Saturday, 30 November 2013

BERLIN CHRONICLES (Part III): The Story of Berlin and Third Reich Tour

The Story of Berlin is a highly recommended spot for first-timers in the German capital. You'll be relieved to know that even the busiest tourist traps in Berlin can't compare to the hustle and bustle of London or Paris where you can't even drop a pin during peak times. 

Capturing 800 years of Berlin history from year 1237 to the fall of the Berlin Wall, 23 rooms spread across 6,000 square metres are carefully reconstructed to allow visitors to authentically feel the atmosphere of the periods depicted. 

The highlight of the tour is the bomb shelter beneath the Kudamm Karree mall building where The Story of Berlin is located.

The threats of the Cold War have urged the government to make provisions for emergencies and possible atomic and nuclear bomb attacks. This one was kept from the knowledge of West Berliners until it was opened to the public.

Built in the 1970s, the bunker was designed to shelter around 3,600 people in the event of a nuclear disaster. The underground space is air-locked, has communal facilities, and powered by electric generators.

This is where the meaning of first-come first-served is a matter of life and death. The first 3,600 people who orderly (I have doubts about this when you know very well that you'll drop dead from breathing in contaminated air) queue outside are allowed in. Food and water supplies, as we were clearly told, would last for only two weeks. 

In my job, it is sometimes a struggle to refuse someone; I can't imagine how I'd fare if I have to turn away someone with the knowledge that they will not survive.

The bunk beds intended for approximately two-week subterranean asylum

Not the most comfotable to the touch, but you can't complain when you've made it in.

The eerie confines of the bunker.

The spartan sinks to be shared by at least 3,000 people

The kitchen at its bare minimum, expected to roll out meals for 3,600 people on a daily basis.

The entrance to the 23-room exhibition

Drenched with historical facts and figures, Mr Tattler could only comically muster, "How did he grow his hair around his ears?"

Here are some images of Berlin displayed on the walls of the museum, before the war annihilated its old world charm.

At this point, my very reliable point-and-shoot camera died, so I had to rely on my Blackberry (yes, I still own one) to take photos of this area at The Story of Berlin dedicated to the period of Nazi book-burning campaign.

The Nazi book-burning was instigated by the German Student Union in an attempt to purify German language and literature. Anything deemed subversive or ideologically disparate from the National Socialist policies were considered un-German. American novels were singled out, but Jewish books were heavily targeted. The students believed that the Jews had a smear campaign against Germany and its traditional values, and thus an effective way to combat it was to quash Jewish intellectualism.

'Imprisoned' books and embossed titles on the ground as if they were buried symbolise subjugation.

The books, slowly disappearing, mirror the fate of millions of Jews sent to the concentration camps, who vanished without a trace.

Kristallnacht or the Night of Broken Glass was an anti-Jewish pogrom that happened on the 9th and 10th of November 1938, instigated by the Nazis and Hitler youth. The name comes from shattered glasses that littered the streets of Germany and Austria in the wake of the pogrom. Berlin and Vienna, having the largest concentration of Jewish communities, had a vast number of synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses and homes that suffered deliberate destruction.

Part of the Berlin Wall permanently on display at The Story of Berlin

When the Wall fell on 9 November 1989, 360 particularly significant segments were numbered, certified, and sold to purchasers all over the world in Monte Carlo in June 1990. These ones on display at The Story of Berlin are numbered '002' to '006' and the only ones from the numbered edition still left in Berlin. The painting is by Swedish artist D. Börtz.

The day before heading back to London, we booked a Third Reich tour via Viator and were very lucky to have Ryan as our host (who incidentally was also a friend's host when she went to Berlin and took the same half-day tour). The Scotsman was very passionate and knowledgeable about Berlin and its history, and although we visited some of the same places of interest we have been to during the previous days, Ryan took us to areas we would not otherwise have known through online top ten lists of spots to check, and he gave us insights we would not otherwise have read. He did say that every now and then, he would encounter tour participants who would challenge his historical facts.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe aka Holocaust Memorial
An underground information centre holds all known names of Holocaust victims obtained from the Israeli museum of Yad Vashem.

