Legoland Berlin

Okay, so my sister dragged me to Legoland, and despite not being particularly excited about being surrounded by screaming kids ended up as a pretty reasonably outing. Who doesn’t want to be greeted by a taller-than-human Batman constructed out of lego.

The best bit about the whole trip, at least for me, was the impressive recreation of relevant sights around Berlin and the small details built into the whole exhibition. It made for some pretty nice photo opportunities.

For example, here is the intricate reconstruction of the Berliner Dom, not exactly an easy reconstruction of a building.

Just like in real life, they caught how busy the cathedral can be on weekends with people taking pictures, going in and out of the building.

They had a number of working, moving parts of the exhibition including a simulation of the overhead S-Bahn trains that run. Even the train station for this one near the Hackescher Mark, looks exactly like it does in real life.

Not just content with simple replicas. They even built in a mode that transitioned from day to night, where Berlin really comes alive. Here’s the famous Unter den Linden at nighttime.

They even had a little concert celebrating the downfall of the wall.

How could they miss the famous Checkpoint Charlie?

Or the famous Reichstag?

And the magnificently tall Brandenburg Tor at the end of the Unter den Linden streets.

Once again, not missing any of the little detail. Or maybe making it up. After all, I’m not so sure I’ve seen a monkey on top of a piano just yet.

Here’s the strip at night time.

A nice little visit, and we both navigated the chaotic screaming kids for the most part.

Afternoon at the Reichstag

One of the most impressive buildings around Berlin and one tainted with plenty of history is the German Reichstag, or the home of their parliamentary system. Whilst currently closed to the public, they do have a roof top restaurant you can book ahead and visit. It’s well worth it whilst the rest of the public are not allowed to go up.

We went for a lazy Sunday afternoon tea, where we indulged in cafe and kuchen.

The menu comes in both English and German versions although the best way to choose the cake is to go and take a look at what you’d like from their extensive selection and then try and remember what it was.

Here’s the entire gang that came along for our wonderful experience.

Felix pondering diligently over the coffee selection.

Nigel, hot chocolate fiend, enjoying the bright and airy atmosphere.

Jo pondering the menu.

And Rachel, aficionado of caek (sic).

Cheesecake was ordered by some.

A coffee cream cake by others.

The dense, Viennese classic, Sache Torte.

And finally a different crumble slice filled with a tart fruit.

Afternoon tea is best followed with a spectacular sunset and what a sight Berlin held for us with an astounding view from the Dome.

Both inwards towards the parliamentary seats.

And outside to the bitterly cold winds.

Only to finish off the day with an astoundingly red sunset.

A view to remember for a while.

And a eerily made elevator that makes it look like an infinity space.

Panorama Bar at Berghain

I had a little trouble sleeping on Friday night and being slightly restless decided to have a look at what was going on around Berlin. Looking up Berlin’s famous warehouse club, Berghain, I saw that German House DJ, Ian Pooley was playing at set at their Panorama Bar that morning (3am). I did a bit more reading about Berghain, hearing about the picky doormen, and the potential one hour queueing, something I didn’t really need on a cold winter’s night. Spurred on by the fact that Berlin’s underground operates 24 hours and I wasn’t getting any sleep, I decided to head out.

My trick was to look as least touristy as possible. Shiny shoes are a no go, and I threw on my most casual/alternative clothes. This wasn’t going to be a polished club like some of the ones you might find yourself in London. Fortunately I didn’t have to worry and it wasn’t long before I paid my EUR10 entrance.

Photos of the place inside are not tolerated whatsoever. Although I could use my phone inside (checking the time, etc) I’d read stories about people trying to take photos and then being grabbed and thrown out. On the Friday night, Berghain pretty much only hosts the Panorama Bar with a dance floor and bar on the top floor of the warehouse looking out. The crowd was great – a mix of alternative, hip and people just there to enjoy themselves. There wasn’t any of the pretentious crowds and everyone seemed very friendly. The sound system was perfect – not too loud to deafen you but loud enough to bring everyone into a good mood. I left the place shortly after Ian Pooley finished his set at about 6am and found myself collapsing into bed just before 7. Berlin is definitely starting to grow on me as a place to live and work.

New York’s MOMA

We are spoilt for choice in Britain with so many museums and art galleries providing free entrace to everything but some special exhibits. Hence, balking at the idea of paying to go to the Mususem of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. However my sister convinced me to go and (despite not being the biggest fan of most modern art displays).

