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My urban sketches are published in the Berlin newspaper!

Posted on Dec 31, 2012 in Berlin | 1 comment

Urban Sketchers article in the Berliner Zeitung

Two of my sketches were published in the Dec. 29/30 weekend edition of the Berliner Zeitung, the main newspaper here in Berlin. You can click on this image to see it open in another page, then click on it again to magnify.

When I came back from Osnabrück, I saw that the Berliner Zeitung had published the article about Urban Sketchers that Omar had told me about. I was able to get two copies of the Dec. 29/30 weekend paper. The article featured two of my sketches! It was a big thrill to see my artwork published here in Berlin. It’s like an official confirmation that I have contributed something to the artist scene here.

Here is a link to the article online if you can read German. It also includes a gallery of more sketches from several other people.

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Altes Museum in Berlin

Posted on Dec 31, 2012 in Berlin | 0 comments

Late brunch at Anna Blume

Our late brunch at Anna Blume Cafe involved a 3-tiered contraption for two starting with savoury items at the bottom to the fruit and sweet jams at the top. When you have this breakfast at 2 pm, who needs any more food for the rest of the day? I am all for eating just two big meals a day.

On December 30, Jeff got the full picture of my typical day in Berlin (since I usually sleep from about 4, 5 or 6 am until 11 am): we had a good long sleep until about noon, went out for breakfast around 1:30 pm, then walked for a while and just made it to the Altes Museum on the Berlin Museum Island around 4:00 pm where we had to line up for about 20 minutes to get in.

The tricky thing in this Berlin winter for me has been to see any daylight at all; my western Canadian work schedule (and OK, my art/blogging/natural inclination) usually has me up working during the night, and sleeping well into the day, so that by the time I get out on the town, it’s often around 2:30 pm. Then dusk starts by 3:30 pm at this time of year, meaning that I only see one hour of daylight on many days. But from speaking with my new illustrator/designer friends I have found that many of them keep a similar schedule, and they don’t even have the excuse of working for clients that are 9 time zones away. We night owls get a lot done, we just don’t do it when the early birds think it should be done.

And at the end of our day, we went to a small sauna in my neighbourhood, the Saunabad Rykestrasse, which has only two saunas but costs only €10 for a 2.5 hour visit. We very much enjoyed this small sauna at the end of our day.

Berlin bottles

Despite many holidays in a row, the Berlin garbage and recycling collection department is clearly not about to add extra shifts, they are just letting it pile up until they get around to removing it on their regular rotation.

Berlin TV Tower and Dome

From our line-up for the Altes Museum, we could see the Berlin TV Tower and Dome. This is what happens when you subscribe to the night owl lifestyle. You finally start doing something just as it’s getting dark.

Altes Museum, Berlin

Staircase in the Altes Museum, Berlin. I’ve been captured by the grand staircases in the museums I visit. Perhaps because those are usually the only places where photography is allowed. That said, all of the Berlin State Museums do seem to allow photography, so I was able to capture some art that caught my eye. See below.

Portrait of Theodor Mommsen by Franz von Lenbach, 1897

Portrait of Theodor Mommsen by Franz von Lenbach, 1897. While I am a big admirer of abstract and modern art, the sheer craft of draftsmanship is something that most people, including artists, never master. The ability to create reality in a drawing instills awe in people, and in me too.

"Old Man and Raven" by Ilja Repin, 1885

“Old Man and Raven” by Ilja Repin, 1885. The light and shadow and the economic means in which they are depicted in this very small painting, and its energy, captured me.

"Young Man Standing" by Adolf von Hildebrand, 1881-1884

“Young Man Standing” by Adolf von Hildebrand, 1881-1884. I think there should be more portraits of gorgeous young men, not just always women.

"The Bronze Age" by Auguste Rodin, 1875/76

“The Bronze Age” by Auguste Rodin, 1875/76. Ditto.

