June Pic(k)s

Spotted these gems at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof on a busy Monday morning on my way out. Crisis or not, I could easily find better ways to spend €30 or €50.

Anyway, they made me chuckle, so they made the cut for my personal favorite pics shot in the merry month of June.

This along with a few others shot in Berlin, Ostrava and Pardubice, Czech Republic, along with Idrija and Svetina, Slovenia, are included here.

Previous pic(k)s of the month: [May 09] [Apr 09] [Mar 09] [Feb 09] [Jan 09] [2008]

Berlin 040, originally uploaded by pirano.

English excerpts from German Book Prize nominees

Friends and acquaintances often ask me to recommend guidebooks as they plan their first visits to Europe. I rarely do, suggesting they instead pick up some contemporary fiction from their selected destination. In many cases it’ll provide more specific insight than any single bulky travel guide, and it won’t become dated nearly as fast.

So, if you’re on your way to Germany any time soon, check this out: Sign and Sight has English excerpts from the six finalists for the German Book Prize 2008.

The short-listed half dozen apparently have absolutely nothing in common. Deutsche Welle reports:

Two of the finalist titles are books that paint a portrait of society in the crumbling German Democratic Republic: Uwe Teilkamp’s “Der Turm” and Ingo Schulze’s “Adam und Evelyn.”

In Dietmar Dath’s “Die Abschaffung der Arten” it’s the animals who talk and act after the world’s demise. In Sherko Fatah’s “Das dunkle Schiff,” a former jihadist flees to Germany from Iraq. With “Nach Hause schwimmen,” Rolf Lappert has delivered a coming-of-age story, while Iris Hanika’s “Treffen sich zwei” is the only love story among the finalists.

No word on when or whether they’ll be published in translation, but don’t let that hold you back. You can begin browsing some other possibilities here. Any recommendations?

30 Second Cheap hotel Advisor – Stuttgart

Mercure Hotel Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt
Teinacher Strasse 20
Bad Cannstatt

There’s nothing cheap or budget-minded about this place, so I’ll spare you (and me) much of these 30 seconds. At about 140 EUR/night, it’ll work for business travelers (or for those who aren’t paying themselves).

WTF is up with hotels these days? 25 EUR/day for Wifi? I’ve stayed in tiny dives for a quarter of the price with FREE wifi. Unforgivable.

The room was decent, there are smoking rooms available, breakfast is quite good (at 15 EUR extra), and there’s a nice park nearby. Note that Bad Cannstatt is a suburb of Stuttgart; public transport (a tram/U & S bahn combo) will get you to the main Stuttgart station in about a half hour at best, depending on the connections.

I don’t think I’ll ever stay here again.

mercure-stuttgart-10-sept-08, originally uploaded by pirano.

30 Second Cheap Hotel Advisor – Berlin

Sachsenhof
Motzstraße 7
Berlin

Stayed 4 nights, 15-19-Sep 2007

Roomy! Airy! I really enjoyed this place. Great location, just a short walk from the Nollendorfplatz U Bahn stop, nice neighborhood, and a sushi place across the street run by a friendly Vietnamese. Big minus is no internet access, but there’s a cheap internet cafe (open 8 am to midnight) just up the street. With advanced booking, as low as 50 EUR/night.

I shall (absolutely) return.

[A variety of booking links]

Sachsenhof-Berlin, originally uploaded by pirano.

30 Second Koln Hbf Advisor

If you have at least five minutes between trains at Koln’s main station, you’re the biggest of fools if you don’t step out, for just a moment, to breathe in the enormous Kölner Dom that towers over the area. It snapped me right out of my post-nap stupor. It always does. It took about 600 years to build, was once the tallest building in the world, and survived 14 aerial bombs during WWII.

train-sushi.jpgFor food, I strongly suggest the sushi joint in the center of the station’s sprawling food court. For about the same price as bag full of junk, you can enjoy this.

And since there’s about 10 seconds left in this advisory, I just have to add that there indeed was a woman in white glancing down from the clouds.

Kölner Dom (woman in white), originally uploaded by pirano.

Berlin Hauptbahnhof.

casanova.jpgLess than eight months after it opened, Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof, Europe’s largest –and at a cost of €750 million (USD 900 million) certainly the continent’s most expensive– rail station, hit the headlines today after Storm Kyrill apparently knocked a two-ton steel girder from the building’s facade.

Only opened since May, officials wondered, wind storm notwithstanding, how something so new could begin falling apart so quickly. From Spiegel:

“In truth, something like that should never have happened,” said Berlin’s Interior Secretary Ehrhart Körting, in something of an understatement.