At least, if anything, the MOMA is pretty good value also including entrance to their PS1 extension found in Long Island City, Queens. The MOMA contains about four or five floors of exhibits with plenty of rooms to walk around in. Just like most art places, unless you’re a huge fan of it, I think it’s best to go for the guided tour.

My sister found out about the very cool lecture tours conducted by a proper graduate student who talks about each of the pieces. They equipped us with modern listening devices, allowing the lecturer to speak with ease into their clip-on mike and hear her on our earpieces which we carried around. Given how popular the MOMA is and how many people somehow move in the way I really enjoyed this modern and particularly convenient touch. Our lecture took us on a “Changing Faces” tour of sculpture where we looked at pieces from multiple ages to see the progression. I liked the way that our lecturer/guide asked us on our thoughts even though she realised we didn’t really know that much about the artists or times. I liked the way that she was fine with our interpretations and comments on what we noticed most about each piece.

After the tour lasting about an hour, we walked around the rest of the exhibits. One of the “live” art pieces was a piano played from the inside as they crawl around the floor. Not quite sure what it was really trying to send as a message but entertaining when watching the crowds move with the piano from a bird’s eye view on the upper floors. I also realised walking around that I noticed many exhibits I’d seen in both London’s Tate Modern and Paris’ Pompidou Centre.

TRON: Legacy

My holiday in New York was pretty relaxed. I didn’t schedule too much because I was busy writing my chapters for a book I’m contributing to. I did get a chance to see the 3D Imax version of TRON: Legacy. I’d read some of the reviews from a number of people, “It’s a terrible movie” or “I can’t believe how they ruined the storyline”, or the best one yet, “What a fantastic music clip though a poor movie”. With reviews like that, I figured it’d be best to see it whilst on the big screen and with great audio at the same time, so off I went to see Tron on the big screen.

Just like in Avatar, the 3D effects strike you from the start, with a flying in movement that literally makes you feel like you’re floating through the air. After a while you adjust and the 3D effects start to become less noticeable.

Even though this latest incarnation apparently “ruined the original storyline”, I kind of liked the movie for what it was. The first fifteen minutes does a good job at creating excitement and wonder.

I had to really question the whole motorcycle chase scene and the breaking into the company but the “broken childhood” of the main character and how those skills are later put to use make a whole lot of sense. It really wouldn’t have been quite the same.

I also appreciated the use of a termail and the “kill -9” process by one of the sideline characters that doesn’t attempt to over-glamourise the techie side to it.

As expected, the movie spends most of its time in the “digital world”, where the club-like UV effects make their most impact on the dark backgrounds and where all the great action scenes come to life. Despite how easily the whole movie could have centred around the action fight scenes created by the light-cycles, I think they did a good job of the cool factor without over-doing it. In fact, I think this underuse made the point very well.

What really stood out for me was the fantastic soundtrack instrumented by French DJs, Daft Punk. Dark, moving, and bass-thumping tracks for once adding that extra dimension to feeling like you were really part of a club. It’d be nice to think that a digital world could be as club-like as they made it out to be 🙂

This isn’t a movie that will win any awards. I think it’s an ambitious project to try to replicate something that already exists. In fact, I remember watching the original as such a young kid I remember nothing to compare it to other than the name, so for me it works.

As far as entertainment it works for me. The story doesn’t take any unexpected twists but you know what? That’s fine with me.

Stephen Hawking at the Royal Albert Hall

One thing I appreciate about London the most is the diverse range of activities you can do. For instance, I was lucky enough to get a couple of tickets to see Stephen Hawkins speak at Royal Albert Hall. He spoke about his brief history and he told the story about where he came from, his family life and upbringing all the way to talking about his theories about life.

Pleasantly he was very modest about his achievements and his humour shone throughout his speech. People filled the entire auditorium, where Hawkings kept everyone captivated throughout. At the evening we even got a copy of his latest book, The Grand Design though I haven’t started reading it yet. Instead, the book has joined my ever growing pile of books to get through.

Family in London Part 2

The family didn’t spend as much time as I would have liked to in London but we certainly packed in quite a bit before they headed off to Paris to start their European adventures. We made sure that we tried to complete as many interesting things they would have appreciated including:

Breakfast at Simpsons on the Strand – One of the poshest places to have breakfast, this restaurant serves breakfast for the … hotel and has a very classic selection including kippers on toast (something you don’t see everyday). The poshness of this place is also reflected in the price – their full English breakfast (including liver, black pudding, etc) costing a hefty portion. I decided to go for something a little bit different and chose the banana pancakes served with creme friache and maple syrup.

