Schloss Charlottenburg the Palace of Berlin

By Steven Wright

A statue of the goddess of happiness Fortuna sits on top of the grand cupola at Schloss Charlottenburg. The palace built as a summer residence and was named after Sophie Charlotte, the wife of Friederich III. The building design is a homage to the palace of Versailles and also references Italian architecture of the time. Construction started in 1699, and was extended numerous times to include the annex and Orangeries.

Located in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Schloss Charlottenburg is the largest palace and the only former royal residence in Berlin. Visitors can tour inside the Old Palace to see the baroque style royal apartments, the largest collection of 18th century French paintings outside of France, and Chinese and Japanese porcelain and silverware collections. The New Wing features the rococo style and some incredible fine furniture  added by Friederich the Great. You can get tickets for these exhibits in the main courtyard through the golden gates.

The palace was badly damaged during WWII, and in the ’50s reconstruction started to bring the palace back to its former glory. The palace tour gives visitors a bird’s eye view of what I consider to be the gem of the property, the magnificent and massive gardens that surround the palace.

The Palace Gardens are expansive covering 33 hectares with one side bordered by the River Spree, they are a great place to relax and enjoy the day, and a popular place for runners and cyclists alike. The garden design references both French baroque and traditional English gardens and feature the Belvedere Teahouse (now a porcelain museum), the mausoleum of Queen Louise, and the Schinkel pavilion.

The baroque portions of the gardens lead to a central fountain, to the west there are a number of tree lined paths leading you further into the garden. Spend some time at the Carp pond, pack a picnic lunch and watch the tour boats travel down the Spree. I enjoyed the variety of plants and trees and was amazed at the maturity of the Agave and other plantings throughout the garden in large pots.

Definitely worth a visit!

Germany Posts:
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
East Side Gallery
Outlet City Metzingen
Potsdamer Platz – the platz to be!
Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie
Shopping in Berlin – ja, das ist gut!
Garden Posts:
Enjoying My Cake in Versailles Gardens

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Going for Gehry

By Steven Wright

It was in 2001, at Harbourfront Centre‘s World Leaders: A Festival of Creative Genius in Toronto, when I was first introduced to Frank O Gehry. The evening was an intimate conversation with the Toronto born Architect talking about everything from designing furniture and jewelry to his current project for the Guggenheim Foundation. Listening to him talk about his process, use of materials and using new technologies to bring his sketches to life was inspiring and has had a huge impact on my travels since. Some travelers explore destinations to visit historical sites, which I enjoy as well, but as I choose destinations, proximity to a Gehry building is a highlight for me.

As a huge fan and follower of Gehry Partners LLP, I love to explore and compare Gehry’s initial sketch to the modeling stage and then completed building. The process is incredibly fascinating, the sketch is normally a squiggled line on a napkin or scrap piece of paper when inspiration hits; it is hard for most to discern the complete vision at this point. The next stage is modeling, building specific geometric shapes out of paper and foam core, his process of bending, crumpling, folding and creating is an arts and crafts master class. Once satisfied, the models and structures are scanned into the computer using Gehry Partners software to not only create a 3D model , but also to determine how to best construct the structure including a part list. Years later when the construction is compete, if you look back to the initial sketch you are able to fully understand the complexity of what Gehry sketched. Sydney Pollack even created a film about the process called Sketches of Frank Gehry.

While film and pictures try there best to represent the brilliance of these structures, there is nothing like experiencing Gehry first hand. My first opportunity was at the DZ Bank located at Pariser Platz 3, inside the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin. The exterior of the building compliments the other buildings, but the real treasure is found inside the lobby. One of his inspirations and reoccurring themes in Gehry’s work are fish and their form, this is evident at the DZ Bank. The interior atrium is filled with light streaming through the fish scaled glass ceiling, offices along the exterior of the building have glass walls to the interior to make the most of the natural light, glass continues on the walkways outside the offices allowing the light to filter down to the lower levels. Another glass ceiling covers the conference centre that occupies the entire lower level using the natural light coming from the atrium above. The use of glass and wood makes this modern space both welcoming and warm. At the back of the atrium, there is a very organic form that continues the fish reference resembling internal organs. Although this is a private business office, you can ask to take pictures from the reception in the lobby. The opposite side of the building features luxury condos.

