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Typography of Berlin subway signage

Posted on Jan 16, 2013 in Berlin | 3 comments

On January 15, I stayed home to catch up on blogging. That is all I did all day. And I wrote this special-edition post which I had been planning to write:

As a graphic designer by profession, I can not help but look at type wherever I go. I have been meaning to do a special post just on Berlin subway station typography. This could be a topic for a design student’s thesis, all on its own, so I just want to give a few examples of the typographic variety you will find in the Berlin subway signage.

For further reading, however, you can take a look at the following links:

— A photoset on Flickr by Patrick Scholl that is more exhaustive than what I am showing here, and offers a pretty good selection of many Berlin subway stations.

— This typographer, Anton Koovit, has even designed a font based on the U 8 typography shown in the photos of Kottbusser Tor, Alexanderplatz (the one with the sickly green tiles), and Hermannplatz station signage.

— A related discussion of Berlin street signage on typophile.com.

— Another photoset on Flickr, this one by Kris Sowersby, with photos of Berlin street signs.

A general note on Berlin public transit: I like that you can always get some quick food and drink in Berlin, even on many subway platforms. There is enough people traffic here during each day that the food operators can survive in these artificially lit subway tunnels. I have been grateful several times when I was in a rush to be able to grab a coffee and pastry as a quick breakfast.

The opposite function is not as well served, however. There is a bit of a shortage of public bathrooms. The good thing is that when you find one, it’s usually clean because there is a “Toilettenfrau”, as the usually female attendant is called, who wipes the seat for you for a small fee and makes sure the toilets are clean and stocked with supplies. I have found prices for a loo visit as high as € 1.

Kottbusser Tor U-Bahn sign

Somebody has plastered stickers into the circular letterforms here — a graffiti-typographer!

Gneisenaustrasse U-Bahn sign

Another interesting font on this U-Bahn sign.

Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz U-Bahn sign

Rosa Luxemburg was a Marxist-Socialist-Communist in the early part of the 20th century who together with Karl Liebknecht organized an uprising by workers against the German government in 1919, shortly after the end of World War I, which they had also opposed. Both Luxemburg and Liebknecht were captured and killed, but are still commemorated in Germany, where pure socialism and Marxism are better understood than in North America, and are therefore not automatically looked upon as evil.

Alexanderplatz U-Bahn sign

These green tiles are all over the Alexanderplatz station. I am sure the unfortunate hospital-gown colouring is a remnant from communist East Germany See correction/comment below from Ingvar Jensen, thanks Ingvar!

Alexanderplatz U-Bahn sign

This station has several subway lines, and each line has their own typography at this station.

Deutsche Oper U-Bahn sign

This fin-de-siècle/art nouveau inspired font at the Deutsche Oper station is my absolute favourite.

Eberswalder Strasse U-Bahn sign

Eberswalder Strasse U-Bahn sign. This is my “home” station.

Wittenbergplatz U-Bahn sign

Wittenbergplatz U-Bahn sign. I hope to sketch this station before I leave, it’s a beautiful old subway station with a building above ground.

Hermannplatz U-Bahn sign

Hermannplatz U-Bahn sign.

Food stand in Hermannplatz subway station, Berlin

Food stand in Hermannplatz subway station, Berlin.

Food stand in subway station, Berlin

Food stand in a Berlin subway station whose name I can’t remember.

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Touring Leipzig and travel back to Berlin

Posted on Jan 15, 2013 in Leipzig | 0 comments

Sketch in Cafe Riquet Leipzig

Just before catching my train back to Berlin, I had a hot chocolate in Cafe Riquet, I mainly went in because it’s a gorgeous art nouveau building and interior, and I wanted to sketch it.

On January 14, I had to check out of my B&B by 10 a.m. and my train back to Berlin left at 2 p.m., so minus the tram ride, I had almost 3 hours to do a self-guided tour of the nicely compact old centre of Leipzig. Unlike Berlin, where everything is very spread out.

Overall, I very much liked Leipzig, and could even see myself staying there for a while. It would be cheap but still offer a lot of cultural inspiration, and it has a bit of an introvert feeling compared to the party animal that Berlin is. One could actually get work done here in Leipzig. And Neo Rauch and Rosa Loy live and work here. They get a lot of art done because they work hard and don’t party, I say with admiration, but also incredulity.

The breakfast room at my pension in Leipzig

The breakfast room at my pension in Leipzig.

