TRAVEL

Oh, Vienna

APFELSTRUDEL, NIGHTS AT THE OPERA AND MUSIC-MAKERS HARRIET BEDDER ENJOYS A WHIRL WIND WEEKEND IN VIENNA

With the aim of experiencing Beethoven’s life and his legacy to music I, a classical music enthusiast and opera lover, am thrilled to be spending a magical weekend in Vienna. The Kensington & Chelsea Review has been invited to experience one of the most special events in the city’s history - a year of celebrations for the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth - with a variety of exclusive exhibitions and performances held throughout our stay for us to experience.

    We are told that, to this day, Vienna reigns supreme as the ‘Capital of Music’: not only does it hold 15,000 concerts each year and boast a whopping 99% attendance rate at the Vienna State Opera, but it is also home to 120 music and theatre venues. Love and admiration for classical music runs through the veins of almost every Viennese resident; indeed, the world-renowned balls - held every November since 1814 - are a great example of the city’s commitment to its musical culture. With 400 to choose from, ranging from the Confectioners’ Ball and the Medical Doctors’ Ball, to the Vet’s Ball and the Patisserie Chef’s Ball, there’s an opportunity for everyone to obtain tickets and experience the grandiose, somewhat imposing, surroundings, elegant formal attire and beautiful classical music. Lonely Planet describes the Viennese ball as ‘a magical event everyone should experience at least once in their lives.’

    We begin the ultimate Beethoven experience by taking a short taxi drive out of the centre to Probusgasse 6 in the 19th District’s Heiligenstadt, where Beethoven once lived in a modest 40m² apartment. Now extended to an impressive, 14 room, 265m² museum, the rooms show Beethoven’s move from his hometown of Bonn to Vienna, his love of nature and how he came to become a musician. We learn about his love interests, his social isolation and passion for the countryside. The most impressive room offers an audible demonstration of Beethoven’s premature deafness and the sound quality he experienced even as a young man; almost deaf and still composing entire symphonies - even completing his most famous, the 9th - as a completely deaf man, and not able to hear the applause on its opening night. 

    Next, we visit the ‘Beethoven: Human Realm and Sparks of the Gods’ exhibition at the Austrian National Library.
Here, surrounded by thousands of books in an impressive double-height atrium - complete with Renaissance-style ceiling murals - Beethoven’s original letters and manuscripts are on show. The exhibition includes pages from the 9th Symphony, as well as the manuscript of Beethoven’s only violin concerto (op. 61). Not unlike the Beethoven Museum, this exhibition at the National Library walks you through a complete timeline of Beethoven’s life in one digestible room.

    One of the primary reasons for which we’ve come to Vienna is the opening night of Fidelio, one of many birthday celebrations performed by the Vienna State Opera to mark Beethoven’s 250th Birthday. We are lucky enough to have obtained tickets in the heart of the hall - the stalls circle – which sold out in seconds, months previously. The Opera, Beethoven’s only, premiered three times: the first version in 1805 at the Theater an der Wien; the second, modified version the following year, and the third - completely revised - edition in 1814 at the Court Opera in the Kärntnertortheater. Though the latest version of Fidelio plays every season at the Vienna State Opera, this celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday means that opera fans have the opportunity to experience the original version, never performed since 1814. 

    I found the performance to be mesmerising, with an interesting modern take on the classic love story of romance, murder and prison. But despite a world-class cast, the production itself left the audience torn between a standing ovation (for the singers) and boos (for the stage operations and artistic production). The evening was ultimately thought-provoking and surreal, and the experience of watching an opera in, arguably, the most famous Opera Hall in the world, was magical.

    For the duration of our whirlwind trip to Vienna, we stayed at the Hotel Palais Hansen Kempinski. A five-star superior hotel, The Palais is located conveniently – a walking distance of the city centre and within easy reach of the popular sights.
The hotel is also very well connected to public transport; with a tram practically at the door, we rarely had to catch a taxi anywhere, managing to get to both the Opera and the famous traditional ‘Kaffeehaus’ Café Schwarzenberg within minutes.

