29 April 2012

Crazy or on the phone?

I don't know if this is just a European thing, or a trend all around the world: have you seen people using their handsfree earphones-with-microphone-attached devices more and more? And I don't mean for the original purpose of calling while driving. Or for the new purpose of listening to the music now carried on phones. I mean to make calls, even if you do have hands available. Or for some music-calling hybrid, as it may happen. I was on a long-distance train recently, sitting at a table with seating for two people on each side. The guy across from me was resting on the table. He had his earphones in and was listening to music while lying on his arms. Until he suddenly sat upright and said, "Hallo?"

My favourite adaptation, spotted twice in Antwerp, is women who don't have or don't use the handsfree device, but who are comfortably handsfree nonetheless—that is if you wear a headscarf. Simply snuggly fit the upper half of the phone between head and headscarf and off you go.

The main thing that weirds me out about this trend is that it makes it harder to tell whether or not someone is crazy. You can't always immediately spot the wires, so whenever someone seems to be talking to no one in particular, I find myself looking for the telltale earphones. I was waiting to cross the street in Stuttgart and another lady was waiting with me, jabbering away, so I think, "I suppose she's on the pho—"; but no earphones. Therefore probably a little crazy. This judgement call is becoming part of daily life. Of course the answer usually is "on the phone"—not that I can, for the life of me, figure out what is so important that we need to be talking about it all the time.

There is, however, a third possibility. Waiting for a train in Frankfurt, I found myself and quite a few fellow-waiters attracted to this scene: an overly tan, skinny, blond Italian girl, hands in skinny-jean pockets, frantically pacing back and forth, shoulders jerking about, but face jerking about even more, as she has a very animated and seemingly agitated conversation—with earphone wires clearly visible. Aha! Crazy and on the phone.

27 April 2012

Remind me to tell you about it sometime

The old Deutsche Bahn logo. On a big old metal sign. We found it at a flea market some weeks ago and agreed with the seller on €10. They were curious as to what we wanted to do with it, so we explained that we wanted to make a coffee table. That's what a beer crate and cable ties are for, right? I put a picture of the sign on twitter... and maybe I'll tell you more about that another time. We'll see.

22 April 2012

Tag der offenen Tür

This morning we took part in our first "Day of the Open Door" excursion. It was right around the corner from our apartment, at the base of operations for the regional baking chain, Sehne.

Some general information from the German Wikipedia article:

  • Sehne was established in 1957 by Heinrich Sehne and his wife, Ruth.
  • In 1976 their whole operation burnt down. Just five months later they were back at work.
  • The first branches opened in 1982.
  • Sehne celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007.
  • Heinrich Sehne passed away on 22 March this year, at the age of 80.

At the event this morning we had some Sehne breakfast, and then we walked around the factory to see what the workers were up to. The machinery and integrated processes are really interesting. At one point my husband and his colleague were marvelling at how a ball of dough is flipped onto a narrow conveyor belt with just the right amount of force so that it lands comfortably, without falling on the floor. You would think you could put a little barrier up just in case, but the machines are so perfect that it isn't even necessary. More conveyor belts, automatic cake slicers, giant beaters and the like, below.

20 April 2012


The next rainy front is moving in, but at least we have the cheerful gardens to brighten our cold, cloudy days.

18 April 2012

Day due to come

I don't foresee a full-on date with Photoshop today, but here's a peek at day two.

It was quite rainy, an especially unfortunate situation for the couple attempting wedding photography on the Piazza del Duomo. But later in the afternoon it cleared up a bit. We were somewhere near Montevideo street at the time, looking for a bookstore that we didn't find. But the window reflections were neat. And then we came upon the Duomo just as the afternoon sun was hitting it right in the face. Lovely!

17 April 2012

Of towering mountains and cathedrals: Day uno

If you're going to get up at 4 a.m., do it to fly over the Alps. That's the main lesson of our first day in Italy.

Upon arrival we made our way to and checked in at our nH hotel—don't you love it when your room is ready even though it's still morning? We then headed out to Milan's main point of interest: the Duomo. We did a lap of the piazza and found a place to have some panini and cappuccini. Yes, everything sounds adorable in Italian, especially in plural.

After breakfast we took a look at the Duomo's interior (free) and then lined up to climb the stairs to the roof (€6). It's quite lucky that we did it then, because it wasn't long before the weather would turn on us and Milan for most of the rest of our stay.

I don't know that I have specific comments about the cathedral. I think you'll see in the pictures that it's quite magical. Also, as I anticipated, the front is best photographed in afternoon light. Look out for that in the next post. As an interesting thing in this set of pictures, check out the boxer embellishments we spotted on the roof. Odd.

We got our gelato on early and often, as one should. I kicked off with lemon and coconut and Evan had coffee and chocolate. All excellent!

