Berlin Parks | Cherry Blossom Festival / Kirschblütenfest at Gärten der Welt in Erholungspark Marzahn

April 16, 2014

Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_cherry blossoms close up in sunlight Having long since been a fan of those party-like pink blooms and the spectacular spring carpet they produce as their season draws to a close, I've never managed to see more than a few cherry blossom trees in one place. I always dreamed of visiting D.C. for its annual festivities dedicated to these lovely flowers, but I never made the trip. So when I heard that Berlin had its very own festival at the Gärten der Welt (Gardens of the World), I immediately envisioned getting lost in a forest of pink blossoms - and marked my calendar.

A bit late to the celebration last weekend after being seriously under the weather, I was rather surprised at what the festival entailed. Other than a tiny stage featuring a line-up of cultural dancers and drummers, a sprinkling of booths offering 'traditional' food and goods, there seemed to be little to the actual festivities beyond an excuse for young people to dress up like characters from various anime series. Frankly, most people in costume just looked painfully self conscious and spent the majority of the time tripping over their clothing or shoes, a few reveling in the confidence of being asked to have their photograph taken. Other than the cultural connection to Japan, I was confused at what this had to do with the celebration of one of spring's most spectacular displays in nature. Watching the food preparers rip open the same 35-cent packs of ramen I ate in college and dump it into their pots of 'authentic' cuisine and the peddling of mounds of stuffed Pikachus further pushed my first impression of this event as a bit of an overblown tourist trap.

Not wanting to let the initial feelings of commercialism and misplaced fanfare persevere, we pressed on to discover what this festival was really all about: the cherry blossoms. But again, my enthusiasm was thwarted by the lack of cherry blossoms themselves. Sure, there were a couple of trees in the Korean garden, as well as a sprinkling of them throughout the rest of the grounds, but there was no sprawling, spectacular display I had been building up in my imagination. There was no forest of pink dreamlike trees, ground carpeted in pink petals or any other explosion of natural color so intense it required sunglasses. Other than the sheer size of one tree on the whole of the park grounds, I found the rather meager ones lining the streets of our neighborhood to be just as impressive.

After letting go of my perhaps unfairly high hopes for the day, we were free to explore the rest of the gardens in the park. Surprisingly, there were even more beautiful places than what the day's festivities were centered around. The relatively new Christian Garden, with its walkways encased in a massive gold-hued metal structure made up of words and symbols, both biblical and spiritual, was particularly impressive. The intricate wood-carved ceilings and colorful mosaic hallways of the Oriental Garden's interior space could only be matched by it's exotic flowers and dancing fountains outside. The most enjoyable part was simply walking the paths between the gardens, taking in the wide-open spaces, colorful flower beds and intermittent rays of warm sunshine.

While the underwhelming showing at this particular festival may have had more to do with the unrelated, overzealous costumes and lackluster cultural offerings than solely the unimpressive display of cherry blossom trees, I may reserve next spring's nature celebrations to perusing some of the neighborhoods of the best blooming trees with a cone from the closest ice cream shop. The Gardens of the World on its own is a really lovely location to bring a blanket, spend an afternoon in the sunshine and take in the nature around you.

Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_sign on building at entrance Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_flowers at entrance Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_korean garden building stream and cherry blossoms Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_korean garden ornate wall details Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_cooking chinese food Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_lawn filled with picnics Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_blooming cherry blossoms and blue sky
Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_cherry blossoms in park_vertical Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_chinese garden walkway building and pond
Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_chinese garden building overlooking pond Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_christian garden gold words metal walkway center courtyard Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_christian garden words up close Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_cherry blossom lined path blue sky Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_green field with cherry blossoms trees blue sky Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_pink cherry blossom tree against blue sky Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_pink cherry blossoms close up green field in background Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_oriental garden building entrance
Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_oriental garden fountains Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_oriental garden mosaic tile hallway with carved arches and fountain
Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_oriental garden exotic orange flower Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_flower beds grass and park walkways Berlin Cherry Blossom Festival Kirschbluetenfest Gaertens der Welt Erholungspark Marzahn_abundant blooming cherry blossoms


Gärten der Welt
Eisenacher Strasse 99
12685 Berlin
S-Berlin-Marzahn / U-Cottbusser Platz
normal admission: 4€ (Apr-Oct) / special event admission: 6€

Germany's First Uniqlo Opens in Berlin

April 14, 2014

Berlin Uniqlo flagship store opening_ front window display and sign It wasn't until we moved to Berlin that I really stopped and questioned why Uniqlo was absent from the German retail landscape. Having visited the stores in New York and Paris, I knew that its affordable, well-made wardrobe staples seemed like just the thing a land of ruled by practicality would clamor for. Sure, the offerings can be a bit colorful for Germans that prefer to float in a sea of neutrals, but for every tee, sweater and button-down offered in bright turquoise or acid green, you can bet it can also be found in navy, black and white. And this was Berlin after all, a major, worldly city. How could this global clothing giant have overlooked our burgeoning status as a fashion capital?

