Visiting the Dinosaurs! What kids loved in #Berlin 2/3

No, it wasn’t just the dinosaurs. Yes, they were the major attraction, but once we got there the  Museum fur Naturkund (Natural History Museum) turned out to be so much more. It was as if a physical force took hold of the children and we were barely able to keep up, chasing after them as they ran from one exhibit to the other, fascinated by creatures preserved inside bottles, by the science of taxonomy, by the preservation techniques on display and all the stuffed birds and animals, by the sheer biodiversity on our planet that hit us when we were in there. It was like an ocean of information, so well presented and it was an absolute pleasure to be here. To quote from their website, this is “one of the most significant research institutions worldwide in biological and geo-scientific evolution research and biodiversity.”

But let’s start with the dinosaurs!

This gallery, the very first one in the Museum, is a result of a highly successful early 20th century German expedition to Tanzania to collect dinosaur fossils. The Germans were prolific discoverers, very strong on scientific rigour and Berlin is a city full of museums because of this. In this one hall, we saw the largest mounted dinosaur skeleton in the world, the Brachiosaurus, which stands 13.27 metres and whose bones were found during the Tendaguru expedition that took place in 1909-1911. The Tendaguru Beds, as they came to be known, yielded many significant dinosaur skeletons and added hugely to our knowledge of this fascinating species that once inhabited the Earth. A skeleton of the herbivore Kentrosaurus or ‘spiky lizard’ that lived  in the Upper Jurassic Period and a reproduction of thos period’s largest carnivore, the Allosaurus with its short front legs and enormous jaws with blade-like teeth are some of the other Dino friends we met in Berlin. Take a look…

Ancient dinosaurs in a heritage building made for a killer combo!

Ancient dinosaurs in a heritage building made for a killer combo!

The tall guy is the Brachiosaurus, the (relatively) shorter one the Kentrosaurus

The tall guy is the Brachiosaurus and this is the largest mounted skeleton you can see in the world today. Hurrah!

And here's the Allosaurus, a bit in dissaray but menacing even so!

And here’s the Allosaurus, a bit in dissaray but menacing even so!

Take a good look at his teeth!

Take a good look at his teeth!

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The Kentrosaurus with his spikes

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General fun clicking the Dinos!

General fun clicking the Dinos!

I’ve noticed time and again Aadyaa is deeply interested in nature while Udai is on a mission for gleaning facts and will read every written word inside a museum (we call him the paisa-vasool tourist, meaning he will eke out the full value from whatever he spends!). And so, the two kids were comrades-in-arms at this museum, Udai reading things out and explaining to Aadyaa, she running ahead to identify the most interesting exhibits. The visual variety in the museum had a lot to do with keeping the kids engaged I feel.

Rows and rows of creatures in bottles, not for the faint-hearted!

Rows and rows of creatures in bottles, not for the faint-hearted!

This fantastic display allowed to see the wonderful biodiversity on Earth all at one go! Fascinating

This fantastic display allowed to see the wonderful biodiversity on Earth all at one go! Fascinating

Stuffed birds with artists sitting around sketching them! All Aadu could ask for!

Stuffed birds with artists sitting around sketching them! All Aadu could ask for!

I have to tell you about this incident inside the museum that really tickled me. Udai and Aadyaa were trying to build a 3D model that shows the different types of outer coverings that Dinos might have had, scaly or feathery. But a piece was missing. Off they marched off looking for it, managing to find the thief and communicate with his German grandpa, finally getting their missing piece back. They went on to toil at the model and posed when it was done, pleased as punch! See the tale in pics!

Fotor0718122824At the tail end of the Museum, I saw all these people lying on a round couch. It was only when the screen overhead began to flash images that I realised this is some sort of planetarium equivalent. The voice over was in German so we didn’t really understand much. But I captured here that aha! moment for which the crowds had been waiting. At one point of the film, the Google Earth image on the screen zooms in to show an image of the people down there on the couch. At the instant I clicked this image, the camera was already zooming out on the screen, but you can see that people spontaneously started pointing to their own faces when that image was shown! Such excitement! Such a simple way to get people to come back again and again!

