Madrid Part 2

2015.04.20

I was pretty lucky in that I didn’t have a very early flight leaving Madrid. Because of that I was able to spend a little bit more time in the city.

My host, Pedro, was kind enough to be my guide again, this time around Retiro Parque, via bike again. Of course the weather was beautiful, and in fact better than the day before. So biking around was a nice leisurely way to start my day. The garden is really big with a lot of places to discover. I think it would take a better part of one’s day to fully experience the park, if one was walking. But since I also wanted to sneak in the Prado Museum before my departure we only checked out the nicest stuff in the park like the Glass Pavilion and the Statue of Lucifer. After seeing the park Pedro and I said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

It was then time to go and see the famous Prado Museum. To my pleasant surprise I was able to go in for free since I am studying internationally. So if you have an ISIC card on you to prove that you study in Europe you get free admissions regardless of time. I was particularly excited to see the Goya paintings inside. What caught my attention most was the Black Painting exhibition of Goya’s work. I found these to be the most striking with their dark color schemes, the roughness of the painting strokes, the almost offensive and ugly expression/depiction of the characters, and the overall animated and lively nature of the dark scenes. I spent a majority of my time looking at these. Other artists I admired while in the museum include Durer, Rembrandt, Raphael, and Leonardo Da Vinci, seeing another version of his Mona Lisa.

Afterwards I was absolutely famished and so set out in search for some more authentic Spanish cuisine. Before Pedro and I said goodbye he showed me a street that was close to the museum that had some really good food. I went back there and decided to go into Los Gatos, a standing bar that Pedro made a point to mention to me. At first I kind of wandered inside, not really sure how to order food since there were no menus, only a display full of tostados. After walking thoroughly around the establishment, and after getting some funny looks by the locals, I slowly made my way to the bar and ordered a red wine, which was served up with freshly sliced chorizo and some biscuits. After sipping over what I should get, I decided to get a tostado that had sliced cured ham, tomato, and pickles on top, with some olives on the side. The Spanish woman behind the counter was very sweet in handling my order and my awkwardness since I can’t speak any Spanish. Sometimes being a complete outsider and tourist is inevitable. In any case, the tostado was absolutely delicious and I wanted more. However there weren’t any other particularly alluring red meat choices, so I decided that now may be the time to splurge a bit. I asked the hostess how much the cured pork leg/charcuterie would be and how much the manchego cheese would cost. A full plate would have been too expensive for me and too generous a portion for an individual, so I only got a half plat of the charcuterie. It was amazing, and paired quite well with my second glass of wine. I’ve never had charcuterie before but I was very impressed with the quality of the cured meat. It was something completely new for my palette. It was creamy, meaty, a little smoky, a hint of stinky fermentation like you would find in a cheese… it was just such a complex assortment of flavors along with the rather unique texture. I kind of regret not getting the manchego cheese to accompany it, since that probably would have blown my mind, but nonetheless I was quite happy with myself, and the hostess was equally happy watching me smile as I ate. After finishing the plate of sliced meat and emptying my glass, I decided I would finish off with another item. My last dish was a tostado topped with tomatoes, anchovies and another type of white fish, with a healthy dousing of the most delicious olive oil I’ve ever tasted, and of course, some olives on the side for some good measure. This was actually really refreshing after all of the rich meat I had been eating. Even though I could have easily stayed longer and eaten more, I was very, very, very happy with my meal. Plus I had a plane to catch! – Also I’m sorry to have robbed you all of any photos from this gastronomic experience, but my camera had run out of battery and I had left my charger in Berlin, I’ll just have to go to Madrid again!

Madrid Part 1

2015.04.18

Going on a complete whim, I decided to treat myself to one more vacation in Europe before I return to the states. An opportunity presented itself and I went for it, Madrid.

And so, flying out on the second to last weekend left in my Berlin Program, I promptly left studio for the airport to make my way to Spain. For this trip I decided to find lodging through air bnb instead of through hostels. The prices were comparable and since I was travelling by myself I didn’t want to risk having my stuff be stolen in a dormitory environment.