    The hotel is large, comprising 152 impressive rooms and suites arranged over three floors, and highly coveted residential apartments at the top. Designed by the famous architect Theophil Edvard Hansen, it welcomed visitors to the World Exhibition in 1873 and reopened in 2013 with Kempinski. 

    Our suites are arranged in a ‘loop,’ with the foyer acting as entrance to both bathroom and lounge, which in turn connects to bedroom and large walk-in closet through a series of connecting doors, giving the feeling of city apartment living - complete with high ceilings and, in the bedroom, an impressive TV that rises from a cupboard underneath vast windows, which overlook the main Schottenring 24 below.

    Evenings can be spent in the hotel lobby listening to a classic pianist performing for families and couples, or at the award-winning cigar lounge ’26° East’ - accessible as a separate bar on the street for non-patrons. The Kempinski also has a classic hammam spa, with vivid Moroccan influences, offering therapist-free relaxation, as well as a variety of massage and facials, for patrons throughout their stay. The hotel is often used for international business meetings, and has eight function rooms for this purpose, alongside a ballroom that hosts exclusive events.

    As well as being a cultural hub for opera and all-things-classical music, Vienna is also known to be a travel destination synonymous with gastronomic adventure. We don’t need to travel far to experience this: the Hotel’s restaurant, EDVARD, has held a Michelin star every year since 2014 and is, justifiably, well-known as one of the top fine-dining restaurants in Austria.

    Combining fresh and seasonal products with an Alpine and Mediterranean approach - and the unrivalled skills of chef de cuisine, Thomas Pedevilla - EDVARD offers its diners the option of either five, seven or nine-course wine-paired tasting menus. One of the most remarkable things about the restaurant is that the chefs personally meet every producer and supplier, to ensure the ingredients used are of the highest possible calibre. 

    Continuing the theme of gastronomic celebration in Vienna is the iconic Apfelstrudel, which unites Viennese people in passionate discussion, despite each of them making it in their own way. The restaurant’s in-house patisserie offers private classes, where the resident pastry chef teaches the technique of strudel-dough-pulling and takes us through a step-by-step class on making the famous pastry, plus the secrets to the apple sauce. We finish by devouring hot apple strudel, straight from the oven, while the one we have helped to make is to be served to guests later in the day, in the impressive atrium of the hotel.  

    Another – and brand new - service offered by the hotel is ‘Kempinski Waltz Time’. Offered as a unique package from the hotel, this involves an individual waltz, composed individually and premiered in the Presidential Suite of the Palais. A professional film team captures the special moment for the guests who, prior to arrival, have had video conferencing with the composer, facilitating a level of acquaintance that enables the composition of something unique to them. 

    After listening to their individual waltz, guests are invited to spend three nights in the city’s largest presidential suite and enjoy dinner at EDVARD. Also available is a concierge-booked night at the opera to listen to a classical concert, complete with door-to-door limousine transfers. 

    Before we depart the city, we are taken to visit Bärbel Bellinghausen, a violin manufacturer in Viktorgasse, the 4th district. Bärbel spends two hours passionately explaining to us how she came to be a violin maker in Vienna, and the joy she feels at consistently turning 400 grams of wood - the equivalent of only 4 bars of chocolate! - into an instrument of joy and wonder. Bärbel tells us about her upbringing in Germany, her training in Bavaria and her subsequent 30 years of making violins for people all over the world. On average, she makes only 5 instruments per year, and it’s clear to see the craft that goes into every single detail of the piece. It’s wonderful to hear Bärbel’s clear love for her work, and we leave her workshop in awe of her drive and fervour. 

    It’s been a whirlwind weekend in the city, and we decide to take a final stroll to Marketplatz, where an abundance of shops, Korean and Italian restaurants, cheese delis, wine bars, spice markets, fishmongers, beer specialists - amongst countless other trades- await us. We take a seat at the Kaffeehaus and watch the world outside go by. It’s a rainy day, and we find that it’s a particularly apt location to sit, relax and reflect on our time in the city in a place where - according to UNESCO – “time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill.”