Just a block away from Brandenburg Gate, the memorial was designed by Peter Eisenman and Buro Happold, and features 2,711 concrete slabs or stelae arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. Construction approximately cost 25 million and it was opened to the public in 2005.

The memorial caused much controversy as some Jewish communities saw it as unnecessary and others criticising that only the Jews are being commemorated. The sprawling memorial is subject to interpretation.

This 17-metre high metal monument located along Wilhemstrasse is the profile of Johann Georg Elser, the rebel with a cause who attempted to assassinate Hitler on 8 November 1939 in Munich. Elser travelled to Munich on 8 November 1938, to attend Hitler's annual speech on the anniversary of Hitler's failed Beer Hall Putsch. He built a time bomb with which he travelled to Munich in the weeks preceding Hitler's anniversary speech. Elser managed to stay inside the Bürgerbräukeller after closing hours each night for over a month, during which time he hollowed out the pillar behind the speaker's rostrum, and placed the bomb inside it. Unknown to Elser, Hitler initially cancelled his speech at the Bürgerbräukeller because World War II broke out. Hitler attended the anniversary, but planned on returning to Berlin that same night. Fog prevented a flight back to Berlin, forcing Hitler to deliver his speech earlier than planned in order to take the train. Hitler left the beer hall at about 13 minutes before Elser's bomb exploded as planned at 21:20, and Hitler did not even learn of this attempt on his life until later that night on a stop in Nuremberg. The bomb injured 63 and killed eight people except the target.

I wonder how the events would have unfolded if Elser succeeded...

The Mohrenstrase U-Bahn station where the walls are decorated with red marble.

When the New Reich Chancellery (office of the Chancellor of Germany) fell to the hands of the Soviets during the Battle of Berlin in 1945, the building was stripped of its red marble walls. Parts of it were shipped back to Moscow and the rest was used on the walls of the above major underground station in Berlin.

The Hotel Prince Albrecht once stood here. In the autumn of 1934, the first-rate hotel was turned into the SS House when Reich SS leader Heinrich Himmler moved the most important offices of the SS leadership from Munich to Berlin. In other words, the hotel was turned from the NSDAP's meeting place into the Gestapo headquarters.

External basement walls of the corner house at Wilhelmstrase 98 where the Hotel Prince Albrecht once stood. At the beginning of 1936, the house was the headquarters of the Inspectorate of the Concentration Camps. Later, various departments of the Gestapo were located here. These, we were told, were part of the interrogation rooms.

Stolpersteine (stumbling stones or blocks in German)

On a trip to Vienna early this year, I chanced upon these small commemorative plaques embedded in the streets of Vienna. I found out that they're called stolpersteine or stumbling stones. They commemorate Holocaust victims and are usually placed at their last known residence before they were sent to their deaths in concentration camps.These were some we found on the streets of Berlin close to our hotel (a few steps from Kurfürstendamm, one of the most famous avenues and considered the Champs-Élysées of Berlin).

For previous posts on Berlin, click Part I and Part II.

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed and learned from this tour at least half as much as I did x

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Hermès Petit H Travelling Project

I recently had the chance to pop into Hermès Bond St. in London to view the luxury brand's travelling project called Petit H. Created by Pascale Mussard, the great-great-great granddaughter of Thierry Hermès, petit H products are unique pieces made from discontinued and surplus leather, silk, crystal and other materials that have been given a new lease of aesthetic life. 

For those who are into the craftsmanship of Hermès products and whose cities may not be in the travelling sale's itinerary, here are some of the exceptional pieces which I can imagine many of you would love to see in the flesh. Enjoy!

Greyhound sculpture in leather by artists Kidsonroof whose speciality is games construction. This is a tribute to the traditional greyhound racing in Great Britain. The leather pieces were creased, polished, stitched, and slotted together.

Ring party game in calfskin by Marina Chastenet. The wooden structure of the game set was encased in calfskin and assembled by the saddler, leather goods craftsmen, and machinists in the Petit H workshop. The rope rings were originally meant to be handles of a handbag model.