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Lego madness! What kids loved in #Berlin 1/3

Udai is crazy about Lego. He has been that way since he was say a year old. He made the choice to visit Berlin, inspired in part by the German lessons in school that are still a novelty and mostly by my mention of a Lego Discovery Centre in the city. We found ourselves at the stunningly beautiful and modern Potsdamer Platz at the end of our excursion to the Berlin Wall. It was evening time and we dashed to get into the Lego place, barely stopping to admire the architecture of the Sony Centre, in which the Lego deal is located. Rahul opted out owing to the high ticket charges (Euro 18 per person, unless you book in advance) and I spent two hours with my super excited Lego-crazy kids.

What was inside? Well, I really liked the lego reproductions of Berlin city. They were amazingly detailed and vibrant. I didn’t care much for the Star Wars section and even the kids weren’t captivated by it, though there were spacecrafts moving around and everything was made with Lego. There was a dragon themes ride that puts you in a car and takes you into a castle, with ogres and dragons and knights, all mads of Lego again. There are Lego figures standing around- batman, Hagrid and Harry, you get the drift…

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It’s a small place and the highlight for Udai most certainly was the zillions of Lego pieces at the workstations and time to sit and make stuff. What did he make? Airplanes…duh! Aadyaa just ran around and explored the place. And we topped this all off with a short Lego film at a built-in theatre they had inside.Fotor0718110043IMG_7284IMG_7286IMG_7287

It’s not a very large place and perhaps not exciting for grown-ups, but little detours like this is what keeps children engaged. Especially when we travel to cities that are high on culture and sightseeing, we’ve found to useful to mix it up a little. Once the kids know that we’re willing to do ‘their’ stuff, they are quite happy to do ‘ours’!

PS- I did get some shots of the Sony Centre plaza once we got out of the Lego place, and here they are….

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Not a brick in this Wall: Profoundly affected by the Berlin’s history

Unmoved by Checkpoint Charlie, Udai marched off in the direction he had been told to, looking for tangible remains of the Berlin Wall. We found this spectacular piece of history just round the corner and along with it, an exhaustive exhibition about Berlin’s history starting from the early 1900s until after the World War II. I’m glad we came here that first day in Berlin as it helped set the tone for our experiences of the city.

Exhibit below, wall on top. Ain't that neat?

Exhibit below, wall on top. Ain’t that neat?

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Ruins of a Gestapo building. Poignant, that's the keyword here

Ruins of a Gestapo building. Poignant, that’s the keyword here

Our fellow tourist as engrossed and silent as we were. I saw people shaking their heads in absolute disbelief at some of the stories told at the exhibit

Our fellow tourists as engrossed and silent as we were. I saw people shaking their heads in absolute disbelief at some of the stories told at the exhibit

Trying to wrap our little heads around perhaps the most turbulent phase of European history in recent times

Trying to wrap our little heads around perhaps the most turbulent phase of European history in recent times

The thinker!

The thinker!

Daddy's girl is giving mumma a break now....

Daddy’s girl is giving mumma a break now….

To me fell the task of explaining the entire exhibit to Aadyaa. She can’t yet read, but she won’t be left out either! She patiently waited for me to read each panel and then listened to my translation. The exhibition (strategically set up amid the ruined foundations of one of the Gestapo’s important buildings and right alongside the Berlin Wall) affected all of us profoundly as it chronicled the peculiar circumstances behind the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. Against the backdrop of an economic slowdown, it seemed to be that the German people did not quite grasp the danger that was to come when they fell under the spell of Nazi thinking. The stark and totalitarian methods that Nazis used and the impacts of their fascism are hard hitting. It wasn’t the systematic extermination of the Jews that hit me so much because the Holocaust has been a significant part of fiction and non-fiction reading over the years. What really hit me is that the Nazis classified a whole bunch of people as out of the bounds of normal and these included the gypsies, the disabled, homosexuals and even the elderly and those with mental disorders. In their definition, a German had to not just be the correct race but also needed to be able-bodied citizens that contributed to their economy and power. One couldn’t help but see some parallels with some of the right wing talk around the world, not just in India where we have recently emerged battle-scarred after an emotionally exhausting election process (no, I’m not convinced about the ‘achhe din’ tag just yet!). The children’s reactions to this harsh narrative was notable. Udai was silent and thoughtful. Aadyaa’s interest and her clear identification of Hitler as the ‘bad guy’ both impressed and amused us.