For more information
about vienna visit www.vienna.info

Stay at Hotel Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna:

www.kempinski.com/en/vienna/palais-hansen

Baking Class at Hotel Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna 48€.

Beethoven Museum - ticket price 7€ - www.wienmuseum.at

Restaurant Labstelle - www.labstelle.at

“Fidelio” by Ludwig van Beethoven at the Vienna State Opera www.wien.info/en/music-stage-shows/beethoven-2020/beethoven-at-the-opera

Plachutta Gasthaus zur Oper restaurant www.plachutta-oper.at/en

“Beethoven. Human realm and sparks of the gods“ at

the Austrian National Library 3€ www.onb.ac.at

 

HARRIET BEDDER EXPLORES THE WINDING SOUKS,

SAILS TO OCEAN SANDBARS AND PODIUMS FIRST -

PLACE AT THE BAHRAIN INTERNA TIONAL CIRCUIT.

The Pearl

of the Gulf

Waking up at The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain, is difficult. The beds are so soft that you literally sink into the mattress topper and, upon arising, you could easily believe that all of the pillows have nested around you to create a protective fort. Everything you need can be accessed from the comfort of your own bed and, from most rooms, you can linger among the pillows and open the electric blinds to feast upon the panoramic views of the sunrise over the turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf.

    Once the realisation of all of the great things the city has to offer kicks in, however, it becomes easier to spring out of bed, rush down to the state-of-the-art Techno-Gym and get in your workout - before anyone else has even woken up. Passing one of the four plunge pools, you get a real sense of being on holiday at The Ritz-Carlton. Despite being used as a base for many international and political meetings, the hotel maintains its status as the place to stay for easy luxury. 

    If the main hotel - with a level especially for club-lounge guests - isn’t quite private enough, The Ritz-Carlton has several 3-bedroom villas on the property, not only equipped with kitchens but also providing 24-hour butler and chef services, along with private infinity pools and outstanding views. It really feels like you are staying in your own property on the peninsula.

 

Other Activities

After five, relatively brief, days of scurrying around the culture-rich, bustling city, it’s amazing to still feel at complete peace (again, I’m thanking such a restful night’s sleep for that). For those who need an immediate post-plane, pre-jet-lag detox, the brand new spa is perfect, with any therapy you can dream of on offer, including the perfect personalised massage, complete with essential oils and aromatherapy.

    If serious relaxation isn’t enough, The Ritz-Carlton offers a very special Cookery Class with one of its head Bahraini chefs, Chef Abbas, who teaches the secrets of cooking a traditional Biryani. Classes can be booked in any group-size desired and will give you the skill to bring back more than souvenirs from your trip to the Middle East. 

RESTAURANTS

The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain has a whopping twelve restaurants on site, and we are lucky enough to test several. For the first evening, try the Hotel’s own Southern-Italian restaurant, Primavera. Here you can devour fried aubergine with cherry tomato and smoked ricotta cheese, seafood risotto, Caprese salads, carbonara and, of course fine Italian wines - all whilst overlooking the Arabian Gulf on the restaurant’s veranda.

    If you fancy some Indian food after your Pearl 1 Experience, Nirvana is an authentic Indian restaurant - complete with santoor player - and divine, saffron-rich, aromatic curries.
Here, amongst the carved wood and plush velvet, platters sizzle with grilled seafood and kebabs, and bowls are piled high with fragrant fusions. 

    For the final night, try something really special and head to La Table Krug by Y for a creative dining experience worthy of royalty.
The intimate restaurant is described as a sensual experience or ‘EXPeRiMENCe’ where the menu - paired with Krug, obviously - unveils an epicurean journey aimed to inspire and take the diner on a journey through palate and mind. The menu changes each day so no one dining experience is ever replicated. We enjoyed a balloon dog, made of chocolate and blueberry, to finish our extravagant 8-course menu that otherwise included yuzu, truffle, quail eggs and caviar. Led by Executive Chef Yann Bernard Lejard, La Table Krug by Y is part of the official Krug Ambassade program, represented in 27 countries all over the world. It marks the 151st Ambassade: the first-ever in the Middle East and the fourth La Table Krug restaurant concept after Vienna, Mexico City, and Berlin.