Leather and textile doghouse by Christian Astuguevieille

Leather mirror with metal pieces by Thomas Boog. He was inspired by the metallic pieces he found in the workshop. He then combined two very different textures to create this product. The metals were either carefully attached one by one or directly hammered onto the leather.

Up close, you can see that some of the metal pieces are the padlock and key for Birkin and Kelly, plates, and Clou de Selle buttons, among others.

Round mirror with silk crown, again by artist Thomas Boog. This time, he drew inspiration from silk pieces in the workshop. The shape of the sun came to mind. This is a feminine mirror as indicated by the scarf materials. The mirror has a leather piping and the back is covered by Toile H canvas.

The round mirror on the upper right corner is the masculine version (if you're a man who likes yellow) as the silk crown is made up of ties rather than scarves. The teapot cover in the upper centre part used a silk print called Circuit 24 Faubourg which is one of my favourite prints.

A necklace made from pleated silk


Canvas clutches with round handles made of silk scarves

Net bags made of silk scarves, leather bracelets, silk necklace and bracelets, and silk Christmas baubles

Chaine d'Ancre chest in leather and crocodile by Christian Astuguevieille. He paid tribute to the iconic Hermès 'chaine d'ancre' link (think of an untwisted number eight) and made a chest covered with calfskin and trays placed on top made of crocodile skin that form the link.

Playing cards table in crocodile by Christian Astuguevieille. The challenge in creating this table was in selecting and cutting the exotic skin pieces that will showcase the scale pattern on the various parts and angles of the table.

Apologies as I cannot recall what this piece was or who the artisan was, but the expertise is highlighted by the pleated leather.

A more polite and poetic way to say 'please do not touch.'

Umbrella crystal change tray by David Pergier. An upside down umbrella as imagined by the artisan, the handle was given a palladium coated brass satin finish. The design of the St Louis crystal bowl gave the impression of an umbrella frame.

Door stops with various types of leather for handles

Leather and crocodile bench form pirogue by Christian Astuguevieille. The wood structure in the shape of a pirogue boat is entirely covered in calfskin with crocodile skin covered feet.

Sculpture seated leather lioness by Marjolijn Mandersloot. Specializing on animal structures, she saw the wrinkles on the leather as realistic representation of her work. The leather lioness is stuffed with foam balls to make it a comfortable seat. Silk floss was added to the feet to allow the figure to assume a propped up position.

Cuckoo clock queen card by Petit H. The clock mechanism is encased in a wooden structure, sealed by thin layers of leather on the sides, then covered at the back and front by decorative playing cards. The skived leather on the sides creates an illusion of a real set of playing cards. The chains are palladium-coated, and the weights covered with real playing cards. Half-hours and hours are marked by the recorded sound of galloping hooves, which I must say, is the only flaw of this exceptional piece as the sound isn't far from a transistor radio. Mind you, a state-of-the-art sound system isn't the brand's expertise.

Some art de vivre products as seen in a different light. The series of cups is lighting fixture. The imperfect porcelain had been repurposed.

My favourite: a teapot lamp.

Ladle candle holder by Annick Tapernoux, a Belgian silversmith. A solid silver Puiforcat cream spoon was ballasted and sculpted to accommodate a tealight.

Decorative shelf form swing in calf by Stefania de Petrillo and Godefroy de Virieu. This swing, meant to be used as a shelf, is made of wood and leather. The straps are made of cotton and calfskin. Another favourite.

Rabbit pillow by Marjolijn Mandersloot. Once you're sat on it, the ears become the armrests. The hook and the handle then make it a decorative piece when hung.

Origami leather bear sculpture by Charles Kaisin. Japanese origami art was used in assembling this piece which has a metal structure wrapped in orange leather which is the house colour. It can be used as a console.

Petit H travelling project runs until the 7th of December 2013. Pop into Hermès Bond St. if you happen to be in London around the time. All pieces are for sale, and I may even be able to tell you the prices of some in the comment box (and how much the bear console was sold for!). Hope you enjoyed the tour!

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