Leipzig neighbourhood

The Leipzig neighbourhood where my hotel was.

The old centre of Leipzig.

The old centre of Leipzig. The Nikolai Church where in late 1989 meetings of concerned citizens were held who were forming a resistance to the DDR regime, is here. Only a few months later, the Wall came down.

Leipzig rooftops

Leipzig rooftops near the City Hall.

Shop window with Meissen porcelain

Shop window with Meissen porcelain. Gold is the sign of the times, right? Meissen porcelain is famous. This set costs a lot of money. I have to say, porcelain, crystal, silver, curtains, linens — all those emblems of domesticity are completely uninteresting to me. Sure, I like it when they’re well designed. But do I want to waste my time to wash them, iron them, polish them, store them, and worry about breaking them? Not.

Leipzig building facades

Leipzig building facades.

Leipzig, Mädlerpassage

Leipzig, Mädlerpassage, a nicely preserved fin-de-siècle covered shopping area. Goethe also traipsed around here as a young law student, and built a bar that he frequented here, into his “Faust”.

Window decoration in Leipzig

I like this decorative flower box — a good solution for winter, until you can fill it with live plants again.

 Augustusplatz, Leipzig

Augustusplatz, Leipzig. This used to be Karl-Marx-Platz during DDR times, and I was “admiring” the socialist architecture.

Berlin Ampelmann

Berlin, and clearly Leipzig and other former East German cities, are famous for their “Ampelmann”, the little man in the traffic light who wears a jaunty hat and looks like he’s straight from the 50s. And indeed, I think he was introduced in the early 60s, and this popular graphic has survived the DDR.

East German Ampelmann

Apparently there is even an “Ampelfrau” but she was only used in a few places.

Riquet Chocolate Cafe, Leipzig

Riquet Chocolate Cafe, Leipzig. A chocolate cafe? With 3-D elephant heads? And art nouveau? How could I not go in and draw the place. But I was rushed, I only had 30 minutes for my hot chocolate and sketch before I had to catch my train.

Riquet Chocolate Cafe, Leipzig, interior

Riquet Chocolate Cafe, Leipzig, interior. I normally have a great aversion to anything wicker, but in a place with elephant head decor it seems acceptable.

Berlin Hauptbahnhof

Back in Berlin, the new Hauptbahnhof there is pretty impressive as well. Unlike the Leipzig train station where all tracks are spread out on one level, the Berlin one has three levels where trains are arriving and departing constantly.

Snow in Berlin

I arrive back in Berlin and find it has snowed while I was in Leipzig. This area of restaurants with large outdoor dining areas at Hackescher Markt looks like it could be a fun place to have a drink in the warmer seasons. Not now.

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Museum der Bildenden Künste in Leipzig

Posted on Jan 14, 2013 in Leipzig | 0 comments

On January 13, I spent all day at the Leipzig Museum der Bildenden Künste. I got there by 11:30 a.m. and was probably the last person to leave at 6:00 p.m. I even ate dinner there. Seeing art all day made me very happy.

Then I took a 1-hour tram ride to a sauna on the outskirts of Leipzig. I had looked forward to sweating out the rest of my cold, but it turned out that sauna does not offer bathrobes or towels for rent, and I did not bring any. A bit disappointed, I took the tram all the way back to my hotel to nurse my cold, catch up on some emails and phone calls to friends and family, and get lots of sleep.

Daniel Richter painting

I made this drawing in Procreate on the iPad of a Daniel Richter painting (Untitled, 2002) at the Leipzig MdbK (Leipzig Fine Art Museum). As I draw more of these copies, I feel my reverence for art dwindle from deity-like admiration to a more human appreciation. I have had a tendency to overly admire artists, and I still do, but at the same time, I remember now that they are people too, full of doubt, trying things out, and sometimes they are brilliant, sometimes full of bullshit.

Three portraits from a painting by Christian Krohg

Another iPad painting in Procreate: three portraits from the painting “Tafelrunde der norwegischen Künstler in Berlin” by Christian Krohg, around 1876. I added my own graphic elements to this one. I painted these portraits quite quickly, in about 8 minutes each. Click on the image to see it bigger.

Leipzig Museum of Fine Arts

The Leipzig Museum of Fine Arts at night.

Leipzig Museum of Fine Arts

The Leipzig Museum of Fine Arts during the day. What does it say about a city that has the audacity to put a 10-story translucent box filled with art in its centre? It says “we care about art and culture.” I was impressed.

