13 European Art Experiences I'll Never Forget

This fall’s trip to Europe was full of inspiration. Last week I took you to the Tempelhof Airport Garden in 13 photos. This week I have 13 more moments to share, this time spread across Munich, Berlin and Paris. 

Looking back on those days filled with art and culture, these are 13 scenes that will stay with me a very long time. 13 moments when I felt lucky to be alive, in that place, at that time. 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so let’s get on with those pictures. 

1. Iceland Air In-Flight Media

The inspiration actually begins in the cabin of our Iceland Air plane to Europe. Iceland Air is working hard to convey Iceland as little island with a big culture. They succeed, and I hope to return there for more than a 45 minute layover sometime soon.

It doesn’t take long to see there is something creative and beautiful about Icelandic people. It is clear right from the in-flight safety video. These are usually forgettable, but this whimsical piece includes animation and a clever juxtaposition of Icelandic adventures with the various safety instructions. 

See for yourself.  

While we wait for takeoff Icelandic music pumps through the speakers, and it is great. They even sell CD’s, one of which you can stream online at http://www.icelandicmusic.com/MusicNews/1122/hot_spring_stream_the_album_for_free/.

2. Gilching Square Sculpture 

From the serenity of our Iceland Air flight, we are plunged into the confusion of the large and foreign Munich airport. Thankfully, it is midday and we had plenty of time to get to our Air BnB accommodations. 

Our basement suite is tucked into a lovely little suburb on the outskirts of Munich, called Gilching. We get off the S-Bahn (train) and walk a kilometer or so. Nearing the house, unsure of ourselves, our host calls to my wife from across the street. ‘Are you Christie?’ We sigh with relief. What a miracle, to be found by a stranger across the world. Such a warm welcome!

Settled in, we head for a walk and dinner in a quiet public square. This kind of square stands out in Canada, but can be found all over Europe. In its centre stands the first of many impressive pieces of public art we’ll see over the next two weeks. A massive globe, made of wood-grained panels with bright coloured squares strewn throughout. The globe is split down the middle. 

Closer inspection reveals the two halves connected by a series of life-size bronze arms, linking hands. It is a beautiful piece thanks speaks to connection and unity. That same connection we felt when our host yelled hello across the German street. The same connection we will feel many times on our trip.

Fun sculpture in munich

3. Classical Violinist Busker

Walking through downtown Munich days later, we are in a crowded shopping district filled with pedestrian-only cobblestone streets. We pass under an archway, and there in the shadows is a familiar sight. A busker. What is unfamiliar is the busker’s music. He plays a violin and plays it well. Exquisite classical music fills the stone archway. In Edmonton this would be a Neil Young cover on a detuned pawnshop guitar.

On the bottom right you can see the archway. He was somewhere in there.

Definitely not the violinist, but another fine specimen of Munich Street Performer I will refer to as the Munich Munchkin.

Definitely not the violinist, but another fine specimen of Munich Street Performer I will refer to as the Munich Munchkin.

4. Paper Crane Church Installation

Just down the road, we enter an open church. I try and stop into any churches that look open, if only for a moment, to take in the breathtaking architecture. These old buildings are so ornate – so full of care and attention to detail – that they would be major tourist attractions in young Canada. Here in old Europe, they are commonplace. But not this church. This church houses an art installation.

Looking up, we see hundreds of origami cranes hung by wire from the ceiling, flying in formation toward the altar. The light from the an open window sets the white paper aglow. Dozens of us are looking but no one speaks. Thinking back now, I’m reminded of Dayton Casteleman’s windmills, but as striking as his piece is, he had no space so beautiful to set it within. Ancient and modern form a chord of resonant awe here. I try and capture it.

5. Bavarian Cuckoo Clocks

Ducking into a tourist shop, we discover a room full of cuckoo clocks. Clocks like I’ve never seen, made from intricately carved wooden pieces and costing thousands of dollars. They are set differently so that one goes off every few moments. We watch wooden couples dance round and round. We hear the classic cuckoo chime. Not sure this is my taste, but you can’t help but marvel at such care and craftsmanship.

6. Berlin Street Art

Care and craftsmanship are not words I would use when describing Berlin. Except for the food. Berlin is brazen with youth and defiance. She is punk rock to Munich’s classical. And she is sexy.

