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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museumisland

 

museum island

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.

currywurst

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

berlin water pipes

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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annual report

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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


Foto Friday–Eclectic Cottage Flashback

I was going through my flickr account recently, which I hate to admit is sorely outdated, and I came across a handful of pictures of the original Doodle House. We lived there a year and a half before moving to our current pad, doing what we could to make it feel like home given our limited capabilities as renters. We painted. We updated some hardware here and there. We got our start raising chickens. It was the house we lived in as newly weds and we did what we could with what we had to make it ours. I don’t have any negative feelings or weird associations with our old place, none at all. But looking back, I realize now, even with all its quirks, how much more our current house feels like home than did this little eclectic cottage. It’s kind of funny how much can change in just a couple of years.

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green fabric print chair

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Travel Chronicles-Part Three

In a nutshell, Seattle is the most accommodating city I’ve every visited. The traffic isn’t bad, the summer weather is mild, the layout is intuitive, the people are disarming and the sea food is mouthwatering. We walked from the space needle, to the aquarium, to the market, to the library, to the museum of history and industry, with relative ease. No one ever pan-handled. No one ever hustled. We never got lost, or too hot, or too bug bitten. The whole Seattle experience epitomized what it is to be pleasant.

Come to think of it, maybe it was too pleasant, eerily so, the stuff of a hipster’s version of Pleasantville. During our 48-hour stay we encountered an epic zombie apocalypse in the city center featuring hundreds of face-painted walking dead enthusiasts, an international beer festival, a 13-hour “Nic Till You’re Sick” Nicolas Cage marathon, and a wooden boat festival, at which we bought matching “Center for Wooden Boats T-shirts”, so we’ve got that going for us.

But even the rowdy stuff wasn’t really rowdy. We walked to a dive bar to get a sip of local attitude, and were met by a city softball team celebrating a victory with a pint, you know, the stuff of Cheers.

There’s more on which to mediate—the view of Puget Sound from our century old b&b; the marvelous way succulents grow like anemones from retaining walls; the unfairly cute manner in which otters eat clams off their tummies. Yes, Seattle was damn near perfect with its sense of humor, slight edginess, easy-going culture and breathtaking surroundings.

Imagine my dismay when I heard that one day, Mt. Rainier is likely to blow the whole place to bits.

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Pike Place Market

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At the market

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The Seattle Public Library

Library madness

Enchanted

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Rainier beer keeping it real

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Our Seattle Digs, a 100-year-old house in Lower Queen Anne

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The Wooden Boat Festival

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Obligatory Space Needle picture, made more interesting by the power of photoshop.

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Gardens on the campus of the University of Washington

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Riding the ferry from Kingston to Edmonds

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The original

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Siff Cinema

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The Tap Room


Hey, Hoh! (The Travel Chronicles continued)

Day Three
It rains about 12 feet a year  in the Hoh Rainforest. Depending on your particular origins that may not seem an impressive figure, but allow me to reintroduce this data point through this Texan’s particular perspective. Twelve feet is some serious rain. Really. For example, I attended freshman orientation at UT and walked away with my diploma before I saw that much rain in Austin. I voted in two presidential elections and did not see that much rain. I met, dated, and wed my beloved Mooshy before I saw that much rain. I thought a lot about the rain.

I thought about the rain as we meandered the forest trails, inaccurately guessing the height of the 300-foot spruce trees that towered over us, and as we marveled at the nurse logs on the forest floor. I thought about the rain as we forged the piercing cold Hoh River that flows through the valley carved thousands of years earlier by massive glaciers, and when we watched a family of elk take sips from the same flowing water that still wet our toes. I thought about the rain when we peered over streams so flawlessly clear they were nearly invisible, and when we reached out to touch moss that drapes and floats over the forest’s branches like seaweed. I thought about it as we built our fire, and cleaned our faces and fingers of sticky s’mores. I thought about how everything there—everything we could see and touch—was made greener, wetter, colder, taller, stronger by those 12 feet of rain.

heatholympicnationalforesthohrainforesttreetopshoh1hoh2hohmeadownurseloghohforestheathmarshmallowhohcampingkelseycamping We never saw a drop.