By far, our favourite activity of the trip is the Pearl 1 Experience, which is offered by the hotel. We are promised an island that only appears for two hours per day, with perfect white sands and clear blue water and, after an hour on the boat to get to Jarada Island (one of 33 in the Bahraini archipelago) we have to wait twenty minutes for the Island to become visible and have enough ground for us to leave the boat. It’s a truly amazing, humbling experience to see the split emerge from the sea and, once there, the staff set up a perfect Bahraini picnic of classic Lebanese-style food: thick halloumi steaks, mixed grills and, of course, pitta breads with creamy humous, rich babaganoush and, finally, trays of baclava. After two hours here, trying to see how far one can walk or swim down the 1-mile strip – plus playing ‘spot the sting-ray’- it’s time, as the sand begins to be washed away by the tide, to say goodbye to what feels like our own private island. 

THINGS TO DO

Guided tours are arranged for us to visit some of the must-see sights of Bahrain. A special trip to and around the Qal’at al-Bahrain (Bahrain Fort) to watch the sunset rates high on our list of experiences and it is a joy to hear the last call-to-prayer as the day begins to fade over the peaceful city. The Fort is located in part of the ancient Dilmun capital and is one of the Gulf’s few UNESCO world heritage sites, dating back over 4,000 years and containing seven stratified layers, created by various occupants from 2300 BC through to the 18th Century. We are given a talk about Bahrain’s inclusivity and its reputation for being laid back and friendly, as well as the only religion-inclusive country in the Gulf. 

    Start your morning right before heading into the souks of Manama - a winding treasure trove of gold brokers, jewellery shops, sweet shops and spice stalls, each piled high with their wares. It’s easy to get lost here, and we do, so we are glad we thought ahead and feasted on an authentic Bahraini breakfast at Haji’s Cafe.

 

Situated in an alleyway of the souk, this restaurant has bright blue chairs and detailed cushions, reminiscent of all the goods you will find in the souk. We eat a delicious mix of scrambled egg and beans with cheese, parathas, okra and biryani, careful not to have too much spice before we have a chance to wash it down with our chai. It’s 10am and already close to 33°c in the Bahraini winter. 

    Another tour for another day, we head to the old houses of Muharraq and are treated to a guided tour of Sheik Isa Bin Ali House.
The Sheik, reigned for 63 years and was thus one of the longest reigning monarchs of the region. Eventually forced to abdicate by the British but considered Bahrain’s ruler long after, he lived here with his four wives, five sons and four daughters until his death in 1932. 

    Many of the houses along what they call the ‘Pearling Trail’ in Bahrain are open to visitors and showcase the traditional architecture and lifestyle of Bahrain. This 3.5km walkway 

 

in Muharraq is a World-Heritage Site named for Bahrain’s famed pearl-quality, and has - over the years - attracted the attention of many, from Alexander the Great to Jacques Cartier.
Cartier famously travelled to Bahrain in the search for the world’s most perfect pearl, and you can follow in his footsteps by taking the UNESCO world heritage pearling trail in Bahrain, visiting the old merchant’s houses and warehouses. Here, in Assyrian texts dating to 2000 BC, you discover the first mention of pearl diving in Bahrain: the pearls are referred to as ‘fish eyes’ from Dilmun. Bahrain was ’famous for the vast number of its pearls’ and heavily influenced what’s been known as the ‘golden age of pearling’ between the 1850s and 1930s. At this time, pearls were more precious than diamonds, hence Cartier’s keen interest; by the end of 1930, there were 30,000 pearl divers, making it the principal industry in Bahrain – before, of course, the discovery of oil, which changed everything for the country. Today, the trading of cultured pearls in Bahrain is prohibited very few pearl divers remain: each pearl must be taken to the Government, documented and verified as a Bahraini pearl to be recognised in the country. 

    Before heading back to The Ritz-Carlton for a siesta by the pool, we go to the heart of Muharraq to dine in Saffron Restaurant, a traditional Arabic restaurant loved by locals. Welcomed with dates, Saffron’s speciality, I am finally blessed to see a menu with chicken liver, much to the delight of our hosts, but to the confusion of my companions. We also sample the Shakshuka, Bahraini-style bun quesadillas, daal and biryani, before washing it down with a refreshing green juice. 