The station was closed and evacuated because of the storm at the time, so no injuries were reported.
 
berlin-station1.jpgWhile the merits of spending that kind of money on the station have been and continue to be argued, it’s not debateable that it’s an absolutely stunning metal and glass architectural gem spawning yet another example of impeccable German efficiency. When I passed through on an early September day –along with about 320,000 others on that Monday– I was struck by its immensity, and it’s locale: the Reichstag, Potsdamer Platz, the Federal Chancellery and the Holocaust Memorial are just a short stroll away, making it a destination in itself.

A few more pics:

berlin-station2.jpg   berlin-station3.jpg   berlin-station4.jpg

Some construction pics here and more about the station here

Nude Beaches and Fruit Cocktail Bombers: piran café’s Top Trips of 2005

best1.jpgA couple nights ago I got together with a few colleagues for a belated New Year celebration, and over a few bottles of wine and shots of grandma’s slivovec, we reminisced about some of the places we’d been to in the past year. Our chosen profession means we all spend quite a bit of time on the road. The notion seems romantic to some but more often than not we don’t get to see and experience these places nearly as much as we’d like. Sometimes not at all. Sometimes I spend more time getting there and leaving there than I actually spend there.

I usually do make an effort to get out and about, but haven’t kept particularly adequate notes. [That will change this year, now that I've finally begun keeping real journals.] This past year was nonetheless brimming with little mental post cards that will be filed away for some time. Some of those, in no particular order:

August: Zurich. Continued feeding my Van Gogh habit at the Kunsthaus, home to his Thatched Roofs near Auvers, one of his last paintings, and the well-known Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe. Realizing how much I’m beginning to relate to this guy –besides his religious zeal– is beginning to scare me. Nice street music in the afternoon and evenings along the Zurichsee just beyond the Bellevue tram stop.

July: Kanegra Beach, Savudrija, Croatia. My first nude beach. Just a long stone’s throw from my old place on the Slovenian coast, but it was a transcendental experience. I will never –ever– swim clothed again.

best2-donetsk.jpgFebruary: Donetsk, Ukraine. This southeastern Ukrainian city is hardly a tourist Mecca, but it was my first trip to the former Soviet states, so it’s got to make the list. The timing was good as well, just a few months after recently-elected president Viktor Yushchenko’s face started peeling off after he was fed some poisoned soup. The women there are absolutely stunning, adding more ammo to my historic crossroads theory. Surprise! February is cold there. Surprise 2! There’s lots of good, and cheap (to westerners) vodka.

August: Tallinn, Estonia. I was only here for about five hours, and those came on the tail end of two solid weeks of ass-busting work. But it was enough to really want to go back and spend some time. Medieval Europe comes alive here, seemingly a world away from other former Soviet Republics.

best3-joyce.jpgMarch: Over the course of a few late winter days, saw my first Stradivarius at the Palacio Real in Madrid and spent an afternoon following in the footsteps of James Joyce in Trieste. The violin was an absolutely gorgeous piece of work; the Joyce walk was beautifully interrupted by Julia, another absolutely gorgeous piece of work.

August: Brussels. Getting there involved sharing a cheap flight with The Village People. Once I got there, I ran into a suspected fruit cocktail bomber on my favorite tram ride ever.

September: Berlin. I visited the German capital three times in the space of a month, and it’s quickly becoming my favorite European city. Precisely why is difficult to pin down. I always feel like a minor character in a Wim Wenders film there, and it’s a good feeling to be able to blend into one of his long, deliberate pans. Most taxi drivers here don’t care much for George Bush, making drives around the city a particularly pleasant experience. I was never one for fashion photography, but the exhibit, A Gun For Hire, at the Helmut Newton Museum, helped change my mind. A little bit.

August: Helsinki. First visit to the Finnish capital, a place that appears to be home to more drunks per capita than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Despite the price, it’s mind-boggling how much Finns can drink; one recent conservative estimate puts it at about a bottle of hard booze per week per capita. I added the The Ateneum, the Finnish National Gallery, to my museum list.

July: Paris. Caught Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent at the Centre Pompidou, a phenomenal attempt to describe the soul of a vast indescribable continent. I spent nearly two hours lounging in a chair of a makeshift typical urban “African” bar –part of the exhibit, or course—next to an old-style jukebox gushing with 60 CDs worth of amazing music. [Here's a link to the same exhibit but earlier in London.]

July: First visit to Oslo. Besides being one of the most expensive cities I’ve ever been to, it was also one of the nicest. Friendly folks, lively street music and night life into the wee hours. The night I arrived coincided with U2′s show there. No, didn’t fork over a huge pile of cash for a ticket, but did enjoy the street musicians jamming U2 tunes until dawn. Visited the Munch Museet –once home to The Scream before it was stolen in August 2004. It’s next to the Toyen Park, a sprawling lush botanical garden.

June, July and August: Piran, Slovenia, home for most of last year. More specifically, concerts in the courtyard of the 700-year-old Franciscan Monastery. I attended two small ensemble classical performances and a solo classical guitar concert, all of which were so soothing, so relaxing, that I definitely felt at home.