DOS·PIES·EN·EL·SUELO

DOS·PIES·EN·EL·SUELO: idiom \dos-Piēs-en-el-Suēlo\ both feet on the ground

I was late. I had plans. I ended up in Mexico. I rearranged.

After more than eleven hours in an airplane, the sharp jab in my side sent me quickly out of my jetlag and sitting straight up. There I was, taking a taxi from one side to the other of one of the biggest metropoles on the planet: El De-Effe or: Mexico city. Sweat crept down my spine and memory of the prior night came to mind: wine, lights moving, traffic jams and the idea of a trip that would culminate my shitty 2015 in a voyage to remember. 

Work brought me here and before I could even get my first proper Mexican delicatessen, I felt myself being different, being "the other", the "exotic" that people tend to miss whenever I'm in Europe. I felt a sense of possession of the place, they way it smelled and the accent locals had. I wanted to lay claim on Mexico, call it my own, without the dictates of paperwork or the convention of bills. 

And there it was: the green of the foliage, people passing along endless motorways, disappearing into close-quartered coloured houses and me being part of it all, once again. 

It was the beginning of my resurrection and the comeback of my love affair with Latin America. Me with two feet on the ground, finding home in a foreign land. 

Here's a glimpse of what Mexico had to offer, only a glimpse, expect more, much more. 

 




De Dónde Vengo Yo

Chocó is a province in western Colombia known best for its thick merciless jungle, never-ending rain showers and grey beaches that gradually collide with the bluest of oceans I've ever seen – the Pacific ocean.  The region thanks its name to that same dark blue ocean, dubbing it La Región del Pacífico.

Mangroves in Chocó, Colombia

Growing up in a Colombia of civil war and constant violence, I never visited El Chocó, nor did I ever ask myself whether I should. This was a place you basically never questioned – the place was there and it stayed there, just as you were in the big city and stayed there.

Once I started travelling throughout the country in 2010 and after having talked to my cousin, who travelled there and documented single mothers in the region, I knew there had to be a way for me to get there. I started reading more about it – if there was I way to visit, I was going to find it.

In Chocó, there is little to no infrastructure, let alone, services to host national or international tourists. Chocoanos have been victims of Colombia's bloodiest massacres committed by right-wing paramilitary group "Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia", which has led to massive displacements. People here have left and have returned to their lands, trying to invest in fish and in tourism, as a means to let go of the cocaine business. As a result, the lack of infrastructure added to the stigma of death and violence has kept this region practically desolated from the rest of the country, forgotten by both the Colombian state besides the rest of Colombianos.

Jurubidá, Chocó.

The Speed of Life

It is so hard to get to this part of the country, that once you get there, you understand how unique and especial it actually is. People in Chocó live at a different speed, they go abouts with this serene pace that once you step foot on their territory, it takes over you in a matter of minutes. Life is slow in Chocó and chocoanos like it that way. From travelling to bigger towns, to waiting for the rain to stop – things there happen for a reason, or don't, that's the beauty of it. So simple you can't barely believe it is true.

And it was in this slow velocity, that I found myself surrounded by people who, considering the circumstances, were able to enjoy their lives with what they had. In Chocó, there is no bus to wait for, no office to sit at, no traffic to be stuck in. It was exactly within this simplicity that I found more happiness in others. You know, the happiness we tend to forget about... while we wait for the bus, sit at the office or get stuck in traffic – there, nothing really mattered and that was okay. It was magic, magic at the speed of life.

 

Airport in Nuquí, Chocó.

Airport in Nuquí, Chocó.

Fore more photos of the Pacific Region: https://www.flickr.com/photos/todorojo/sets/72157647719665244/

Going back to Northern Colombia – Guajira, Santa Marta and Antioquia

As the tourism industry takes over Colombia and the means to create business out of it start to pop out, I go back to the times you could go to a deserted beach and feel as if you were the only human being on the surface of this planet. I was asked by an old friend of mine, a few days ago to send in a few photos of certain destinations, these were meant for her new website, as she just started a tourism company in Colombia. As I dug into my old photo archives, I came across a "pile" of photographs that I had never published anywhere and were literally getting lost into oblivion. The most compelling part of the story is that most of those photos were very personal, each and everyone with its own story, its very own character behind it.

One of the things I like the most when it comes to processing – and automatically looking back at – photos, is the power they have to bring you back, as it were, to those precise moments when those people talked to you, smiled at you or were simply living their lives while you photographed them. And that's what photography is about – at least for me–, about telling stories, bringing visual narratives and indeed, empowering you to travel back to those days in which locals smiled to the camera.

These are the shots from Northern Colombia, enjoy.

Kogi girl

Carnaval

Carnaval

Wayuu Girl

 

Wayuu Girl

 

Blind

Carro

chico con cachucha

Cartageneando

Cumbia

 

De espalda

Yuca

Siesta

Antioqueños

Curiosidad

Agua en bolsa

Desde allí

El de la bici

Abuelita

 

Sombrerio Vueltiao

Abuela

Frankfurt, du bist so Businessclass

As much as I enjoy travelling through Germany, Frankfurt was never a destination of preference. To be honest, it wasn't a destination at all. Circumstances brought my cousin Juliana to this city, and circumstances made me get a ticket and fly to the Mecca of finance, the city of business: Frankfurt am Main. The good thing about not having any expectations of a city is that you won't be disappointed once you get there. Besides, after having experienced Berlin – known for its sexy ugliness – I knew that Frankfurt would only be one pleasant surprise after the next. And indeed it was.

Frankfurt is home of the European Central Bank, it is home base for one of the largest stock exchanges on the planet and has one of the biggest airports in Europe. Nothing that would actually make me want to go there, yet what makes this city surreal and worthy of a visit, is its paradoxical chain of events that are changing its landscape: for the creation of such a 'business hub', a counter reaction to this culture of consumerism and capitalism has been taking off in the past years. Be it in form of leftists movements, organic and locally produced food habits and cultural, arty and intellectual activities. There's something in the air of Frankfurt am Main and that something – beyond the cash, the banks and the financial district – is slowly but surely changing the soul of this city.