"The Princess Warwara Wassiljewna Galitzin" by Heinrich Friedrich Füger, 1798(?)

“The Princess Warwara Wassiljewna Galitzin” by Heinrich Friedrich Füger, 1798(?). I was drawn in by the orange shawl — my favourite colour.

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Back to Berlin for some couple time

Posted on Dec 30, 2012 in Berlin | 0 comments

Chocolate on bread

Yes, Germans eat solid chocolate on their bread. I am a big nutella fan, but had not actually tried this particular way of delivering chocolate into my stomach first thing in the morning. It is basically a thin chocolate bar on your breakfast bun. With butter. Sans prayer. Take that, you Kindergarten-Tante!

On Saturday, December 29, Jeff and I spend one more leisurely morning with our friends before catching the train back to Berlin, where Jeff will spend a full week with me. We have been sleeping like die Weltmeister in Cologne and Osnabrück — 9- or 10-hour sleeps each night, Jeff probably due to having a cold, and I must have been catching up from my 5- and 6-hour nights that I averaged during my first 4 weeks in Berlin.

G. and the girls dropped us off at the train station. M. ran alongside the moving train for what seemed like minutes (she’s an athlete). I felt sad to say goodbye, but I was also looking forward to some quality couple time.

Jeff's travel medicine cabinet

Jeff’s travel medicine cabinet. He’s had a bit of bad luck to get a cold on this trip.

Riding first class ICE

Riding first class on the ICE on this trip. There is not a big difference to 2nd class except it is less crowded, they take your food and drink order at your seat and bring it to you, and the seats and compartments are more spacious. Now that I just wrote that, it makes it sound pretty good.

On the train

I have been enjoying the train rides very much.

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Those lucky pigs in Münster

Posted on Dec 29, 2012 in Münster | 0 comments

Chagall and the Bible art exhibit, Münster, Germany

Chagall and the Bible art exhibit, Münster, Germany.

Münster is a rich little city near Osnabrück — so rich in fact that they have their own Picasso-Museum. This Picasso-Museum was hosting a Marc Chagall exhibit of his Bible story paintings, and our friends offered to take us there — or I should say, to take me there, since they know how much I love art, and Chagall happens to be one of my favourite artists ever since I discovered him as a child. And who is a more child-like artist than Chagall?

Copy of Chagall painting in Procreate on iPad

I have this new thing I do at art museums: I copy some of the art by re-drawing it on my iPad. Here is a Chagall painting in Procreate on iPad. In this manner I both interact with the art, create something myself, and don’t take the exhibited art too seriously. I don’t want to worship these artists, I want to see them as people just like me. Or see me as just like them.

Copy of Chagall painting in Procreate on iPad

Another copy of a Chagall painting in Procreate on iPad. I very much enjoyed seeing this show, most of the paintings or drawings were new to me.

My thoughts on the Chagall exhibit

My thoughts on the Chagall exhibit.

City of Münster, Germany

In Münster there was yet another church thingy. While Münster is a beautiful city and well worth a visit, I don’t find these “official sights” nearly as interesting as the little things I discover, as you will see in the images below.

Lucky German New Year pig

In Germany, pigs at New Year’s are considered a symbol of good luck. I suppose it’s about riches of food and fertility, although I have never thought about it until just now. This time, I will let you google it yourself.

German lucky mushroom

Another traditional symbol of good luck in Germany is this red mushroom with white dots, which is actually poisonous, but never mind. There is also a German word “Glückspilz” which means “lucky mushroom” and is used to describe a person who is fortunate. And since it’s New Year’s, the good luck symbols are indeed popping up like mushrooms, or much like the red envelopes or moon cakes with the embedded duck egg pop up for the Chinese New Year all over Vancouver.

Heart-shaped bread in a German bakery in Münster

Heart-shaped bread in a German bakery in Münster. Hearts are always good, again this must be a New Year’s thing.