On a former industrial parcel of land on the Nervion River in Bilbao, a little known town in north western Spain, Gehry’s squiggle on a napkin was transformed into the incredible titanium Guggenheim Bilbao. When you first catch a glimpse of the building from the streets of Bilbao you are drawn into the structure, wondering how the forms were envisioned and possibly built. The blue administration buildings lead you to the grand staircase and to the entrance to the museum. The building features reflecting pools and pedestrian walkways along the river, the BI-631 highway runs through a section of the building, I found it necessary to walk around the exterior numerous times to experience all of the buildings grandeur. After the sun sets, the building continues to shine into the night, beautifully lit, reflecting off the river, a sight to be seen.

Through the entrance, you are surrounded by light, the tall glass panels that line the entrance create an incredible entrance and welcome into the buildings. Each gallery is unique in shape and size and leads the patron through the collections complimenting each artist expression. Make sure to visit the cafe to compare your experience with the initial sketch. Today the museum is a major tourist draw, with a modern airport and transit system, being close to the beautiful beaches of San Sebastian Spain, southern France, and the opportunity to stay at Hotel Marques De Riscal in Elciego,  also designed by Gehry.

I was elated to hear of plans for Gehry to remodel the Art Gallery of Ontario. The project was plagued with infighting with AGO donors, but came to fruition giving Toronto, Gehry’s birthplace, their first taste of Gehry. The AGO features an amazing glass front that brings much needed light into the museum, the glass fused with metal seems to change colour, depending on the weather. The new grand entrance and Gehry staircases on the interior and exterior of the building are magical and the bold blue box on the roof contains new modern gallery space and compliments the OCAD University table top building next door. The AGO remodel also features new rental space that is often used for wedding ceremonies and other high profile events. Who wouldn’t want to be married in a Gehry space?

Media Harbour, beside the Rheinturm TV Tower on the Rhine River in Dusseldorf, is developing into a hub for arts and media production. This is the site of Der Neue Zollhof, a series of 3 Gehry buildings, more like sculptures of wind blowing into 3 sails on a boat. The buildings are brilliant with windows jetting out to maximize light and provide the best view of the Rhine, the exteriors coloured silver, red and white. The buildings are the perfect backdrop to the marina in front, and provide areas to relax and grab a drink or romantic dinner at the steakhouse with Gehry’s name. Der Neue Zollhof starts the transition from the Historic Old Town into the modernity of Media Harbour. Walking around the exterior, the shapes and use of materials again leave you in awe of their brilliance and Gehry’s genius. There is public parking right in the building if you want to start here and walk the piers of Media Harbour or head to the World’s Longest Bar in Old town along the Rhine.

Gehry’s first public sculpture was commissioned for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona. The Gehry Fish, a huge sculpture made of woven steel provides a landmark of the entrance into the Olympic Port and the former Athletes Village. Today the village has been turned into a beach destination with retail shopping, restaurants and cafes, hotels and a casino. Enjoy your day on the beach and your evening on one of the patios around the fish sculpture, its amazing to see it reflect the sun throughout the day and come alive at sunset.

NYC recently added to its Gehry collection with the opening of NYC’s Largest Residential Building at 8 Spruce Street. Located by New York City Hall and the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, the 870 foot tall stainless steel clad building gives the illusion of movement with its exterior resembling waves. The waves reflect the light through the day almost transforming its exterior in a dynamic way. With incredible views of the harbour and many bridges, all the amenities you could every want, 8 Spruce Street just might be the ultimate NYC address. While in NYC also check out the Issey Miyake Flagship Store at 119 Hudson, and the IAC Building at 555 West 18th Street.

I am looking forward to visiting the Dancing House in Prague, The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas and continue to hope that Toronto will one day have its own Gehry masterpiece.

Photos:
MY Gehry Gallery
Gehry Posts:
Basque in the beauty of the Guggenheim and more in Bilbao
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie
Barcelona Beach, Mountain & Fountain

Shopping in Berlin – ja, das ist gut!

By Steven Wright

When I travel, shopping is always on my list of things to do. I like to discover European brands that have yet to hit the North American shores and sometimes there are opportunities to catch amazing sales on the high end global brands. Then there is the opportunity to have an incredible shopping experience, either in a space that is like nothing you have seen before, or having the opportunity to chat with the up-and-coming designer whose items your are looking at.

Kurfürstendamm Strasse is the former West shopping district, from Budapester Strasse to Wittenburgplatz you can find everything from department stores to global brand flagship stores, lots of tourist shops, American fast-food restaurants, street food, fine dining and even farmer’s markets.