So instead of strolling down 'money-making straße', Jules took me to small shopping streets, green spots and cosy local restaurants where I was able to soak up a bit of the less fancy but much more fascinating Germany. The Germany with the old typography in its signs, with shops that seem as if they had never left the 80's and cafés that, in their passion and simplicity, will take you, as it were, to the land of coffee makers.

Vinotek

Infoladen

Comet

Café de la tierra

Kilogramm

Tasse bitte

...heimer Warte

Cafe

Detektiv

verboten

Licht

Laden II

Ventana

Himmel

My city guide.

Back in Berlin: In Between Moscow Mules and Whisky Zauers

Life brought me back to Berlin for a few days, something I honestly never expected it'd happen that fast. Before I knew it, I was wandering through the streets of the hub of the cool –again–, this time in between Moscow Mules, Dutch lovers and melodic techno. Sometimes you stumble across people who change your life, or at least write unforgettable chapters on your personal biography, leaving traceable memories and even changing you on a personal, intellectual and spiritual level. It's quite an irony, that even when believing in serendipity, you always expect something or someone until life becomes too busy for you to wait and you end up with no expectations – life happens and you embrace it as it comes. That's the exact moment when magic sparks and great people cross your path, people you hold on to, at least for a while.

Daniel ended up being one of those characters. He crossed my path and did in such a way, I felt the need to hold on to him, hopefully for more than a while. Daniel, who's a live performer, composer and electronic musician, has made me dive into the world of electronic music and the alternative dance scene of Amsterdam. What led to this encounter, was a trip to the Mecca of contemporary electronic music, the place of places, the capital of DJs: my beloved Berlin.

And so we departed in a bus full of fans, groupies and party lovers. The destination: Ze German capital, the reason: The 'Zauer Tour' – the tour from Daniel's record label for a once-in-a-lifetime-performance in Katerholzig, the renowned Berlin club. Life was taking me back to the city I once called 'home' and once arriving, I felt as if I had never left it in the first place.

Zauer-6413

Zauer-6424

Zauer-6431

Going back to my Berlin of faded colours and melodic cafés.

Lights

Daniel at Tempelhof

Daniel Walks

Tempelhoffin

The Kietz

A Day with the Beatles: less than 24 hours in Liverpool

It’s quite overwhelming how life can change its path, laughing at our written plans to somehow control it. While planning on moving to London this summer, I instead ended up helping my mom move to the UK and driving her all the way up north to Liverpool. Not a bad plan B if you ask me. It was a chance to drive awkwardly and spend a day -or even less- with the four of Liverpool - The Beatles. Having loved the Beatles since I remember listening to music, planning a trip to Liverpool only revived childhood musical memories. Shamefully, I hardly know more about this Northern city besides football, the harbour and some war stories - and so is the knowledge of most of the tourists I saw there. Still, I was spending less than 24 hours in Liverpool and not caring much about football, the thing to do was to go to Penny Lane and experience the birthplace of British rock 'n’ roll.

Of course, the Beatles experience is what you want, yet what we ended up having was a kitsch museum offering a 'once-in-a-lifetime' screening of the history of the Beatles. - mind me! The film is in 3-D and apparently worthy of thirteen pounds! -Ugh- Tourist extortion anyone?

Considering my knowledge of the band and the gorgeous late august weather, there was absolutely no way those 13quid were going to that museum. I instead opted for the live experience. I was going to spend a day with the Beatles, not them personally, but with the other fans that like me, wondered abouts the city imagining what it was like to be there in the 70s.

And so I got myself a pretty photo with a canvas and took off. The point was to talk to people a bit and get them to pose for me with the Beatles. That way, I was experiencing the city, the band and its visitors. This is what I came up with after a lovely less than 24hours with the Beatles and the city that saw them become who they are today.

Disclaimer: We never made it to Penny Lane, this is the Beatles' story museum in the centre.  I will surely go back and pay a proper visit to this magic city soon, promise - 'Above us only sky'

A day with the beatles.

A day with the beatles.

A day with the beatles.

A day with the beatles.

A day with the beatles.

A day with the beatles.

A day with the beatles.

A day with the beatles.

Berlin: sitting, waiting, wishing and sipping a beer

Berlin has claimed to be the ‘greenest’ capital out there or at least, rumour has it. Yes, I know that the European Commission declared Copenhagen as the “European Green Capital of 2013”, yet I am not talking about the environment here, but mere green spaces and in this sense, Berlin comes up the list, easily. With more than a fifth of the city being covered by trees, Berlin is a place where, once summer arrives, green is the colour you will stumble upon and in all its varieties.  Considering this, the most delightful thing  about the extent of nature and green spaces here, is the freedom one is given to explore them.  Whether you head to the Zoo, stroll down the Grunewald forest, ‘climb’ the mountain and enjoy the view from Viktoriapark in Kreuzberg, get lost at the Spreepark, do Sunday Karaoke at Mauerpark or go canoeing on the Müggelsee: Berlin offers nature at its best and the chance for you to take full advantage of it.

viktoriapark

Accordingly, people do take nature and outdoor activities seriously. And you should, if you consider the wintery months. Winter is tough, very. It is so dark, grey and especially mercilessly cold, that once you start feeling your limbs again, you want to get them properly heated up with some sun. As a consequence, as soon as spring makes space for some proper sunshine, the whole city goes absolutely mental, the state of euphoria is such, you feel the pressure of getting out there and never coming back inside. Eventually, you end up joining the three and something million Berliners either by grilling the entire city's stock of sausages in public parks, swimming in the thousand and one lakes that surround the city or doing one of the most typical things you do: get a beer at a späti (spaeti) , find a (green) spot and sip away.

Sunsets

Summerbreak

On the bridge

Summer afternoon

The Spätkauf

Better known as späti, this phenomenon is one of the most ubiquitous things I’ve encountered in Berlin. The concept of the ‘convenient store’ or night shop is not precisely typical from Berlin, but you will stumble upon one on every single corner of the eastern part of the city. So convenient, so omnipresent that before you know it, you will make use of it, a lot: on your way to the park, from the park, on your way back home or your way out. The späti is the propeller of the summer nights in the city, as it provides cheap and cold drinks for you to take. Likewise, the beer or club mate ‘to go’ are incredibly popular, becoming the main characters of the Berlin scene of sitting, waiting, wishing and sipping away.