Traffic light, Germany

I had never seen this before in Germany or anywhere else: “Grün kommt”, meaning, “the green light is coming”. No, really?

Doing 190 on the German Autobahn

Here is my friend G., driving us back from Münster, doing 190 km/h (127 mph) on the fabled no-speed-limit German autobahn, just to show us that YES WE CAN! I have to admit that my inner race car driver loved it. And I don’t think our little Yaris in Vancouver can go faster than 140 km/h (about 90 mph). I think our odometer goes to 160 km/h (110 mph). And please note, while as a professional designer I have some pretty advanced Photoshop skills, this odometer was not digitally doctored. 🙂

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“That’s gingerbread house robbery” they cried in Osnabrück

Posted on Dec 28, 2012 in Osnabrück | 0 comments

Gingerbread house being dismantled

An interesting practice at a downtown Osnabrück mall: it’s December 27 and the large gingerbread house that was set up in this mall as Christmas decoration, has been opened to public plundering! Just like Hansel and Gretel, people are ripping the edible tiles and stucco off the facade. But where’s the wicked witch?

Osnabrück is a beautiful old German city that has distinguished itself by hosting the peace talks to end the 30-year war back in — wait while I google this in Wikipedia — 1648.

C. showed me the “Friedensssal” where the end to the 30-year war was negotiated. This process alone took 7 years due to messages being carried to other kingdoms on horseback and back. This begs the question whether that war may have been finished after 23 years if they’d had email or tele-conferencing back then, but I am not so sure. I actually bet they had to be more concise in their communications than we are today.

We also visited the diocesan museum belonging to the Dome of Osnabrück, where church treasures from medieval to more recent times are stored. It is a beautiful museum, although I was hoping to see some icons there, which they didn’t have. I am interested in icon art, not out of reverence but because I would like to do something subversive involving the icon visual tradition. Of course, about 100 other artists have already done it by now.

In the evening, our friends treated us to a nice dinner at the traditional German brewery Rampendahl.

Detail on the entrance door to the Friedenssaal, Osnabrück

The door handle at the entrance to the Friedenssaal, Osnabrück. The city now tries to carry on its tradition and hosts peace-making related events designed to foster understanding and conflict resolution.

Looking out from the Friedenssaal in Osnabrück

Looking out from the Friedenssaal in Osnabrück, but I don’t know what this church is. Hello my friend G. — maybe you can help!?

View from the "Kreuzgang" inside the Dome of Osnabrück

View from the “Kreuzgang” inside the Dome of Osnabrück. I would have liked to sketch this as well, but a) there was not much time, and b) it was too cold.

View down an Osnabrück street

View down an Osnabrück street. This would make a great sketching motiv for one of my extreme vertical sketches. One day… provided I come back in warm weather.

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A trip to old friends in Osnabrück

Posted on Dec 27, 2012 in Osnabrück | 0 comments

There is a German saying: Nichts ist schwerer zu ertragen als eine Reihe von guten Tagen, meaning that “there is nothing harder to handle than a series of good days.”

I can’t quite find a problem with that on this trip, but as the saying implies, excessive eating over the holidays can turn against you.

In any case, more good days involving great food lay ahead as we joined my old school friend G. and his wife and two daughters in Osnabrück for three fun-filled, yet relaxing days.

ICE train

We get to depart Cologne in style on a 1st class ICE ticket. I have never travelled first class on the trains before, but a good winter deal for our 5-trip couple ticket made first class cheaper than the regular 2nd class tickets.

G.’s daughters E. and M. meet us on the train platform, running towards us like in a romantic movie, two beautiful young women in red coats. We get swept up in a large family lunch that consists of all 3 of G.’s siblings with their children (12 cousins total in the family), G.’s mother and a god uncle with his partner = 23 people.

I had a nice chat with G.’s mother S. — the last time I saw her was in 1992. 20 years ago!