The first thing that strikes you is the WWII bombed remains of the Kaiser Wilhelm Kirche dominating the centre of the street. The area around the church has become the epicenter of Charlottenburg, with street performers, stands selling roasted nuts, dried fruits and other local fare. The area becomes a Christmas Market filled with amazing items through the holidays. While in the square, do not miss the opportunity to enter into the remains of the Kaiser Wilhelm Kirche to see the intricate decoration of the the interior and see a model of the structure that existed before the war. Then across the sidewalk enter the Memorial Kirche, amaze in the beauty of the blue glass brick surroundings in this peaceful space.

Back to shopping, there are a couple of locations of department store C&A. This is a discount department store with large sections for men, women and children, there is even a youthful section for teens. C&A, for me is cool, kind of like H&M was cool before landing all over North America. There are many C&A stores throughout Europe, but for me there is nothing better than getting a couple of pairs of European cut jeans for 29 Euro a piece. Also a place to get shorts, t-shirts, sweaters and underwear in a pinch.

Further down the street KaDeWe is not to be missed. You will first be drawn in to the brilliant window displays of Kaufhaus des Westens (department store for the West), and its amazing to see people lined up outside the door each day as it opens. On the first floor find many high end designer boutiques. Clothing for men, women and children, and home apparel on the next few floors. For me the pinnacle of this department store that elevates it over the rest is the top two floors. The first is the gourmet market where you can find everything from fresh fish and proteins, to vegetables, eggs and cheese, a wine store and much much more. If you can not find what you are looking for here, then it is not available in Germany. On the top floor, bounded by a huge solarium, is one of the best food experiences I have had. Grab a tray and travel through the large salad buffet, grills serving freshly prepared meals, freshly baked breads, homemade soups, coffee and tea station, amazing deserts, and more. After a long day of shopping its a great place to refuel. Across the street beside the parking lot you can check out their annex location for fabric, crafts and other supplies.

Kamps is a favorite stop along this strip. They have delicious baked treats, freshly made sandwiched and great coffee and espresso.

S & U Bhan Zoologischer Garten, U Bhan Wittenburgplatz, U Bhan Kurfürstendamm

Fredrichstrasse was to the East, what Kurfürstendamm was to the West, the high end shopping district. Here you will find flagship locations for high-end designer labels, luxury car brands and home decor.

My favorite location along Fredrichstrasse is Quartier 206. This Department store, designed by I.M Pei exudes luxury with its marble and granite floors, the exquisite decor and its triangular shaped glass ceiling. Inside find high end brands including Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Versace, Valentino and more.

U Bhan Freidrichstrasse

Hackescher Markt is the Soho of Berlin. Enter under the train tracks to discover a neighborhood filled with winding streets, quaint shops, restaurants and an energy from the people pouring off the sidewalks, sharing the crowded streets with trams and other vehicles. Many of the shops have a map outlining the shopping streets in this hood. There is a great variety of shops in this area, everything from a costume shop, to modern decor stores to independent clothing chains, and the area boats the very first Adidas, and Puma stores. There are lots of shops that represent local artists and their works, which are available for sale and a great way to take a unique memory home with you.

S Bhan Hackescher Markt

If you are looking for up-and-coming designers then I would make the trek to Schönhauser Allee. This area is filled with clothing, artist and home decor shops, and great restaurants. As its a little out of the core, this is the neighborhood that artists and young professionals live, its having a renewal and a great place to find original designs, artists work and other great finds.

After a day of shopping check out Villa Rodizio for dinner. This massive space features a very casual environment where you can relax and chat with friends all night long. The air of celebration is in the air, perhaps that is just the drinks that are flowing. The main attraction is the all you can eat buffet including a 3 metre vegetable bar that includes many prepared salads and hot vegetables and the proteins are spit roasted in the back. The serving staff travel around the tables, carving freshly cooked meats to the tables. Enjoy turkey, chicken, beef, pork, and lamb of the spit. For 20some Euro it is a steal!