Sitting

Daniel and Ruben do the ufer

In a place where the drinking culture is based on the ‘drinks to go’, it is hard not to fall into the cosy trap of spotting a green area and publicly sipping a brew or my personal favourite: a ‘Rhabarberschorle’- sparkling rhubarb juice. Also, viewed that public drinking is basically allowed, the temptation of grabbing a brew and setting camp wherever is constantly there. You just can’t let go of it… On top of that, Berlin has such an amount of green and lovely spots; you tend to forget you are in a city, a German one.

Couple

Club Mate

The Coffeeshopification of Berlin II

How the coffee house has taken over our lives and the mecca of creativity: Berlin. In current times,  when we can easily recreate our educational institutions, start-up businesses and personal workplaces, it should not come as a surprise that they might all end up looking like your favourite coffee shop. Following my last post on the ‘Coffeeshopification of Berlin’ and how noteworthy the café culture has evolved in the city, it is interesting to see how the process of turning universities and workplaces into coffee shops a.k.a 'Coffeeshopification' was already discussed by writer Steven Johnson who argued that coffee fuelled the enlightenment and that it was exactly midst the coffee house culture where crucial events took place. Already in 17th century London, people would hang out, exchange ideas and share a cup of coffee: the key combination which sparkled life changing events in our history.

Es Riecht Nach Kaffee

DM

IMG_4592

A Caffeinated Working and Learning Environment

Artists and writers have often, if not always, worked in coffee shops, but now in the era of the digital office, everyone can basically work from wherever as long as there is wifi. In this sense, artists and writers have been joined by young entrepreneurs, programmers and, like me: journalists. “…the remaining function of the office,’ says Stephen Gordonis to be that place that clients know to find you…and that kids and other distractions of home can’t’.  This sounds very familiar: I literally moved away from Belgium with this exact same premise of being able to work from everywhere as long as I had a decent Internet connection.

Besides the office re-emerging in the shape of coffee shops, Gordon who is also mentioned by Browning in The Alpine Review, touches on the need for alternative forms of education, especially in the U.S where tuition fees reach outrageous levels. Modern learning and teaching institutions demand an improved working environment that would enhance creativity and the exchange of knowledge: the coffee shop. The matter of fact is that this process is already taking place in our working space and slowly but surely in our universities and educational institutions as well.

Kunst

Magnolias

Berlín, Germany

It is therefore indisputable  that many cafés in the city are appearing and by doing so, bursting with young and upcoming artists, entrepreneurs and tech savvy individuals. Berlin has become the birth of the cool and the resurrection of the creativeness. It is the perfect place for both café owners to start a business (due to its relatively cheap levels of financial investment) and for coffee drinkers to enjoy a drink and get their creativity on. If you are new to the city or have had enough of the well-known Café St. Oberholz where an epidemic of tech and apple-aficionados take over each and every single table on a regular basis. You might want to explore other areas of the city where emerging cafés are popping out and where you will get the space to first: boost that oh-so-precious ingenious mind and second: enjoy a beautifully made cuppa Joe.

On the other hand, If you belong to those who are stuck in a good old office, don’t collapse in despair: Coffitivity will bring you the vibe of a coffee shop right to your desktop. Yes, the sound of a normal coffee house right at the office! Science has proven that those of us who experience certain levels of noise (like those experienced in a coffee shop) enhance performance on creative tasks. Hard to believe? Read more about it here.  So, why on earth should I ever leave home then if I can make decent coffee and listen to coffee house ambient sounds right at home?   too much for the ‘Coffeeshopification’ of my own house.

Ground Floor

Mondiaal Café

The Caffeinated version of The Best of Berlin

A city is an evolving and ever-changing entity and so is Berlin. Places close and other pop open; areas are left forgotten to later be re-discovered. Somewhere I read that ‘anyone who tells you it was better before hasn’t been here long enough or doesn’t realize that this city is never what it was and will never be what it should’.  In the middle of this caffeinated revolution follows my own 'best of' in terms of coffee shops and divided in themes. Enjoy:

The best espresso:

Espresso

The Barn. You actually taste the berries here. Five Elephant. A bit pricey but very friendly staff and the perfect working spot. Chapter One Coffee purists by excellence. The prices make up for the quality of the drinks and humbleness of the owner.

The best roastery:

Blaue Bohnen

Blaue Bohnen. Beautiful people and gorgeous beans. Good for improving your German skills! Pro Macchina Everything in its right place Tres Cabezas. Goodness.

The best service and good coffee:

Pretty Americano

Antipodes. Amazing staff and gorgeous eggs Benedict during weekends. Their facebook profile is brilliant, absolutely brilliant:

Did you know that tomorrow it is: "HOLY-SMOKE-THAT-WAS-A-GREAT-TIME-AT-ANTIPODES DAY!" Held every 12 July and 13 and 14 and 15 and 16 and 17 and so on für immer ...

Best scones and pastries:

Katiesbluecat

Caties Blue Cat To.die.for

Cookie jar

Aunt Benny Canadian shortbread cookies and amazing pies Cucuma Cosy and lecker!

Best blends of coffeeshops and other things:

Lamp in a cage

Sing Blackbird You can have a coffee and get a shopping spree of vintage, fancy second hand clothes.

Shop and Cafffeine

Klötze und Schinken  Coffee and Art. Mostly young, emerging and totally wacky artists, but very cool and great coffee.

Best Colombian coffee: 

No Morning, No Glory

Gets her colombian coffee on!

No Fire, No Glory Very comfy couches, friendly staff, the most fruity and delightful Colombian filtered coffee. Right here. The Barn. Yes to Colombian lungo! Macondo Coffee ain't the best, but you will get a full Colombian breakfast for a fiver!

Best Italian:

Outside

Barretto Forget about your German and learn italian here.

Best Turkish: Simitdchi Fantastic Turkish bakery and café smack in the middle of Kottbusser Tor

Best German bread rolls:

IMG_4543

Zeit für Brot Cinnamon rolls will never be the same again Vollkornbäckerei Hartwich Die beste der Welt.

Best juice bar: Funk You Guanábana at your service!

Best short break: Passenger espresso Simply good coffee, gooooood.

