Thursday, 27 September 2012

Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go to Berlin

This is the last travelling post I'm foreseeably going to make for quite a while... this weekend I'm moving back to university, so I'll have to stop pretending I can afford these sorts of jaunts, and once again start coming to terms with the fact I am a penniless student. A tonne of topics aside from travelling exist out there, though, so I'm hopefully still going to be keeping this blog up and running, even if not quite as regularly.

Anyway, Berlin. It's my favourite city in the entire world, and this was the fourth time I've been there ('Why don't you just move there?!', said my mum). It was mainly to meet up with a dear friend of mine whom I hadn't seen in ages: he'd spent the past year studying in Tokyo, and we're not from the same country anyway. It was also a great excuse to squeeze in some German practice in before uni, of course.

My journey got off to an bumpy start - I had to spend the night in the airport because my flight was very early. I've done this once before and it was pretty grim. This time, though, it wasn't too bad, probably because I knew what to expect. I brought plenty of food and Pro Plus to see me through. I happened to spot this sticker in a café toilet in Berlin a few days later:

We were staying in my friend's aunt's friend's apartment (it's all about who you know) in Friedrichshain, an area known for being super hip and quite cheap, despite becoming increasingly gentrified in recent years. It really was lovely. The street was filled with cafés and bars, as well as shops of independent designers.

Wahrhaft Nahrhaft, on Revaler Straße 16: a very cute café
That's right. A comic book dispensing machine (on Simon Dach Straße)
Inglourious Basterds-themed anti-Nazi sticker (there was a Brad Pitt one somewhere else)

Here are a few well-known spots in Berlin:

Brandenburg Gate, with the iconic Fernsehturm in the distance
Memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust
The Reichstag, home of German parliament. I still haven't been inside.
Panoramic photo montage of the city in Alexanderplatz station
A bear, the symbol of Berlin, in Alexanderplatz station
Berlin Hauptbahnhof, known to me as the most uncharacteristically inefficient train station ever
I mean... whoops! How did this get in here?
Since I last visited Berlin in February 2011, some changes for the worse have been made. Kunsthaus Tacheles is no more. If you're not familiar with it, it was a defunct building on Oranienburger Straße that, after the Wall came down, became a venue and a place for independent artists to show their work. There was also a café and bar, set up to look like a beach around the back. Many fun nights were spent there. Anyway, for a while there's been some tension between the building's owners and the artists, and I guess the artists had to give in. There was a lot of opposition, because Tacheles was considered a symbol of the city's post-war and post-Wall DIY mentality. Now I suppose it's going to be knocked down and rebuilt into a place that will be occupied by a big corporation.

Finally, it was the first time I'd been to Berlin as a vegan, and the place is a goddamn hotbed for tasty vegan food. Honestly, I was spoilt for choice - even though eating at "normal" restaurants usually isn't as difficult for me as some people might expect, it's just really nice to be able to order literally anything off the menu. I'll just talk about 3 places, though:

  • Yoyo Foodworld, Gärtnerstraße 27 (U5: Samariterstraße)
    Located in Friedrichshain, there is a huge menu here - I ended up going there twice to try and make the most of such a place existing. The first time, I had a freshly baked pizza with "cheese" and "salami". The second, I had Spätzle, an Austrian egg/cheese noodle dish, which I'd obviously never been able to have whilst I was living there, so that was really special. I would be interested to know how they concocted it because it tasted awesome. The prices are decent, too, and the staff are super cheerful and friendly. If I were to live in Berlin (a long-term goal of mine), I'd probably end up coming here quite a lot...

  • Vego Foodworld, Lychener Straße 63 (U2: Eberswalder Straße)
    As you can tell by the name, this place is affiliated with Yoyo, but the vibe is quite different. For starters, it's located in Prenzlauer Berg, which is a bit more... upmarket. It was pretty quiet when we went in. There were posters from bands like Fugazi, Propagandhi and Latterman on the walls, but Iron & Wine was playing. The whole joint seemed to be run by one guy with an impressive beard. I tried what is probably a bit odd for someone who's always hated the taste and texture of meat - a soya burger, topped with "bacon" and "cheese" (with fries and salad at the side). Probably as McDonalds as you can get, vegan-style. It tasted really good, actually, even if it wasn't the kind of thing I'd normally choose. Worth popping by if you're in the neighbourhood.