    Other activities you should be sure to feature on your itinerary include a trip to the Al Fateh Grand Mosque, built in 1987 and named after the founder of Bahrain, Ahmed Al Fateh.
As one of the largest mosques in the world, we are amazed by its architecture, including the world’s largest fibre glass dome, sitting at 26 metres wide. Below the dome, a ring of 3-metre-high calligraphy covers its circumference, beneath which the main square is formed by four arches. These repeated archways, along with intricate Islamic patterns adorning every surface, are breathtaking, and we are humbled by its design. After dressing in abaya and hijab, we are given a tour of the interior, and shown around the building that encompasses 6,500 square metres: the mosque has the capacity to accommodate over 7,000 worshippers at a time.

    One for the motoring fans is a trip to the Bahrain International Circuit; home to the Formula One Grand Prix. The BIC is vast and it’s no surprise that is one of the world’s leading motorsport venues, despite only opening in 2004. Not only is the BIC used for drag-racing, GP2 series and the 2004 Grand Prix (which was the first in the Middle East) but you can enjoy the track yourself and experience go-kart racing.

For more information

on the Kingdom of Bahrain, Bahrain Tourism & Exhibitions Authority (BTEA), events and attractions please visit:

www.bahrainalwayswarmer.co.uk

Gulf Air - Return flights from London Heathrow to Bahrain start from £509 economy and £2,563 business. For further information, fares and

reservations visit: www.gulfair.com

Please note these fares are subject to change

and subject to availability

The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain - Rooms at The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain start from £290, including breakfast. For more information or to book, visit www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/middle-east/bahrain

 

RUPERT PARKER

JOURNEYS

INTO WEST AFRICA’S

HEART OF DARKNESS,

SEARCHING FOR THE

LEGENDARY NINKI

NANKA DRAGON.

RUPERT PARKER

JOURNEYS

INTO WEST AFRICA’S

HEART OF DARKNESS,

SEARCHING FOR THE

LEGENDARY NINKI

NANKA DRAGON.

Going upriver

in the Gambia

on the Ninki

Nanka Trail

The Gambia is firmly on the map for UK travellers who are seeking winter sun.
Most of them never venture much beyond their beachside hotels, content to lie by the pool, occasionally trotting to the bar for a top up. That’s a shame because, even though it’s the smallest country in Africa - just one thin 260-mile strip - there’s far more to it than just sun, sea and sand.

    For the real Gambia experience, I’m journeying upriver, following the Ninki Nanka Trail, named after a mysterious dragon supposed to dwell in the swamps. There are plans to start a cruise service but for now I’ll have to travel by road. I start at the ferry terminal in the capital, Banjul, so I can cross to Barra on the
North Bank. 

    Forget about tourism: this is where the real Africa intrudes as loading is completely chaotic. Vendors trawl the crowds selling coconuts, fired plantain and drinks and there’s no sense of urgency. I wait for over two hours but finally the ferry lurches from the dock and, after a short 30-minute crossing, I’m on the other side. 

    All is quiet here and the road skirts the border with Senegal past tiny settlements, cultivating fields of ground nuts, millet and watermelon. I leave the main road at Illiassa and take the dirt track to Jarjari village, where I’m staying at Morgan Kunda Lodge: just 8 basic rooms with shower and mosquito nets, with all profits going to support the local school. 

There’s an impromptu display of dancing by the women of the village but I’ve an early start in the morning. Just before first light, I’m following my guide through dew-soaked grassland to the Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve, reaching the edge of the water as the dawn chorus begins and the sun comes up. This is the time to see birds and we spot White-Crested Tiger Bitterns, a Martial Eagle and a rare Egyptian Plover.

    Around 90 minutes east is the Wassu National Monument: accorded UNESCO World Heritage, it boasts the largest collection of megaliths in the country, with119 stones – the tallest of which is around 3m high - arranged into 11 circles. It’s not quite Stonehenge but the circles are impressive; not something that you expect to find in the middle of Africa. 