Best coffee in the middle of the west: Giro Coffee bar. Spooning Pfeffer Kuche

The Coffeeshopification of Berlin

Being originally from a coffee producing and to a much lesser extent, coffee-drinking country, I first discovered coffee -ironically- when I had already left Colombia. Luckily for me, the praises people would sing about it, made me yearn for it soon after I had left.  I had always loved the concept of coffee, but by then, had not yet gone beyond gigantic pots of filtered coffee that would last throughout the entire day and eventually become so bitter; one would wonder whether it was ‘premium café de exportación’ in the first place. .

Summer in the city

By this time, I was already in The Netherlands, where the Dutch sip an amazing 8,4kg of coffee in a year (compare that to the 1,8kg Colombians consume over the same period). Being surrounded by proper coffee drinkers –and makers-, I then began to pay attention to the way baristas would prepare their brews in local cafés to the point of being fascinated by the machines, the beans and mostly, the smell of the entire process: from roasting to actually tasting it. It was all something so accurate that it seemed impossible to achieve, let alone recreate with the machinery I had at home.

Eventually, I got myself a fancy second-hand espresso machine and started experimenting at home and even though I had shifted my focus on quality above quantity, the brew I was making, never seemed to even simulate those gorgeous coffees I was romanticizing about so badly. Apparently, the machine never worked properly and I was spending money on way-too-expensive beans for a worthless machine. Sigh. By this time I realized I didn’t need a fancy nor expensive machine to make decent coffee at home; while I still adored a perfectly brewed cup of espresso and I still ‘counted time in coffee spoons’, I had tasted so many different varieties and had experimented so much at home, I figured that I enjoyed a cup of filtered, medium to fully roasted and accurately made coffee the most.

Chemex

Chemex II

Snobbery? romanticism? Or mere enthusiasm?

One of the many reasons I decided to move to Berlin, was it’s emerging and constantly growing coffee culture, with its thousand and one roasteries, cafés and fancy coffee shops scattered all over the city. Coffee making in this city can be taken to such levels, the words ‘snobbism’ and ‘cult’ immediately pop in my mind when I pass by certain of these cafés. Places sometimes look more like science labs with glossy magazines instead of regular coffee bars. The seriousness of coffee drinking takes over with rules such as ‘no sugar, no laptops, no baby strollers’ which are of no surprise in coffee shops where coffee brewing is more of a ceremony rather than a business.

The Coffee Lab

Vietnamese Coffee II

Mind me and my passion for the brew, I often find myself talking for long periods of time with café owners and baristas and my conversations sound more full of enthusiasm and curiosity than mere snobbism and smugness. Indeed, I am on the one hand fascinated by the passion and romanticism people have when brewing a ‘cuppa’, yet on the other I often asked myself: ‘is this really necessary?’; am I supposed to taste the blueberries and dark chocolate in this €2,8 Americano? Maybe, maybe not.  It is noteworthy though, that when coffee is roasted carefully and brewed correctly, you can taste, perhaps not the wild cherries or Belgian chocolates, but you can definitely taste the difference.  So, yeah, go ahead, call me a snob or a coffee geek, I like to call myself an enthusiastic coffee aficionado: a connoisseur. Right, Lars?

At any rate, I stopped trying to find exotic fruits in my cups and chose to rather enjoy the experience of coffee and the coffee shop as a whole; after all, the choices when it comes to coffee (and good one) are endless in Berlin. Call it snobbery, sophistication or coffee evolution, what can rightly be said about Berlin is that it is going through a profound "Coffeeshopification*", something you shall never hear me complain about.

Best of the Best

Krantenlezer

*Coffeeshopification is a term used by Dominique Browning in The Alpine Review's first issue that describes the process of turning institutions and working places into 'coffee shops'. I shall come back to this term shortly.

My very own German ‘Datscha’

Being in the city can be overwhelmingly tiring from time to time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a true homos urbanus and have been enjoying Berlin more than ever -believe me, it feels as if I’ve been living here for two years-. Yet, getting away from the chaos and the noise of the city is very rewarding and at times even necessary. For the first time in history, most human beings live in large urban areas and many in megacities and suburban extensions with populations of 10 million or more. Being a ‘Homo Urbanus’ is the rule rather than the exception nowadays. This phenomenon, of millions and millions of people crammed and stacked in huge urban metropolises is somewhat new, especially if you consider that no more than 200 years ago, the average person could have met 200 or perhaps 300 people in a lifetime. Today, says the north American economist Rifkin: ‘a resident of New York can live and work among 200,000 people within ten minutes of his or her home or office in downtown Manhattan.’ Hey, and I thought I knew loads of people.

Let’s not get started on cities such as Tokyo or Mexico City, but considering these numbers, Berlin is somehow a lucky capital with, statistically speaking, ‘only’ 3,809 Berliners for every square kilometre. Next to the 26,939 per km2 New Yokah’s living on top of each other in Manhattan, Berlin is one green spacious capital.

And yes, even though there is a sense of space here, I had the need to leave it, at least for a day or two and fortunately I was able to go visit my very close friend Luisa in Hanover, where she’s living now. Things got even better when she proposed going to her family’s hunting house for the weekend. And so we got some snacks and along with my other very close friend Laura, we drove to this ‘hunting house’ in the middle of the woods.

Hunting House

 

Untitled

 

Our trip to Datscha

Getting away and going to a house in the woods, made me think of this Russian café in Berlin’s Friedrichshain called Datscha. The word  comes from the Russian verb to give: ‘dat’, and was once associated with a gift from the Tsar, given in a form of property, Datscha then evolved into the term describing a holiday house. According to this café/bar, the constitution of the Soviet Union implemented a law that guaranteed a holiday right for all citizens who had their own ‘datscha’. By then, no one could wait to get out of the city on the weekends and every single Russian who lived in a city longed for a few days away at a place where they could enjoy evenings with friends, grilled food and sip vodka or two or three… and indeed, we were heading to our own German version of a Datscha, leaving all worries behind and clearing our minds for a while.

 

Horses

 

Absolute Isolation

The first thing that struck me as ‘life liberating’ was the lack of Internet access, how much I longed for such a deliverance from constant messaging, tweeting, liking and emailing. What started as an issue for not being able to get work done, ended up being pure and pure pleasure, pleasure from this sense of ‘letting go’.

