uberlin

Another Year in Berlin: überlin’s Highlights of 2012

by James and Zoe

Wow, what a year! It’s hard to believe we’ve been in Berlin two years – because it feels like we’ve lived here forever, yet sometimes it’s like we’ve just stepped off the plane. That’s the enduring freshness of love, I guess. Too sappy? Then maybe we’ll just skip to our highlights of 2012: our favourite moments and places, most awesome blog posts, and all the other (furry) little things that made the year our best yet.

überlin's highlights of 2012: January

The Loxx Miniature Railway version of Berlin is probably the city’s best-kept secret, or at least it was until our photos ended up on the front page of The Guardian website. Small world(!) – on our second visit to the mini-Berlin on top of Alexa mall, we ran into Dave from the blog Andberlin – who also named Loxx as one of his highlights of the year. This is the perfect place to go on a rainy winter’s day.

überlin's highlights of 2012: February

To celebrate Zoë’s birthday we went to Stockholm and Copenhagen and while we were there, visited the most beautiful and inspiring place we’ve ever been. Looking back at our post about the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, I feel like my words fail to live up to Zo’s stunning photos, and even those can’t capture the breathtaking beauty of the museum and its coastal environment. We thoroughly enjoyed our short time in Scandinavia, but the Louisiana was the hands-down highlight.

überlin's highlights of 2012: March

The first of our articles to appear on The Guardian, 5 Apps Berlin Really Needs, was a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the buzzy, bubbly startup capital of Europe. Our iProtest app concept gamified civil disobedience, while Angry Berliners turned German bureaucracy into an addictive platform game. Our Buskamatic app aside, March was a great month for music – Modeselektor released the iconic video for their “Berlin” anthem, and we discovered Big Stu’s comedy rap tributes to Hühnerhaus and Kottbusser Tor.

überlin's highlights of 2012: April

Our personal highlight of the year has to be getting our hands on this little ball of cute. In fact, Olive is probably many readers’ main reason for visiting the blog – we might be better off training her to work a camera and a laptop and leaving her to it! The unofficial überlin mascot, Big Ö is recognised way more frequently than we are, and has turned up in the unlikeliest of places – including an Instagram tutorial video and a conversation with a Bully-obsessed stranger at my cousin’s wedding (“you own Olive the dog?!!!”). Apart from welcoming our fuzzy daughter to the fold, we also ate the meal of the year (with matched cocktails!) at Rollin Restaurant.

überlin's highlights of 2012: May

If our May pick was a movie it would be the überlin prequel, Escape from Newcastle. While our home toon stands for everything we hate (or is that the other way around?), we still have a soft spot for the football-loving Stella-downing lads and lasses we grew up with – something we hope came across in our “origin story”, From Geordie Shore to Germany. Back in Berlin, visiting friends introduced us to the Ramones Museum, the only such institute devoted to the Detroit proto-punks in the whole world, the personal collection of a Berliner who must be their greatest fan.

überlin's highlights of 2012: June

It might seem obvious, but our What I Know about Germans post is like David Hasslehoff’s “Looking For Freedom”: ubiquitous, infectious, and every German loves it ;) . Credit for our “greatest hit” actually goes to writer Liv Hambrett, for her keen observations about her adopted countrymen, and illustrator Mischief Champion who’s busy bringing them to life for WIKAG – the book! Photo op of the month (year?) had to be Berlin Gay Pride 2012 – so many queers! So many colours!

überlin's highlights of 2012: July

It seems like a long time since Zoë spent a boiling Berlin Fashion Week maximising her time in the air-conditioned tent, and occasionally popping outside to photograph slebs like Fashionbloggerin Miggy. Lucky for us, she braved the heat long enough to get these impressions of Berlin Fashion Week SS13.

überlin's highlights of 2012: August

While Peaches was never exactly a reason for moving to Berlin, we’ve never been able to think about the city without picturing her merkin. Since we arrived, we’ve been lucky enough to see her twice: “doing herself” live on stage and orchestrating a protest/video shoot in support of Pussy Riot. We weren’t the only starstruck fans following this freak parade into Mauerpark, and it was impressive to see Ms Nisker whipping up a storm to publicise an important – and still ongoing – cause. Less colourful, but no less eye-opening, was guest blogger Russell Dornan’s look behind the closed doors of Berlin’s Natural History Museum.

überlin's highlights of 2012: September

You Know You’re a Berliner When… you pose for a photo pretending the TV Tower is your penis, which then becomes a lightning rod for critics of hipsters, expats and archisexts (I made this one up). Having regular “Berlinergasms” was just one of 11 sure-fire signs that you’ve become a Berliner, along with dancing in a U-Bahn station and witnessing at least one daily act of crazy. Zoë saw more craziness at London Fashion Week SS13 – here is just a taste.

