Friday, 27 November 2015

What Should I Do This Evening? #1

Feeling uninspired, but reluctant to spend another night glued to Netflix? No worries! I've got you covered with 'What Should I Do This Evening', a budget-friendly whats-on series for people at a loose end...

Start your Friday night off with some proper good scran at HelloGoodpie (Falckensteinstraße 9, u-Bhf Schlesisches Tor). Finding a decent savoury pie with all the trimmings in Berlin was until recently pretty much impossible, so major props to Irishman Matthew Minch for succeeding in his mission to bring gourmet Brit-style noms to the masses. Dig into a huge plate of mash, tomato gravy and top with one of the many pies they have on offer - the oddly-named Cheesy Helmut is out of this world, stuffed with cauliflower, cheddar, and gouda - for just 6, choose a couple of sides from their extensive salad bar (2.50), and wash it all down with a BRLO pale ale (or two, or three, or a crate...). It's hard to know how Berliners managed for so long without savoury pies on the menu - struggling through -20 winters without regular plates of warming comfort food is surely a fate worse than death. Matthew and his international team of pie enthusiasts also do a good line in desserts, so find a cosy corner and start bulking up your winter blubber with one of their super-chocolatey brownies before braving the cold...

Once you're done with loading up the layers, take a walk over the Oberbaumbrücke towards S Bahnhof Warschauerstraße. If you can pick up a steaming cup of Glühwein on the way, all the better. Admire the twinkling fairy lights that line the banks of the Spree, and avoid the so-called 'viewing points' that are actually just turrets full of beery piss - your shoes will thank you. Take the S7 across to Hackescher Markt and get a little bit lost on Museum Island before finally succumbing to the inevitable and consult Google for the directions to the Maxim Gorki Theater.

The theatre is currently hosting an exhibition about refugees, both in Berlin and across the world. The Herbstsalon programme is winding down, but there are still a couple of days left to wander the labyrinthine corridors and explore the huge collection of films, archive material and haunting artworks. MGT is A LOT bigger than it looks - even power-walking through the exhibition takes at least an hour - so leave yourself plenty of time to soak up the vast array of information available. It's also worth checking out the programme for the next couple of days, as the theatre has also been hosting debates, plays and movie screenings on the same topic - all of which are completely free to attend.

By now it's probably quite late and no doubt you're feeling a little wiped after the intensity of the MGT exhibition, so hotfoot it over the bridge to the Hackescher Höfe and ensconce yourself in Cafe Cinema. It's as Berlin as you can get - dark, moody lighting, candles dripping wax all over roughwood tables, jazz squalls over tinny speakers. It's magic, and surprisingly the prices are pretty reasonable considering the tourist-heavy location. Order a large glass of red or a Hemingway Sour, and spend the rest of the evening watching the smoke curls winding their way to the ceiling, and the old Berliners staring into their pints. Bliss.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Finnish Invasion

Against a video backdrop of knitwear-clad hipsters and bleak landscapes, former Helsinki tram driver Jaakko Eino Kalevi is holding court. The in-crowd force their way to the front of the sparse bar on Torstrasse, clutching Instagram-friendly cans of the iconic Finnish Original Long Drink and shuffling appreciatively to the dreamy synth-pop pouring from the makeshift stage. A multitude of accents, many of them Nordic, mingle with the smoke outside. For a brief moment it’s possible to forget you’re in Berlin.

The Finns have been making their mark on the city for some time. Tanz im August director Virve Sutinen is a Helsinki native, the renowned Suomesta Galleria on Potsdamer Strasse has been showcasing influential Finnish artists such as Janne Räisänen since opening in 2010, and those craving the signature Finn aesthetic shop at Mitte mainstays Kippis and Marimekko. While it might be hasty to cry ‘trend!’ it’s clear that in 2015 a new northern wind started blowing, as a core group of musicians have elbowed their way to the foreground of the Berlin music scene. There’s no distinct hallmark that binds them - their sounds range from club-friendly minimal techno to synth-laced indie pop -  but collectively this disparate group is making one hell of a racket.

    Islaja - c/o Islaja.com
“There are quite a lot of Finn lovers in Germany,” says Jonas Verwijnen. He should know -  as one half of the trendy Kaiku Studios he’s responsible for the taste of Helsinki that briefly infiltrated Torstrasse in September. “They’re very enthusiastic, but they have this classic view of the Finnish sound, like heavy metal, and we’re trying to break that by bringing something different.”

THAT'S WHAT'S UP: Lumas Art Now Opening

Art is cheap in Berlin.

Graffiti is splattered on the walls of every neighbourhood, and new murals appear on tattered buildings every week. Here, the tired cliche of the starving artist is still a valid life choice. They sit outside Mauerpark every Sunday, hawking their prints, waiting for recognition. Hell, one of the defining landmarks of a city is now essentially a kilometre-long open air gallery, tourists arriving to take endless snapshots of those two blokes enjoying a cheeky snog while paying little attention to the history of the towering wall it's painted on. It's alright though, because an appreciation of aesthetic pleasures fuels this city, lights up the gloomy winter days that send the population into lockdown. Art doesn't just live here - for many, it IS life.

It figures that Berlin-based Lumas chose the phrase "The Liberation Of Art" as their motto - after all, in what city is the concept of art for all more celebrated than here?

Friday, 13 November 2015

BAND OF THE WEEK: Ballet School

   All pictures shamelessly lifted from Ballet School's Facebook page.

It's safe to say that, like many former nerdy teen emo children, I'm big on music. My CD collection back home consists of well over 400 albums. I lost count of how many gigs I've attended, oh, say, three years ago, and can wax lyrical for literally days about the benefits of an eclectic taste that encompasses all the recognised greats as well as scowled-upon genres like metalcore, nu-rave (LOL) and Italo-Euro disco.

However, in this Spotify-saturated era, it's now kind of rare for a band to smack me full force in the chops and scream "LISTEN TO MY ALBUM. MY ALBUM. NOW. TODAY. EVERY DAY. FOREVEEER" in my face. (I'm talking metaphorically, of course. If a band actually stormed up to me and threatened to mash my mush in if I didn't listen to their demo, I'd call the Polizei, and their agent, post-haste. But I digress).These days, I tend to float by on a song-to-song basis, relying on old faithfuls to get me through the good times and the bad, discovering new 'hmm, that ain't bad' tracks and lamenting the sad fact that British indie all went a bit downhill after Joe Lean And The Jing Jang Sodding Jong started making NME headlines. That was a fair while ago now. It still hurts.