Cuppa

 

 

Tree

 

Besides, after spending an entire morning having food outside, reading, chatting and enjoying the surroundings, I couldn’t get enough of the noise, or rather, the lack of it. Sleeping was a bit scary at some point, since there was absolutely no noise, it was a sense of nothingness that seemed threatening at first and extremely calm at last. After a few hours of not being able to hear anything, my ears started to get accustomed to the sound of silence and began to record the sound of the woods… that’s when I wished I could be like those old people that know which bird is which and are able to talk to them, in their language. Sometimes I wish I could speak like a bird…

 

The Forrest

Blue/gree

Nature

L

Untitled

Luisa and myself in the middle of the forrest. Photo taken by Laura

 

Coming back home to the city was quite odd to be honest, after three days of total isolation from people and the world, a few hundred Homo Urbanus seemed more like the 200,000 you are likely to meet in the green apple. And however much I love being in the city and consider myself a perfect example of a city person, I truly missed times spent in pure nature and with friends like Laura and Luisa. I even remembered the times I spent as a child in my very own Colombian Datscha and wished I could stay in the woods a bit longer.

 

Lesen und Lesen Lassen

 

P.S: I truly recommend going to Datscha, at least to grasp the notion of a Russian getaway lifestyle while enjoying traditional Russian dishes and a whole lot of different vodkas. They are located at the Gabriel Max Straße 1, in Friedrichshain.

The Fellowship of the Ringbahn

When I started taking photographs of Berlin for work, I soon found out, not only empirically but also from friends and colleagues, that Berliners have a fellow relationship with the city’s Ringbahn.  It was then not only my interest but also my sheer duty to scrutinise what was behind the ring and the relation commuters had with it. Ring (from the Ring-Bahn Series)

The fastest and probably the easiest way to travel vast distances in Berlin is, without a doubt, by making use of its Ringbahn, and the entire S-Bahn system to be honest. For those who haven’t experienced it, the Ringbahn, meaning circular railway in German, is a 37km/23.2 mile long railroad that goes around the city of Berlin. It encircles the main city and passes by its outskirts, making it possible to crisscross it in less than 60minutes. -Take that London or Paris! - In fact, The Ringbahn is a mere particle of a massive system of public transport that indicates just how influential railways have been in Berlin’s history as a metropolis.

Going back in history

Unlike Paris or London, whereby railroads were constructed after the cities had grown to humongous proportions, Berlin had still enough space and mind-sets to build a high-speed overground railway system that would encircle and link the entire city. Urban development in Berlin was therefore exactly the other way around. First came the ring and then came the city behind it. When the Ringbahn was built, back in the 1870s, it was actually done so on what was practically green lands of nothingness, a city yet to be born there. Just to think of it, linking the city centre with the rest of its outskirts took Paris over a hundred years and London inaugurated its suburban overground system only in 2007. Here again: Berlin 1, the rest: 0.

Until the construction of the Berlin Wall in the 1960s, the ring made a complete circle, but it was during the cold war period that the lunacy of the division of the city played a massive role in the partition of the ring in two places: a three quarter ring for the west and a the remaining section for the east –between Schönhauser Alle and Treptower Park-. It was exactly this kind of craziness that made the reopening of the entire S-Bahn system and its ring a main priority after the fall of the wall. After a few ups and downs, the Ringbahn was reopened in 1993 and put into full circular service soon afterwards… This also explains why so little is left as a reminder of just how lunatic things were back then: Efficiency above nostalgia.

Touring the ring

Putting the cultural and historical value of the Ringbahn aside, taking the entire tour makes you acknowledge firstly: just how big Berlin is and second, it gives you a lovely view of parts of the city you would have otherwise never seen. -Ever wondered how Westkreuz areas looked like?- It is also a gorgeous window from which you can watch the urban landscape unfold before your eyes...

From the train (from the Ring-Bahn Series) Rust (from the Ring-Bahn Series)

 

Personally, loving to watch people's behaviour and photographing the simplicity of us humans, riding the Ringbahn gave me a thousand a one facettes of the Berlin and of Berliners alike.  Also, taking the entire ride and spending a whole cycle on a train made me ponder about just how easy it is to forget how ridiculously divided this city once was and how things such as a train or a train ride create that recognised fellowship between the traveller and the city being travelled.

 

Blues (from the Ring-Bahn Series) Bayer (from the Ring-Bahn Series) Selfportrait (from the Ring-Bahn Series) Ostkreuz (from the Ring-Bahn Series) Ostkreuz II (from the Ring-Bahn Series)

The multifaceted, multi-layered and multicultural Tallinn

Many say Tallinn is the prettiest city in Europe and indeed, I kid you not when I tell you that the world heritage-listed city centre is as cute as a fairy tale and as sweet as maple syrup. Yet behind and beyond this lovely town, there are many faces, both historical and overwhelmingly contemporary, both pretty and nostalgically hostile. These various facets that coped with the extremely different influences, have made Tallinn not only a cute little pie to visit, but a city whose different identities will make you wonder whether this is actually a single city and not several emerged into one. Street lamp

My personal expectations before arriving were basically non-existent; with only Helsinki being my point of reference and me having been told that the Finns use it as a party and shopping spree destination. When arriving, I was stunned by the tiny size of it as it took me barely 20 minutes to get from door to door, form plane to hotel room. And indeed, the city has a population of a mere 425,000 habitants, which it isn’t that big of a number if you consider that this is the oldest capital city of northern Europe...

50 shades of grey

Invasion after invasion after invasion after invasion

The capital of Estonia has gone through a thousand and one periods of siege and foreign invasions, external  influences can therefore be seen and felt wherever one goes. First considering the name of the city, which it is thought to derive from Taani-linn or Danish-castle, as it was once taken over by the Danes. After the Kingdom of Denmark took over, the Germans followed, then the Swedish, the Soviets, then came the Germans again with Hitler as their Führer and today Tallinn is mostly overthrown by the zillion Finns that come visit the city whenever possible. It shouldn't be hard then to imagine the potpourri of influences in this place, from architecture, to food, to language... you name it.