  • Sun Day Burger, Mauerpark Fleamarket (U8: Bernauer Straße)
    I'd read about this before, and wasn't going to check it out because it seemed a bit elusive (it seemed like there were several potential places it could be, so I couldn't really be bothered making that trip). However, since it was here in the middle of the market, which takes place every Sunday, I thought I would give it a try. They offer one burger - a fried tofu slice with vegetables between wholemeal bread, and then you can choose a sauce. I got the pineapple one. The burger tasted great, it was very flavoursome. But my one complaint would be that it was very messy - I couldn't really eat it properly and it was sort of embarrassing. They also sold nice cupcakes. All in all, a bit expensive, though.

The book forest on Kollwitzstraße, Prenzlauer Berg

So, there you go. Berlin is an amazing city to visit on a budget, I bet it will inspire you to no end. I feel so damn alive every time I am there, and it is my full, unabashed intention to reside there someday soon. Some have described the city as a perennial building site. Since Germany's reunification, it has been changing so rapidly, and I'm curious to see what the future holds for it.

I've been writing this just as a way to procrastinate packing for university. I suppose I'd better go back to choosing which DVDs I'm going to take with me, and say goodbye to reading for pleasure!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

End of the Road festival 2012

At the beginning of September, for the last seven years, magic has manifested itself in a forest on the Dorset/Wiltshire border. It's called End of the Road, and it's quite unlike any other music festival I've attended. I'd say it's one of the best things humans have achieved. The organisers really go beyond the call of duty. This is a place where the food offered is not just a necessary evil, and is actually from the most quality caterers out there - I am always inspired to recreate it at home. It's where you can explore the woods and stumble upon art installations, little libraries, and a tiny stage made up to look like a old-timey living room with a piano so you can play your own songs in front of an audience. And there is a blue double decker bus selling local cider, and a red double decker bus selling tea, coffee and cakes. Recently, I was lucky enough to be here for the third time. It is a lovely transition from summer to autumn. I wish every day of my life could be this festival.

Paper models featured in the animation used as a trailer for the festival, including a badger and the cider bus. Watch it here, it's only 1:37 and it's super cute!

I'm not going to write in detail about every single band I saw, because that would take forever. But at the bottom of this post, you will find OTHER GOOD MUSIC STUFF, and, more importantly, FOOD HIGHLIGHTS.


The line-up for the day was entirely of artists from the Bella Union record label, to celebrate its 15th anniversary. What made me feel slightly startled about how quickly time has flown is remembering that I'd been to Bella Union's 10th anniversary show in London, too - it was my first ever date, actually...

My sister Flo and I started off the weekend by wandering into Horse Thief's set in the morning. They were pretty good - their live style reminded me of Frightened Rabbit, the sound was at times like early Death Cab For Cutie. I thought they might be fairly well-known and I just hadn't bothered to check them out before, but I looked on their page and they have only 460 listeners. Curious.

Then to my first "planned" set - Leif Vollebekk. I discovered him two years ago at this very festival - I was spellbound by his soulful voice and delicate picking, streaked by harmonica, and immediately marched to the Rough Trade tent (that's right, there is a Rough Trade tent) and bought his album, Inland, which has been keeping me warm on chilly days ever since. Moreover, since he is from Montreal, his songs have meant even more to me since my visit there. He was playing on the smallest stage, again, and he played none of the songs I had heard the first time round. This was good, though - he hinted his new album would be out 'in, like, January'. I look forward to that.

Another cool thing about this festival was that I finally met up with my friend Alice, whom I'd been talking with via Twitter and for a few months, and who'd come all the way from New Zealand! So that was exciting.

