Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Berlin's arthouse cleared

Published 11.9.2012
A Berlin art house that drew countless artists and tourists to its ramshackle charm has closed down after 22 years. Artists, supporters and tourists all over the world have been upset by the news, many saying it signals the end of Berlin’s alternative, bohemian appeal.
Berlin's KunsthausTacheles (art house Tacheles) had a long and varied history, it was built in the 1900s as a department store and was later used by the Nazis for meetings and holding political prisoners. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was taken over by a collective of artists who had kept it as an independent non-profit art house until it was evicted last week.
Tacheles was a five-storey tourist magnet in the Mitte district, the walls inside and out were adorned with graffiti and street art. Sculptures and bedraggled furniture were dotted around the space, and a man-made beach all added to its uniqueness.
While the legality of the artist collective occupying the building had always been shaky, in 2008 the collectives' lease on the building expired, as its last owner went bankrupt, causing the property to go under the forced administration of HSH Nordbank.
Since 2011 there has been serious eviction threats, which came to fruition in early September after squatters gave up the fight, after going to court, petitioning, protesting and trying to raise funds to buy the building themselves.
Wellington artist Dylan Bakker has been living in Berlin for the past three years, and was heavily involved in Tacheles, using it to create, exhibit and sell his work.
A screen printer and musician, he found one of the prominent traits unique to Tacheles was its openness to artists and tourists alike.
''Tacheles was an open, free space where the doors were never closed and anyone could come through. This promoted free art and collaboration from an international group of outsider artists.''
Tacheles allowed artists to produce work free of the commercial pressure that they may have found in other galleries. The worldwide fame of the Tacheles brought a broad audience, and artists could sell directly to the public.
Bakker called the eviction a sign of the times, saying it reflects Berlin succumbing to the pressures of gentrification.
''Unfortunately the city sees in black and white, in dollar signs and capitalism, and it is natural that a place like Tacheles, which exists in between the lines, was under threat.''
Photographer Petrov Anher was also dedicated to campaigns to save it from closing, as he considered it one of the last remaining living symbols of the cultural identity of Berlin.
He believed the closure would leave a dent in what makes Berlin attractive for visitors and artists, and that Tacheles had helped put Berlin on the international art map.
While the Tacheles undoubtedly held significant culture and tourism pull, attracting people looking for the edgy, creative side of Berlin, its closure has sparked strong emotions from its fans, like New Zealander Sophie Hughes who visited late last year, and was moved by Tacheles' artistic and social importance.
''It was living and breathing - unlike a monument or a museum it has the ability to cross boundaries and continue to unite people and causes.''
As a tourist, she found it attractive because it gave her an understanding of these alternative ways of life, by directly interacting with the artists, which she says ''makes it so much more of an experience.''
''I think the space encompassed and represented the creative essence of Berlin, which in my opinion is a huge draw card for visiting in the first place, so in that respect it is a huge shame (it closed).’’
Likewise, New Zealand dancer Josephine Searles has visited Tacheles three times since February last year.
''When I first saw it, I hadn't even known of its existence, however I enjoyed it so much and thought it so iconic to Berlin that I brought friends to see it on subsequent trips.. it was unlike anywhere I had been before, and I had a lot of admiration for the concept and principles behind it.''
While the sprawling five-floor building can no longer host people like Hughes and Searles, the artists say they will keep creating their work in any spaces they can find in Berlin because, as Tacheles spokesperson Linda Cerna says, “Tacheles is more than a building, it is the strong belief in the freedom of art, the belief that without free and open spaces for art, there is no art.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

East End holds London's heart

Published 20.06.2012
Dominion Post  - New Zealand
By Amy Ridout and Stacey Knott
For years, a visit to London involved milling around Trafalgar Square, clogging up The Mall in the vain hope of seeing The Queen and standing on Westminster Bridge, tipping your head back at Big Ben.
But this is 2012, billions - 11 billion at the last guess - of pounds have been pumped into London's biggest event in decades, and eyes are turning to London's east.
The key to discovering the East End's rich history is easy: you just need $20 - and a decent pair of shoes.
There are a great many historical tours you can join but a Ripper tour has to be one of the creepiest ways to spend an afternoon. And of the many Jack the Ripper tours in the East End, only one is conducted by the greatest warlock in Europe.
The colourful Dr John Russell Pope-de-Locksley from Original London Horror Tours ( tells us he is also a psychic who is proficient in 31 martial arts, related to Robin Hood, Dracula and possibly to one of the Ripper suspects. The exploits of The Ripper, who killed and dismembered at least five prostitutes, pale in comparison to those of de Locksley, who claims he spent his teen years working for gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray and has a psychic link to Jack himself via an old piece of crockery.
However, the short, affably bespectacled Ripperologist in his bright blue mac has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the man who terrorised the East End in the late 19th century.
"Everyone's fascinated by the Ripper," de Locksley says. "It's one of the greatest unsolved mysteries. The murders were the most gruesome London had ever seen and every grisly detail  the dismemberment and mutilation  was reported in the papers at length."
He points underneath a railway arch where crisp packets and old newspapers are mouldering in the gloom. "See over there? Frances Coles had her throat cut there on a Friday night in 1891," he smiles happily.
The tour takes in dank railway arches and grey car parks, and on a grey London evening it's possible to get a sense of the horror that gripped East London's residents who feared Jack could be lurking around any corner, waiting to slash and disembowel any woman caught alone after dark.
A few twists and turns away from poor Frances Coles' resting place takes you to the infinitely cheerier locale of Brick Lane, or Banglatown, as it's affectionately known by the Bangladeshi community. Upper Brick Lane is lined with curry houses, all in cutthroat competition; each restaurant endeavouring to wheedle tourists in with offers of "two for one", "best deals" or "bring your own".

