Ich Bin Ein Berliner

Berlin, Germany

Bearpit Karaoke in Mauerpark.. Sundays in Prenzlauer Berg wouldn’t be the same without it

… It’s been an incredibly long time since I posted anything on this blog… almost a month to the day in fact.  I won’t bore you with excuses. Needless to say, as those of you who blog will know only too well, sometimes you just keep putting it off and off, and then one day you realise it’s been too long and you try and hash something together in super quick time.

Anyway, after toying for some time now with the idea of spending more time in the incredibly vibrant city of Berlin, today I finally find myself sat at my computer amidst a mountain of packing boxes in a studio on Oderberger Straße at the heart of Berlin’s enthralling and eclectic neighbourhood of Prenzlauer Berg, on the first day of a summer period based over here instead of the UK.

So the time has come to finally update my website. Rather than try and write about something specific, I’ve decided to post a random bunch of pictures from the last month with a little rambling text and maybe a clip… without any consistent thread running throughout other than the fact that they were things that caught my eye over the last four weeks.

BTW, if you’re wondering what’s going on in the picture at the top of the post… that’s something that happens in my neighbourhood every Sunday afternoon in the summer on a site occupying a section of the old ‘death strip’ of the Berlin Wall, now a parkland (which also houses what is IMO the best flea market in Berlin).

Started a few years ago by an Irish fellow who goes by the name of Joe, Bearpit Karaoke has become quite an institution in these parts, regularly drawing a crowd of 2000 and along with it some really inspirational singers… others downright terrible I might add, but all giving it their best shot in front of the huge and welcoming crowd.

If you’re planning a trip to wonderful Berlin this summer, make sure you drop by on a Sunday afternoon and say hello… I’ll be the one perched on the front row nursing a sun burnt nose and cool bag full of Erdinger.

Hartley Ostini Hitching Post Highliner 2006 Sideways Pinot Noir

Another item crossed off the bucket list

So, I begin with an image that may be lost on many of you, but for me, represents the culmination of a long-nurtured dream to visit the small town of Buellton in Santa Barbara County, California… inspired by a mild obsession that I have with the film ‘Sideways‘.

If you’re still following me, then you may be interested to know that I can report back that the 06 Highliner,  the Hitching Post’s flagship Pinot is wonderfully smooth and velvety with excellent depth…. (holds fingers to ear and squints) …with a soupçon of asparagus… and… um… a flutter of nutty Edam cheese… sorry, jokes aside… well worth the 10,000 mile round trip.  Equally worth the journey was the chance to stay in the fantastically old school ‘Windmill Motel’ in Buellton (apparently unchanged since Sideways was filmed there over 6 years ago) … complete with outdoor jacuzzi, crappy breakfast buffet et al.  A snip at just 69 bucks a night.

Needless to say, I was in my element.

Other parts of California revealed some wonderful surprises, like these glorious sand dunes at Mesquite Flat in Death Valley, where the setting sun lays an incredible purple hue on the towering Amargosa Range mountains behind.

When you need a little space to think

Hitching on the lost highway

Driving around the desert in California and Nevada was excellent fun…  Incredibly long straight deserted roads.  Remote 1950′s looking service stations with attached brothel (selling UFO paraphernalia at the reception). Scary looking trailer parks with a line of fifty mail boxes at the entrance and incredible panoramas that stretch on forever.

Unfortunately I forgot to bring my ipod with me so those lonely miles were accompanied by the dulcet tones of the intriguing Christian radio stations that appear to be the only thing you can pick up in your car around there… some of the most incredible phone-in shows I’ve ever heard in my life… ever…  eerily good at enhancing the whole desert driving experience.

Unusually for Death Valley, famously the hottest place in the world with recorded temperatures topping 56.6°C, it actually snowed for 20 minutes while I was driving through it.  According to the bar woman in nearby Beatty’s Sour Dough Saloon, it happens every now and then… nothing to write home about actually… ‘might just about warrant a mention in a blog post’.