My unspoken pondering was answered one freezing night walking down Tauentzienstrasse a few months ago, when a huge white, billboard-encased building emblazoned with red writing across the street made me stop in my tracks. There it was. 'From Tokyo to Berlin. Coming spring 2014'. That unmistakable red square logo filled my dreams for the months to come. So when that massive storefront billboard was updated with its Berlin People Campaign - featuring an appropriate assortment of Berliners, from a DJ to a blogger to a restaurateur - and an official opening date, I marked April 11th on my calendar and began to count down the days until my very own Uniqlo would be just an U-Bahn ride away.

I knew its prime location on the corner of Tauentzienstrasse, across from Zara and just down from KaDeWe, meant it would not only be a regular stop on my shopping trips, but on many other Berliners' as well. With three levels and more square meterage than any other European Uniqlo, this flagship location has something for everyone. While I didn't make it early enough on opening day for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, complete with model Eva Padberg from the photo campaign, the buzz and crowds seemed not to have lessened by mid-afternoon. The wait for fitting rooms was over a half hour long. Employees were constantly bringing out armfuls of jackets and sweaters to replenish racks and shelves, keeping them robustly full. I felt as if I couldn't turn around without encountering yet another person welcoming me and asking if I needed any help.

As if the ticker tape stairways, rotating mannequins and floor-to-ceiling shelves of exceptionally tidy and colorful wares weren't enough to keep my energy up amidst the craziness of opening day at a massive retailer, the Uniqlo employees really set the tone for a positive shopping experience. As soon as I even started to pick up a pair of the Ultra Stretch jeans, I had someone at my side, cautioning that I should go down several sizes, as they ran large. Even when I decided on a pair two sizes down, she insisted I try the next size down as well (and you know what, she was right). I nearly fell over with shock when not one, but two different employees stopped by our epic fitting room line to offer a warm smile and thanks for waiting - something I had never before experienced in all my years in Germany.

In addition to being some of the friendliest employees I'd encountered in a long time, they were so wonderfully representative of Berlin itself, diverse in language and culture. I heard them conversing in lots of German and English, but also in a few languages I could not identify. I spoke English with a Spanish-accented girl during my time in the fitting rooms, but then chatted in German with the one who rung me up, commiserating with her about finding pants long enough for our tall frames. It was honestly such a good experience, one can only hope this level of service continues beyond opening weekend.

With a few Uniqlo visits already under my belt, I knew what to expect from the merchandise, but was still pleasantly surprised. The opening week promotions of 10€ off on down jackets and cashmere, two of the company's most iconic lines, was enough to have me second-guessing my pre-made and researched list of what I wanted to buy there (so as not to get distracted, as I tend to do). While I didn't end up leaving with either, I already can't get those colorful coats and unbelievably soft sweaters out of my mind. I admit, I've held J.Crew cashmere up as 'the ultimate' for a long time, but I think Uniqlo's might actually be more plush. Sure, the styles are a bit more limited, but that's a small price to pay when, well, paying only a fraction of the price.

The other thing that I was unprepared for was the collaboration with J Brand on a pair of limited edition ankle jeans in two colors, made specifically for the Berlin store launch. Always a sucker for a good deal on designer duds - though certainly not cheap at 100€, they are still half the cost of regular J Brand jeans - I grabbed a pair in my regular denim size (no vanity sizing like regular Uniqlo denim, sadly) without the patience to wait again in the painfully long fitting room line. It absolutely gutted me to try them on at home and admit to myself that the regular 40€ pair fit and flattered my figure ten times better, and that even with the cool tag commemorating the Berlin store opening and the designer denim status, they just weren't worth the investment. On the plus side, I can return them and for the same price, get a better-fitting pair of jeans AND an amazing cashmere sweater. Yes, please.

So while I kept my shopping tendencies in control on that first trip, ending up with only a couple of necessities and a couple of well-priced special pieces, I know there will be many more Uniqlo trips in my future. I look forward to finally being able to stock up on some great linen-blend tees, check out the latest colors of cashmere and have access to all the designer collaborations yet to come, all in my very own city. Welcome to Berlin, Uniqlo - I'm glad you're here!


Berlin Uniqlo flagship store opening_grand entrance with ticker and revolving mannequins Berlin Uniqlo flagship store opening_women mannequins in colorful summer wear Berlin Uniqlo flagship store opening_men's casual tailoring display mannequins Berlin Uniqlo flagship store opening_cashmere sweaters special price
Berlin Uniqlo flagship store opening_Eva Padberg autograph Berlin People Campaign photo Berlin Uniqlo flagship store opening_colorful pants stacked high on shelves
Berlin Uniqlo flagship store opening_Michael Bastian collaboration display with mannequins Berlin Uniqlo flagship store opening_Ines de la Fressange collaboration display Berlin Uniqlo flagship store opening_Jbrand denim exclusive collaboration jeans Berlin Uniqlo flagship store opening_ Jbrand jeans collaboration denim closeup of tags Berlin Uniqlo flagship store opening_shelves of folded colorful tee shirts
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Uniqlo Deutschland
Tauentzienstrasse 7
10789 Berlin

Pastels for spring? Nah, go bold!