    In the small museum here, I’m intrigued to see that megalith sites exist all over West Africa, including Senegal, Mali, Nigeria and Guinea. Although little is known about their builders, carbon dating pegs their construction to around 1200 years ago and it’s thought they were used for burials

    Around ten minutes’ drive from the circles, I board a boat at Kuntaur to take me upriver into the River Gambia National Park and Baboon Island. The banks are lined with thick tropical rainforest; we pass several hippos bathing in the shallows, while a Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project has introduced around 100 rescued chimps to three of the islands.

    Tourists are not allowed to step ashore, so we watch a family grabbing the food the boatman provides. Although the chimps are self-sufficient, offering them fruit lures them out on to the banks so that we can see them. It’s possible to stay nearby in simple twin-bedded safari tents and take night walks to see bush babies but I’m keen to press on.

    Another hour’s drive gets me to my furthest point upriver, around 200km from Banjul. I cross by simple ferry to Janjanbureh on McCarthy Island. This was known as Georgetown until 1995 and a few dilapidated colonial buildings are the only reminder that this was once a major trading post and slave market. In a park behind, there’s the Freedom Tree, where runaway slaves were freed if they could touch it.

    I set out back to Banjul, scanning the creeks for any sight of the Ninki Nanka, which is supposed to have a horse-like face, a 50m long body covered in shiny scales and a crest of skin on its head.  Allegedly, those who see it never live to tell the tale.  I’m quite happy to be disappointed - that is one African experience I can do without.

Visit the Gambia www.visitthegambia.gm has more information.

Martin Post enjoys the Berlin Film Festival – glitz and glam in the pre-Corona era.

Berlinale

The Berlin Film Festival. The Berlinale!! What a joy each year - yet although it was only in town a few months back, it seems like a decade ago. The idea of packed cinemas and thousands of visitors at a film festival seems hard to imagine nowadays, in the Corona-era. 

    However, as always, I had a ball, so here is a quick insight for anyone interested who might happen to be in Berlin around the time of the film festival, which is usually February. What makes the Berlinale special is that - unlike Cannes or Venice - it is a film festival for regular cinemagoers and film lovers, rather than just for press and film industry professionals - so everybody can buy a ticket for a movie and attend the world premiere of a big international film, or watch a small independent production that one would probably never get to see or hear of otherwise. However, getting a film ticket can be quite a struggle as the long queues in front of the ticket booths prove each day; undoubtedly, the variety and abundance of films from all over the world is
truly astounding.  

    Each year the Berlinale screens around 400 movies of all genres and lengths from literally all over the world and usually offers special events, as well. The festival is divided into different sections and each section selects films that meet certain criteria in keeping with the idea of that section. The most prestigious section is ‘Competition’ where the winner is presented with the Golden Bear, the festival´s most significant award. Films starring famous international actors usually run in this section and, in many cases, those films subsequently prove to be financially successful around the world. ‘Encounters’ is a new section, having had its debut this year and is trying to be the platform for innovative and new movies that defy the rules of certain genres. ‘Berlinale Shorts’ is, as the name suggests, a selection of short films, while ‘Generation’ is the section, not only for children, but also adolescents, addressing the reality that young adolescents grow up in, with all of its colours and problems. Not so new anymore and quite established by now is ‘Berlinale Series,’ which is one of my personal favourites. Many great series from all over the world, including some that find their way to Netflix later on, are screened here for the first time. Last, but not least, there is the ‘Panorama’ section, which deals with topics of gender, identity and queer cinema. I actually know most of the team of the Panorama section and can affirm that it is one of the most fun categories, covering a huge variety of films from all over the world.

 

     And then there is the Red Carpet… well, what can I say...
You would be well advised not to compare the festival to the Oscars or Cannes if you do not want to be disappointed; usually, it is rainy and windy - and Germany is not particularly known for being great in giving a good show. This is especially true for Berlin, where it is common courtesy to be - or at least pretend to be - unbothered. However, if you don’t compare with other countries, the Red Carpet can in some cases be fun: just like Love Island might be fun to watch if you don’t compare it to a Judy Dench film. 