Catching tourists do the touristy thing at the Wall

Catching tourists do the touristy thing at the Wall

We climbed up from the exhibition to finally walk alongside a section of the Berlin Wall. As an architect, I was taken aback by its thinness (it is built in concrete, hence the title of the post!). It appeared almost flimsy to me and yet must have been so formidably strong in the eyes of Berliners during the Cold War. The symbolism of the Wall makes visitors to it walk real slow. At intervals, you see holes in it, and its easy to imagine the crowds on either side tearing it down on the fateful November 9, 1989. It is an event I remember from my childhood, seeing the images on television and not quite grasping its full import. But now, seeing it in flesh and with the sun having come out and shining bright, I could appreciate a lot more. Most of all, the day’s experiences helped me admire the resilience of this amazing city and respect Berlin’s embrace of multiculturalism that I now understand as a way to counter its sordid, violent and divisive past.

More pics of The Wall ahead…

MADNESS....Bang on! That's exactly what the wall represents, the craziness of the human race

MADNESS….Bang on! That’s exactly what the wall represents, the craziness of the human race

Gaping holes offer a view to what's beyond, particularly love this shot!

Gaping holes offer a view to what’s beyond, particularly love this shot!

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People walk by real slow, staring at The Wall

People walk by real slow, staring at The Wall

My touristic shot with the Wall

My touristic shot with the Wall

Dragging the reluctant Rahul into the frame, the Nikon positioned in Udai's able hands!

Dragging the reluctant Rahul into the frame, the Nikon positioned in Udai’s able hands!

And this is my favourite shot of my two darlings posing in their Greek tees, my Poseidon and Athena, always inspiring me to do more and better, my constant admirers and critics. Love you kiddos!

And this is my favourite shot of my two darlings posing in their Greek tees, my Poseidon and Athena, always inspiring me to do more and better, my constant admirers and critics. Love you kiddos!

Rained out at Checkpoint Charlie

Nearly everyone who’s been to Berlin, every travel website and brochure, puts Checkpoint Charlie at the top of its list. And so, after a look at the insides of Nikolaikirch, we set out to tick the infamous CC off our list.

Historical info: Checkpoint Charlie was the crossing point between East and West Germany, manned by the US. It is perhaps the most poignant physical symbol of the Cold War along with the Berlin Wall itself (post coming soon), which was built to prevent East Germans from crossing over to the other side.

As luck would have it, we were rained out before we got there and it was a bit of an anti climax to see the poor guards positioned there (for touristic value only, I presume) scurrying around for umbrellas, not looking one bit stern but rather, hassled and helpless. The sad stack of cement bags was something we folks from Delhi see at every Metro station and for some reason, despite knowing the enormous historic significance of this point on the earth’s surface, I wasn’t really impressed! The lines to get into the Checkpoint Charlie Museum were long and forbidding and we did not even try. Plus, the place was way too touristy, advertising itself blatantly to American visitors complete with morabilia stores and even a giant Mc Donald’s that looks straight onto CC!

We detoured into Mc D’s for a pit stop (a mandatory visit thanks to Aadyaa who is something of a loo-tourist!) and ate a sausage or two off a streetside stall. Udai then had the bright idea of asking someone where The Wall is (he was obsessed with the task of finding the remains of the Berlin Wall) and off we marched to explore some more…

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Memory tools: A bombed out church turns into urban scale artwork

I’ve seen this sort of stuff before in Germany. Many years ago in Cologne, I remember walking on a street with a giant circle inscribed in it, to remember the Roman structure that once stood there. It was 1999. I had recently graduated from architecture college and the simple memory tool simply blew my mind!

This summer in Berlin, I noticed that the heavy scent of memory and nostalgia, tinged with sweetness and pain, still hangs around every street corner. And so I was particularly struck by this little open space near Checkpoint Charlie.

