the mysteries of praha’s train station

praha’s main train station is called praha hlavni nadrazi or praha hl.n. for short. it’s multilevel and if u don’t speak the language it can be overwhelming. i had to take a train to berlin today so i did a lot of online research and figured these things out. if u are planning to travel to praha via train, here are some tips.

u don’t need to take a taxi or uber if u are staying close to the old town. u can walk to the station. the address is: wilsonova 8, 120 00 prague. use google maps.

enter the station (thru a small park) and walk straight thru the entrance. u will see a large departures/arrivals monitor. find ur train and look for the platform number. they said those are only announced 10 min prior to departure (which was freaking me out) but my platform number was visible more than an hour before departure.

now the thing is whether u will be on the L (north) or R (south) side of that platform. that info is announced 10 min prior, when there is a huge crowd of people rushing towards the platforms via three passageways. chaos. here is what u can do to avoid it.

behind the departures/arrivals monitor u will see escalator ramps. use them to go up. stay in the middle passageway leading to the platforms (it’s flanked by burger king and sephora).

walk to ur platform number (overhead). there will be electronic signs on each side – north and south – with the trains coming on that particular side listed as they come into the station. wait in the passageway. 10-15 min before ur departure time, ur train will be listed either on the L or R. go up to the platform on that side. board ur train. voila:)

p.s. there are electric outlets by the window seats. u can charge ur phone but don’t forget to bring an adaptor. there are also compactly pleated curtains on both sides of windows.

btw random pictures are of praha castle where i was yesterday. it was built in the 9th century.

i am not new to prague

i am not new to prague. we visited many years ago, when i was a child, my siblings were even younger, and my parents a good-looking, bold and enterprising pair. we stayed on/at a botel in praha – a boat-hotel. brussels was our home back then and we traveled throughout europe often. so this trip is a nostalgic return to a place that’s part of my childhood – a longing, a yearning that persists. old town prague is magnificent. too much to say. here are some pictures.

jan hus memorial, astronomical clock, tyn church, karlova street, st nicholas church, old town square, charles bridge (more on IG @mara__ahmed)

today’s food diary

hot chocolate with ducat buns (czech: dukátové buchti?ky) for breakfast this morning. tiny yeast dough buns, soft and airy, with vanilla cream and fresh berries. all at kampa cafe, down the street. splendid! while exploring praha’s old town (and taking 1 1/2 million pictures), i tried some chimney cake (trdelník – made from rolled dough, wrapped around a stick, grilled and then topped with sugar and walnuts or pistachios. mine was filled with excellent ice cream and topped with toasted pistachios. so good. for lunch, i went with something lighter. mixed greens with beets, poached pear, candied walnuts, and caramelized goat cheese. the lemonade was flavored with elderflower syrup and peppercorns (one thing i know: we’ve got to up our lemonade game in the US) at czech slovak foodery on ujezd.

dessert came later: in the evening i listened to chamber music performed by a wonderful string quartet, soprano and organist at the klementinum mirror chapel. they played mozart, pachelbel, bach, schubert, and of course vivaldi’s four seasons. so many memories and emotions. unforgettable.

finally, i made a deliberate decision to do something stupid – had dinner at a tourist trap in the city’s old town because it was so lit up and cozy. a simple burger with blah fries cost me more than any other meal i’ve had on this trip. a lot in czech korunas but only 20 in USD:)