überlin's highlights of 2012: October

October was a month of light and dark. The gloomy nights provided the perfect backdrop for the Festival of Lights and (we think) our animated GIFs were the perfect demonstration of the event’s kaleidoscopic displays. Far less joyful was Berlin Crawling: 10 Halloween Horror Films, a list of creepshows shot here in the Haupstadt, ranging from the slick (the neo-Giallo short Yellow) to the just plain sick (corpse love story Nekromantik).

überlin's highlights of 2012: November

We’re so glad Phia agreed to be the first subject in our series of Berlin portraits. We’d heard the Australian singer/songwriter/thumb-pianist at an intimate concert in a fellow musician’s house, and loved her stories and songs about her granddad, a Berliner, and what it meant to live in his hometown. We spent a beautiful, crisp day discovering her Berlin, and sharing our love for the creative, open city we now call home. Oh, and we celebrated two years of überlin/living in Berlin!

überlin's highlights of 2012: December

As we entered our third winter in Berlin, we thought we should share the survival skills we’ve picked up with expats who’ve recently arrived from warmer climes. With the help of Josh Bauman’s awesome caricatures of us (and Olive!), our more-or-less practical tips about How to Survive a Berlin Winter helped to restore calm among the panicky sun-botherers freaking out at the first sight of snow. I wonder if anyone’s quit their job or grown a beard on our advice? And giving away €250 of Berlin-themed swag was a great way to end another awesome year of überlin.

Join us in 2013 for more Berlin love and LOLs. Happy New Year!

Tweet ThisfacebookDeliciousDiggRedditStumbleUpon

Behind the Scenes at Berlin’s Natural History Museum

by Guest Blogger

Russell Dornan had been waiting for years to visit the Museum für Naturkunde, having spent most of his childhood near Köln, but never making it to the German capital. As soon as he started his traineeship (to become a natural history curator) he set his sights on Berlin’s Natural History Museum, arranging a week of work experience across the institution’s collections. Here’s what he found when he peeked behind the scenes of the Museum für Naturkunde; all images his own.
[CAUTION: we have selected images that reflect the work of the Museum für Naturkunde - preparing (skinning), preserving and displaying animals of all kinds. The squeamish among you may want to look away now.]

A giant squid preserved in alcohol

A giant squid preserved in alcohol.

My first day was spent with a taxidermist, part of a team who dedicate their time to skinning birds and mammals, cleaning their bones and mounting them ready for either exhibition or to be stored as part of the scientific collection. They have won many awards throughout Germany and Europe, and rightly so; I’ve never seen taxidermy like it.

I love red foxes. After skinning, its bones would have been cleaned and dried and then mounted with the skin, or kept in the scientific collection.

I love red foxes. After skinning, its bones would have been cleaned and dried and then mounted with the skin, or kept in the scientific collection.

Some of the team were skinning a red fox as I arrived. It was a little bit startling to pop my head round a door to find one of my favourite animals having its skin removed; it was also fascinating. From there I was led through the purpose-built facilities for taxidermy, equipped for every stage of the process. As a result, the pieces they produce (usually from road kill or deceased animals regularly donated to the museum from one of Berlin’s two zoos) are uncannily life-like. I was then shown the bird wet collection: pickled birds in jars.

This piglet was freshly skinned and being prepared for use in a display.

This piglet was freshly skinned and being prepared for use in a display.

A Sunbittern preserved in alcohol.

A Sunbittern preserved in alcohol.

Next, the collections manager for ornithology showed me around the largest bird collection in Germany (around 200,000 specimens). He told me of a journal they had found with previously unknown information about some important specimens, filling in some missing geographical data, and adding even more scientific value to the birds.

These are some of the scientifically important birds that had to be matched up to the citations in the journal that was found.

These are some of the scientifically important birds that had to be matched up to the citations in the journal that was found.

Due to the number of objects, all museums have a large documentation backlog but Berlin’s was particularly interesting. Because of the damage the museum sustained during the Second World War, many specimens are in a poor condition, often with information missing which has to be reconciled. Even missing specimens are input onto the database because they are a testament to what was destroyed during the war. I think it’s a tragic echo; even something as simultaneously trivial and important as a stuffed bird was unable to escape.

The museum had undergone a substantial rebuild in 2010 and most departments were still in the process of relocating the material. The East wing was completely razed during the war; it was finally rebuilt and now houses the very large spirit collections. Other specimens were removed and, ideally, cleaned/conserved and packed in new storage boxes with new labels, ready for their new location.