It’s called Bethlehemkirchplatz. Here, where a Church once stood, stands a metal frame that recreates the outline of the original building in a giant three-dimensional sculpture designed by Spanish artist  Juan Garaizabal (it is a tube structure that plays with light apparently, but we saw it only in the daytime). You walk inside it and you see the plan of the erstwhile church inscribed into the paving in a distinct colour. It urges you to try and conjure up its walls and roof, its interiors, furniture, people. And you cannot, because it is in fact an empty space, filled with memory and emotion.

A 16th C church built for Szech Protestant refugees who came to Berlin at the time of Frederick William the 1st. Built around 1737, the church was bombed during the WWII in 1943 and in 1963 the ruins were brought down. The current artwork was inaugurated as recently as 2012.

We first caught a tantalizing glimpse of the sculpture on our way back from Checkpoint Charlie on Day 1 of our exploration of Berlin (more on that later). But it stayed in my mind and we went back to it another time to feel wha its like to stand inside that shell. Interestingly, the plaza is also known for the building in the background that was designed by well-known architect Philip Johnson and in this way, the place holds more than just memory but is linked to Berlin’s recent history and architectural prowess.

The artwork peeks out at us on a rainy day

The artwork peeks out at us on a rainy day

It fills the space, yet you see forms beyond it

It fills the space, yet you see forms beyond it

We return another day, under a blue sky

We return another day, under a blue sky

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The sculpture next to the church’s frame represents the everyday things the refugees left with. I didn’t take to it much!

 

The explorers are at it!

The explorers are at it!

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This is my favourite view of the plaza. And heya Johnson House now clearly visible in the background!

This is my favourite view of the plaza. And heya Johnson House now clearly visible in the background!

 

Our first glimpses of Berlin

After a congenial and comfortable train ride from Amsterdam to Berlin, we weren’t exactly tired. And so, shortly after we dumped our bags in our hotel room, all four of us were eager to walk around and explore our new destination.

At first sight, I found Berlin hard to read. So much was happening around me visually. Heritage structures abounded, but the skyline was dominated by the slender and modern TV tower, the 4th tallest structure in Europe. Cranes dotted the horizon as well and I could sense the energy of a city that seemed to be in a constant state of re-invention.

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Impossible not to feel the buzz in Berlin

Peek-a-boo TV tower! You see it from simply everywhere

Peek-a-boo TV tower! You see it from simply everywhere

Despite the broad research I had done, I hadn’t dwelt on what it would be like to walk the streets of Berlin and I loved the feeling of taking in a new place, the tingling sense of curiosity, the eagerness to discover. Rahul and the kids seemed to share this feeling as well and we found ourselves walking around the Nikolaiviertel (St Nicholas Quarter) that was adjacent to our hotel.

Aside: We stayed at the Novotel and Aadyaa called it the No-Hotel for two whole days to our utter amusement. A decent place to stay, not luxurious but well located.

Interestingly, this is the oldest residential area in Berlin dating back to medieval times. We circled Nikolaikirche, the oldest church in the city, which was to become a familiar landmark over the next few days. We walked past the ornate Ephraim Palace and the red Rathuis (Townhall). We admired the River Spree and paid our respects to St. George slaying the dragon.

The Nikolaikirch too is hard to miss as you walk in this area

The Nikolaikirche too is hard to miss as you walk in this area

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The quaint church square has been entirely reconstructed as it was bombed out in the WWII, a familiar story in Berlin

The quaint church square has been entirely reconstructed as it was bombed out in the WWII, a familiar story in Berlin

The Rote Rathuis opr Red Townhall. An architectural delight with great detailing

The Rote Rathuis opr Red Townhall. An architectural delight with great detailing

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We ate under the shadow of this gorgeous statue of St George slaying the dragon.. The kids were quite fascinated by it!

We ate under the shadow of this gorgeous statue of St George slaying the dragon.. The kids were quite fascinated by it!

We all find our own interests. While I admired the architecture and sense of history, Aadyaa loved the summer blooms!

We all find our own interests. While I admired the architecture and sense of history, Aadyaa loved the summer blooms!