The table is set for our friends' large extended family

It’s Boxing Day, or “2nd Christmas Day” as it’s called in Germany, and the table is set for our friends’ large extended family and us = 23 people.

G.’s wife C. is Italian and an amazing cook (those two qualities go together, it’s not just a stereotype). She makes this Boxing Day lunch for the whole extended family, 21+ people, every year.

So there were 12 young people ranging in age from about 10 to 23, outnumbering us middle-aged ones. I don’t come from a large family, so I don’t know what that’s like, and I don’t feel I am missing out on anything, but it was great to see G.’s siblings again after 30 years, and especially his brother A., who was also my friend, but we haven’t stayed in touch as faithfully as G. and I have.

"Tigel" appliance

My friend’s wife is from Italy and has a special appliance consisting of two electrically heated stones to bake her special “tigelle” bread, which is a bit like focaccia. It was divine! I wonder how many of these machines are even made and sold — this dish is from a very small region.

And in 2011, Jeff and I hosted each of G.’s daughters in Vancouver for 4 months, while they attended school and improved their English and got to see a different, far away part of the world from Germany. Their visit to Canada and our relationship with them could not have gone better; they benefited from us including them in all kinds of activities and making it a great experience for them, and Jeff and I were enchanted and enriched by their youthful energy, intelligence, passion, beauty, and zest for life. Win-win-win-win.

And now we are truly friends with the whole family, even the teenagers. 18 and 17 now, the girls won’t be teenagers for much longer.

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A walk around my childhood in Cologne

Posted on Dec 26, 2012 in Cologne | 1 comment

On Christmas Day we went for a walk around my childhood neighbourhood on the outer edges of Cologne. Large old homes are characteristic of this area. From here, it is easy to zip into downtown Cologne by streetcar or S-Bahn, but getting out into rural areas for excursions is convenient as well.

It was also convenient for my parents in other ways: we lived across the street from my father’s old family home in a rental apartment, my father worked in my grandfather’s architecture firm in yet another building around the corner, my dad’s brother and his brother-in-law also worked there for a while, and my mother helped them out temporarily with office admin duties.

My German family's home

My great-grandfather built this house in 1904. He brought his family, but also his mother — my great-great-grandmother — to live out the remaining years of her life there. This means it has been home to five generations of my family. The sixth generation, which are my cousin’s children, are not growing up there. My grandfather was 8 or 9 when the house was built and lived here until he died. My father, uncle and aunt, and my two German cousins were born here. My aunt has remained here her whole life until recently.

The backyard of my German family's home

The backyard of my German family’s home.

A bust sculpted by my uncle is gathering moss in the backyard

A bust sculpted by my uncle is gathering moss in the backyard of my German family’s home. My uncle lived in the family home for a long time. He was a sculptor and pottery artist. He passed away a few years ago at age 83.

Fountain on Theo-Burauen-Platz, Cologne, by Klaus Albert

My uncle, the sculptor Klaus Albert, designed this fountain on Theo-Burauen-Platz in downtown Cologne.

My grandfather designed this house

This is one of the many houses and buildings my grandfather designed around the neighbourhood where I grew up. He was an architect, so was his father, and so is his son, who is my father. That continuity of profession is a very German/European custom. And I became a graphic designer, which is a related profession, except that my books and publications can’t kill people if they collapse.

Where I grew up in Cologne

I grew up in this second-story apartment on the right side of this building in Cologne almost right across the street from the big family house where my grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins lived, until my parents moved us to our new house in a neighbouring city.

Where I went to Kindergarten

I went to Kindergarten in this house. It was run by a couple of old Catholic bachelor sisters, if I’m not mistaken. My memory from first day of Kindergarten is getting admonished for biting into my yummy lunch sandwich before prayer. This may be why I now eat dessert before dinner whenever I can, generally try to not miss out on anything fun in life even if it means missing out on sleep, and I am a big advocate for letting people, including children to a point, live their lives the way they see fit. Oh, and I don’t bother with the prayer thing either. I am with Christopher Hitchens, who wrote something to the effect of “If there indeed was a God, she would not be so insecure as to constantly require us to tell her we love her.” 😀

View of Cologne from near my aunt's retirement home.