food stories

so i enjoyed the berlin tour yesterday but was pretty dead after 3 hours. it began to rain and i took refuge in the nearest restaurant – mama trattoria near the brandenburg gate. bad idea. the food was lame (how do u mess up salmon and pasta?) and the only thing going was the lemonade – with orange, ginger and lavender flavors. i got home and fell asleep. jet lag kicked in. when i woke up it was late. was feeling lazy but forced myself to layer-up (it’s incredibly cold here, way more than on long island and i didn’t pack for it) and went in search of food. found ‘hung anh vietnamese & japanese’ further down chausseestraße and wow, it was worth it. vietnamese food is perhaps the most flavorful food in the universe. the mango salad with fresh mint, cucumbers and peanuts was sweet and crunchy but also surprisingly spicy. the crispy wontons had ground chicken and shrimp in them and came with a wonderful sauce. the fried bananas rolled in honey ended the night with a flourish. oh, and the lemonade with lychees, raspberries and lingonberries was out of this world! this morning i headed back to my favorite turkish place (la femme more than breakfast) and had an omelet cooked well (the way i like it) with sliced tomatoes and cheese inside. it came with some simit, as usual (a circular bread encrusted with sesame seeds). also tried their pistachio chocolate ‘bomb’ (a bit dry). after that, a 4-hour train ride from berlin to praha and then another couple of hours struggling in the rain to get to this apt. the key was stowed away in a lockbox, inside a bank, in a separate location, which neither my uber driver nor other helpful folx could figure out. anyway, late dinner at kolkovna olympia. ordered a czech specialty (roast duck with bread and potato dumplings and red and white sauerkraut). the duck was good but what i needed was some comfort food at that point in my life, so i got some yummy crème brûlée for dessert and felt at home 🙂

some berlin history

1) the humboldt forum was just completed last year. it’s a replica of the berliner schloss, the royal palace, built by the hohenzollern dynasty in 1443. the schloss was badly damaged by allied bombing in WWII and demolished in 1950 by the government of communist east germany. it was replaced by the palast der republik, the former east german parliament. but after german reunification (and to the outrage of many east germans), the parliament building was torn down to build the present forum. some see this decision as an attempt to erase germany’s turbulent 20th c history. the forum cost $800 million. it was burdened by construction problems and also by accusations from academics and activists that it hasn’t done enough to determine the provenance of its art objects (housed in museums) that were acquired during the colonial era and should be returned.

2) the altes museum, part of berlin’s museum island, designed by karl friedrich schinkel, a prussian architect whose work is ubiquitous in the city. he also designed schlossbrücke, the bridge to museum island. apparently, hitler liked to give impassioned speeches at the entrance of altes museum.

3) humbolt university, berlin’s oldest university, founded in 1810. marx and engels studied here. 29 nobel prize winners. it was also here that 20,000 books were burned by the nazis in 1933. a plaque with a quote from an 1820 text by heinrich heine: “that was only a prelude; where they burn books, they eventually burn people.”

4) the oldest opera house in berlin, the staatsoper unter den linden.

berlin tour starts at alexanderplatz

this morning took a ‘welcome berlin’ tour by walkative. it started in front of the rotes rathaus (the red city hall) at alexanderplatz (or alex for short) which is the cental square of the eastern city center. before the tour even started i took a lot of pictures of the neptune fountain and the beautiful prints from museo del prado (spain) that are installed around the fountain and in the shadow of the communist-era tv tower. the paintings represent work by all of the greats: el greco, velasquez, reubens, goya, and many more. as usual i reframed the work by looking at hands and fabric, but this time there was the added element of reflections on top of the glass protecting each print. quite something to look at this kind of revered classical art in the outdoors with plenty of light, shadows, mirrored reflections and uninhibited sun rays. a treat for me!

oh yeah, breakfast at la femme more than breakfast, a turkish place across the street from my apt. delish!

food and film

a word about the yummy food i had yesterday and our last outing for the night (no, it wasn’t a night club).

poached eggs and toast for breakfast at 19grams, just a couple of steps away from my apt in mitte (the butter tasted and smelled so full-bodied and real), hot chocolate and passion fruit cheese cake at atlas cafe in kreuzberg (passion fruit is called maracuja in german), and finally dinner with veronika at aftab station east (persian cuisine) where we had the most tender and delicious chicken i’ve ever had, cooked in a pomegranate and walnut sauce, served with fragrant saffron rice and mint yogurt. out of this world. also tried some lemonade made with berry juice, ginger and lavender – subtle sweetness, sourness, and spice all in one drink.

ended the day with a movie at lichtblick cinema berlin (looks like a store from the outside) where we saw ‘audre lorde – the berlin years 1984 to 1992’ (a doc from 2012). what a treat to see this beautiful face and hear this brilliant wise voice we love so much at home, here in berlin. perfection.

connecting with artists & curators in berlin

spent the day with the lovely veronika hykova, a curator at temporary space berlin and a lover of contemporary art <3

first stop somos where we met/had discussions with three brilliant artists/curators doing their art residencies:

Suu Myint Thein, is a sculptor, performance artist, educator, and curator from Myanmar. As the deteriorating political situation is affecting artists greatly, Suu currently participates in a special artist at-risk residency, supported by SomoS and the Goethe Institute Myanmar, developing new performance work and paintings.