Changing of the Guards – Being in the area, we walked through St James Park to witness the well known ceremony, the Changing of the Guards. It seemed like huge number of tourists also waited in line to see the marching band, and the colourful troops go through their rituals to swap in the old for the new.

Buckhingham Palace – We pre-booked tickets to be able to walkthrough the palace grounds. Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take any photographs inside so nothing visual to remember but it was certainly an impressive lot. The audio guide kept us busy right to the very end although it was sometimes a squeeze in some areas. The Queen is very popular!

London Duck Tours – The British used these amphibious vehicles during the second world war and now they take tourists around and into the Thames on a very well guided tour. I felt a little sorry for our tour guide who constantly cracked jokes but unfortunately our group didn’t seem to respond very well to him. We learned lots of tidbits of information such as where the Earl of Sandwich first created his well known sarnie and the location for the Queen’s very own pharmacist. Definitely fun and entertaining.

Tierra Brindisa – I wanted to give our parents a true taste of spain, so one of the Brindisa restaurants it had to be. We feasted on plenty of tapas and especially enjoyed their speciality picante chorizo, rocket and roasted peppers on toasted bread. The family was well fed and well chuffed after visiting this place.

Westminster Abbey, Big Ben – We got here first thing one morning to ensure we could join the English guided tour around the abbey rather than simply take the audio guide that everyone else does. Doing so gave us access to parts of the Abbey you wouldn’t normally see including getting to sit where the choir sits during one of their services. It was my first time inside here and I hadn’t realised exactly how many famous people had been buried here, or at least there were monuments too. It seems like they’re running out of room for them all!

Harrods – A trip down to Knightsbridge of course requires a visit to this well known institute. Although we didn’t really come here to buy expensive goods, the family enjoyed wandering the grounds, even visiting the tiny little pet shop they have on their top floor.

Afternoon tea at the Berkeley – My sister organised this trip where we indulged in many different types of sandwiches and overdosed on extremely decadent cakes, slices and other desserts all while enjoying tea served on Paul Smith designed crockery. The Berkeley is very well known for adapting their afternoon tea experience to current fashion trends, even providing pictures for you to understand the inspiration for the various plates that stand before you. A very impressive selection and well worth its high price.

West End Musical – Sister Act – My mum really wanted to see a musical and so my sister organised to see Sister Act. It was actually a very entertaining and well produced musical although the hectic schedule, extremely chilly exteriors and warmth led to a couple of people napping during the show!

BBC Television Centre Tour – As part of the service to the public, the BBC conduct tours of their television centre and they’re definitely worthwhile. Our two tour guides, part time actors for various shows in the BBC provided a wealth of entertainment as they took us around the history of the buildings, the sets where they film various shows and hosted us for a little bit of mock news and weather reading using some of the technology they would for the TV.

Mum even got to face off against a dalek (though I wouldn’t be smiling as much as she is if I met one for real).

Westfield Visit – Seeing as were in the area, we thought we should take them to the new Westfield Shopping centre, just to see how the shopping experience changes being in a different country.

Tower Bridge – We made sure that we visited the well known Tower Bridge (often mistaken as the London Bridge which isn’t really that special) where we also took in the City Hall.

Dinner at the Bleeding Heart Tavern with my flatmate – Finally before the rest of the family headed off to continental Europe I made sure that they got to meet my flatmate, Tom, who they’d all heard about but yet hadn’t had the chance to meet. We dined at the cosy Bleeding Heart Tavern where everyone really enjoyed their hearty British meal.

The Doves Final Show @ The Warehouse Project

Manchester’s been running with The Warehouse Project for the past several years, setting up shop in the arches below Piccadilly Station. Somehow they manage to get an amazing line up of DJs and musical artists playing sets and gigs for almost two months running. I reckon all those up North are pretty lucky.

I’d got a ticket to see The Doves when they first came out as I remember the amazing gig that Al and Suz brought me to back in Brisbane and how totally stunned I was by their awesome sounds. Trying to get a ticket to their gig is nigh impossible without resorting to the touts, so I was pretty stoked to get one to their show in their own home town.

The gig started really late with the support acts not starting until about 11pm at night. Given that most of the other artists were DJ’s I can understand this underground starting time, but I found it a bit strange for a gig. I don’t think The Doves came on until about 1pm, playing a decent set until about 3am in the uber-packed archways.

They played an amazing set although I think the speakers were set just a touch too loud as the ringing in my ears told me the next morning. I think it was also a pretty special set since they won’t be touring in the UK for a final since they needed a bit of a break.