Leipzig Museum der bildenden Künste interior

The Cafe at the Leipzig Museum der bildenden Künste.

Leipzig Museum der bildenden Künste interior

Leipzig Museum der bildenden Künste interior.

Leipzig Museum der bildenden Künste interior

Leipzig Museum der bildenden Künste interior.

Leipzig Museum der bildenden Künste interior

Leipzig Museum der bildenden Künste interior. Art installation by Peter Wegner is visible.

Leipzig Museum der bildenden Künste interior

Staircase at the Leipzig Museum der bildenden Künste.

Leipzig courtyard

Leipzig courtyard.

Leipzig dollhouse

Another one of those dollhouses I keep seeing in shop windows in the former East Germany areas.

Leipzig Absinthe bar

A Leipzig Absinthe bar. Absinthe must be the perfect hipster drink; retro, ironic, image-oriented, potentially dead-serious, but not really.

Leipzig building

Leipzig building entrance.

Here is an incomplete list of artists that were represented, most of these are from the former East Germany and most of them I had never heard of before but want to check them out:


Matthias Weischer b. 1973

Tilo Baumgärtel

Neo Rauch

Rosa Loy

Jochen Plogsties

Christoph Ruckhäberle (his work looks a bit like the Canadian First Nations artist Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun)

Ben Willikens

Katharina Grosse (Richter-like)

Hartwig Ebersbach

Sighard Gille

Henriette Grahnert

Daniel Richter

David Schnell (from Bergisch Gladbach)

Martin Kobe

Falk Haberkorn

Thomas Scheibitz

Julia Schmidt

Beat Streuli (photography)

Astrid Klein (photography)

Tim Rautert

Thomas Strut (photography)

Bertram Kober

Anett Struth

Stephan Balkenhol

Andreas Slominski

Margret Hoppe

Peter Wegner (minimal colorist, reminds me of Fiene Scharp, an upcoming Berlin artist I met)

Franziska Holstein

Werner Tübke

Bernhard Heisig

Karl Kunz

Karl Hofer

Theo Balden

Gussy Hippold

Rudolf Bergander

Max Peiffer Watenphul

Fritz Winkler


Mid-19th century:

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot

J.-F. Millet

Adolphe Monticelli

Louis Valtat

Arnold Böcklin

Giovanni Segantini

Leo Putz


Late-19th century:

Max Klinger


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Touring the artist studios of the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei

Posted on Jan 13, 2013 in Leipzig | 0 comments

Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei / Leipzig cotton mill

The 1884 Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei / cotton mill has been converted to artist studios and galleries starting in the late 1990s with the official opening of several famous galleries in 2005 catapulting this “art factory” into the art establishment.

This is the reason why I came to Leipzig: to catch the twice-annual Open House on January 12 at the Baumwollspinnerei. I had read about this former cotton mill in East Germany which had been shut down a while after German reunification. Gradually, it had become home to artist studios and eventually, galleries. Some world-famous artists of the Leipzig School of Art, who are former East Germans and have become known for processing their socialist background in their art, have their studios here. For example, the artist couple Neo Rauch and Rosa Loy, and Tilo Baumgärtel.

I had purposely booked a cheap hotel within a 20-minute walk of the cotton mill studios, so I wouldn’t have to deal with public transit on the day of the Open House, and could get there in a reasonable time frame by foot.

Leipzig-Plagwitz train station signage

Leipzig-Plagwitz train station signage. I like the old-fashioned type face.

Leipzig Plagwitz area

January 12 was a beautiful sunny day. It bears mentioning, because there have been so few sunny days in Berlin. I wanted to make sure to get to the cotton mill by 11 a.m. when the tour opened so I wouldn’t miss a minute. 11 a.m. does not sound that hard to make, but when you’re me, that can be an early time. I walked by some pictoresquely decrepit buildings on my way through Leipzig-Plagnitz.

Leipzig-Plagwitz building for sale

You can purchase a run-down building here. I have no idea for how much, but the real question is, how much is it going to cost you to fix it up?

Leipzig-Plagwitz building

Already-reno’d next to yet-to-be-reno’d buildings in Leipzig-Plagwitz. At least you get a nice before-after comparision.


Still on my morning walk to my destination.


The text above the door frame says something about a metal workers’ union place.

Dentist office window, Leipzig

A dentist office window on my walk. I keep seeing miniatures or doll houses in shop windows. That may have been a popular thing in the former East Germany.


