Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Berlin calling

Some thoughts after a weekend trip in Berlin

As one writer once said, Berlin is a city condemned always to become, never to be. Indeed, even today, two decades after the reunification, Berlin seems to be in a process of transformation. This restlessness, fortunately, is translated into one of the most vibrant city lifestyles in the world. Bach concertos in churches are as common as underground techno parties and Michelin-starred restaurants compete with canteens selling bratwursts. Starbucks are trying to win market share against small cafés operated by leftist collectives and independent boutiques in Prenzlauer Berg exist alongside big brands stores in the consumerist heaven of Kurfürstendamm. The nightlife is one of the best in Europe and prices for drinks and food are ridiculously low, compared to cities like London or Amsterdam. Berlin seems to strike the perfect balance between the meticulousness of Western Europe and the care-free attitude of the Mediterranean countries (with the exception of the weather, unfortunately).

Is there perhaps a lesson Eindhoven could learn from Berlin? It would be unfair, of course, to compare the two cities. However, I feel that the example of Berlin shows that quite unremarkable urban areas (Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg) can become hotspots of creative activity with international appeal, given the right conditions. Could Eindhoven ever obtain the critical mass for something like that? It is already a major hi-tech center in Europe, so I think it is not impossible. The development plans for the Strijp area (where the old Philips factories are still standing) are definitely a step in the right direction. Until then, we can always visit Berlin for inspiration.

Graffiti, East Side Gallery (remnants of the Berlin Wall)

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Snow again...

This year's winter seems to be a lengthy one. The tiny kingdom of the Netherlands has been attacked by a new snowfall since yesterday night. At this part of the planet this is far from being unexpected. Dutch and Flemish painters in the previous centuries have immortalised in their art those snowy winters of the past and the social activities that came together. So, let's have a look on these depictions...
...accompanied with the appropriate music ( ).

Pieter Bruegel the Elder : Winter landscape with a bird trap (1565)

Pieter Bruegel the Elder : The Slaughter of The Innocents (1565-1566)
This is more of a religious allegory to the actual events that were happening during the days of the painter's life. By that time, a Spanish army was moving through Flanders and southern Lowlands killing protestant people. Those events triggered what came out to be later the Dutch revolution and the establishment of the state of the Netherlands.

Hendrick Avercamp: Winter landscape (early 16th century)

Hendrick Avercamp: A scene on ice near a town (1615)
As you may have already noticed, most of the Dutch/Flemish landscape paintings of the 15th/16th century have a strong characteristic: They provide a large proportion of the canvas to depict the sky. A foreigner who has never travelled to the Lowlands may not know why would a painter do such a thing. But by the time you come here and walk in the Dutch countryside you understand the reason...the sky dominates more than half of the view. And this may only happen in a vast flatland.

Charles Leickert: A Dutch town in winter (late 19th century)

Jacques Doucet (French): L'hiver hollandais (The Dutch winter) (1948)
Also in the modern times artists have been inspired by the wintry Dutch landscape, although in a bit more abstracted way. I have no idea what is the deeper meaning of the above painting, but I think it conveys in a strange way the frustration you feel while biking at -15 degrees with a chilling wind blowing in your face.

Expats in Eindhoven: Winter view by the Dommel (late 2010)

Friday, 10 December 2010

Shantel at Effenaar

This Sunday Shantel and his Bucovina Club Orkestar are playing at Effenaar! Shantel, hailing from Germany with Romanian roots, is the undeniable king of Balkan beats, fusing traditional Balkan rhythms with modern elements. You can find more info about the concert at the Effenaar website. Great, lively music and an event that is sure to gather a young, international audience: all in all, a great way to close the weekend!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Gaslab electro party on Thursday

This is a little bit of a short notice but still here it is:

Electro music party at Gaslab

Date: Thursday 9th December
Place: Gaslab ( Concert venue inside TU Eindhoven )

More details here or here

We tried it last year and we totally recommend it!

Friday, 3 December 2010

Sinterklaas is coming to town

As in every December, an expat in the Netherlands is about to experience the most gezellig of all Dutch traditions: Sinterklaas. As you might have already guessed this is more or less the Dutch version of Santa Clauss (or is it the other way round? Keep on reading...). You know, this fat guy with the red robe who visits us during these days to reward all the good children with presents. I guess I shouldn't really tell this story, you already know about it.

Yet, there are a few differences in the Dutch version of the tale. Here, Sint is not bringing the presents during Christmas eve, but on the 5th of December. Somehow it is that Christmas are not the big winter celebration here but instead December 5th is.

Another exclusive Dutch feature on the story are the Zwarte (black) Piet, his devoted servants that help him distribute the presents and the candies:

These ever smiling guys, dressed always in the same old fashioned way, are very popular among the children since they are the ones to distribute candies. Dutch cities are filled with those fellows on November 13th, the day that Sint is coming by boat from Spain (!?!).

Speaking of candies, Sinterklaas celebration is accompanied here with special sweet stuff. These are:

a) Huge chocolate letters. You are supposed to give it to a beloved one, picking actually the first character of his/her name.

b) Kruidnoten. Cool tiny cinnamon cookies that are supposed to be consumed only during this time of the year.

c) Speculaas. Same taste as Kruidnoten but more fancy in design, it comes in different sizes and shapes.

*** Sinterklaas, the Dutch movie star ***

Since the Dutch people love this guy, it comes naturally that there have been a couple of local movie productions regarding his figure.

a) "Alles is Liefde" (= Everything is Love): A romantic comedy where the plot unfolds in the modern Netherlands around the days of Sinterklaas celebration. Some evil people claim that is just the Dutch version of "Love Actually".

b) "Sint": Very recent, it came out in the cinemas these days. It's horror movie (???) where Sint appears as an evil bishop that comes back from the grave to abduct children and kill the grown-ups. Did you know actually that on the 5th of December we actually celebrate the anniversary of his death rather than his brithday?

So, who is this saint?

Why does he bring presents?

What's the "real" story behind him?

To start with, his original name is Nikolaos (Νικόλαος in greek, from the words "νίκη"+"λαός" i.e. victory + people). Rather than being part of a legend, Saint Nikolaos is an actual historical figure. He was born during the 2nd century AD in Patara a city of Asia Minor, in the greek-speaking part of the Roman empire. He was an active Christian in the difficult ages of Diocletian's reign, the time when Christians were severely prosecuted. Coming from a rich family and having a strong educational background he strived to help poor people by founding hospitals and other institutions. He is known for bringing gifts because of these activities and also by another actual event: once he secretly paid for the dowries of three daughters of a pauper, who would have been sold into the slave market instead.

So how did he become Sinterklaas? Well, christian church in the first centuries of its existence worked a lot on promoting the new religion. To make it easier for people in the known world to be converted from their old pagan beliefs, to become Christians, the church promoted its own traditions that were similar with the existing traditions of the old religions. It was the case that the pagan germanic tribes in this neighbourhood had their own spirits associated with bringing gifts in mid-winter. Hence, the figure of Saint Nikolaos was exported to become eventually Sinterklaas. And from there on, centuries after that, the Dutch people brought their customs on their colonies (18th century). So it happened at the American colonies, the lands that became afterwards part of the States. And there Sinterklaas in turn, became Santa Clauss.

Which became a popular plastic figure all around the world. And we lived happily ever after...


We would like to thank Anniek for her help, the corrections that she made in the initial version of this post and all the extra information that she provided. Happy Sinterklaas meisje!