We made our way to the Castello Sforzesco, where Evan took a picture for an Iraqi guy. He's studying in Turin, and came to check out Milan for the day and organise a visa for a conference or something in the U.S. He had already been scammed by our brothers from Africa who try to strike up conversation and/or just cram a colourful thread bracelet into your hands, which is ostensibly free; except it isn't. And at one point one of these guys kept saying "Angelina Jolie"... was this because we said we're from South Africa? I forget. I hope it was his mistaken geography talking and not flattery, because I don't really want to be compared, thanks. Anyway, so these guys are basically a pain and to be avoided at all cost. We were successful since Evan got sucked into purchasing a bracelet way back when in Paris.

After the Castello we wandered through a garden and saw the Arco della Pace, or Arch of Peace.

Towards the end of lunch the rain that had been threatening got going, so we opted to try the CitySightseeing bus tour. As in Cape Town, this proved to be a relaxing way to be informed. I generally want to fall asleep halfway through reading the average tourist guide, but sitting on a bus and hearing about the city while you're also seeing it is very effortless. Since it wasn't raining too hard we endured the cold on the upper deck and I could get a few pictures. I loved the plants on the Milanese balconies and rooftops. I also started to notice that hanging the flag from your balcony is quite popular.

After the tour we went to check out the interior of Milano Centrale, the central railway station, before hunting down supper and then retreating to our cozy hotel room.

16 April 2012

Today in books

Actually, I lied. First up: not in books. Artani. This stylish shop stocks langani designs, as well as many other carefully selected things of beauty. Think Japanese paper, silk scarves, and objects for the home. Königstraße may appear to be the main spot for shopping in Stuttgart, but clearly one should explore the areas around it too.

But back on Königstraße and back to books: Wittwer. One of those stores you shouldn't go into because once you're inside you notice that it has multiple floors and that coffee is served on one of them—danger! But I was mostly good. I only bought three things. First, a good cycling map of our area—totally practical. Second, a graded reader with CD for studying German, published by Cornelsen. And third, not Calvin and Hobbes but Calvin und Hobbes: Von Tigern, Teufelskerlen und nervigen Vätern. I often stop myself before I buy things in translation. Shouldn't I be focusing on something that was written in German, by a German person? Well, maybe later. I know that I like Calvin and Hobbes, so hopefully I'll actually, read it. And, you know, learn something.

As for things that I didn't buy... Some books that look really handsome on the shelf are those released by Insel-Bücherei for their 100th year celebrations. The only pity is that the printing quality in those that contain colour illustrations isn't very good.

While the patterns on the covers of the aforementioned series are eye-catching, I quite like a book that's completely filled with patterns. Frechmann Koló's decorative design books are very tempting.

And whereas the colour printing in the Insel books wasn't so great, the overlay of colours in the graphic novel Niemandsland by Blexbolex will make you want to rub your face all over the pages right there in the bookstore.

15 April 2012

Prossima fermata...

I've never been quite motivated enough to try taking a picture from an aeroplane. But I guess I just haven't flown over the Alps to Milan before. So this was early on Tuesday morning.

More to come.

09 April 2012

By the way

Here are some random things I saw in Offenbach am Main...

  • A sculpture with movable bits—clearly a hit with children
  • A store selling old stamps, coins and the like near the Schlecker on Kaiserstraße
  • Sneaky aeroplanes
  • A bus that goes to Bieber
  • Odd pigeon-things on a wall
  • And a florist that knows how to advertise

While we're on the by the ways and putting this business to bed in list form, here are the people who exhibited cool things that were for sale at the After School Club.

Tomorrow: Dream come true. Going to Italy!

07 April 2012

05 April 2012

"I believe education should be free"

That's what Prof. Eike König, co-initiator of HfG Offenbach's After School Club said when I thanked him for the opportunity to get out of my house and converge with some design people to see some cool talks yesterday—all for free. I just read about it online, and all I had to do was register. He and Alexander Lis and their team of students did an amazing job of organising this engaging event.

So while my friends back home get to attend Design Indaba or the Toffie Pop Culture Conference and Festival, I could finally console myself by getting on an early train to join the hipster generation during their week of workshops—only open to students—so that I could see the presentations by the workshop leaders. There was also plenty of time to talk to the presenters, which seemed like a good idea since I obviously knew no-one there and wasn't sure how to relate to the German girls and boys... bearded boys.

Here is my selection of some of the speakers with links to their various endeavours. Once again big up to them and all the organisers—I had such a good time and feel thoroughly educated.

The Haw-lin team of Nathan Cowen and Jacob Klein talked about wanting to pin collaboratively, before Pinterest. They didn't put it in these terms, you can blame me for that. Their site is a moodboard of their collective interests, and of course they're cooler than us regular pinners, because after some nudity-related hosting issues they switched to Cargo, so they can post freely. I have to say I often want to pin something and then I look at the picture again and realise it has a boob or something. Unfortunate.

Their efforts and responses to it eventually lead them to launch Haw-lin Services. They showed some interesting work, including what they did in collaboration with Velour. You can see more on their site.

