It is the last weekend before school starts again. So what does a Belgian forty something does in Berlin when she’s not working on her book? This for instance:
An ideal way to start a long weekend is with a lunch on Friday. As mentioned before on this blog, cheap, healthy lunches aren’t hard to find in Berlin. Even in our tourist crowded neighbourhood which is called Scheunenviertel. I often take my kids out to lunch and today is no exception. Today, Elmo and I try Il Mercante del Sud, an authentic Italian cantina situated in front of the Jewish Friedhof, in de Große Hamburgerstr. 21. This is an aera of Berlin crowded with tourists but this friendly place is a relief compared to all the tourists traps around us.
Authentic Italian food (today no fresh pasta which is wirklich schade), and authentic Italian (from the Marche region) atmosphere. Large wooden tables where you can just join other foodies. The open kitchen is huge and homey. No professional geer here but cooking like I would do it at home if I cooked on electricity. A menu is optional but there is one: it is written on the inside of a pizza cardboard box 🙂
The linguine al ragu comes with lots of veggies and my pasta arrabiata is excellent but unfortunately not arrabiata. Guess the chef isn’t arrabiata (enraged) enough today. A little spicy oil will do the trick. And yes, their home made spicy oil is really spicy. One menu (salad, pasta + drink) and one pasta + drink costs 17,5 Euro. Not super cheap for Berlin. But considering the atmosphere and the quality of the food it’s an excellent price/quality. And chef, don”t forget to spice it up next time, per favore 🙂 !
On Friday evening, I leave my cosy work desk at home to go to Alt Stralau to see an opera. Yep. Indeed. An opera in a hipster club. Why not ? While I’m sitting there in the garden one of Berlin’s most famous clubs called Salon Zur Wilden Renate I can’t help thinking that Berlin hipsters are ruling Berlin’s art scene. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t, I don’t give a damn.
Tonight is the premier of the Kiez Oper (see my last year’s post here) called The Fairy Queen. Alex J. Eccleston & Rowan Hellier, two twenty something producers, try to tame a talented baroque ensemble conducted by Benjamin Bayl (Staatsoper) and Julia Burbach, the director of Royal Opera House (London) fame, together with an international bunch of singers and actors. Here is a video of their last year ‘s performance. The public is essentially composed by international hipsters and I have to admit it: they are better dressed than I am to face this rather cold August night. Kiez Oper is a great initiative: to bring the opera to young (or relatively young) people in awkward places at a great price (12 Euro!) is indeed a fantastic idea. It’s anti-elitist, it’s fun, it’s beauty, it’s art. But this doesn’t come easy. To act and sing in a place like this, crowded ( I think there must be about 600 people!), with bars, people, big trees and hanging boats everywhere is not easy. And acting and singing and performing in relatively cold circumstances is a challenge.
The Fairy-Queen is a masque or semi-opera by Henry Purcell from the end of the 17th Century. The libretto is an anonymous adaptation of Shakespeare’s wedding comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was performed for the first time three years before Purcell’s dead. Following his death, the score was lost and only rediscovered early in the twentieth century. Filled with fairies, nymphs and transvestites, fire breathers along with the great location it looks like it is everything I like. It is indeed very contemporary even if it’s more than 300 years old. And yes, there’s even a counter tenor. Buddha knows how much I love baroque music and countertenors. So why did I leave about an hour later not totally satisfied? The piece is really beautiful and the musicians excellent. But although I was on time I was too far from where most of the action was (although they did try to use the whole setting) and the trees and lack of stage were too big a handicap. Too bad I’m not professional enough to say something intelligent of the quality of the singers. I was particularly surprised by the drag queen countertenor who really moved me when he started to sing his lamento O let me weep. The setting, and he alone on that huge balcony…just perfect. But the small technical problems (2 times the microphones failed) , the sound of glasses and bottles at the bar, the fact that some singers were not understandable (and no program given so the story was lost on me), the disrespectful laughter of people in the back at the bar…that doesn’t forgive.
Some acting performances were not strong enough to be able to move the audience. And when there’s no emotion, there is something wrong. It would have no doubt been different if I was closer to the front. But please please please continue, I know the challenge and the (above all: technical) difficulties encountered are immens, but the idea is fantastic, and it makes me and hundreds of other people with me discover music we otherwise would never have known. And promised: next time, I’ll come earlier and sit in the front.
Here are some fantastic recordings of Purcell with Philippe Jaroussky, divine as always. And then there’s this: Christina Pluhar and het Arpeggiata ensemble at her best.
On Saturday I skip the cue (I heard later that some had to wait 3 hours!) at the Martin Gropius Bau because I bought an internet ticket for the David Bowie Exposition.
Always a bit sceptical on those expos that turns artists into gods but the expo beats everything I saw before. The concert room is simply overwhelming and larger than life. And when a guard sees me taking notes, she kindly invites me to sit on the bench. Not just a bench, but THE bench that used to be in the Dschungle, that famous club in West Berlin where Blixa Bargeld, Bowie, Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger, Grace Jones and Depeche Mode spend most of their nights during their Berlin years. And for my freaky music friends: in that same room you’ll see a AKS 1979 Synthi. It was a gift to The Thin White Duke by a certain Brian Eno :-).
More than 2 hours later I’m totally happy and rather excited when I bike home in the sun. I’m the luckiest of bikers, feeling totally free and happy to have know most of Bowie’s repertoire, and to live in this fantastic city. Back home, my kids are starving so I’m making dinner they can’t refuse. Hmm, in fact, they did, my red curry is a little bit too spicy 😦 If i’m really honest: it is a hell of a lot too spicy. Seems like I will have to eat it myself for the next couple of days 🙂 Arrabiata it will be.
In the evening, one kid stays home alone while the big one (home from a trip around Europe that lasted 3 weeks so still pretty exhausted) and I are going to the Museum Insel where there will be a screening of the digitally restored classical expressionist masterpiece Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene) with live music from the Solistenensemble of the Film Orchestra of Babelsberg.
Although I attended film school a long long time ago (it was the eighties and Belgian film schools sucked) I never saw the movie. It is indeed, a masterpiece, nothing more, nothing less. Thinking it was made in 1919-1920, cinema only a decade or 2 old, and already being able to make such a statement is simply overwhelming. These fantastic decors, the intenseness of the actors ( Conrad Veidt, Werner Krauss…), the great music, I’m very grateful to be able to share this with my 19 year old.
On Sunday, a trip to the famous flea market known for its excellent buskers is cancelled due to the rain but in the afternoon I try some tango dance moves in the open air milonga at the famous Strandbar Mitte before heading to tango class in the Kreuzberg district where we did practised our improvisation skills along with some new barridas, pasadas, ganchos and whatever the other steps are called.
I ‘m dancing for 6 months now, 2 times a week, almost never miss a course and I’m still an absolute beginner. Although this is so frustrating, I will not give up this time. I can be stubborn sometimes.
Home again, there is still time for a heavy discussion (“I don’t want to go to school tomorrow, school is hell”) but also a cuddle and a story with my son who will start school tomorrow and who’s not -you guessed that part didn’t you?-very amused by that fact. And that…is a hell of an understatement. Guess he might be a little… arrabiato.