I must say I was a bit nervous to travel to Madrid on my own, considering it was my first time travelling completely on my own and without a personal contact waiting for me at my destination. I’ve flown to Taiwan many times by myself but I always had family there. Madrid, I was completely on my own. To make matters a bit more unnerving, I don’t speak any Spanish either. At least in Germany and in Taiwan I can get by with what little German and Mandarin that I know. I can pretty much count to ten and say “hello” and “thank you” in Spanish, that’s it. But nonetheless I of course went on as intrepid as possible.

The first challenge to confront me was how to get to the public transit system from the airport. The next was how to actually use the public transit system. Luckily I was able to navigate my way to through the terminals and I was successful in getting in the right train too. As I was going through this, I realized how important a skill reading is.

But once I got out of my final metro stop I was a bit disoriented and didn’t know which way was west. Fortunately for me some lovely chicas with lovely smart-phones helped me find my way and pointed me in the right direction. Finally I arrived at my host’s apartment. Pedro is his name and he was very welcoming when greeting me. Since I didn’t have anyone to accompany me in my exploration of the city, I offered that he join me for part of the day. There we scheduled the following day and decided to bike around the city in the morning, and then he would run his errands in the middle of the day, then we would go out to dinner.

Starting the next morning bright and late, as is the Spanish way, we had breakfast at 9:30am. Breakfast consisted of toast with olive oil and tomatoes, spiced with oregano and garlic powder, served with a side of freshly squeezed orange juice, which may be the best orange juice I’ve ever had in a while. Spain has really good fruit. Afterwards we took the metro into the city and got a city bike for me to rent while we pedaled around the historic center. We went on a rather meandering route. It was quite funny really, with my camera slung around my neck, snapping pictures furiously as Pedro biked ahead in his red sweater, a beacon which I would follow as we weaved around the traffic. Moving through the sites quickly, we visited Peurta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, Palast Real, to name a few. Ending the bike tour back in Peurta del Sol there I continued my exploration on foot and revisited some of the sites, getting some better photos.

 

As lunch was approaching I was making my way to a certain street, Celle Baja, which Pedro recommended for Tapas. After scoping out the different restaurants, I chose one that was filled with activity, figuring that following the locals would be the best choice. Indeed it was, there I got two plates of food, and a complimentary serving of fried pork belly. What I had was tostados, one topped with grilled beef and tomatoes, the other, fish, shrimp and olive oil. In an attempt to try out multiple restaurants, I went out on a gastronomic pilgrimage. However, the next affordable and tasty place I found had just closed its kitchen, and so as a last resort I went to a place I found on yelp that I knew was close by. It was described as “authentic” but I found it to be the complete opposite, filled with mostly foreign tourists, who were just there really for the free tapas (which I think were too generous) that accompanied the drinks. I’ll just say that the presentation and the taste of the food were subpar. This may just be one unfortunate experience, but otherwise, I recommend sticking with where the locals go, and ignoring the urge to follow ratings on yelp.

Being that it was free food though, I did gorge myself with perhaps too much food and beverages. In much need of a siesta I decided to go to the Parque Retiro to soak in the sun and sit on a bench, perhaps do some people watching. This was turning out to be pretty good timing since I had in the back of my mind the knowledge that the Padro Museum nearby had free admissions after 6pm. With one hour I had enough time to walk briefly in the park and then relax before heading to the museum. But to my dismay, I found the line to get tickets to be completely outrageous, curving around the edge of the building and then stretching way down the street. Looks like I wasn’t the only one trying to get in for free. Since I have a strong aversion to waiting in lines I decided to cut my loses and head back to my hosts place and extend my siesta until dinner. This ended up being a great decision. Siestas are awesome.

Once Pedro got back from his bike ride he and I set back out into the center of the city (at the modest hour of 10pm) to go and grab some dinner. We found a place around Plaza Tirso de Molina. There we got some fried calamari, fried anchovies and steamed mussels. Pedro said that Madrid is said to have the best port in Spain. Even though it’s in the center, it gets some of the best and freshest seafood sent directly to it since there is such a high demand from all of the inhabitants. And the food we ate stood as testimony to that.