This is what I mean. You find gems like this unexpectedly all around Berlin. This particular structure fascinated me for some reason

This is what I mean. You find gems like this unexpectedly all around Berlin. This particular structure fascinated me for some reason

Everywhere, I saw the infill new buildings that had been fitted into the fabric of the older city and it took me some time to shake off the visual symmetry of the Dutch landscape and accommodate the more kitschy urbanscape of Berlin. Somewhere in between our wanderings this first evening, we sat down to a hearty German meal of bratwurst and potato salad, beer and schintzel. A good beginning to a packed 4 days ahead in one of the most interesting cities in the world!

Tired and satisfied, sleepy but excited to resume our exploration the next day...

Tired and satisfied, sleepy but excited to resume our exploration the next day…

Adrenalin rush @ the magical world of Efteling

I once had an ambition to write children’s short stories and someone on my twitter TL had suggested that whatever I write must have dragons, because they held an unfailing enormous charm for children. At the time, I wondered. But I thought of his advice the day we visited Efteling, the 60-year old veteran of amusement parks located in the southern part of The Netherlands.

I’d been there before and knew what to expect, but I wasn’t prepared for the high levels of excitement and energy from the children that day. It took us over two hours to get there from Haarlem on a warm day, but no one minded. And how could we, when we were greeted by the most fantastic dragon ever, one who looked oh-so fierce and belched flames too!

_DSC6493_DSC6497Efteling’s architecture recreated the magical world of castles and dungeons, ogres and knights, elves and goblins and my children were absolutely charmed. Udai, especially, could imagine himself inside one of his books (Harry Potter, Eragon, Lord of the Rings…you get the drift) and his happiness knew no bounds.

_DSC6486_DSC6498For Aadyaa, the focus of excitement were the roller coasters, the crazier the better! And we were really glad she was tall enough to do them, In fact, Rahul had asked her to pull herself up to her full height if someone came with a measuring stick. And she did! A full 120 cms little Aadyaa was on the day we went to Efteling, aided a bit by her sports shoes and her gymnastics training! We did three roller coaster rides back-to-back, waiting for about 30 minutes for each one (not tiring, just builds up the excitement!). They were bizarre, topsy turvy and scary, in that order. We all loved them and the rush of adrenaline stayed with us for a long long time!

_DSC6491_DSC6500Fotor0707123652Fotor0707124228IMG_7212To wind down, we took a serene boat ride, saying hello to all the ducklings and geese we met. And the final elevator ride high into the sky that offers a bird’s eye view of Efteling and beyond. It is then that we realized that the park is located deep inside a protected forest area and all we could see was the dense green cover all around. All the easier for them to create the magical feeling that makes Efteling so special!_DSC6520

Remembering Haarlem #2: Admiring St Bavo

I’ve had several encounters with St. Bavo Kerk, a beautiful late Gothic cathedral located right in the centre of Haarlem in The Netherlands. Like many churches in Europe, St Bavo was built on the site of an older church that existed from the 12th century, however it was only in the 15th century that it was altered and expanded into a large cathedral. St Bavo started off a Catholic church but bore witness to the wave of Protestantism, finally becoming a Protestant cathedral in 1578.

Magnificent in size, with an impressive wooden ceiling and beautiful stained glass windows, St Bavo is designed (like all Gothic churches) to awe the visitor. Its Pièce de résistance, however, is its pipe organ, for a long time the largest in the world and once even played on by Mozart in 1766, when he was all of ten years old!

I remember walking to St Bavo way back in 1999, accompanied by my younger mama (maternal uncle) to hear an organ concert. Having recently finished by Bachelors in Architecture, I recall I spent most of my time staring at the church interiors and also at times dozing off (put it down to a limited understanding of Western music and a full stomach!).

This visit though, the rich sound of the organ struck me as soon as I set foot inside the cathedral and I found I could appreciate much better the texture of the sound, the acoustics of the absolutely stunning space and the atmosphere of divinity that the combination of space and sound created.

For the children, who had never been to a cathedral before, it was hard to decide where to look: the paved floors that marked the graves of important people, the paintings on the walls, the ceiling so so high, the shining organ, the hushed demeanour of those who sat in the pews hearing the music and seemingly engrossed in prayer, the statue of Mother Mary with her benevolent expression…..