Beach House, who were headlining that night, were only okay. It was nice to hear some songs from their latest record, Bloom, but otherwise there was nothing really... personal about it. It probably wasn't entirely the band's fault, but perhaps their music just don't translate well to an audience that big. Also, there were some people in front of me chatting through the whole thing.


Seth Faergolzia, of the band Dufus, was a treat to watch. His performance incorporated bizarre guitar loops, songs made entirely of him nattering gibberish, and even gargling water at one point. If you're into all that New York anti-folk stuff, I would encourage you to check it out.

Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains were one of our most eagerly anticipated acts of the weekend. I like them well enough in the studio, with their sweet, tropical, groovy sound, switching between English and French lyrics; but live, they really exceeded my expectations. For one thing, I wasn't expecting them to dance so much! And I was dancing a lot myself. They were just perfect. Just see them if you get the chance, you won't regret it.

As the sun began to set, I went to see 2:54 on the Big Top stage. The sound in there really isn't the greatest, but I enjoyed their performance. Afterwards, they were doing a signing in Rough Trade, so I went along, bought their album, and had a chat with them. Hannah and Colette were really down-to-earth ladies. Listen to them if you're a fan of the Cocteau Twins!

Even though I am past my initial obsession with them a couple of years ago, Grizzly Bear are a band still very close to my heart. We got pretty close to the front and I was very excited. This was the second time I was seeing them. When they opened with a new song ('we know it's weird to start with a new one but sorry, we couldn't resist') I was just filled with joy. When they played some of my older favourites like 'Little Brother' and 'On A Neck, On A Spit' I may have seen heaven. They have a very compelling, transcendental effect. At the moment I'm exercising some self-restraint and waiting for their new album, Shields, to be released, even though it's being talked about everywhere on the internet!


When it's coming from the right person, I am fond of a southern US accent. Alynda Lee Segarra, singer/songwriter of the band Hurray For The Riff Raff, all the way from New Orleans (as she kept reminding us), is one of those people. The set beginning at 12pm sharp, she drawled, 'It's a little early for us', and from there I was hooked. I guess you could call it country - a genre that few people are keen to admit being a fan of - but with a latent punk attitude. I bought the self-titled album at the festival. I can easily say, after also listening to this year's Look Out Mama, as well as the earlier records, that this is my new favourite band.

Inside the sleeve of Hurray For The Riff Raff. Check out the graffiti that says 'sexist shit = small penis'. Amen to that, Alynda.

A written piece on the back.

Next on my must-see list was Willis Earl Beal. One word to describe him: performer. I was right at the front, and he came on wearing jeans, boots, a vest, a leather jacket, and sunglasses. A flag was draped over his tape machine. During the first song, he had already ripped off his jacket, flung it onto a chair, and put the flag over him like a cape. I can't verbally articulate the passion in this man's performance. The delivery of his songs is quite crude, but the actual content tugs you in all the right places. It's worth getting hold of his album Acousmatic Sorcery. The edition I own includes a small book that he wrote himself, which gives a lot more insight into the songs. (P.S. Damn, he's a sexy man.)

An obvious draw to the festival, although announced relatively late, was Patti Smith. We only stuck around for four or five songs, but - in case any kids are reading this - she had eaten a lot of sweets and was having a lot of fun.

Finally, Grandaddy. I was all on my own since the others had gone to see Villagers (what an annoying clash). It was just wonderful, despite the fact that their projection show apparently wasn't working. They recently got back together, so it was a very special performance, one that made me like them even more than I did before.

My Sad Captains
Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard
Veronica Falls
Dirty Beaches
Patrick Watson
The Antlers

The Shining
L.A. Confidential

Pizza Tabun (now with the option to substitute cheese for tahini!)
Tibetan Kitchen (momo dumplings!)
Wide Awake Café (everything here is 100% vegetarian/vegan and delicious!)
Luardos (spicy burritos and nachos!)