Leipzig-Plagwitz street scene. I liked how non-commercial it looked here. And there were quite a few young people around on bikes. Student dive area for sure. I just have to be clear: I very much liked Leipzig, because it looked so non-commercial in many areas.


I am not sure what the point of these barrels was, except maybe to make a point about the hazards of radioactive waste storage.


A poster for a Mayor-General election of Leipzig in 2013. I like the random rippings.

Curry booth in Leipzi

Germans like curry, whether it’s on their sausages or on actual Indian food.

Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei

My first glimpse of the outer buildings on one end of the Leipzig cotton mill artist studios. I was thrilled to be here.

Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei

It gradually filled up with people in the courtyards and pathways of the cotton mill. Some outside food booths were set up with hot Russian cabbage stew (“soljanka”), sausages, hot tea, and glühwein.

Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei

At the visitor centre in the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei, there is a one-room exhibit of paraphernalia of the former industry, cotton textile production, which took place here.

Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei

Old spindles at the Leipzig cotton mill.

Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei

Windows of artist studios at the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei.

Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei

Art Nouveau style factory door at the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei.

Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei

Wayfinding typography at the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei.

Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei

A building at the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei.

Torsten Russ artist

I met an interesting artist couple who have their studio at the Spinnerei, Torsten and Isolde Russ at their exhibit and we chatted for a long time. I liked both of their work and bought one of Torsten’s books about his one-line drawings, and Isolde showed me a fantastic sketchbook she had created with cutouts, which reminded me of what I had just done for the Sketchbook Project.

Isolde Russ, artist

Isolde Russ, artist. I enjoyed meeting this artist couple.

Torsten Russ, artist

Torsten Russ, artist

Sunset at the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei

Sunset at the cotton mill studios.

Sunset at the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei

More of the sunset.

Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei

In one of the stairways in one of the many artist buildings inside the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei.

Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei

In one of the hallways in an artist building inside the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei.

Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei

While the spaces look a bit rough, but just right for mucking with paint and art supplies, the plumbing and bathroom facilities have all been recently modernized. They have toilets that you just wave at to flush them. I guess a big wave means you went big.

Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei

Some random spray paint remnants from some artist on the wall here.

Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei

A large empty space which could possibly be used for exhibitions, surrounded by studios in just one of the many artist buildings. Such luxury of space.

Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei

Windows in one of the smaller studios that are set aside for promising young artists.

Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei

I was drawn to the artist studio windows, wondering what happens behind all of them, and enjoying their glow.

Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei

I met this graphic artist, Katja Zwirnmann, in her studio and shop at the Leipzig cotton mill, and had a chat about graphic design with her. She was a genuinely nice person and I liked her work very much, which consists of offset, screen-printed or handprinted illustrations and designs. She also binds books with hand-printed covers.

Leipzig cotton mill studios at night

I said good-bye to the Leipzig cotton mill studios around 6 pm because I was getting cold and congested and decided to look for a warm place to have a warm meal in downtown Leipzig. I had a wonderful 7 hours here at the cotton mill.

Leipzig office building lobby

After my full day of art viewing at the cotton mill studios, I took the bus to downtown Leipzig to look for some evening entertainment and a meal. During my quest, I walked by this cool lamp in an office building lobby.

Cabarett Leipzig

In the evening, I went to a comedy cabaret “Der gemeine Sachse”, a satire about Saxons. I ended up at a table with a family group of 8 Saxons and felt like a bit of an intruder, but they were nice enough. The cabaret was not as funny as I’d hoped, or maybe I don’t get the Saxons’ humour, or maybe I no longer get German humour. But really, it just wasn’t that funny. There were too many canned, tired, old jokes (as in “three Saxons go to heaven…”), and too little bite for my taste. But the dinner theatre venue was nice, and I was able to get food and drink there, and overall it was preferable to spending the evening in my drab hotel room.

Satiric painting of Angela Merkel

There was a satiric painting of Angela Merkel at the Cabarett Leipzig which I thought was great. They must have modelled her busty look after an infamous photo of her in a very low-cut evening gown.

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A trip to Leipzig

Posted on Jan 12, 2013 in Leipzig | 0 comments

Leipzig Hauptbahnhof / main train station

I sketched the main train station in Leipzig.