Already tired from my day of biking and walking, we got back at 2am, which apparently is not even the average time for Spaniards to go to bed. Which is crazy because I was exhausted. In any case, I caught up on my social media and contacted some friends before finally hitting the hay.

Tempelhof

2015.04.16

Some of the greatest pleasures in life are the simple things, like running around and throwing a Frisbee.

The past several weeks have been rather demanding. Every week we have either had a paper or presentation for both history and sustainability, and project development for studio. For this particular week, following the Prague and Dresden trip we were expected to have work to show progress on the sustainability of our studio design, while also studying for our final exam for history. Having spent many hours intensively studying, and working, it was a relief to finish the exam.

After the exam was over we still had one more responsibility, which was to go on a site visit to study a precedent building that is sustainable in its materiality and energy usage. The project we went to was really cool. It is a office and workshop for a carpentry company. The building construction consists of mainly laminated timber while its heating is sourced from the left over wood scraps that go into a wood chip processor that fuels a wood pellet stove.

Once the tour was over I saw that Erin had been carrying a Frisbee, and Mo suggested that we all go to Tempelhof airport to throw it around.

This was a much needed break from all of the organized assignments and excursions that we had been doing through the school. Tempelhof is an old airport that was built by the Nazi’s but is no longer in use. The city is currently challenged with what to do with the space, but in the meantime the large clearing for the landing strips have changed program, now serving as a park for the public. There is a huge track that runs along the perimeter of the field, while in the middle it is just a flat plain with grass. This is perfect for flying kites, playing some soccer, or having a picnic!

Despite the rather windy conditions we still had a lot of fun. We eventually started playing 4v4 ultimate Frisbee. It had been a while since I’ve gone outside to run and play. That seems to be something that one sort of loses as they get older, yet never ceases to be fun.

If you’re ever in Berlin and you’re feeling cramped in the city or just want to go outside and enjoy the weather a bit with a couple of friends, I highly recommend going to Tempelhof airport. It’s a great place to just run around and be a kid again and have fun running around.

Dresden

2015.04.12

After Prague we traveled to Dresden, or final history excursion before the end of the Semester. Waiting for us that morning was our favorite German tour guide, Helmut! (AKA German Mr. Feeny). I was super stoked since he usually gives an interesting perspective on every tour since he is born in Dresden and has experienced many of the changes in Germany. Our tour was to be six to eight hours. Honestly, I didn’t want it to end since I found all of it to be very interesting.

With Helmut as our guide we walked around the streets of Dresden to see the reconstructed historical city. Dresden suffered fire bombings towards the end of the Second World War, leaving most of the city in ruins. Once the war was over the first thing to do was to clear the streets of any debris so as to allow space for transportation. For a long time Dresden would look like this, clear roads with piles of rubble towering over the remains of fallen buildings.

While walking along the river Helmut regaled us with stories of his youth when he was growing up in Dresden. When he was just a boy he never dreamed of seeing the historic skyline in his life again. But the fact that it is there is something quite amazing, considering the destitution of the entire city. The reconstruction of all of the historic buildings is a rather heated topic. Some would argue that it is completely pointless to rebuild replicas of old buildings when we now have better building technologies with modern aesthetics. However, the need to rebuild the city in its appearance before the bombings is to show the world that Dresden is not a new city, but an old one, with a culture that was always there, and will always stay there, no matter what happens. Its hard to say which side I personally lean on. I think the city is quite beautiful in its “neo-Dresden” aesthetic. However I think it’s a bit of a false truth since most people may not be able to recognize that most of the buildings are only a few years old, even with the knowledge of the fire bombs. Right now, looking at the city, one would question if there was a typo in their history text books, since the city now looks relatively unscathed, save a few buildings that still wear their scars proudly, such as the rebuilt Frauenkirche.