Everywhere you go in Berlin–aside from the sterilized tourist core–surfaces are covered in graffiti. Some of it is incredible. Some of it is just graffiti. But even that, taken together en masse, is an inspiring kaleidoscope of shape and colour.

If creativity was a genie, his bottle shattered in Berlin, and you’re not getting him back in there.

A large section of the Berlin Wall remains as the Eastside Gallery.

A large section of the Berlin Wall remains as the Eastside Gallery.

'Berlin is Poor, But Sexy'. This is not actually their city slogan, but it could be.

This place is just so broke-down-beautiful.

Sections of the Berlin Wall, preserved as canvases. 'Every Wall is a Challenge'.

Just a wall like so many others.

So .... this is a Berlin playground. 

7. Tempelhof Garden

I won’t speak much of the garden at Berlin’s abandoned Tempelhof Airport, because I wrote an entire piece on it last week. But I will tell you one story. 

I am filming a short video clip to try an capture this place, and just before I hit STOP I am interrupted by a roving poet. He looks wild. A little mad perhaps. Homeless, maybe. He offers me beauty for a mere 0.50 Euro. How can I say no?

I pay him and he recites a poem, first in German and then, sensing I do not understand, translated to English. I’ll never know if something has been lost in translation, but the poem doesn’t make a lot of sense. He then writes it down and gives me this paper. 

It feels like a sacred moment with some fairy in the forest. Before I leave he makes sure I hear his final advice. 

‘Always loud! The instrument will function well.’

I take so many pictures here that my camera battery finally dies, and so I will hand photographic duties over to my wife’s camera from here on out.

8. Urban Spree Gallery

We spend most of our Berlin days in Friedrichshain, a neighbourhood like Whyte Ave on a good drug trip. Not that I’d know. 

Specifically, I’m drawn to a derelict train yard, housing at least one nightclub, a skatepark, a climbing wall, a restaurant or two and a vintage furniture store. 

It’s in that furniture store, housed in old work-camp trailers, I learn we are just a block from the Urban Spree Gallery. This free art gallery is an altar to Street Art, complete with great outdoor couches to relax in the gritty sunshine with a biere.

We’ve made it for Dubl Trubl, a collaborative Street Art show. This is the street art version of a rap battle – the pieces attributed as ‘artist X vs. artist Y’. It’s totally awesome.

You just have to check out their website and their photos of this show at http://urbanspree.com/blog/gallery/

They actually seem to repaint the building to match the show.

Here is that furniture store. Those containers can grow and shrink to meet the need. This parking lot is a park. Sort of.

Climb this!

9. Quay Along the Seine

DJ Dave

After checking into our apartment in Paris (and with no small amount of trouble but that’s another story), we decide to take a nap, then head for an exploratory walk. 

Our wandering will eventually lead us to the Eiffel Tower, but we get there via the Seine River. 

Along the Seine Quay there are food stalls, giant board games, hopscotch, a play structure for kids, sculptures and so much more. A woman guides kids through a string art workshop. The pieces look so cool but we’re too old to take part. 

Walking along the Seine we stumble upon a disco under a bridge. A mirrorball spins between mirrored walls and a wooden DJ booth structure. We get to be the DJs! I read a sign and discover that I can control the music from my mobile device via Bluetooth. I pull out my iPod Touch and cue up the perfect song. Afterlife, by Arade Fire, from their latest album, Reflektor. It’s a song we’ve heard played in stores here, so I know people know it. Arcade Fire is from Montreal, about as close to Paris as some good Can-Con can get. And it’s got a beat you can dance to.

In a moment of spontaneous romance I cue up Glen Hansard and invite my wife to dance with me. A few steps in the music cuts out. Our time is up. 

Thankfully, there is still plenty to inspire along the recently revitalized Quay.

Reflektors

This is how they do street art in Paris.

10. Madeline Church Concert

In a moment of intention-keeping I am very proud of, we make it to the gorgeous Madeline Church in time for a free choral concert. Or, in time enough.

The music is beautiful, more modern than I expect and performed by what looks like a choir of teens and young adults. The melodies reverberate throughout the massive hall like magic. I don’t think there are any microphones.

For the first time, but not the last, I am enthralled by music I cannot understand, forced to dig beneath the lyrics for deeper treasures. 

I have no photo of the Madeline, but Notre Dame should do in a pinch.