My time with the arachnid and myriapod collection team was brilliant. Arachnids tend to be fleshier than insects so lend themselves to being preserved in alcohol rather than pinned. There were still some beautiful examples of pinned spiders, as well as some centipedes and millipedes. In German, these are known as “Tausendfüsser” (literally: “thousand feet”). The reptile skins are kept in the same area; it was like a crocodile’s walk-in wardrobe.

The strange crocodile wardrobe.

The strange crocodile wardrobe.

This was followed by a visit to the fish collection, the only one of four floors of spirit collections, across the departments, that is among the public galleries. While manageable, this isn’t practical; it forces the team to adopt unorthodox methods and to organise themselves in a slightly different way than if the collection was behind closed doors.

The bright yellow web is like thread: it's soft, super-strong and vivid. Some people have extracted it and woven it into things like shawls.

The bright yellow web is like thread: it’s soft, super-strong and vivid. Some people have extracted it and woven it into things like shawls.

The mammal section was one of my favourites. When a mammal comes into the museum it gets preserved as a combination of: a skull, a skeleton, a skin or a whole animal. They are usually all kept separate. Sometimes only the skin or skull are kept; sometimes all of it, in which case the individual parts are stored in the relevant areas.

A drawer of fox skulls. They are kept in the little boxes so they don't rattle around and get damaged, and so that if anything breaks off, theoretically the pieces fall into the box and stay with the main body of the object.

A drawer of fox skulls. They are kept in the little boxes so they don’t rattle around and get damaged, and so that if anything breaks off, theoretically the pieces fall into the box and stay with the main body of the object.

Some of the biggest skulls in the collection are the hippo skulls. There are a lot of them too.

Some of the biggest skulls in the collection are the hippo skulls. There are a lot of them too.

After we had looked at the skulls we saw the skin collection. Like the crocodile wardrobe, seeing so many hides of the same type of animal hanging together was surreal. Loads of skins, and other specimens, are needed to make sure that the variation seen in nature is represented in the collection. For example, there are a lot of monkeys.

The only way to really store skins from larger animals is to hang them up. Folding them won't work because most skins get harder as time goes by and then snap and break when anyone tries to lay them flat. Stacking them on top of each other isn't very logical either. Of course, hanging them isn't without its problems. They are heavy and the string deteriorates and snaps, meaning there are loads lying in heaps. It’s always a compromise.

The only way to really store skins from larger animals is to hang them up. Folding them won’t work because most skins get harder as time goes by and then snap and break when anyone tries to lay them flat. Stacking them on top of each other isn’t very logical either. Of course, hanging them isn’t without its problems. They are heavy and the string deteriorates and snaps, meaning there are loads lying in heaps. It’s always a compromise.

Unlike dog skins, like the hyena seen here, cat skins don't go as hard as others. They remain, for the large part, soft and supple.

Unlike dog skins, like the hyena seen here, cat skins don’t go as hard as others. They remain, for the large part, soft and supple.

One of the previous curators had a soft spot for primates and Berlin has a very good collection as result. The eerie, human-like quality of the monkeys is a little bit haunting when they’re pickled.

One of the previous curators had a soft spot for primates and Berlin has a very good collection as result. The eerie, human-like quality of the monkeys is a little bit haunting when they’re pickled.

I loved visiting the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin; seeing what they have behind closed doors was fascinating and exciting. You can read more about my time there in my daily blog posts during my visit, and see photos of the public collections on überlin – close-ups of butterflies and beetles, and the weird and wonderful wet collection.

Heavier objects are stored in the basement. You have to be careful walking through that.

Heavier objects are stored in the basement. You have to be careful walking through that.

Tweet ThisfacebookDeliciousDiggRedditStumbleUpon

Natural History Museum in Close Up

by Zoë Noble

For a glimpse of something more gruesome at the Natural History Museum, check out our photos of the Wet Collection.

Tweet ThisfacebookDeliciousDiggRedditStumbleUpon

The Wet Collections, Natural History Museum

by James Glazebrook

Visiting the Wet Collections in the Museum für Naturkunde is a little like that scene in Alien: Resurrection when Ripley happens upon a room full of freakish alien experiments in jars. The fact that the one million specimens were collected here on Earth doesn’t stop them appearing other-worldly in their glowing jars of ethanol, and some of them downright facehugger-y. The climate-controlled conditions in the museum’s East Wing, completed in September 2010, mean that you even have to go through a kind of airlock to get to it. Berlin’s Natural History Museum is fast establishing itself as a rival to those in London and New York, but we advise you to stride straight past its main attraction – the largest mounted skeleton in the world – and marvel at the mad creatures we share the planet with today.

Tweet ThisfacebookDeliciousDiggRedditStumbleUpon