In the 8 hours of touring we saw many buildings and were enlightened on many different subjects. One that I found to be quite interesting was organization of different classes and the change in hierarchy for property value. According to Helmut, way back in the day there weren’t slums. Instead everyone lived in the same apartment complex. It used to be that the apartments facing the street were most desirable, and any apartments in the back would be less desirable since in that courtyard space would also be workshops for the working class. However times have changed and now the interior spaces are really cozy areas with small boutique shops and some fancy restaurants too. This would have been completely unthinkable back in the 19th century. But now you can eat fine Italian food there or buy a three-piece suit.

The next day I went with a couple of friends to the Military Museum to learn about part of Dresden’s and greater Germany’s tumultuous history, and also to go into Daniel Liebeskind’s scar in the building. It is quite an impressive museum with a lot of information. One can easily spend a better half of their day inside just absorbing all of the facts. But we all agreed that we didn’t want to squander our whole day indoors and so we opted to spend the rest of the afternoon walking along the river before we had to take our train back home to Berlin.

Prague

2015.04.09 – 11

For our final major group excursion we go to Prague and Dresden.

The train ride isn’t quite as long as the one to Dusseldorf, just five hours or so. Our train car had private cabins that sat six. We all began to make Harry Potter references as we sat down. Since we are not young wizards and witches off to Hogwarts, the space was quite cramped and our knees were banging into one another. However, as I was attempting to recline the chair, I realized that the seat could be pulled all the way out, and so everyone did this and we created a large bed where everyone could lay down. Then we were like the grandparents from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

As we made our way from Berlin, past Dresden, to Prague we saw the scenery change from the flatland of Brandenburg into the hilly topography of Bohemia. Our train ride was a rather early one so we arrived to our hostel in the afternoon and soon set out to look at some architecture.

Our hostel is conveniently located along the Tram 22 and we were able to make a straight shot to the Prague Castle. There we were able to walk the grounds while Jan regaled us with the history of the castle in relation to the history of Prague. One particular architect, Jože Plečnik was critical in the renovation and restoration of the spaces in the 1920’s after WWI.

Of course one of the buildings we had to go into was the gothic cathedral. Inside it holds the King’s crowns. Myth has it that he who is not the rightful ruler that wears the crown will be cursed with death. When the Nazi’s occupied Prague, Reinhard Heydrich, took the crown and wore it as a joke and as an insult to the Czech. Then only three weeks later, he was assassinated.

On the castle grounds is a rather touristy medieval street that actually used to serve industrial purposes. Here we passed by an apartment that Franz Kafka once lived in. The Czech are quite proud of Kafka and for his contributions to literature, and so there are a lot of places where one may purchase such paraphernalia and learn about his life.

Making our way back to the old town center we crossed the famous Charles Bridge, which dates back around 4-6 centuries ago. Even though it was absolutely packed the bridged offered fantastic views down the river and back towards the castle and across the river to the old town center.

Ending our first night properly, we ate at a very old restaurant that has been open since 1466. With such a large menu, my friends and I were finding it difficult to figure out what we each wanted. There was a platter that served four called the Bohemian wedding, which we were originally on the fence for getting. But as soon as the idea of getting TWO Bohemian weddings entered our imaginations we were won over. The six of us sat there with excitement, naturally because we ordered two weddings. Each platter came with a whole duck, along with roast pork, roast beef, some fatty bratwurst, both red and white cabbage, and an assortment of different dumplings – potato dumplings, cranberry and herb dumplings, and bacon and cheese dumplings. On top of this, we had some original Budweiser (the Czech kind, completely unrelated to, and much better than, its American cousin “in-law”) Understandably; our table was the loudest of the student group since we had ourselves a true feast with good food, good drink, and good company. Here are some photos of the carnage (slightly graphic). – Somehow, that night, we still managed to avoid sleep and go out to appreciate the nightlife, even after eating all of that food. I guess the electro-swing was a good digestive.