11. Espace Dali

A few days into Paris we visit Monmarte–the oldest part and the highest point atop a hill. Here is where the great artists lived. Here is where they philosophized at the Cafè de Flore. Here is where you find Espace Dali.

This gallery, dedicated to the work of Salvador Dali, is small but full of wonders. It focusses mainly on Dali’s sculptures, but has many paintings, too. I never knew Dali made sculptures, but there are many. Some are bronze versions of his most famous images. Bronze clocks melt. Bronze drawers sit open from the torso of a bronze woman. 

It seems we’ve lucked out again, as the current show places street artists inspired by Dali among his own works. In one cathedral-like space there are religious images from Dali. A bronze version of his floating Crucifixion. A Christ face painted from a splatter caused by Dali’s ‘bulletism’ technique. Among these, a punching bag with Christ’s face on it. It is a striking work created by a contemporary artist that plays nicely off of Dali’s own religious iconography. 

I learn here just how talented, and how wild, Dali was. I also learn the magnetic pull that Christian faith had on him. His fascination and dedication toward the Biblical story. 

I leave with much to think about, and an incredible desire to grow a moustache.

Time is dripping away
Mae West Lip Couch
Take it out on Jesus

12. Centre Pompidou 

Where Espace Dali is small and focussed, the Centre Pompidou is sprawling and comprehensive. Among other things, Centre Pompidou houses France’s National Museum of Modern Art. I race through my three hours here, taking in what I can and trying to pay homage to the greats. Picasso. Miro. Bacon. Duchamp. Frank Gehry. 

There is so much to see in a building that is, itself, so much to see. We ascend clear tubes like hamsters, trying to find the open exhibits without wasting time walking. I get a brief glimpse of the Paris rooftops from the top floor. It is one of the best views anywhere.

Unfortunately, I did not have a camera along. I relied only on my wits and my wristwatch. But you can find out all about the Centre Pompidou on their website.

And maybe I can make it up to you with a view from another high spot in Paris - the Eiffel Tower?

No Pompidou pics, so how about this one from another famous platform - Eiffel Tower?

13. Au Lapine Agile

Nearing our final evening in Paris, we’ve made reservations at the mysterious and fabled Au Lapine Agile. The nimble rabbit is shown on a painted sign, jumping from a cooking pan. Inside, nightly, a Parisian Cabaret takes place, and has for decades. Toulouse Lautrec still haunts this dark little room. Picasso Painted. Steve Martin wrote a play about it. 

It was too dark to get a good photo, but a picture could never convey the hobbit-hole warmth, deep lamplit reds or trunk-like wooden tables that fill every precious inch of this tiny space.

We wait outside in the rain until precisely 9 when, as promised, the doors open. We are ushered in by people who speak apparently little English, into a room we know nothing about. Cabaret can mean many things. Here is what it means at Au Lapine Agile.

We sit around the edges of the room, leaving an open table in the centre. A man plays a piano against the rear wall. There is no stage. A small curtain opens and 8 or so men and women, each in their own way looking very French indeed, sit around a table and get jovial in a language I don’t understand. They launch into rousing song. Without fanfare, our four hour evening has begun.

Lapin Agile Piano Man

Song after song enthrals with the mystique of an ancient sea shanty, which I am told some of these are. A server brings us the house drink - some brandy with cherries inside. It is good but small and I cannot for the life of me figure out how to order anything else for the rest of the night. My wife, always prepared, has brought a bottle of water.

In a few spots we are helped to sing along and it is magic. ‘Oui, oui, oui!’ I sing. The voices of strangers join together just like those linked arms back in Munich. The pure beauty of music unites us, beyond language and distance, for a night. 

Some performers leave and each takes their turn in solo or pair to entertain us. In the end, past midnight, four of us remain while a lone singer croons over a strummed guitar. As intimate as it gets, this is simply like no other night I’ve ever had, and the perfect cork on an already beautiful European adventure. 

Jesus at the Cabaret.

Jesus at the Cabaret.

Beauty in Our Backyard

I’m back home now, still on the lookout for beauty, and still finding plenty of it. Just a day or so after returning I was sent this video. You’ve likely seen it already, but its worth another watch. We don’t need to visit the places I’ve mentioned to open our eyes in wonder. Just go for a brisk fall walk with your heart wide open.




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