After our Christmas Day visit with my aunt who recently moved to a retirement home, we caught a glimpse of the remarkable twin towers of the Dome of Cologne in the distance.

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Christmas with my German relatives

Posted on Dec 26, 2012 in Cologne | 0 comments

Christmas Eve was a wonderful reunion for my German cousins and I. It was a time to relax and celebrate.

Christmas is never a stressful time for me, as it can be for many people. Jeff and I usually go to his parents or to mine. We don’t have kids, so we don’t feel any urge to decorate, shop for a lot of gifts, or go on major cooking or baking sprees. We usually take care of cooking a nice meal for the whole extended family while we stay at his parents.

This year, we did not give each other anything since we are already taking this Germany trip together. And we are more interested in accumulating experiences rather than more stuff. Yes, we are total DINKs — want to sign up? There is a form provided at the bottom of this page. 😉

So the holiday season is a great time for us to take a well-deserved break from another hard-working year and to relax into the New Year before we get swept up again in our routines.

Christmas Eve at my cousin's

Christmas Eve at my cousin’s place, with his wife and their two kids, and his sister, my other German cousin came from Heidelberg with her husband. That’s Jeff at the left with the wine glass in his hand, doing his best to impersonate the character Julian from the Canadian cult show Trailer Park Boys. Julian always has a rum and coke in his hand, even when he’s climbing out of a crashed car.

Christmas Eve fondue dinner

The table is set for my cousin’s family’s traditional Christmas Eve fondue dinner. With my two cousins, their partners and kids, there were 8 of us enjoying a long leisurely meal after opening the presents.

The reindeer and I

The glitter-reindeer and I on Christmas Eve. One of us may have had a few drinks by this time. I am not showing photos of any other reindeer for privacy reasons.

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This is just a Merry Christmas test

Posted on Dec 25, 2012 in Cologne | 0 comments

Christmas tree animation

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah!

I have been experimenting with continuous-line drawings. This is all one long line. I scanned it in and added colours in Illustrator, then created an animated gif, where you can still see the original black and white line drawing. I am currently experimenting more with this approach. I love drawing but always felt it was somehow inferior to painting. I now know that drawing is an art form in its own right.

Meanwhile, this test serves as my belated Christmas greeting. Yes, I am pre-dating these posts as I am catching up. I am sure this is against all blogger etiquette. But then again, I am not a real blogger. There is no blogosphere around me. I don’t own a pair of vans or chucks. All the true photo bloggers live near Main Street in Vancouver. You can’t swing a pair of skinny jeans on Main Street without hitting a hipster.

We had a wonderful Christmas with my cousins, their partners and kids. We celebrated on Christmas Eve, as Germans do, with opening the gifts and then enjoying a meat fondue with lots of wine. My cousin S. and I got quite drunk. It seems to me that the last time we met, which was way back in 2008? 2006? we also got each other drunk. I did not suffer much the next day, so I have no regrets.

“Everything in moderation — including moderation” (Oscar Wilde, I think).

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How to do a proper German sauna

Posted on Dec 24, 2012 in Cologne | 2 comments

The Mediterana entry at night

The Mediterana entry at night.

Jeff and I love the German wellness tradition, exemplified by their public saunas.

Germany is full of unique day spas that have evolved from a long tradition of spas and healing baths, and are now incorporating elements of Finnish sauna, Roman baths, and Turkish or Arabic hammam spas. The concept of a public swimming pool-type building full of nude people spending hours, or a full day in a German “sauna landscape” where you can swim, shower, suntan, nap, sweat, get a massage, relax, read, eat, and drink beer, alone, or with the whole family, is something I have yet to find in North America.