On January 11, I took a train to Leipzig. The main reason for visiting this city was to tour a large facility of artist studios and galleries which had an open house on Saturday January 12. Unfortunately, I had caught a cold, probably from Jeff, and was feeling very under the weather when I arrived. But I didn’t let it stop me from enjoying my trip. Below are my first impressions of Leipzig.

Leipzig Hauptbahnhof / main train station

The Leipzig Hauptbahnhof / main train station: I was shocked when I arrived here at the sheer size of this train station. I learned later that this is the largest train station in all of Europe. Since I had time to kill before I could check in at my hotel, I put my backpack in a locker and spent almost two hours just walking around, photographing and sketching the train station. It was awe-inspiring. On top of everything, there is also a two-level mall below the train station level.

Leipzig Hauptbahnhof

Just one of several what I call “side halls” of the Leipzig Hauptbahnhof.

Leipzig Hauptbahnhof / main train station

The Leipzig main train station consists of not just one, but many of these domed ceilings.

Leipzig Hauptbahnhof

Looking back down one of several giant domed halls towards the main hall of the Leipzig Hauptbahnhof.

Leipzig Hauptbahnhof / main train station

Looking out of the Leipzig main train station.

Leipzig Hauptbahnhof / main train station

Old trains are displayed along one of the many tracks (I think there are well over 20 tracks) of the Leipzig Hauptbahnhof.

Leipzig Hauptbahnhof

Old trains are displayed along one of the many tracks of the Leipzig Hauptbahnhof.

Leipzig streets

The streets around the neighbourhood of Leipzig where my hotel was, still looked very “DDR” (East Germany-like).

My hotel in Leipzig

I arrived at my hotel in Leipzig. The street was dimly lit and not as many houses were fixed up from East German times as I am used to from Berlin.

Leipzig streets

An abandoned factory building in Leipzig. The area where I stayed, is an old industrial neighbourhood with small factories, warehouses, as well as residential buildings. I walked by some gloomy sights on my way to a restaurant. I had found what looked like a good place online called “Prellbock” (this means “buffer” in the railroad sense to help stop a train at the end of its track). And Prellbock was indeed a great restaurant; serving large delicious meals of game meat, rabbit, but also schnitzel for dinner for €9 to €14.

Leipzig hotel room

My Leipzig hotel room — it was a bit drab, but adequate. I did not expect more for €29 a night. My cold was at its peak and I was happy to have a warm, quiet room and a bed to sink into.

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Big work day

Posted on Jan 11, 2013 in Berlin | 0 comments

January 10 was a day to play giant-catch-up-on-totally-neglected-client-work-thanks-to-my-bohemiam-Berlin-life-style but when I was done, I watched an old Heinz Rühmann movie: Der Hauptmann von Köpenick based on the true story of a poor saddler who ends up in prison for decades and gets frustrated by the bureaucracy of the Weimar Republic when he finally gets released, buys an old military uniform and stages a coup where he single-handedly commands a battalion to invade a station in Köpenick, a town outside of Berlin, in his quest to get a passport so he can leave the country and find work elsewhere. The civil servants of Köpenick become a laughing stock because they placed so much misguided trust in what turned out to be just a uniform.

Old German movie on Youtube

I continued with my Berlin thing of watching old German movies on Youtube. Today it was Der Hauptmann von Köpenick. This scene fascinated me because of these giant beer goblets.

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The bars of Berlin are my living room

Posted on Jan 10, 2013 in Berlin | 2 comments

Oona Leganovich watercolour

This is not my work, but a watercolour painting I am buying from one of the Berlin Urban Sketchers, Oona Leganovic. I very much admire her work and am thrilled that I can take this original piece home as a souvenir of both her work, and my Berlin urban sketching time. I think it’s a wonderful watercolour of a residential building in Berlin, gloomy, urban, almost industrial, just the way I like it.

On January 9, I had quite the bohemiam lifestyle, even though it was only for a day: I went to a 3-hour life drawing session in the morning in someone’s apartment in Kreuzberg. Oona had told me about this group that gets together and chips in for a model, so that it ends up being only €7 per person. The guy who rents the apartment where we drew, is a young American who moved to Berlin to play poker online. Yup, that’s how he makes his living. You meet all kinds of people here, and I find it fascinating how some of them make their money. Apparently it is not legal to play poker online in the U.S., or at least to make a living from it, I am not sure how he explained it. But he said, you can in Canada, and clearly in Germany as well. So he is here in Berlin, enjoying cheap rent and a cool city while making money online. Still, I am not going to start playing poker online anytime soon. I will stay with my graphic design studio and my clients.