    Since I did not make it on the list of any of the big parties (which is what the Berlinale is all about), I could at least concentrate on films and watch some press screenings. So, let me spill the tea on what the Berlinale is like if you are a regular Jane or Joe and just want to enjoy good cinema and have some fun. Even though I had a press accreditation, I still had to endure the struggle to get tickets like everybody else – and sometimes you take what you get.  

    There is always a huge variety of films, coming from nearly every country all around the world. Big blockbusters, small low-budget films, movies for children, art movies and more explicit or rather daring oeuvres: there is something here for everyone. This range is what I personally love about the Berlinale. You can opt for Pinnoccio which was in the competition section or go for one of the more diverse movies which are often found in the Panorama section.  

In Panorama you can find a huge spectrum and genres of movies which is quite appealing. This year there was The Assistant, a US-production that accurately describes reality in the professional office world – especially with regard to the #metoo movement. The story takes its time to unfold and describes at a slow pace how the power balance at work can create an office atmosphere that gives rise to tension and a constant feeling of fear. Those feelings were also evoked in the film Un Crimen Común from Argentina. The main character is a mother who is a university employee and gets confronted with the realities of society and her own part in it; taking place in the current political situation in Argentina, the story conveys the feeling of fear and claustrophobia - but also of guilt - very well.

    More on the daring side of the scale – for sure - was the Brazilian film Vento Seco which was also screened in the Panorama section. Even for Berlin standards this Brazilian movie is quite explicit in how it deals with sexual gay fantasies. The film is vibrant – the colour grading and characters create a beautiful picture of the vivid Brazilian lifestyle. The film depicts the life of a Brazilian factory worker and follows his journey as he gets more and more lost in a world of sexual fantasies. If you are open-minded and love Brazil then you will surely enjoy this film that plays with stereotypes. As one can see, the Panorama section really covers many different topics. It can be entertaining and it can range from wild to tame, but it can also give the audience a reason to contemplate and think about the different cultures and societies. If you find the time, Berlinale Series is always worth watching and often has some cool series to offer. I got to see Stateless at Zoo Palast which is one of my favourite movie theatres in Berlin – stylistically reminiscent of the grand theatres of the past. The series hails from Australia with Cate Blanchett, among others producing. The series portrays four strangers in an immigration detention centre in Australia and their different stories on how they got there. It is also a great story about humanity and human bonding. Cate Blanchett was even more impressive in real life than on the screen when she stepped onto the stage – something which cannot be said for all actors. I did not take my chance to use the press slot for the Red Carpet. Somehow, the thought of screaming world-shaking questions like “How do you like Germany?” at Cate Blanchett sort of horrified me.  

    Finally, if you are a regular it’s also nice to see the same dear faces again. In this sense, the Berlinale feels a bit like a class reunion as well. I was lucky enough to run into the winner of the 2019 Panorama film award Teddy for Best Documentary / Essay Film – Joanna Reposi Garibaldi, an exceptionally talented filmmaker from Chile. Last year she won for her film Lemebel about a Chilean artist and activist. She went on to win several other international film awards after this and eventually won as Best Chilean Film at the SANFIC, Santiago International Film Festival in Chile. The current project is about her great-grandfather who emigrated to Chile as a Swiss immigrant at the end of the 19th century. 

     After a week at the festival, it feels having been on a quick trip around the world and briefly catching a glimpse of various cultures. This is what I love about the Berlinale and over the years I have developed a deep appreciation for the different films that are all shaped by different cultures. As for next year? I do not know. Let us hope that despite the Corona pandemic, Berlin will again be able to celebrate its lauded film festival in 2021, even though it might be an altogether different experience from what we are used to. There is a need for culture and cinematic art in challenging times. Above all things, the Berlinale is an event that supports and encourages global understanding and cultural exchange – which is relevant today as ever. Next time you plan a trip to Berlin, don´t assume it´s not worth it visiting in winter – otherwise you might miss out on experiencing the German capital at one of its more glamourous times.

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