S & U Bhan Schönhauser Allee

German Posts:
East Side Gallery
Outlet City Metzingen
Potsdamer Platz – the platz to be!
Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
Schloss Charlottenburg the Palace of Berlin
Shopping Posts:
Outlet City Metzingen
Finding Karl, Jean-Paul and Christian in Paris
La Rambla is just a warm up to shopping in Barcelona
Chic Outlet Shopping – Europe

Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie

Frank O. Gehry's DZ Bank

By Steven Wright

Berlin is full of destinations for tourists to visit, there is something for absolutely everyone. This walking tour is only 4km and the route would only take an hour to complete, but with all the highlights on this tour I would suggest you would need most of the day to take in all these sites and attractions.

Start under the Sony Centre canopy at Potsdamer Platz, grab a coffee and a snack at the Arkaden before heading off. Check my post on Postdamer Platz for more information. Turn left on to Ebertstrasse, as you are walking down the street you will see the start of Tiergarten on the left side of the street.

At Hannah-Arendt Strasse, you have hit your first stop (or maybe it hits you): the Memorial to all the Murdered Jews in Europe. Immediately you are drawn in by the overwhelming size of all the black stone pillars lined up across the entire site. As you enter and start to walk through the pillars, the perspectives are amazing as you look down the long path to the other side. The pillars get taller as you get to the centre and the ground slopes downward, you find yourself lost in the maze. As the sounds outside are muted, there is a feeling of a presence here, that stays with you as you reflect on the significance of this site.

Continue down Ebertstrasse, you will be approaching the Brandenburg Gate, when you get to the front look down into Tiergarten to catch a glimpse of the Siegessäule, Berlin’s Victory Column in the centre of the park. Walk past the Brandenburg Gate (you will be back in a bit) and continue on to the next stop the Reichstag. Turn left onto Scheidemannstrasse to get to Platz der Republik.

As you approach the Reichstag you will notice the line forming up the stairs, this may discourage some tourists, but I insist its worth the wait. (If you speak German, there is a person who will go through the line escorting German nationals to the front.) Once you enter the building there is a security check before you are ushered into a large elevator destined for the roof. Once there you are drawn to the glass dome by British architect Sir Norman Foster. Walk up and down inside for an incredible view of the city. At the bottom there is a historic account of this imposing building’s history. Notice the council chamber below through the window and mirrored column, signifying the transparency of today’s German Parliament. Then walk to all four corners for the best view of Berlin.

After exiting the Reichstag, head back to the Brandenburg Gate. As you pass through the gate you will be in Pariser Platz. This is a great area to get the best pictures of the gate. My favorite building in this area is the DZ Bank building at Pariser Platz 3 designed by architect Frank O Gehry. While the building is unassuming from the outside, the real treasure is found inside. Although this is not really a public place you can go through into the reception to catch a glimpse at a masterpiece. Looking into the office building you can see Gehry’s reference to fish in the scale like glass ceiling over the cafeteria and the roof of the building, the reference continues in the back of the building with a huge structure over a staircase that look like organs. Its an inspiring space to be in.

From Pariser Platz head down Unter de Linden towards the TV Tower in Mitte. Take in the beauty of the old buildings, souvenir shops and restaurants. At Fredrichstrasse turn right. There is more shopping and high end retailers along the way. At Fredrichstrasse 71 you will find department store Quartier 206, designed by architect I.M. Pei. Whether you are in market for a Louis Vuitton bag or not, this store is a must see. When you enter, you are overwhelmed by the shine of the black and white stone tiled floors and the sheer beauty of the interior, don’t forget to look up to see the amazing glass ceiling made of Pei’s signature triangular pieces. You feel the elegance in this space.

Continue down Fredrichstrasse to one of the cold war access points between East and West Berlin and Checkpoint Charlie. This museum is dedicated to the history of this corner and the bravery and determination of Berliners who attempted to cross from East to West Berlin. The exhibits include many of the secrets and contraptions people used to gain access, risking their lives in many ways to do so. A must see.

Click to see my photo gallery of the Glass Ceiling walking tour

Germany Posts:
East Side Gallery
Outlet City Metzingen
Potsdamer Platz – the platz to be!
Shopping in Berlin – ja, das ist gut!
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
Schloss Charlottenburg the Palace of Berlin

Potsdamer Platz – the platz to be!

By: Steven Wright

One of the things I adore about European cities are the public squares. The magic of a car free, pedestrian area with restaurants lining the perimeter, a gathering place with booths selling artist works, street food, product launches and a “happening place” kind of presence, a place where you can relax and people watch. Potsdamer Platz is a visionary modern public square.

