Feeding the sparrows! Aadyaa’s best moments in #Berlin

Tired after spending the morning inside the Bundestag dome in Berlin (post here!), we picnicked in the lawn outside. We had had a rainy morning and the bright sunshine that followed offered us the sort of bright light that brings the colours alive and makes everything around look like its straight out of the pages of a computer-rendered drawing!

Picture perfect!

Picture perfect! The buildings surrounding the Bundestag greens

In this setting, Aadyaa discovered the pleasure of feeding the birds when she accidentally dropped a morsel of bread on the grass beside her! The eager and clever sparrows, well versed with tourists, began to seat themselves in the bushes and trees nearby, waiting for one of us to throw out  piece of bread or a broken off potato wafer. Slowly they began to wait in the grass beside us, only a few paces away and it would seem that if we had spent the rest of the day there, they could have eaten out of our hands as well!

In the branches nearby, watching us closely though pretending not to...

In the branches nearby, watching us closely though pretending not to…

And then right next to us on the grass, no longer pretending but staring at our food!

And then right next to us on the grass, no longer pretending but staring at our food!

They know that little girls will feed....

They know that little girls will feed….

...and in return, they will make her smile!

…and in return, they will make her smile!

Needless to say, our little girl was thrilled! My intense pleasure of experiencing the Bundestag dome paled a bit in comparison with her genuine happiness while feeding the sparrows. Rahul and me were spellbound by the extreme simplicity of a child’s mind. Sitting there, deliberately not rushing the kids towards another touristic destination, we were able to see, for a bit, life the way our kids see it. Uncluttered and in the moment!

This post is part of a series on our family’s experiences in Berlin and The Netherlands in the Summer of 2014. Some of the more popular travel posts from this series are:

Udai’s Tenth: The best birthday ever!

Dinner at a windmill: How Dutch can we get?

Remembering Haarlem #1: Of music and dancing

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

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

Amsterdam

ramblinginthecity:

Here’s another short and sweet post from my (not so) little blogger….

Originally posted on theamazingud:

We went to many places on our holidays Amsterdam is one of them . There we went to the Nemo museum. It is a science museum for children. It is a very interesting place where you can find out many, many things and there is a lot to do. It is designed in the shape of a ship, a big blue one.
We also went to a flea market from where we got lots of things like stickers and metal owls!
THE NEMO MUSEUM!

THE NEMO MUSEUM!

Bubble blowing!

Bubble blowing!

going to blow bubbles!

going to blow bubbles!

working hard to move up and down.

working hard to move up and down.

oldest thing I have ever touched, a piece of a meteor!

oldest thing I have ever touched, a piece of a meteor!

listening

listening

museum made robot!

museum made robot!

metal owl from flea market

metal owl from flea market

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Zoo visit! What kids loved in #Berlin 3/3

Both the kids were absolutely certain of one item on the Berlin must-do list: a visit to the Zoo. Famed to have the most comprehensive collection of animals in the world, Berlin’s Zoologischer Garten (quite a mouthful and Udai practised saying it many times every day, with hilarious results!) is the oldest zoo in Germany, with an interesting history. And true to form, we saw many many species I had never thought I’d see outside of my television screen!

The children were delighted and we spent an entire day there, happy to observe the animals and the humans watching the animals. Of course, a zoo cannot compare to watching animals in the wild, but from an educational perspective, I’m glad we were exposed to such an astonishing array of species. The primate house was particularly impressive, so was the section with night animals where we saw a kinkajou. Now, the kinkajou is an animal we read about in one of the children’s story books and we were all four simultaneously awestruck when we saw one in the flesh! Other highlights were the little joey in her Mumma Kangaroo’s pouch, several types of zebras, the giraffe whose neck wasn’t long enough for Aadyaa and the polar bear, for who we trekked the length and breadth of the fairly large zoo!

Disclaimer: The pictures do not do justice to the fair weather, the well kept environs of the Berlin Zoo and the generally happy state of the animals and those who were out to see them!

Look who we saw first!

Look who we saw first!

Roald Dahl set up some mean expectations about the length of a griaffe's neck when we wrote 'The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me'

Roald Dahl set up some mean expectations about the length of a giraffe’s neck when we wrote ‘The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me’

Udai read every board and discovered that Man was the worst of the lot, going around hunting and killing animals, sometimes for no apparent reason!