Reflecting on just the first day, I realized that the Czech are very good at speaking English. Granted, Prague is a rather touristy city, and the places we visited are also touristy and on top of that, none of us know an ounce of Czech so we don’t even attempt to try to complicate things by attempting their language. However I am still rather surprised by how many are so fluent in English. My hypothesis (which is unscientific) is that Czechs probably don’t expect those of different nationalities to know how to speak Czech. Whereas, Parisians or Berliners may expect their tourists to know a little bit of French or German before coming to visit. Because of this difference, it may be easier to master English, since everyone knows a little bit of that, and not everybody knows a little bit of Czech. Having said that though, Europeans in general, in my opinion, are much more worldly in the languages that they know and can speak.

The next day was pretty similar to the first, in that we walked around the city while Jan informed us of the significance of each building. One that I found to be most profound was a church that was close to the center of the city. There, just tucked into the side of the building in a memorial to two Czech resistance commando spies that assassinated Reinhard Heydrich. These two men, Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík were trained in England and were given the assassination as a secret mission. Studying the routinely movements of Heydrich they devised a plan where they would gun him down. But unfortunately, the gun malfunctioned the day of and so their backup plan was to use a grenade, but even that did not go perfectly, as it landed in the rear of the car and only knocked out Heydrich, suffering only a minor wound in his abdomen. These two spies fled the scene and had to go into hiding jumping from house to house while the Nazi’s tortured and interrogated innocent people. The two spies found shelter and secrecy with the church and lived in the crypt below. It wasn’t until a colleague of the spies that went to the Nazis to reveal their identities and location that they were in trouble. The church served as a site of battle and struggle where the Nazis took the spies by surprise. Trying everything, the Nazis tried shooting them, getting in with ladders, throwing grenades inside, and even attempted to flood the crypt. But the two men would only return fire, steal the ladders, throw back the grenades, or slow the flooding by draining it elsewhere. The spies were indefinitely trapped however, and their last hope was to dig their way to the sewage line that was under the street right in front of the church, where they could hopefully make their escape to the river. However they committed suicide with their last two bullets when they were just two meters away. It’s quite incredible when buildings have associations with such historical events, yet it is such a shame that the memorial is so small and underwhelming for such a dramatic and even pivotal event in the history of Czech resistance against Nazi occupation.

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While reflecting on the second day, I came to see how diverse and eclectic the architecture is in Prague. Here you find next to one another baroque with modernist buildings. Which is rather weird considering that this city did not suffer so much damage as Berlin, yet it somehow has the ability to absorb new buildings into its dense urban fabric. The city is almost like an amoeba that absorbs anything and everything, growing more and more dense with every added or renovated building. It’s hard to tell where the medieval ends and the Classical, Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, Modern, and Contemporary begin since everything speckles the city and integrated. The only clear delineation in the urban planning is the high rise buildings far out in the distance close to the ridges and hills framing the city while the dense historical core is maintained at a much lower building height.

For the next day and our final day in Prague we made a visit to the Villa Müller Haus, designed by Adolf Loos. We had studied this house a long time ago, way back in freshman year when studying different techniques for organizing spaces. Loos’ architectural principal was to organize and create spaces based on its specific function. For instance in the Müller Haus the living room is the largest and therefore has the highest ceiling as well. While the dining room is more private and so has a lower ceiling and is raised from the level of the living room to delineate space and create a sequence of movement. It is very hard to explain Loos’ architectural philosophy on spaces through words and drawings, or even photographs. It really takes one to occupy the space in order to fully understand how the building worked architecturally. Also, they did not allow photography inside the house, which was a bit of a bummer. But at least we got some nice pictures of the outside. The rest of the day was up to us to do what we wanted and so a couple of us went back to the old town center to try out some of the local street food, which by the way, the bratwurst they have in Prague is absolutely delicious and a must-have while in the city. They also have huge chunks of park on a rotisserie that they carve to order and charge by weight. I would have eaten some, had I had enough money, but by then I was already getting to the end of my budget and didn’t want to go over it. Guess I’ll just have to come back!