April 11, 2014

Colorful tops for spring
So, I know spring is the time for a slow, soft return to color after months of being merely eyes and a nose peeking out from a mountain of grey and black parkas and scarves and hats and such, but sometimes you're just ready to jump head-first into bright, summery colors and prints. Pastel hues associated with the season can, if you're like me, wash out a pasty, post-winter complexion and can leave one still wanting more. More brightness, more excitement. Something to counteract the months of grey, drizzly skies ahead, before sunshine and blue skies again reign supreme.

I say, be damned, spring pastels! I say, the brighter the better! Who made the rule that bold colors and in-your-face prints were reserved for summer? I always find myself so timid this time of year, fashion-wise. I feel as if my punchy, statement tops are too much of a color shock for the dreariness outdoors - not to mention a bit flimsy considering freezing gusts of wind and sudden downpours that are prone to happen - and yet anything softer in tone feels, frankly, like I'm just kidding myself. Sometimes you have to take matters into your hands with what you put on in the morning, bringing a much-needed brightness to your face with bold color, whatever the season. Just don't forget to grab a warm sweater for layering.

These are just a few of my favorites right now...

Berlin Parks | Abandoned Amusement Park: Berliner Spreepark / Kulturpark Plänterwald (for a limited time!)

April 9, 2014

Spreepark Berlin Kulturpark Plaenterwald_abandoned amusement park_tyrannosaurus rex on ground ferris wheel Only in Berlin would an overgrown and abandoned amusement park be one of the hottest tickets in town. Berlin has a thing for the old, the rundown and the graffiti-covered, and as a city with this much history, who can blame it? So much has been rebuilt here after the war, such rare relics of a positive influence in the GDR era are fought to be kept alive for future generations, remembering not everything must be new and shiny for progress to happen. The Spreepark (originally named Kulturpark Plänterwald in its first incarnation in 1969) has been one such place, boarded up for years since it's closure in 2002, providing eerie backdrops for a movie and music video, and serving as a tempting place for the brave to risk arrest for the unofficial tour. But all that has just changed.

After sitting vacant, with debts in the millions still owed in taxes and to banks - not to mention an eBay listing for its sale - the city apparently made a deal to buy the place a couple of weeks ago and is now offering official tours, no risk of guard dog attack necessary. But there's a catch: they are only being offered until the sale is finalized at the end of the month. After that, speculation is high that the city will do what it is working to do with much of Berlin's land: affordable housing. As a fairly new, non-German Berliner myself, I understand the impulse, but what a shame to dismantle something that has been a part of this city's history for so long. Furthermore, I dare any of these folks whining about affordable housing in Berlin to go find something 'affordable' where I'm from in the San Francisco Bay area. Take it from me, living in one of the greatest cities in the world could be a lot worse. I once saw a yurt - that's right, essentially a glorified tent - for sale in the Santa Cruz mountains for half a mil. No joke. But I digress...

On a very serendipitous outing last weekend while meandering Treptower Park for my park series, I happened upon the Spreepark's open gates and learned of its new status. With the rather uncertain air around the whole thing, not to mention the declining state of the weather forecast for the following week, we jumped on the opportunity and booked the tour for the very next day. Word travels fast in Berlin, because reserving a spot did little for massive line we had to wait in, pushing our tour time back by nearly an hour. At least there were beers and soft-serve to enjoy while you wait. Those Germans sure understand the important things in life.

When I first learned the guided tour was two hours long, I was skeptical at exactly how detailed this needed to be and pictured a dry, German guide, painstakingly recounting every date in the park's history and slapping our hands with sticks if we ventured off the path. But within the first few minutes of meeting our tour guide - the daughter of the park's last owner - and she started in on the stories of all her siblings being forced to dress up as park mascots, being talked into letting guys into the park during the closed winter season so they could take bets on who would jump into the slushy log ride pond in -10°C weather and oh yeah, that time her dad got caught trying to smuggle nearly 200 kilos of cocaine into the country in the now infamous and fittingly named magic carpet ride, I knew this wasn't going to be a stuffy, formal 'tour' after all. Sabrina continued to regale us with stories of growing up at the park, while letting us meander freely on the rides and around the grounds, giving us plenty of time to explore, take photos and just take in the sad place the Spreepark had become. Hearing her inside story (well, all of the German that I could understand, anyway) was worth the admission fee alone. Not having to constantly look over one's shoulder for fear of being pounced on by security or finally discover what cold handcuffs feel like were also major perks.

So if you live in Berlin, are planning a trip here, or just have an amusement park obsession, don't miss the twice-a-day weekend tours through the end of April. After that, it's likely this place will be as extinct as the fiberglass dinosaurs littering the park grounds.

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Berliner Spreepark
Kiehnwerderallee 1
12437 Berlin
S Plänterwald