After the life drawing session, I hopped on the subway to make it to a lunch date with my Vancouver friend J. and his partner K. who have just moved to Berlin. K. works from Berlin for his Vancouver employer from 3 pm until midnight so he’s roughly on an Eastern Canadian schedule anyway, and J. who is a graphic designer and artist as well, is hoping to find work in Berlin as a designer but also to pursue his passion for art. I wish him well, and I am sure he will do great — he’s a talented guy with a great work ethic and fantastic ideas.

Then I checked my highly complex, strategically planned subway schedule in order to go to yet another area of the large Kreuzberg district to meet several urban sketchers at Tante Emma Bar. I must really like this hanging out and sketching in bars thing, because I stayed in that bar long after the other sketchers left to continue drawing — I was there from 4:30 pm until almost midnight, a good 7 hours! I loved it. This is my kind of life.

Life drawing

Sketching on old newspapers.

Life drawing

Life drawing on old newspapers.

Urban sketch in Tante Emma Bar, Berlin

Urban sketch in Tante Emma Bar, Berlin, with Katrin and Omar as well two other illustrators. We already made another date for next week at a different location.

Urban sketch in Tante Emma Bar, Berlin

I started painting the lamp you see in the previous sketch in the right corner, in Procreate on my iPad and got wrapped up in its details, so I stayed another 3.5 hours after the other sketchers left around 8 pm. It was very pleasant and comfortable to sit in a bar by myself, a couple joined my table for a little while, as is common in Germany — in Canada we would not think of sharing a table in a restaurant or bar, but in Germany you just ask.


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A personal tour of Potsdam with a historical witness

Posted on Jan 9, 2013 in Berlin | 0 comments

On January 8, I had an amazing tour of Potsdam with S., the mother of my old friend G. She grew up in Potsdam in the 1930s and 40s; she knew it before the war destroyed it, she hid in a bomb shelter in her house during air raids, she lost her father in the war, she saw Potsdam completely destroyed, then split off from West Germany, she witnessed Berlin divided after the war, she fled East Germany in 1953 and was never allowed to go back until the Wall came down. A child of war, a tragic story.

Still, her generation and that of my parents, even though they have been forever changed by their experiences as children of war, has proven to be incredibly tough and resilient, and many of these children have gone on to lead productive lives in spite of the hardship they experienced. But what can you do, I suppose? You have to go on with life, and it is easier to move on when you are still so young.

In contrast, I have had an easy life. Yet, these events repeat themselves in countries all over the world all the time. I thought of my friend N. from Vietnam who is my age and came to Canada with her family as a child as one of the boat people. She had to leave everything behind, she saw the destruction of her homeland as well. Only last year did she take her husband and children back to Vietnam for the first time. It was an emotional journey for her.

I’ll list a few things that I learned from S. about Potsdam, along with the photos. Note: the first few photos are overexposed, it took me a while to figure out I had changed a setting in my camera.

The River Havel in Potsdam

The River Havel flows around the town in such a way that Potsdam is really an island. The Glienicke Bridge which is the direction this photo points at, was further upstream and was right at the border between West Berlin and Potsdam, which ended up in East Germany after the war. Several times during the Cold War, prisoners were exchanged between the U.S. and the Soviet Union via this bridge.

Potsdam City Palace under reconstruction

The Potsdam City Palace, which was destroyed during the war, as was pretty much most of Potsdam, is being reconstructed after many years of deliberation. The government of the German State of Brandenburg will move in here after reconstruction is complete.

East German building

A building erected during Potsdam’s year as an East German city. It’s ugly, but it’s now part of this town’s political history.

Potsdam City Palace

A completed part of the Potsdam City Palace.

An East German memorial to the victims of war

An memorial to the victims of war erected during East Germany times. Both S. and I agreed that the sentiment on this memorial was something we could subscribe to, and clearly the new Germany felt the same way, since the memorial is still here.

Potsdam town centre

Potsdam is a beautiful and rich town surrounded by the River Havel and several lakes connected by the Havel. Quite a few large mansions surround the lake shores and line the river banks.

Prussian helmets in a shop window

Prussian helmets in a shop window. I would have liked to bring one home for Jeff, but that might have been expensive and impractical.

S. grew up in this street

S. grew up in this street. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, houses in East Germany were mostly returned to their original owners.