A Day in Berlin

Some of you may wonder what life is like as an American student studying abroad in Germany. I can’t speak for all, but I can offer some insight as to what my day-to-day life is like. I guess I should forewarn you that there isn’t anything particularly special or interesting about tackling the mundane and quotidian chores that one must do every day to simply exist (as a functioning member of society). Though, at the same time, life here in Berlin is somewhat different compared to what it is like in the states, (at least my daily routine has changed) and I suppose I should share some of these things.

A TYPICAL WEEKDAY usually ends the same way it begins… That was probably a very confusing way to start off a paragraph now that I think about it, but what I mean to say is that for breakfast I usually eat a nutella and peanut butter sandwich, always toasted. And after dinner, I eat the same delicious, gooey, mess of a sandwich. Now I know what you’re probably thinking, that’s not healthy at all! And you’re right, it absolutely isn’t, but it sure beats eating cornflakes for breakfast. (I’m actually quite surprised I haven’t gained any weight from this habit). Cereal here in Berlin is different from the states, as in you don’t get the same brands. This is probably due to laws in regards to what can be put into food and I’m sure American cereals break all of the German standards. But I digress. I am a man of habit, when attending Cheshire high school I ate a bagel every day, in Boston I would start my day with oatmeal before classes, here in Berlin I toast up some bread and lather it with peanut butter and nutella. Yum.

AFTER BREAKFAST I have a daily forty minute commute (sometimes twenty five minutes) to my classes. The public transit here is fantastic. During rush hour the trains are usually split by five minutes and are also timed with trains on other lines, making transitions all the more smoother and efficient for commuters. Back in Cheshire I would walk to school whilst in Boston for co-op I would ride my bike, often faster than the T. Here in Berlin, the public transit is so user friendly that anyone can become confident after riding the train just a handful of times. I know that if I were to come back to Berlin I would have no problem navigating around the city using public transportation.

ONCE I ARRIVE with my friends at school, we either have studio, history, or sustainability. I believe I’ve already given descriptions of each of these, but just to jog the memory, studio is where we work on a semester long project, which for this semester is a baugruppe housing apartment. History is all about Berlin from the years 1815-2015. Sustainability is where we learn about building efficiency in its parts and in the larger scale of cities and nations. We go on a lot of field trips for the latter two classes and so sometimes we don’t go to class but instead meet at a site in Berlin for lecture.

IN THE CASE where we don’t have a field trip, I usually hang around in studio for a couple of hours to do some homework, but mainly to use the wifi. We don’t have that luxury in the apartments and so to maximize our intake of digital media we stay in studio for a little while longer. It’s a precarious thing to balance, procrastination and productivity, since the studio has free wifi, yet closes at 10pm on weekdays and is also closed all weekend. It’s almost as if we have no choice but to be productive whenever in studio. It seems to me that this lack of wifi has altered the way I procrastinate or recreate. Instead of binge watching Netflix or scrolling through the depths of buzzfeed, archdaily, or facebook, I now play guitar more often, now that the weather is nicer I play ping-pong outside the apartments, if it’s the weekend I may go out and travel. These are all things I’m happy to trade wifi for, and I think they are ultimately better alternatives too.

RIGHT AFTER I come back home I usually change my clothes, plug in my earphones and march off to McFit, the place where I get rid of my mcfat. I don’t want to come off as one of those guys that post about going to the gym all the time, but I do go to the gym when I can. Honestly it’s been a bit disappointing not being able to have a regular routine since some weekends I am unable to go because of field trips or independent traveling, or recently because of all of the papers and presentations I had to work on, which made me have to skip a couple of days at the gym to finish in time. Back in Boston I was able to go six out of seven days in the week, but here I average around three to four. At least it’s enough to negate all of the peanut butter-nutella sandwiches I’ve eaten.