On December 23, we visited our favourite sauna in my cousin’s city, Bergisch Gladbach. It’s a Moroccan style sauna called Mediterana, it costs just under €30 to spend four hours there and avail yourself of their Indian-Arab and Spanish-Mauric saunas: Persian bath, meditation sauna, precious stone sauna, Ayurveda sauna, rose sauna, Himalayan salt sauna, bain Arabisance, stone sauna, Catalan herbal sauna, Andalusian sauna, Mauric steambath, Finca sauna, candle sauna… plus thermal pools and baths, a hamam, and various resting areas and restaurants. You get an armband with a chip for your visit and anything you eat gets added to your chip. It’s like a vacation for 4 hours (or a full day).

Another resting area in the Mediterana Spa

Another resting area in the Mediterana Spa.

And now, indulge me. I simply must tell you the proper way to do a round of sauna in Germany because I love it so much:

1. You must take all your clothes off. None of that sweating into a bathing suit stuff — that is definitely not healthy. Forget your fake modesty — there’s always someone more fat or wrinkly in there than you are. Nobody is here to show off their bod either. There are all generations represented here.

2. Formal social rules and proper behaviour apply. Assuming you are in Germany, say “Guten Tag” to the room full of other naked people, as you enter a sauna. Bring a big towel to sit on and sweat onto. Kissing and hugging are frowned upon. We are here strictly to sweat and relax.

3. It must be very hot. About 80 to 90 degrees Centigrade is about right for a dry sauna. The steam saunas are of course cooler.

4. You should stay in the sauna until you are sweating all over. Like a pig comes to mind. During your first round it will frankly smell a bit bad because your body is sweating out some toxins. You will be surprised at your own stink. But already in your second round, you will smell like a rose in comparison.


This resting area in the Mediterana Spa features Asian puppets.

5. Don’t talk. This is a time for quiet relaxation and meditation. Plus it’s exhausting to talk when your body is working so hard. How nice to sit in a room full of people and not have to talk for a change.

6. A special event in any sauna is to catch the “Aufguss”. This is a ceremonial ritual where a Sauna Meister comes in and pours water infused with herbs, oils, fruit or spices onto the sauna oven, resulting in a lot of steam which they then spread around by performing rhythmic flicks with a towel. The sauna gets hotter and sweatier than normal. This is usually repeated three times during an Aufguss. Germans are crazy about the Aufguss which only happens once an hour, and the sauna tends to get very full just before the Aufguss time. Sometimes you are handed a cool drink or fresh fruit right after the Aufguss.

7. After working up a good sweat (10 – 12 minutes in a dry sauna should do it, more is unhealthy), remove yourself from the sauna (you may say a quiet “Auf Wiedersehen”) and have a cold shower or hose-down for a minute or so to wash off the sweat.

The Mediterana Indian pool at night

The Mediterana Indian pool at night.

8. Dip into an ice cold dipping pool, usually provided at a proper sauna place. This is the indoor, all-season equivalent to rolling around naked in the snow.

9. Get back into the shower for a couple of minutes, until you feel you have cooled back off to a normal body temperature.

10. At this point, you can wrap yourself up in a robe or towel and take a warm foot bath for a few minutes to prevent yourself from getting too cold.

11. Wrap yourself in a blanket to stay warm, grab a big glass of water, and rest on a chaise for about 15 – 20 minutes. In Germany, they will sell you beer in the ubiquitous sauna bar, but alcohol is not advisable during sauna as it dehydrates the body. Of course, in Germany, beer is not really considered alcohol anyway.

Do this whole cycle 3 times. That will take at least 3-4 hours of basically doing nothing productive. What luxury to do nothing in our crazy-busy world for a full 4 hours! What delicious time wasting! The resulting feeling of physical well-being and mental relaxation is out of this world.


The Mahradja Suite in the Mediterana Spa features large pillows for lounging between sauna cycles.

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