Neuer Garten, Potsdam

We walk into the Neuer Garten, Potsdam, which was the king’s garden and housed a couple of castles.

Marmorpalais, Potsdam

One of the smallish castles in this park is the Marmorpalais. It is said that this was built for one of the mistresses of a son of the “Old Fritz” who was King of Prussia.


Schloss Cecilienhof, Potsdam

Another castle in this king’s park is Schloss Cecilienhof which was built in 1914 for Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany and his wife to live in. S. said that she would still see members of the Royal Family in the 40s after the outbreak of the war carting home their groceries. She said they did not have much food either. But the most interesting story was that in 1945, this castle was used as the site of the Potsdam Conference, where Churchill (succeeded by Attlee), Stalin, and Truman met to discuss how to proceed with Germany after the Allies had won the war.

Mansion in Potsdam

One of the more modern mansions in the Potsdam lakes area.


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Working on art projects all day

Posted on Jan 8, 2013 in Berlin | 0 comments

On January 7, I took a full day to return to some artmaking. I had a deadline approaching to hand in a sketchbook for The Sketchbook Project. To be fair, it’s kind of a vanity project where you pay a fee to register with the company that runs the project in New York. They send you a blank sketchbook and you transform it, then send it back to them and they digitize it, put it online, and also on a van for a travelling exhibit through a few cities in North America.

I had fun though, challenging myself to create a book with cutouts and transparent paper. I took the original sketchbook apart and rebound it using additional sheets of coloured transparent paper that I bought in a craft shop in Berlin.

I’ll just post the cover and some interior spreads here. The book became a bit of an improvised, free expression art book about my trip to Berlin and also about visiting the Berlin Hamam for women, which I enjoy, and which embodies some of the multi-cultural, creative Berlin experience for me. I also think that Berlin, and all of Germany, owes a lot to Turkish people who helped facilitate Germany’s “miraculous” growth in the 1950s by coming in first as guest workers, then to raise their families. Berlin has been incredibly enriched by Turkish culture. As it has been by many other cultures who continue to contribute to its diversity.

The Sketchbook Project

Berlin Hamam is the title of my book for The Sketchbook Project. I drew this graphic in one line and one go, not knowing what I was going to draw when I put the pen on the paper. But type as well as an image emerged.

A spread from my Berlin Hamam book

A spread from my Berlin Hamam book.

A spread from my Berlin Hamam book

A spread from my Berlin Hamam book.

A spread from my Berlin Hamam book

A spread from my Berlin Hamam book.

A spread from my Berlin Hamam book

A spread from my Berlin Hamam book.

A spread from my Berlin Hamam book

A spread from my Berlin Hamam book.

A spread from my Berlin Hamam book

A spread from my Berlin Hamam book.

A spread from my Berlin Hamam book

A spread from my Berlin Hamam book.

A spread from my Berlin Hamam book

A spread from my Berlin Hamam book.

A spread from my Berlin Hamam book

A spread from my Berlin Hamam book.

A one-line drawing

A one-line drawing that I started at G.’s family’s house in Osnabrück. G. was nice to make room for me on a big table in the guest room where we stayed and encouraged me to make some art, so I did. I did the complete drawing there and then traced it with a thick black pen when I was back in Berlin. This is quite large, about 3 ft wide by 2 ft tall.

one line drawing

I taped the drawing temporarily over a framed picture in my Berlin rental pad because it fit there perfectly.


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Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin

Posted on Jan 7, 2013 in Berlin | 0 comments

I toured this memorial right after I saw the WWII bunker with the Boros Collection, which was a fitting juxtaposition, but I felt this visit deserved its own post out of respect for the gravity of the subject matter.

Above is a short video I took of walking quietly through the memorial.

When you walk into the Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, you quickly realize how deep it gets. The initially waist-high steles get taller and taller as you walk down the declining pathways, until they dwarf you and make you feel trapped in the canyons they create. You can hear other people’s foot steps, but you can not see them until they bump into you at a corner. This results in a feeling of uncertainty and vigilance and even a bit of fear. If someone were to attack you in one of these canyons, nobody might see it.

Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe

I enter the Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. On this dark, rainy day this stark site is amplified even more.

Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe

The bright bus shelter ad with the image of a young man glowed saviour-like into the deep canyon I was in. What you see here is the result of my really long zoom — this poster was really much further away than it appears here, and many more steles were between it and me.

Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe

Looking out of the Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, you see a bright Star of David and a chunk of the Brandenburg Gate.

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