through priceline.com later, an itinerary to and from Berlin was sitting in my inbox. A few Rick Steves episodes after that, a course was charted and we had a regular old European road trip on our hands.

We got to Berlin on a Friday morning a little after 7 o clock. Despite a raging case of jet lag, we walked from our Hauptbonhof adjacent hotel to Brandenburg Gate so Heath could take his requisite history teacher selfie, and so we could begin our stroll down Unter den Linden. Apparently, the popular promenade was once shaded by centuries old Linden trees, which Hitler had removed during his burgeoning political career and replaced with German flags. The uproar from Berliners was so great that the flags were removed and the trees replanted. Interesting priorities there, pre World War II Germany. Normally, the boulevard is teaming with tourists and ritzy cafe patrons, but we were there before most shops had opened and had nearly the entire boulevard to explore by ourselves.

We walked passed Hotel Adlon (of Michalel Jackson baby-dangling fame), Humboldt University (where academic legends like Albert Einstein have taught), a statue of Frederick the Great (rumored lover or famed French philosopher Voltaire), and a handful of kitsch Ampelmännchen souvenir shops before arriving at Museum Island.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Heath in front of Brandenburg Gate

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A growing Berlin skyline

Humboldt University

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Museum Island is a great part of town, home to five internationally renowned museums like the National Gallery, the Bode Museum and others. Despite a mean case of jet lag setting in and our traveler’s high adrenaline increasingly wearing off, we spent the 16 Euro admission to pass through the German History Museum. The museum beautifully chronicles the region’s history from roughly the middle ages to present. We circled the collection through WWII before finally succumbing to our jet lag and heading back toward the hotel, by way of one quick stop for a taste of currywurst.

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Heath gets his Napoleon on.

 

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Portrait of Lady Victory. Her statue originally sat atop Brandenburg gate and she was known as the Goddess of Peace until Napoleon conquered the city in 1806. Then the statue was taken to Paris before being returned in 1814, after Napoleon’s defeat, where her olive wreath was replaced with an iron cross and she was renamed Lady Victory by the Prussians.

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Currywurst is a traditional Berlin street food and is actually not very good at all. An acquired taste, perhaps.

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Berlin is growing at an incredible rate that has made it difficult for infrastructure to keep up. These above ground water pipes cascade the city landscape. I rather liked their colorful presence, as it had an imaginative Lego-like quality.

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View of the train station from our hotel. Great for incognito people watching.

A long nap and much-needed shower later, we walked to nearby Zollpackhof Biergarten for libations and grilled meats. Beer and patio lovers we are, the Berlin beer scene is one I would very much like to reproduce in America. Austin has a few biergarten imitations (Bangers, Scholz) but none that capture the laid back atmosphere of the German gartens. You order at the counter, choose your own seat, and enjoy the environment without interruption or pressure to be hasty. It’s worth noting that unlike Texas’ outdoor atmospheres, Berlin’s biergartens are free of mosquitoes, and the temperature maxes out at comfortable 85 degrees: warm enough to enjoy a cold one, but not so hot that you’re patting your arm pits down with paper napkins.

We spent a few healthy hours here talking about relationships and conspiring about life. Around 11, we departed from our beer-drenched den of contemplation and headed to Tiergarten–Berlin’s Central Park–for a midnight stroll.

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We left Berlin in the morning, only to return a week later.

Next up: Dresden, Prague and Bone Church.

 

 


May flowers

Not to be self congratulatory or anything, but Heath and I are basically American heroes for making good on our promise to the garden to give it some much needed TLC.  Austin’s been gifted with a pretty spectacular spring season, which made it nearly impossible for us not to get our hands dirty these past couple months beautifying the grounds of House Doodle. Veggies have been planted, bottle trees erected, new fences built—a productive spring season indeed.

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Hiking Weather

Merely a few images captured during a recent autumn hike on the greenbelt.

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Graphics Greenhorn

I majored in journalism because, well, when I started college I wasn’t terrible at writing and I fit that cliche mold of an overly idealistic 19 year old who thought they could change the world. (Spoiler alert: I haven’t and I won’t.) Say what you will about the dying newspaper industry and the minuscule salary earned by reporters, but one of the cool things about being a journalism major is getting an excuse to take lots of photography and graphic design classes.

Oh…wait….I didn’t do that. Dumb.

I don’t really remember what my reasons were for not taking a photography class–a class COMPLETELY supported by my major and funded by my financial aid. I think it was something about the lab hours being too demanding and I was at the point in my young life where I had a hot new boyfriend (now husband) and was more interested in hanging out in his dark room (HEY-OH). I did manage to fit in one graphic design course, but because the teaching assistant was a big-time sarcastic bully, I skipped out on most of those labs too.

Again, dumb.

As a result, I graduated sans graphics and photography know-how. It was a true shame considering I would soon develop a mild obsession with design and photography, which I would satisfy by teaching myself. There is a lot I need to learn and I know I’m very rough around the edges—especially when compared to the high-calliber pros—but I feel comfortable with what I’ve accomplished on my own thus far.

A few recent examples.

Invitations

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Posters and Flyers

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Early College High School

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Brochures and Other Publications (Click the image to see the entire package.)

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Ombudsman Brochure 2006 (2)

 

Even Billboards (Oh yeah, I never wrote about that time I had a billboard!  Fun story for later.)

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I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about all of the graphic design nuances. There are rules and techniques that I am sure I don’t follow—more out of ignorance than an act of rebellious independence—and hundreds of styles I’ve yet to explore. Truthfully, I really have only grazed the surface of possibilities, but that has me more excited than intimidated.

I write this not to pat myself on the back or beg applause from readers. But I’ll admit I’ve got ulterior motives for laying my art and my insecurities out on the table. I try not to talk about my professional life too much, but recently at work some design-oriented projects I really cared about were vendored out to The Pros. And it has shaken my creative confidence.

But here’s the thing, too often I downplay my abilities and sulk over the fact that I would probably never be a “real” graphic designer. But honestly, these days I’m less woeful about my reluctance to seize the opportunity to learn the right way in college, and more proud of what I have been able to figure out on my own. Teaching myself was an education in its own merit. I had to admit what I didn’t know, do my own research and ask for help when I needed it—sometimes even from my own journalism students, when I was teaching, which makes for quite the humbling experience.  I established my own standard and had only myself to impress, and I think I’m finally coming around to believing I am an OK student.  I’m not an artist savant and I don’t want to be. I’d rather find joy in making mistakes, learning from them at my own pace than creating art that I feel good about.  I encourage others to embrace their interests whole heartedly and do the same.  There’s no “real” way to learn to be expressive, no “right” way to be creative.

“Take your pleasure seriously.” — Charles Eames, designer

 


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