From medieval, to Soviet, to Nazi to hip

Going from the medieval gems that you and every single tourist are likely to find, the Old Town has got some very interesting mixtures of 1300 architecture and a few souvenirs from the darkest periods of the USSR. Likewise, if you are able to avoid the beaten paths and try to explore less known streets, the creativity of local artists is palpable every now and then which makes one feel as if the city wanted to talk to you, as if there was a message meant to be received, a notion meant to be felt.

The phone

typewriter

The Truth

Since the size of the old town was remarkably small, I took off with my colleague  Lubo  who told me that deserted warehouses were the trendiest part of town nowadays and that on the way to them, there were wrecked wooden houses worth checking out and photographing. And so we went on exploring the not-so-fancy parts of town and ended up walking through streets that could as well be found in poor parts of Philadelphia or forgotten paths of Prague. These wooden houses were mostly in extremely bad shape and seemed as if no one had ever meant to care for them. As charming and photogenic as they were, they also emanated a sense of forgotten pain and suffering. Consequently, the feeling that took over me was such that it made me overpoweringly sad; it was Weltschmerz all over again.

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Das Auto

Rusty

Fortunately once we kept walking, we reached the mentioned warehouses that seemed somehow less detrimental than the areas we had walked through a few minutes earlier. These former soviet depots were horrendously grey from the outside, but when paying closer attention to the interiors, we were able to notice the birth of the cool and the evolution of the ‘hip’ inside. The industrial area was once, not so long ago, taken over by students and young entrepreneurs to start creative hubs, trendy bars and restaurants. It felt a bit Berlinesque to be honest, with young people hanging abouts with their books and laptops in immense rooms full with both soviet artefacts and modern props. I felt in my element, the industrial architecture, mixed with broken walls and old buy very comfy sofas served as the perfect combination for an afternoon break. Everything was so different than a few minutes before and again another few hours before that, I wondered if I hadn’t visited three or four different cities in one. This was and still is for me Tallinn’s charm, it’s multifaceted and multi-layered identity, one that plays with your sense of nostalgia, history and belonging.

Backgrounds

Drag

Carafe

Contemporary Café

If you are ever in Tallinn and fancy getting lost into oblivion with a bit of trendiness next to it, visit the Telliskivi industrial complex. Not far away from the centre and with nostalgic views on the way. The place you want to stop by for a bite or a drink is called F-Hoone, on Telliskivi street nr. 60.

Windows II

B-ware! The Cinema of Nostalgia

The way in which we experience film and cinema has changed in such ways the past 60 or 70 years that we hardly remember how classic films are supposed to look or we barely notice how projectors are supposed to sound. Even in the past decade, from the venue, to the quality of the film and the technologies used to make it have influenced and transformed completely the way we watch and experience films. We now even have to cope with the domination of the 3-D extravaganza, I personally, have never enjoyed the idea of having another extra pair of glasses on my nose while watching a film, and don’t get me started on the Google Glass project, but this is another matter. This three-dimensional film revolution has got me longing for simplicity, for creating a galaxy from a cup of coffee, nothing else and nothing more.

Longing for old cinema-making felt stronger after having watched the film ¡No!, a 2012 Chilean drama film on the campaign of 1988 over whether general Augusto Pinochet should have another 8-year term as President. The film was filmed with cameras used in the 80s and it was precisely the texture, colours and lights of the cameras used that gave the film the atmosphere and context of the Chile of 1988, it was beautiful.

Whilst walking abouts, I stumbled upon this 'Kino' the other day and encouraged my flatmate to join me for a film. The place looked more like a brothel or some kind of dark bar where people either play poker or risk their lives with Russian roulette. Old canvases hang on the wall with broken mirrors and old images of virgins and holy spirits. The atmosphere was so surreal I could only believe such places could exist in Berlin and in Berlin only. This is also when I realised how the ambiance of cinemas has changed dramatically, to such extent that we hardly get to feel the arty and bohemian experience of enjoying a good film. Traditional theatres hardly exists anymore, except those which have adopted a vintage look to attract either those of us who long for the past or those who feel extremely trendy when going to an art-deco, old-fashioned theatre.

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Far from being vintage or trendy, this B-ware Kino, which translates to ‘B merchandise’ or B-film genre, takes both the alternative and the classy to its extremes. What struck me the most was the setting: what could have perfectly served as a café –or then again a brothel or a dark Russian bar- was suddenly turned into a ‘living room’ whereby people would move their sofas or old divans towards the screen, out of nowhere. It felt as if the thirty of us who paid to go to the cinema, were unexpectedly in an old family room from the 40s. It definitely felt more social than any other cinema I have visited before.

On top of that, the massive projector displaying the film on the other room made such a gorgeous noise, I wished I could have one at home that would make such a sound, the sound of old film watching and making. Call me a nostalgic, -I love the way my old Canon AE-1 sounds when taking a photo-, but the mechanics of it all reminds me of how fast things are moving between us and how less and less attentive we have become to how things used to look and how machines used to sound.

[soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/86407340%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-aFynZ" params="" width=" 100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]

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If anyone is interested: B-ware! Ladenkino is on the Gärtnerstr. 19, in Berlin Friedrichshain.

DISCLAIMER: I'm terribly sorry for the lack of quality, but this is all my iPhone could get from it. The sound makes up for it though.

Spreepark: if it's verboten, it must be magical.

I have been in Berlin for a few months now and feel as if I have been living here for at least a year or two. My current job as a photographer and city reviewer has made me move all over the city, visit places unknown to both locals and foreigners and discover the good, the bad and the beautiful of Berlin. So far, I have taken so many photos and have been to so many places that life feels as if it were passing by at 200k an hour.  

Living is the former GDR is a constant trip to the past and the best of it is the sheer amount of desolated buildings and structures all waiting to be discovered… screaming to be seen and explored.  A few weeks back, I found myself having to take photos of the Spreepark, a place somewhat known for Berliners as a mythical desolated theme park with a story of its own. The Spreepark at Plänterwald is meant to be an abandoned amusement park with an amazing story behind it; apparently the owner was caught up smuggling drugs from Latin America back into Berlin and is now in prison, leaving the entire thing back in the wild. Very hollywoodesque...