Potsdamer Platz is central to most of Berlin. During WWII, it became one of the most bombed areas due to its proximity to the Reichstag and other government buildings, leaving the area virtually flattened after the war. Post WWII, it became no man’s land, the area of great divide between East and West Berlin. After reunification, this area became one of the largest construction sites in Europe, leading to a total rebirth of this desirable locale.

Today’s Potsdamer Platz is both a community and a destination. There are brilliant modern condominiums and office towers lining the streets, high end hotel chains, restaurants and shops, museums and theatres, an Arkaden (mall) and even a casino can be found here. Extremely connected with links to the S&U Bahn, buses and DB bike rentals.

There are 3 skyscrapers dotting the corner, along with the entrances to the train station, and replicas of the first ever traffic lights in Europe. This corner is like no other in Berlin, the buildings are large and imposing, but are also incredibly beautiful both in colour and shape, creating a new gate into Potsdamer Platz. No. 1 houses the “Panoramapunkt” viewing platform, located 100 m above ground level, which is accessed by riding Europe’s fastest elevator (8.65 metres per second).

On the south side of Potsdamer Strasse find the Arkaden. On the lower level find one of the best food courts I have seen, filled with fresh fish, sandwiches, even a grocery store. Lots of great shopping continues on the main and upper level. Caffé e Gelato is  a must stop for a cappuccino and an amazing Gelato treat. Behind the Arkaden is the Speilbank Berlin casino and a beautiful place to sit and relax overlooking “Untitled (Boxers)”, 1987 by Keith Hering.

On the north side find what I consider to be the pièce de résistance, the Sony Centre. Best to enter through the DB office tower at the east end, you will notice a path that is lit with an amazing blue light, on the right notice the restored parts of the Hotel Esplanade, which was moved 75 metres to its new home after surviving the war. The historic location of the Berlin Wall has been incorporated into the site; look for the metal markers across the grounds.

Looking down the walkway you are drawn into a large circular opening, surrounded by buildings holding up a huge canopy of glass and metal, the site is awe inspiring. The Sony Centre houses many great restaurants that have patios overlooking the square, an English language movie theatre with IMAX, a Lego store, Sony store, and the Filmhaus Berlin. The Sony Centre becomes even more beautiful at night when the canopy is lit up brilliant colours that can be seen from all over the city. Find a seat around the fountain for people watching, red carpet premieres, concert performances and much more. I find myself visiting Potsdamer Platz multiple times each trip to Berlin.

Photo Gallery:
Potsdamer Platz
Germany Posts:
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
East Side Gallery
Outlet City Metzingen
Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie
Schloss Charlottenburg the Palace of Berlin

East Side Gallery

By: Steven Wright

I remember watching TV in 1989 and watching U2 performing on top of the Berlin Wall right at the Brandenburg Gate. While as a child of the 70’s I knew I was watching something important, but did not comprehend the significance of what I was witnessing.

Years later I ventured to Berlin and wanted to understand a bit of what I witnessed in 1989. In today’s Berlin you can see sections of the Wall scattered across the city but the highlight for me is the East Side Gallery, a 1.2 km section of the wall that is still intact.

The East Side Gallery is a constantly evolving work of art; over the years I have visited the wall on 3 separate occasions and have never been disappointed. The first thing that you see is the beauty of all the colours drawing you towards, as you approach the next thing that strikes you is the overwhelming size both in height and length, as you stand beside it, you realize just how intrusive this structure is and find yourself contemplating how you would possibly scale it.

Then you are drawn in by artist’s expressions from around the world, murals painted on sections of the wall, in brilliant colours, of shared experiences and hope for the future. The juxtaposition between this dominating, imposing structure and the beauty expressed on this industrial canvas is definitely not to be missed. Over time murals become layered with graffiti tags and tourists’ marking their visit to the East Side Gallery. Every few years the murals are repaired and replaced in its continual evolution.

There is a unique gift shop at the end of the tour, offering everything from “official pieces of the wall” and other tourist souvenirs.

Picture Gallery:
Click Here to view the Flickr Gallery

Directions:
Take the S Bahn to Ostbahnhof and walk the entire East Side Gallery to S&U Bahn Warschauer Strasse
Cost: FREE

Germany Posts:
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
Outlet City Metzingen
Potsdamer Platz – the platz to be!
Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie
Shopping in Berlin – ja, das ist gut!
Schloss Charlottenburg the Palace of Berlin