Before the Bangladeshi community moved in, the area was populated with Ashkenazi Jews, whose legacy you can see in one of Brick Lane's most famous shops: Brick Lane Beigel Bake. Its famous salt-beef bagels are sold 24 hours a day, but it's difficult to find a moment when the counter isn't jam-packed with customers clamouring for bread crammed with hot beef.Unfortunately the promises rarely live up to the boasts and the best curry is to be found off the main drag, in no-frills places like Needoo's on New Rd and Lahore Kebab House on Umberston St.
This is one store that has staunchly resisted gentrification, its Jewish legacy sitting comfortably alongside the trendy bars, cafes and vintage clothing stores that compete for any disposable income left after the hordes of local students, artists and trendsetters have paid their rents.
To woo this clientele, bars and clubs take precedence, ranging from classy joints like Callooh Callay where, if you are homesick for New Zealand, you can get a fabulous 42 Below cocktail. At the other end of the spectrum there's The Old Blue Last which has live music and DJs almost every night, and is best for those under 30 wanting to give their liver a good bashing.
It's hard to find a blank wall in East London, unless it's just been painted, as street artists from all over the world come to this area to leave their mark. Join one of Alternative London's street art tours ( where passionate and knowledgeable guides will take you around the weaving streets and point out the incredible variety of tags, murals, portraits and stencils that adorn otherwise dreary buildings.
Owner-operator Gary Means tells us the ever-changing works of art are crucial to the East. "Street art is a massive part of East London  it really is one of the world epicentres of one of the most important cultural movements of this century."
He describes East London as "a place of huge cultural diversity, colour and creative freedom".
It was this artistic culture that attracted Wellington artist Gemma Syme to East London. But she often finds herself overwhelmed. "There is so much going on all the time that you don't know what the best thing to go to would be, or if it's worth the effort of finding out where it is."
On a sunny Sunday it's difficult to find anywhere more colourful than Columbia Road Market. The narrow street is crammed with verbose vendors selling bright flowers and potted plants.
"All right guv'nor? Them orchids are six quid in the shops," a flat-capped stallholder booms at a startled tourist.
The market began in the 19th century and originally sold songbirds as well as local and exotic flora. The birds have long flown their coops but their memory lingers in the popular market pub, The Birdcage. The best time to go to the market is after 3pm, when prices drop rapidly as vendors try to shift their wares.
Every London borough has its own version of an outdoor market, where goods are sold at a fraction of the cost they would be in a store. If you're after clothing, it'll be off the back of a truck, often with the labels removed.
If it's fruit or vege you crave, grab a plastic bowl of whatever you want for a pound. Vendors are either fabulously grumpy or loudly jovial, ribbing their customers and raising their voices in competition with the other stalls.
If you're new to East London you might think it's a strange Cockney version of a yodel as men hawk vegetables with cries of "Pound a bowl! Pound a bowl! Five a day, 'aven't you 'eard?" until the words warp into an unrecognisable incantation.
With gentrification moving resolutely through its shabby streets and Olympics fervour illuminating its private corners, East London is changing fast. So next time you're in London, forget Big Ben: grab a salt-beef bagel, don your largest pair of sunglasses and join the stream of hipsters slouching up Brick Lane in search of the Next Big Thing.
- The Dominion Post

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Europe on a Kiwi shoestring

Dominion Post, Fairfax Media

January 20, 2012

From swimming in the crystal-clear Mediterranean Sea to eating macaroons next to the Sacre-Coeur, expat Stacey Knott hits two of Europe's most famous cities without much cash, but with a lot of creativity

It's late summer, just past peak tourist season, when I leave my grimy East London home to soak up the last of summer in Rome and Paris. With my younger sister in tow, we wine, dine, sightsee and shop but all on a shoestring budget of €50 (about NZ$80) a day.

However, we switch flea-ridden hostels, two-minute noodles and the bad beers usually associated with super-cheap travel for a bit of class and sparkle. We do everything on our list, and remain in budget.