Route 374. The stuff that road trip dreams are made of

Other things that I did this past month… whilst packing up my office in the UK I discovered an old 512 MB compact flash card that had been lost for over 4 years.  On it were some pictures from the Sisters’ Meal Festival in Southwest China that I had never seen before.  Here’s a few…

Young Miao girls getting ready for the festival

Portrait at home

A tough life for some

Pic: Copyright Timothy Allen http://humanplanet.com

Bringing home the groceries

Aspiring cool cats

.  .  .

I’m always on the look out for a good small camera that I can carry with me everywhere, so before I went to the USA I bought an Olympus PEN EP2 and stuck a Panasonic Lumix 20 mm F/1.7 pancake lens on it.

I must admit I am really quite happy with the results it gave me.  That’s not a bad indictment from someone who’s been using Canon 5D’s since they first came out.  The lens is super fast which lets me shoot in all the dark places I so love to go, and the image size is easily good enough for magazines.

Here’s a shot from Joshua Tree that shows you the kind of results you can get out of it.  I’ve linked the picture to its hi-res file for reference purposes in case any of you are thinking about buying that body-lens combo.

Many thanks to Liz my hitchhiking road trip partner for being in so many of my pics!

Test shot using Olympus EP2 with Panasonic 20mm f1.7 lens - CLICK IMAGE TO SEE FULL SIZE FILE

Liz also had a go at driving too…

Cruising the strip in Vegas…  whatever

Finally, one last thing that, like my pilgrimage to Buellton mentioned above, unfortunately may not connect with that many of you either.  As I mentioned in my last post, whilst filming for Human Planet in L.A. a few weeks ago I discovered to my great surprise and delight, that The Dresden, a cool bar in Los Feliz that figures prominently in my favourite bromantic comedy of all time, ‘Swingers‘… is a real place and not just a film set as I might have previously suspected.

Upon discovering this, I knew I had to go there… mainly to seek out the truth about Marty and Elayne, the Dresden’s resident lounge Jazz duo who appear briefly in the movie, but also on the off chance that I might find Nikki sat alone at the bar drinking a Martini.

The Dresden is real! …and by far the best night out I had in America.

OK, so the Nikki thing was a long shot, but I have to say, I had an awesome night at The Dresden.  Like a kid in a sweet shop I was.  Chatting with Marty and Elayne it turns out that amazingly, they have been playing there 5 nights a week for over 18 years… and they certainly show no signs of stopping IMO. Incredible.

The highlight of the night was a vintage rendition of ‘Staying Alive‘  that they dedicated to yours truly, something that I tried to capture on my EP2 with limited success…  So, for all you Swingers fans out there… here it is…

WARNING! Epic keyboard solo starts at 2:07 … not for the faint hearted.

(Sorry for the terrible focusing… and occasional strange noise interference over some of the clip… that was me using the vertical view finder after a few too many Margaritas… and breathing into the mike!)

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11 Responses to “Ich Bin Ein Berliner”

  1. Andrzej says:

    I didn’t know that Panasonic Lumix lenses will fit Olympus PEN cameras. Cheer for the tip and see you at Karaoke.

  2. mauer says:

    Glad you loved the Dresden Room – it’s my neighborhood and I should go there more often than I do. Yr pixturs are fantastic. Thanks for sharing them

  3. Jess says:

    I was just in Berlin a couple of weeks ago while backpacking through Europe. It was one of my favorite cities. All of the travelers I met in following cities told them that they had to go. Simply, it’s “cool,” without trying too hard. Hung out with a bunch of ex-pats while there who lived in Berlin because they thought it was the best city they could find, so I guess they agree with you.

  4. John-Paul says:

    Loved the blog Tim. Excellent advice all round and your portfolio is just fab. Hope to see you in Berlin soon.

    John-Paul (Antje’s Husband)

  5. Darcy Moore says:

    Hello Timothy,

    We will be neighbours shortly as I am moving to Denmark for the summer.

    Cheers,
    @Darcy1968 ;O)

  6. Andrew Newey says:

    Look like you had a good road trip!

    I fly via Berlin on Sunday at the end of the month en route to Mongolia for my photo tour.. shame there’s only a couple of hours between flights. I guess your flying with MIAT from Berlin also?

    So why the move to Germany?

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