Udai read every board and discovered that Man was the worst of the lot, going around hunting and killing animals, sometimes for no apparent reason!

Inhabitants of the primate house

Inhabitants of the primate house

The grand old orangutan showed us a dance with a towel and generally was quite the entertainer. His movements were similar to Tai chi!

The grand old orangutan showed us a dance with a towel and generally was quite the entertainer. His movements were similar to Tai chi!

The gorillas only showed us their backs, so the kids climbed all over this one!

The gorillas only showed us their backs, so the kids climbed all over this one!

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Informative, in case you are on a mission to see all the zoos in the world!

Informative, in case you are on a mission to see all the zoos in the world!

Cute, aren't they?

Cute, aren’t they?

What's the fuss about? Puzzled all the eager human faces staring at her!

What’s the fuss about? Puzzled all the eager human faces staring at her!

Reflecting

Reflecting

The pranced about, these Indochinese tigers. Not a patch on the Royal Bengal Tiger, if you've seen one!

The pranced about, these Indochinese tigers. Not a patch on the Royal Bengal Tiger, if you’ve seen one!

Two-horned, no less!

Two-horned, no less!

Hi Joey! We waited 10 minutes for this Roo to turn around and show us her baby :)

Hi Joey! We waited 10 minutes for this Roo to turn around and show us her baby :)

Have you seen ostrich babies?

Have you seen ostrich babies?

Check out my a$$, say the Zebra, ignoring us completely!

Check out my a$$, say the Zebra, ignoring us completely!

These little ones were just thriving on attention...

These little ones were just thriving on attention, jumping in and out of the water deftly and showing off their swimming and strutting skills!

This one just slept. If she could have, Aadyaa would have walked right over and shaken him awake. Was probably way too warm for him!

This one just slept. If she could have, Aadyaa would have walked right over and shaken him awake. Was probably way too warm for him!

Aadyaa's impersonating a pelican!

Aadyaa’s impersonating a pelican!

And that's our Berlin Zoo selfie! Signing off now...

And that’s our Berlin Zoo selfie! Signing off now…

The Broken City Model of Urban Growth

ramblinginthecity:

Valid thought! We need to fix our cities before they break and if they are already broken, what then?

Originally posted on Decisions, Decisions, Decisions:

Are some cities so ‘broken’ that they are prohibitively expensive to fix?

That thought has occurred to me considering the growth of Dubai, where its problems are being fixed, too late maybe, and at too great a cost if they were fixed earlier, and probably the much needed public transport and other investment is not occurring at a rate fast enough to overcome the problems caused by rapid growth.

There are examples of cities that have grown so fast and with so little public investment that the urban dis-economies of scale (congestion) are higher than the urban economies of agglomeration which drives city growth.  In those cases the growth of a city slows down as the city simply cannot afford, without very high local taxes, to continue growing at the same rate, and attempting to tax at this level can lead to a downward fiscal spiral, of the kind we…

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My actions do matter, making sense amid chaos #MyDearAmericans #Sikhism #identity

One of the most viewed posts on my blog is my experience of visiting the Virasat-e-Khalsa Museum at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab. This morning, as I logged in to WordPress and saw that this post from  October 2012 was once again viewed and that too, from someone in North America, I began to imagine the kind of person who would search for information on the museum. Sikh immigrants of course, besides students of architecture and those researching museums of culture. What’s more interesting is that Moshe Safdie, who designed the museum, is of Israeli origin. It’s confusing, these cultural and nationalistic identities. It’s tough to be accepting and think beyond the stereotypes propagated around you.

I thought about this film- My Dear Americans, made by my friend Arpita and how, in a very short span of time, it explores the overlap between cultural and religious identity and human individuality.

In its own way, the film tells us that we need to think about who we are and what kind of a world we want to live in and how we can, with our own small actions, create a world we love. Disturbed intensely by all the violence in the world- the rapes, the killings at Gaza and the shooting down of another Malaysian Airlines plane- and struggling with how to reconcile these with the daily ups and downs of our lives, I see films like these as slices of truth. Small vignettes that keep me sane, that tell me that life is complex and that, despite its overwhelming complexity, my actions (however small) do matter.

You can help My Dear Americans win at the 2014 PBS online film festival by voting for it here

 

 

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!