I ALMOST FORGOT LUNCH. Just to quickly mention, for lunch I usually pack a sandwich. But that is never enough since I usually get hungry by 10am and I still have to wait until 12pm to eat. So I compensate with an added Doner Kebab. These things are delicious, and you all know my love for them already. But recently I’ve decided to take a break from Doner since I have somehow actually gotten tired of eating it. It’s time for me to taste what else Schoneberg (the town where our school is located) has to offer. Seeing that I’ve managed my money quite well, I don’t need to eat so cheaply and can afford a few nice lunches out here and there. Just last week I had a delicious lunch at an Indian restaurant called Mela, just a few buildings away from studio. I will most definitely be eating there again!

AS FOR DINNER… I am almost always the one that cooks. There have been a handful of occasions where my roommates have cooked but for the most part I do most of the cooking, and they do the cleaning. It works best since I know how to cook good food, and if I am going to cook, I may as well cook enough for everyone. No matter how delicious of a meal I cook, and how full I am afterwards, I must always, finish it off with a peanut butter-nutella sandwich. It’s really like a ritual at this point, and perhaps too recurring of a theme for this self-aware blog post.

IF IT IS A FRIDAY, things are usually followed with night activities and friends. I think that’s the most appropriate and minimalist way I can put that and I’ll leave it at that.

ON THOSE GROGGY weekend mornings I force myself out of bed in an effort to be productive. This usually means taking a walk to Kremanski, the haven for all things wifi and coffee. There in the back lounge I can be found staring at my computer doing research whilst sipping a cappuccino. Though, with wifi also means distractions so I may be more likely checking email, using facebook, or chatting on skype. If I want to get work done for studio, I’ll probably just sit in the apartment and listen to music, muting out the outside world while I focus on my work.

FOR THE OCCASION when I am not employed and toiling away, when my time management seems to work out, I am out and about in the city and exploring new places. As it was this past weekend’s case, I was gallivanting around Berlin for Easter, which I will go into more depth with another blog post.

When In Rome

Do as the Romans do… and make sure you eat cacio e pepe and gelato!

For the last week or so Aaron and I made last minute flight purchases to go out to Rome for the 26th-29th of March.

We were embarking on a traditional architectural pilgrimage to Rome. Perhaps we will each write a new manifesto for architecture. Probably not, but we were complete tourists with our cameras slung around our necks and our maps in our back pockets.

We had debated on getting a roma pass or something of that nature to facilitate travel and entry to all of the museums. But being students, and rather cheap ones, we figured our feet would suffice for transportation and that we could find enough free sites to keep ourselves amused.

For the first day our route was pretty much like a drunkard’s meandering trail from the Roma termini to St. Peter’s Basilica. Rather than go straight through the dense historic (well all of it is historic) center of the city we went around, going first North then East. We saw so many things, it’s rather hard to recount. Santa Maria Degli Angeli e dei Martiri, Bernini’s Chiesa di Santa Maria della Vittoria, the U.S. Embassy, Villa Medici, the outside of the Ara Pacis, Castle Saint Angelo (the inside is really cool!), these are just a few things we saw on our first day just wandering around the streets of Rome. Once we arrived at St. Peter’s Basilica we realized how long the line is just go get in, and so we decided to try again the next day.

Our plan of attack for the next day was to try and get into the Coliseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum, make our way through the historic center to the Pantheon, and then get to St. Peter’s early enough to wait in line and get in. Upon arriving at the Coliseum we found out that it would also be a long wait to just get in. We decided that the line outside wasn’t so bad so we tried to wait for fifteen minutes. It moved along pretty well and we got within the first arcade, but to our dismay we found that we were only halfway through since the line kept going once you got inside! Already committed we were pouting as we slowly approached the ticket counter. But all of this was worth it as we emerged out into the sun on the other side and saw the glorious ruin.

The palatine hill and the roman forum were equally impressive, if not better. I personally enjoyed the palatine hill most out of the three since the architectural ruins were not only interesting, but also showed a harmony with the landscaping too. On our way to the pantheon we saw this huge white structure that took it to a whole another level with the concept of plynths, the Piazza Venezia. It’s completely free to go inside and look out from the high balconies. Although there is an elevator to go higher up, you do need to pay for that. But, as we are cheap students, we opted out and moved on to the Pantheon.