We start in Rome in a private hostel room that has its own bathroom and kitchen and is central to all the historic sites, which we visit over three days. Entry to the Colosseum also gets us into the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, all of which are worth seeing.

We also go to Vatican City, with wide eyes and craned necks, and gasp at the Sistine Chapel. The Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps also wow us.

We even do a bus tour through the city - great for getting your bearings among the winding, confusing roads. And we visit the sprawling Porta Portese flea market on a Sunday where people peddle clothes, art electronics and everything in between.

We stammer and embarrass ourselves with our limited Italian, and despite Italians speaking slowly to us and using gestures to point to various knock-off art pieces at the market, we still draw blanks, smile sweetly and withdraw.

Italy is known for its flirtatious and forward men. We get followed home a few times, but shoo away the men, or glare at them till they get the message.

With the historic sites checked off and the Mediterranean only an hour away on a €10 train, we go to a quaint seaside village called Sperlonga. The beach is mostly private, which means hiring chairs and umbrellas, but ever the penny-pincher, I find the free spots (after being told to leave the paid ones). The water is clear and refreshing and the beach sits below a picturesque village of white stone houses built into and along the cliff tops.

To compensate for all our walking we do plenty of eating. My sister and I have a list of Italian food to check off: calzone, risotto, pizza, cannoli, linguine and gelato to name a few.

We succeed in demolishing them all over the four days.

One of my favourite meals is a three-course dinner - €15 each - which includes a cheese board, carafe of wine, creamy risotto, pizzas and dessert. The streets of Rome are bustling with al fresco dining and the menus, more often than not, are in English.

A three-course meal with "vino da tavola" house wine will set you back only about €10 at lunch and €15-20 for dinner. If you want to go cheaper than this, make a picnic. We dined picnic- style on a river bank at Vatican City, but drew frowns from passing Romans. I suggest playing the naive foreigner card.

Find a bakery, a few beers or a nice bottle, some cheese and you're good to go. The scenery, wherever you happen to sit, will inspire you.

With our heads about to explode with new-found knowledge of Roman history, we escape for Paris.

Paris sprawls, and in my four days there I don't feel like I have scratched the surface, despite cramming as much as possible into my limited time.

It is best to do Paris area by area. On our first day we do the Eiffel Tower, stroll the Champs-Elysees and visit the Arc de Triomphe .

At dusk the Eiffel Tower queue is long, and it's dark when we reach the top, which is a little underwhelming. At €15 for the Eiffel Tower, if you are counting the centimes, skip this. There are two other free views in Paris that are just as good: the view from Sacre-Coeur in Montmartre and from the top of Galeries Lafayette department store.

We traipse around the Montparnasse cemetery, then walk to Rue Mouffetard, an old shopping district, quintessentially Parisian. We stop for the perfect meal - three courses for €12, including onion soup and creme brulee, and there is even an elderly man playing the accordion for us.

At Luxembourg Park a folk-pop band is playing in a gazebo. Attentive senior citizens are wrapped in shawls, and groups of old men play chess.

We are sitting contemplating this lovely city when three well-dressed male fashion students approach us and start ranting.

"Je ne comprends pas," I stammer. The leader of the well-dressed trio switches to English and points at my ripped stocking. "You cannot wear those here! French women would never do that!" he fumes. He introduces himself as "the fashion police" and tells me if I ever make such a faux pas again, I'll be arrested. In East London rips, holes and nonchalant looks are in vogue, so I'm horrified.

We finish our sightseeing for the day and I console my unrefined self with cheese, wine, bread and chocolate.

Better dressed for our third day, we're up for an action-packed time, beginning with a visit to the Sacre- Coeur, free and beautiful. We then head down to Montmartre and see the Moulin Rouge - going inside is not an option for the cheap traveller; the cost of dinner and a show begins at €100.

We then hit the seven-storey department store Galeries Lafayette, gasp at the exquisite designer wear and eat strawberry tarts looking out over Paris from the top floor.

Our final day in Paris is at the Louvre. Whether you are an art fan or not, a visit is essential.

We ended up back on the hill next to Sacre-Coeur, with French staples macaroons, chocolate, wine, camembert and baguette, watching the sun set over a beautiful city and a memorable holiday.


Soft drinks are super-expensive in Rome - from cafes/restaurants we paid €3 for a Coke, so stick with tap water, or wine. If it's summer, bring plenty of water for daily excursions, or you'll be tricked into paying €3 for a bottle of chilled water.

Research the sites you want to go to; in Rome you can go to the Colosseum, the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum for €15.50 for two days.

Use hostel comparison websites when booking where you want to stay, and try to get somewhere that includes free breakfast - or are good sources.

Learn a few phrases, and smile sweetly. This will always help with language barriers.

Dress well in Paris, or risk being yelled at by fashionistas.

- © Fairfax NZ News