London-based Fraser Muggeridge organised his talk according to some interesting working situations with artists, like promoting an exhibition when the artwork isn't finished, or doing a graphic design execution for an artist's idea. I especially enjoyed their studio project of "48 new books, each unique and made up of 48 different publications designed by Fraser Muggeridge studio". You'll have to scroll around there—I would've linked you to id attributes if there were any! You can see the books, and exhibitions and the shelves that were made for them. Below, a (bearded) student is kindly modelling the book we got to page through.

The next speaker was the inspiring Stefan Marx. He started with a clip from The Simpsons, so really, we were all convinced that he was very cool right then and there. Like Bart, he's really into skateboarding, and like Bart in that particular episode, he started making and selling his own T-shirts, even though he was a teenager at the time, and we all know Bart will be ten forever. You can check out his T-shirts at The Lousy Livincompany. Four designs are currently available. He also draws for a skateboarding label.

A more recent passion project is his involvement in Smallville Records, based in Hamburg. He draws the cover art and even sometimes mans the store. Launching a record store in 2004 may sound insane, but it seems they manage to break even; if you don't count time lost while working for free. But from what he told me and what I read in the paper he gave me (thanks!), the store is something none of them would want to live without. The paper, which came out as an addition to this book, is below.

Stefan is also involved with independent publishing and zines. He's worked with Nieves and Rollo Press. His The Lousy Animals & Friends colouring book proved quite popular. And on the topic of publishing, Muggeridge mentioned Hyphen Press and Eastside Projects, that's if you don't have enough links to explore yet.

The last speaker really ended this event on a high note. Niklaus Troxler's playful body of work was a real testament to how much he loves illustration, typography, and interesting experiments. He showed us how he explored and often re-explored ideas in his posters. Many of them were for jazz musicians or events, his inspiration and passion. I couldn't find the pictures on his site, but his stage designs for a jazz festival that he used to organise were also very interesting. It does seem that all his posters ever are on there though, so be educated.

P.S. I have no objection to beards, I'm just saying they're... popular.

03 April 2012

Strong winds and kangaroo adoption

I went to the Red Cross shop today. I just had to get that bouncy red guy.

The tree cover seemed relevant because I hear it's mega typhoony in Japan.

In other news, I'll be attending the After School Club Graphic Design Festival tomorrow. Not sure what to expect. Hoping to see some something interesting.

02 April 2012

The birth of modern architecture

On Sunday a friend and I visited the Weissenhofmuseum and Weissenhofsiedlung.

The development was erected in 1927 as a residential building exhibition arranged by the City of Stuttgart and the Deutscher Werkbund. Working under the artistic direction of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, seventeen architects created an exemplary residential scheme for modern urban residents.
The architects included Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius (founder of the Bauhaus School), and others. The museum features some details regarding the development in general and Le Corbusier's contribution in particular. You can learn about humorous details such as reactions to the new, modern designs. Postcards show caricatures such as a wife folding away a bed—with her husband still on it, or people swimming nude in their rooftop pool and being generally amoral.

We did the 90 minute guided tour that includes the museum, the interior of another Le Corbusier house, and then a walking tour and discussion of some of the other buildings in the scheme. I probably made up some of if it in my head as I filled the gaps between the bits of German that I did follow, but I think the guide said that architects who visit there basically want to fall down on their knees and say "Yes! Yes! True, wonderful, modern architecture!" ... or something like that? Another point she emphasised was how the design of the buildings really show a new approach to living. First, there was the idea of utility. There was a housing shortage, so they needed to build houses quickly, but ideally also use space optimally. From there special designs like fold-away beds or walls so that rooms could have multiple purposes. Le Corbusier did perhaps apply his ideas to the extreme in some cases, as you'll find with the apartments that feel somewhat cramped. The fold-away walls between rooms also weren't the most sound-proof, and lack of privacy was a problem. That said, one can appreciate the emphasis on light, air, and space. These qualities weren't only important from an aesthetic perspective, but also for healthier living. Living in a small, dank, dark room will quite possibly give you tuberculosis, and many died as a result of uncontrolled outbreaks of the disease. So fresh air and light were a good idea, and as a plus, the architects also tried to design space for callisthenics. Very modern, very German.

Pictures of the interiors can't be published, so these are only exterior shots.

We walked back down to the city bowl, so there are some random shots from that. The big white building at the end is the new city library, or Stadtbibliothek Stuttgart, designed by Korean-born Cologne-based architect Eun Young Yi. You can read more about it on Phaidon.

Easter trees

You've all heard of Christmas trees, and you've all heard of Easter, but have you ever seen an Easter tree?

I took a short walk on Friday to take some pictures of the colourful plastic eggs that decorate the shrubs of some gardens at the moment. My husband also gave me a tip about a garden with lots of small surprises, as you can see with the small bunnies and other decorations hidden among the plants.