Nicole Beck is a Hong Kong-raised, Sydney-based curator. She is developing Take Two, an exhibition connecting local artists to explore the potential of reenactment as a way to reflect the past.

Isabella Chydenius (b.1988), is an interdisciplinary Helsinki-based Finnish artist investigating societal structures, with a focus on femininity as applied to all genders, and its relation to safety and violence.

so inspiring to dive into their art practice and work.

what stood out at the berlin biennale

what stood out at the berlin biennale: exile is a hard job by nil yalter, maithu bùi’s mathuat – MMRBX, a video installation based on a virtual reality game, and asim abdulaziz’s 1941.

‘Asim Abdulaziz is a visual artist, photographer, and filmmaker. His emerging practice explores the psychoaffective implications of living in a country ravaged by ongoing war. The photographic series Homesick (2020), for example, depicts Yemeni women in destroyed interiors, the title suggesting both a yearning to return to a time before the war as well as the morbid estrangement of living among the ceaseless ruins that are product of the conflict.

The short experimental film 1941 (2021) explores the sense of disorientation and alienation experienced by Yemenis. After learning that knitting was a significant way for women in the United States to participate in the war effort during World War II, Abdulaziz was struck by how, in contemporary Yemen, knitting as an act of solidarity in a time of war would seem entirely absurd. The repetitive nature of the hand movement guiding the needles and stitching the wool thread distracts one from pondering the past and future, locking the knitter into a timeless present. By staging the practice in Yemen, Abdulaziz draws an embodied metaphor around the quotidian experience of war—captive to the logic of survival—that inhibits projecting oneself into a future of self-realization. Moreover, in a gender role reversal that further accentuates the strangeness of implementing this action in Yemen, the artist cast ten men of different generations and filmed them knitting with red wool inside one of Aden’s historical landmarks: a Hindu temple long abandoned to decay. He disrobed them—the men are shirtless, a provocative gesture in a prudish culture, which underlines the act’s absurdity. 1941 is an eloquent and compelling poetic meditation on war’s prohibition of claiming agency over time and self.’

berlin biennale

the venice biennale at the KW institute of contemporary art – photography and a long term relationship with a romani family, footage of the algerian liberation army from 1959-1962, music inspired by moroccan rug patterns, a performance by zuzanna hertzberg about the resistance of women during the shoah, african women, slavery, seeds and the need to plant/regenerate life, ‘vomit girl’ about the trauma of the vietnam war

first impressions

so first impressions about berlin. it’s not pretty. it’s industrial-looking, overtaken by graffiti (not wall art, mostly disruptive graffiti), it’s stark, modernist, activist, international, eclectic. it’s less about form, more about substance. for a city chock full of art and artists, it’s incredibly relaxed and accessible. since sept 18th was the last day of the berlin biennale, i got here, took a shower and walked straight to KW institute for contemporary art. more about that later. while walking around, i came upon a tent city with signs that said ‘a better world is possible’ and a rally with people on bikes playing cuban music and brandishing red che guevara flags – it was organized to show solidarity with socialist cuba and people on the street responded with ‘viva cuba.’ it’s like being in an alternate universe. lunch at mogg where many of us were seated outdoors (even though it was raining) and the restaurant offered blankets to those who wanted to feel more cozy. they had a japanese menu today so i had scrambled eggs and ground chicken on white rice with spinach and pickled ginger on top. ‘mogg is housed in an old red brick building, a former jewish girls school on berlin’s august strasse, designed by alexander beers in 1927.’