After having spent a couple of hours out there in the Grote Markt thinking the cathedral was closed, I was just happy to be inside. For, call me old-fashioned or slightly crazy, it seems incomplete to visit Haarlem and not come here once!

St Bavo from outside. At this time, we were out in the square lamenting its closure

St Bavo from outside. At this time, we were out in the square lamenting its closure

When we finally discover this little side entrance, I was thrilled. These three are probably at this point, just playing along with my need to see St Bavo again!

When we finally discover this little side entrance, I was thrilled. These three are probably at this point, just playing along with my need to see St Bavo again!

The enormous pipe organ that takes up nearly the entire height of the cathedral, definitely the focus here at St Bavo

The enormous pipe organ that takes up nearly the entire height of the cathedral, definitely the focus here at St Bavo

It was playing the day we visited and here you get an idea of the sort of atmosphere inside

It was playing the day we visited and here you get an idea of the sort of atmosphere inside

The intricacy of the ceiling, so Gothic!

The intricacy of the ceiling, so Gothic!

The nave is in the centre, with the fabulous ceiling anf the two aisles, like this one, run on either side of the cathedral. The symmetry is pleasing and inspiring

The nave is in the centre, with the fabulous ceiling and the two aisles, like this one, run on either side of the cathedral. The symmetry is pleasing and inspiring. Notice the flooring. Each flagstone is the size of a grave, for easy sponsorship I suppose!

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Trying to fit the many elements of Gothic architecture into a single frame, and the painted ceiling as well

 

Finding Nemo in Amsterdam!

When you are in Holland, you always run the risk of rain! It’s the place that people always complain about the weather and the No. 1 nemesis for outdoors fun is the rain. And so, we thought it imperative to have other tricks up our sleeve the day we decided to wander around the streets of Amsterdam.

Plan B had to be put into action the minute we stepped out of the Central Station. Through the drizzle, we walked to the building I’ve always been curious about, but never been to- the strange maritime structure designed by Renzo Piano that houses the Science Center Nemo.

_DSC6090_DSC6093_DSC6096The children probably didn’t know what to expect, but they were delighted the second they stepped into a hall full of light, friendly volunteers helping them out with all sorts of simple science experiments and the promise of endless discoveries beyond.

Started way back in 1923, the museum took its present avatar, moving into the new building, in 1997 and has since become the 5th most visited museum in The Netherlands (the country has a plethora of museums and many world-renowned ones!). The interior is gigantic, with several levels that can engage children starting with toddlers going all the way up to teenagers. Udai and Aadyaa, who have become avid museum goers, tried most things out despite the crowd. It seemed like everyone had the same idea as us to shelter from the rain, plus it was a weekend. We were in there for hours, but I was the only one who got slightly bored out there. For Rahul and the kids, pressing buttons and making stuff, reading things and playing little games, taking on challenges and giggling, all of it was endlessly fascinating. It was a tough place for a photographer, the light being very strange, but I tried and here are some clicks that hopefully show how amazing the experience was.

Creating giant bubbles from soap film was a lot of fun!

Creating giant bubbles from soap film was a lot of fun!

Exploring the stability of built structures

Exploring the stability of built structures

Excited after using binary code to write Mum's name!

Excited after using binary code to write Mum’s name!

Many types of interactions. Papa was at his absolute best, explaining stuff and helping the kids out in every section of the museum

Many types of interactions. Papa was at his absolute best, explaining stuff and helping the kids out in every section of the museum

And Rahul's love for flight is clearly seen here as he helps Aadyaa maneouvre mirrors to reflect light onto PV panels that help fly a plane!

And Rahul’s love for flight is clearly seen here as he helps Aadyaa maneuver mirrors to reflect light onto PV panels that help fly a plane!

We left the museum only to realise the sun was out! As we walked away, I looked back to click one last picture of Renzo Piano’s creation. Here you can see the crowning glory of the structure, the large terraced roof that offers stunning views of Amsterdam and is, in itself, quite a sight!

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