 

On its days of glory, the KulturPark Plänterwald, as it was formally dubbed, received up to 1,5 million visitors. It was after the wall came down however, that the park saw its decline as most of its visitors –all from east Berlin- presumably had more amusing sights to visit.  Now, the entire park lies left into oblivion, neglected completely from all sorts of urban change or development. I knew little to nothing about the place and found out about its magical history only after having walked along its rusty fences and deserted huts. Wall

When I read that I had to go and photograph it, I decided to go, wander abouts and discover the place with no expectations. Also, the weather had its days of glory as temperatures rose for about 2,5 days and my hormones could no let me stay in, so I popped out to enjoy and indulge myself with a few hours of sunshine. Untitled I must say, the park itself looked rather depressing and the only thing that stood out was the 45 metre high Reisenrad –ferris wheel-. A humongous wheel with bright colours which was still going and moving causing me to freak out a bit since I was the only human being in the area –me and one or two joggers- and I definitely didn’t see anyone either in the park or trying to control the wheel.  The entire scene certainly seemed from a –horror- movie, with rusty animals and green vegetation eating and taking over what was left of some wrecked dinosaurs. And indeed, it appears as if nature is taking over the space as the park is left to rot among the foliage of the Plänterwald. Finally, the cherry on the top: the scene doesn’t get any welcoming as on the fence hangs a big fuming sign declaring that ‘Betreten verboten!!’ or 'Entrance Forbidden' read in angry German. Jogger

 

Even though the place looked more depressing than not, I nevertheless want to go back to the Spreepark and give it a second chance with more greens surrounding it. Besides, I must confess that the walk to the park was an absolute delight from which a few good shots came about.  It is a magical place that seems to have taken a life of its own, just like most other abandoned and verboten sites that make Berlin such an attractive and sometimes chilling city to discover. Reisenrad

The Paradox of the Wall

I’ve come to realise that I have moved to the capital of Europe that has changed the most in the past twenty years and that I seem to be part of a ground-breaking moment of this chain of events that are shaping the city of Berlin.  The East Side Gallery, one of Berlin top destinations and historical sights, has been the target of a construction project that plans on demolishing part of its wall. The Wall

After having read the news of more than 300 demonstrators gathering at the historic place and some of them chaining themselves against the wall in protest against the construction of modern and luxury buildings. I could not help but to ponder how we, human beings, are able to cope with history, with memories and with cultural symbolism.

Polizei

I find myself midst a contradictory dilemma that creates an even wider gap between what I once thought was cultural heritage and my personal approach to German culture and its national and historic image.  On the one hand, Berliners protest against the destruction of a wall, which is linked to history and expresses a struggle for freedom and liberty. Yet on the other hand, another generation of Berliners gave their lives away and fought to tear down the same wall back in the 80s. This wall, that personifies the horrors of humanity, violence, war and more than thirty years of an oppressive regime that divided not only the city, but also the souls and minds of hundreds of thousands of people. What a paradox. What once use to be loathed now turned to be the symbol for artistic autonomy and controversy against capitalism.

My mind keeps wondering about our notion of memory and how we tend to give material things such an elevated status of memorial, that we are no longer able to let go of them, for whatever reasons.  Instead of questioning the reasons of tearing down the wall, I wonder and ask myself how much cultural value and historic significance are we giving to it.  Without letting go of the ‘artistic’ value the wall has and its historical relevance, I rather keep on asking where to draw the limits of nostalgia, materialism and memory in our society.

And the dilemma goes even further, asking if Europeans should let go of their past or not. It is a constant struggle between nostalgia and suffering, between the past and the future, between what was once there and it is no longer here. As a non-European, I must confess that I always ponder about Germans dealing with a sense of guilt and using things such as the Berlin Wall to cross the line between pride and shame…

Is perhaps this ambivalence between remorse and overrated memorialization that keeps people, albeit Germans, Chinese or Colombians, to take refuge in material symbols? Why is it so hard to draw a line between what has to be forgotten and what has to be remembered and why do we draw it materially?

I have a strong belief that it might be time to start letting go, surely but slowly. Sure, the wall embodies memories and feelings and it reflects on a period of time that ought not to be repeated. Yet, I believe that the East Side Gallery debate is opening a discourse of modernity for the city that people should perhaps listen to.

IMG_4662

Demolition

The South African War Against Mine Waste

And how deprived South Africans fight this war midst a storm of polluted dust Bordering Johannesburg’s mining belt, lays Soweto, an English syllabic abbreviation for South Western Townships. Home of many removed black South Africans; Soweto was a former alienated area, which saw the increasing population of evicted –black- Africans by state authorities, before and during the apartheid regime. Hence becoming a concentrated area of black working force for the emerging mining industry.

Gold and uranium mines have been both a blessing and a curse for South Africans, particularly a curse for black Africans who had been drawn to work on gold mines since the late 1880's and uranium mines since the late 1940’s.  Once the industry was established, gold and later uranium fields began to be settled with the construction of sinking channels meant for digging. Sinking these channels involves blowing up and blasting removal of materials, from rock waste, cyanided sand, surplus mine water to all sorts of chemicals to the surface of the earth.  The disposal of these residues was then simple and it presented little difficulties to miners as they mainly disposed residues in empty lands close to the treatment plants.

Considering control and legislation and going beyond basic health issues related to mine waste management, the dealings with dust storms from the mines, tailings and dumps are by far nonexistent, without even mentioning long term health problems such as asthma, skin and lung problems.

I explored the poorest and most affected areas of Soweto and was able to witness the social impacts of the lack of proper and controlled mine waste management, next to inadequate regulation and non-existent implementation of dust management. Although no scientific proof has been given to health problems related to polluted water and air, I was also  able to witness the instances of contaminated dust, exposure to radiation and the destruction of the ecosystems in areas surrounding Uranium mines and their respective dumping areas.

For this feature on Mining Waste Management I worked together with Judith Taylor co-ordinator at Earthlife Africa and Israel, a beloved Sowetan, believer of sustainable energy and volunteer at Earthlife Africa. 1

Buckets for dust sampling and management of polluted air have been placed in several risks areas of Soweto, however, non of the residents of those areas have received any information nor attention from these authorities regarding samples, solutions or developments.

 

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Israel is momentarily unemployed but as a concerned Sowetan, has volunteered for Earthlife to tackle pollution and raise awareness in his living area.