Being an architecture student I have seen the Pantheon before in various history classes, but seeing it in person is completely different. The building is absolutely massive and dominates the piaza that it sits in. As with most attractions in Rome, it was absolutely filled with tourists. Luckily, Aaron and I are pretty tall and so were able to get some pretty decent pictures of the dome.

Finally we made it to our last destination, St. Peter’s Basilica. All we had to do was wait to get inside. The wait wasn’t so bad though, the sun was shining and the people watching was enough to keep us occupied until we got to go inside. Speaking of which, the interior is also incredible. It is no wonder that everyone wants to be like the Romans. Everything they every constructed was beautiful and simultaneously massive.

Obviously anything that I have written does absolutely no justice to the experience which I had in Rome, so luckily I have some photos to help show off just how amazing the weather was and how impressive every single building was.

AEG Turbine Factory

As my reader you may remember an old post long ago about Peter Behrens and his AEG Turbine Factory in Wedding.

Well we went on another excursion and got special access to enter his more famous AEG building, the Turbine Hall. As opposed to the former one that I wrote about, this one is still in use by Siemens to create large turbines. We were only allowed to take pictures of the exterior but the inside was even more impressive than its sister building.

Inside we saw giant sized turbine engines being manufactured from a single blocks of metal. It was like carving a sculpture, but instead of marble these were made of steel. The margin of error for these awesome machines is less than a millimeter, like 1/100th of a millimeter. Otherwise the entire machine is ruined. The size of these things dwarfed us as we walked past them.

It’s a really amazing structure and the engineering inside is quite awesome. It was a real treat that Jan was able to pull some strings to get the class to go inside.

Hansaviertel

2013.03.19

For this excursion we went to go and see West Berlin’s response to East Berlin’s propaganda architecture on Stalinalee. The West held an IBA competition for a masterplan on the edge of the Tiergarten for some new housing. Many famous architects came to compete and put down a new modern housing building for the reconstruction of Berlin.

When one looks at a model of the Hansaviertel, it’s hard to determine what the underlying logic was for the urban planning. The buildings range in heights from one-story bungalows to eight story high-rise apartments. These are all zoned for the most part to be grouped with themselves, save for a few stragglers. However the way these groups are grouped among others and their context is still ambiguous.

Yet when I walked through this particularly urban housing complex I got a rather suburban impression similar to the one I found with Bruno Taut’s Hufewiesen. This is probably from all of the trees winding roads in the site, a condition from being placed in the Tiergarten.

Nearly all of the buildings are still being used for their original purpose. The houses are still occupied today and owned by individuals while only a few are still up for rental. The library and arts centers are still used today and are popular locations for Berliners.

Perhaps the saddest part of the complex is the former exhibition building that served as the entrance to the Hansaviertel. It has since been repurposed into a burger king, clearly not the vision of the original architect. Thankfully the rest of the complex has remained relatively unchanged and is now protected as a historical site.

Stalinallee (Now known as Karl Marx Allee)

2015.03.12

For a history field trip we went to go see a an example of communist propaganda architecture from the DDR. In order to show off to the world that the DDR was strong they created new housing along a major street and named it Stalinallee. It is a particularly interesting street since it shows the trajectory in communist building for mass housing. In the beginning they recycled the brick left over from the destruction of Berlin after WWII. After the structure was completed they finished the facades with stone in a fashion that is similar with the architecture found in Moscow (neo-classical). This was all done in order to show that East Berlin was in a better economic position than West Berlin.

However, as time went on, building housing in this fashion became too expensive and so a new system of building was used, the platenbau. Platenbau is the use of pre-fabricated concrete slabs in the construction of a building. This is a cheap and quick method of construction that doesn’t require specialized work from masons. And on this very street there is a point where the neo-classical architecture ends and a type of modern architecture begins. Yet, it wasn’t until East Berlin began constructing their platenbau that West Berlin started building their own propaganda architecture in an IBA competition called the Hansaviertel.