 

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Crops from locals are far from healthy as the soil is constantly being contaminated by immense acres of trailing dams that drain polluted waters. Crops hardly grow in these areas close to the mines.

 

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Skin diseases haven’t yet been proven to be linked with mine waste, but are easy to find within the population living close to the dumps. Itching and dry skin are constant nuisances for Sowetans.

 

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The only way people are able to protect themselves and their houses from rashes of dust, is by blocking their roofs and doors with newspapers and everything they can find useful.

 

7

People have encountered sight problems related to dust and acid rain. Sydney (in the photo) tells us about how his eyes burn when he’s exposed to dust too much and for too long.

 

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Despite the circumstances, he carries a strong spirit and a good sense of humour.

Tunis Breathes Revolutions

Something remarkable happened in Tunisia on January 14th 2011. After 23 years in power, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali stepped down after resistance shook the dictatorship to its core. It was extremely tense for me to visit the country in 2012, after the spark of the Arab spring and before the killing of the one politician who thought differently than the rest. Roof tops

 

Arriving in Tunis midst revolutionary times was for that exact reason a bit tricky and at the same time incredibly exciting. You could breath the tension in the streets, as walls still showed scars from this historical happening, the moment where a people’s movement broke a social, political and psychological barrier. My few days in Tunis served consequently as a whole revelation of northern African customs, but also a sneak preview into the minds and souls of people struggling for freedom and self-determination.

The streets of the old centre of Tunis were, remarkably enough, really calm and even empty –I also arrived during a Muslim day of rest, apparently-. Even more, considering the circumstances, people seemed to be living their lives as usual, they would go smoke a hookah as always or earn a living at the souk like any other day, after all, you still have to earn a living and get that daily bread, even in revolutionary times.

And even though people would still smile and offer mint tea, dried figs or spices for cooking, I could still sense a kind of disrupted feeling in the air, as if the struggle against oppression was printed on the walls, as if those walls could speak rebellions. It was a weird calmness that was not relaxed at all, as if the Arab awakening was still in the transition of waking up.

Hooka & tea

La rue

Behind the Green

And so while walking through the streets of the old town and the Medina of Tunis, I made friends with a professor who took me around the most remote walls and wrecked pieces of the city that had seen the best and the worst of the years of dictatorship, walls that would speak for themselves, that did not need a translator. Places with souls of their own that indeed, were trying to up rise from oppression and even from oblivion.

Nostalgia

And this is how I was a witness of a city in ruins but with a soul that spoke to me in a language that I somehow understood completely. My obsession with the architecture went beyond colours and shapes, but textures and historical value, it was exactly by walking through the streets of Tunis, by crossing walls and entering doors that I understood a bit more what the awakening meant, not only for Tunisians but for the entire region struggling to express their cultural, social and political aspirations.

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Hair & Dresses II

Puebla: Cool, Vibrant and Tasty!

Mexico’s coolest student city emerges from the death with a proper Fiesta de los muertos.

Formally called Heroica Puebla de Zaragoza (Heroic from Zaragoza –Spain-), Puebla was a central and one of the most important Spanish colonial cities in Mexico.  No longer being called the Heroic, Puebla still remains an essential place for Mexicans. The city serves now as one of the main hubs of central Mexico, receiving students and young adults from all over the country, hence making it the perfect spot for the birth of the cool and the party of the death.

Humbolt café, anyone? 

And a fiesta it was indeed, not only culturally, but architectonically as well. Puebla is a city full of history, from Spanish colonisation, to European migration. French, Spanish and even German influences can still be found in little squares, old churches and most of the oldest city buildings -Humbolt Neighbourhood anyone?-...these serve as the perfect spots for young students to set up cafés, bars and second hand shops.  The estrange mélange of old colonial, baroque, renaissance and classic churches, squares and mansions with the urban smell of italian style espressos, oatmeal muffins and mango/chili milkshakes made the experience of walking through Puebla even more exotic, vibrant and exciting.

Vintage, Vibrant and Cool. 

Even though it is seen as a milestone of Mexico's conservatism, Catholicism and cultural traditions, Puebla struck me as a charming cultural city with a young soul. Indeed, it sometimes felt as if colonial times had never ended, with its amazing cathedral and stunning colonial structures yet once I went beyond the façades, I found myself in between a band playing, a girl selling hand made bags or a fantastic -and affordable- restaurant.

One Gastronomic Epicentre

Puebla is not only worth a visit for its stunning architecture and historical sights, but also for its long culinary history. The best-known mole is of course named after the city, Mole Poblano. Also, when in season, you can find succulent dishes drenched in this chocolate/nuts/chili sauce.  Likewise, something that amazed me about traveling through Mexico and especially in student and lively cities like Puebla, was the diversification of the Mexican cuisine into vegetarian and vegan restaurants. The vegetarian options in tiny colonial cities like San Cristóbal de la Casas, Campeche and yes, Puebla, were outstanding, offering all kinds of typical Mexican dishes with a meat-free option!

If you are ever in Puebla and fancy a proper Mexican deal in a delightful colonial patio, go to La Zanahoría. A godsend for vegetarians and mole lovers with creative twists on local cuisine. Must try: Nopales Rellenos (stuffed cactus paddles) and Chiles en Nogada, some kind of stuffed Poblano pepper covered in a walnut/cheese sauce and topped with fresh pomegranate seeds. I'm telling you, to die for.

Fiesta

Finally, of course the party and night scene. What's of a student city without students and their nocturne lifestyles? Hely and I ended up getting our mexican beers on in a student bar not far from the Zócalo -read: Centre- where they had live music that same night. According to a few locals and a some other spectators, bars are all over the place in Puebla, but one has to spot them carefully. This one was indeed kind of off the beaten track, but it was definitely worth the search as their drinks were creative, cheap and abundant! Ask around for 'La bella Epoca' (The Belle Epoque) and locals will show you where to find it.

Puebla is by far one of the most relaxed and culturally vibrant cities I got to visit in Mexico and with only a few hours away from massive Mexico City, it is definitely worth a visit -and a stay-. Strolling through wonderful bookstores, tasty cafés and savoury restaurants made me put Puebla in my list of: Cities to visit again- as it was for me the epicentre of Mexico's bohemian, historical and cultural life.