Thursday, 11 December 2014

Germany: A surreal, dark and sensual fairy-tale in Berlin!

BIRKE vol.II "the watchful tree" by "Forvitinn" Aris Chantzopoulos

For those lucky enough to be in Berlin during November and December, a unique fairy tale- exhibition is taking place in CELL63 Art Platform, in Neükolln.  In the heart of the cold winter, a world of mysterious sylvan beings is being brought to existence by the genuine imagination of a young Greek artist, Aris, known as “Forvitinn”.  It is as if the woods and their majestic spirit come alive to share with us their inner secrets, dark and mischievous, like the human soul.  At the end, it is nature that reflects our inner beings and only through nature can we sometimes conceive our deepest and darkest desires.

"Hybrids, half human-half birch tree figures, in their everyday habits, are placed in between the barks of a forest, spreading their branches trying to show us their presence..
Creatures of high sexual behaviour, emotional, curious, social, lonely, eccentric, aggressive similar to what birch trees are supposed to be behaving, comparing to other trees. A tree which has a kind of unique appearance, being easily spotted in a forest, has an urge to spread its seeds all over, and take over, sometimes even growing on behalf of other tree species, while it's bark could be considered "poisonous"in a visual language,due to it's very sharp black and white colour"

Being inspired by the behaviour of that tree, also called "The Watchful Tree" because of eye-like impressions on the bark, often seen inside the city of Berlin, Forvitinn has given a combination of this unison between Berlin, sexual freedom and eccentricity in a fictional environment where the trees are always observers of people’s actions..

Teaser of the exhibition

"Forvitinn" Aris Chantzopoulos

Born in 1982 in Greece, Forvitinn, is using a wide range of channels of communication and expression to create emotions.
By means of painting, music composing, sculpture, as well as video art, media art, performance and photography, he is conceiving a multi-dimensional image of his own world,his own fairy-tale.

As a painter, two elements mostly dominate his work: A romantic spirit, expressed persistently through his artistic research of virgin forests and aquatic landscapes of elf-like creatures, and the dynamism of a wild inhospitably realistic, but pure and minimalistic plasticity; an urban and technological human-made environment. 
Combining these two worlds together, made him create a very personal stroke, both visually and musically.

Video Art came as a way to combine music and image, having directed video clips and theatre plays in the past, while music within this process of visual composition is always present, and is both a source of inspiration and a means of creative expression.
He composed music and performed live for several theatre performances and dance theatre plays, as well while having already an album in his hands, by the title "shhhh...." he has presented his art in many venues both in Athens and Berlin, as well as other countries of Europe.

To mention a few of them:

Synch Festival, Athens. 
International Film Festival, Thessalonica.
Schaubühne, Berlin.
Curare Art Movement-Malmoe, Sweden.
XIV Biennial of Young Artists from Europe and the Mediterranean, Skopje.

Musical pieces from the exhibition (music by Aris-Forvitinn)

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Greece; TAF, a small temple to worship the best coffee in Athens!

Visting TAF in Athens, Eharcheia downtown district and finding out the secrets of the finest coffee in the city!

by Kon Hans

At a recent article in, a big praise was given to the coffee culture (among other things!) of the Greek capital: Athens has more cafes than Paris and Rome have, and even a greater worship towards the fresh aroma of the coffee and its strong flavor.  After being to TAF at Benaki Street, a small café and a coffee grinder at the same time, and meeting Christos Loukakis, an awarded barista, I could only agree to the above statement after drinking the third espresso!

Q. How long have you been a barista?

A. I have been a barista for about 14 years. It has been a conscientious choice; I have even abandoned my studies to follow my vocation, as I believed it to be back then.  Afterwards, I have realized that it was the right choice for me, and TAF has played a significant role in this.

Q. What is being a barista for you, what is your inspiration?

A. Coffee for me has always been a constant game of changes, of flavors, of aromas, of the constitution itself of the coffee, and its essence.  It is like chemistry; in fact it IS chemistry, a coffee-chemistry which I adore and which I always try to bring one step beyond.  My passion is the mixing of new flavors and varieties and bringing to life a coffee with a perfect body and aroma.  It is definitely an art for me. Here we have many varieties and each month we try to bring a new one.

Q. How TAF exactly works? From what I understand there is also a brand named TAF.

A. Exactly. TAF is at the same time a coffee shop and a place where even the most hardcore coffee connoisseur can find the good quality he is searching for.  I mean, we trade with over 30 farms from all over the world, from Latin America to Africa and India, though our main providers are from Brazil and Africa. We have a system of trade, named “direct trade”, where we try to build a direct relationship with the producers evading the middleman and thus keeping the prices low and awarding the producers for their work, seems only fair to me.  We have two main varieties, and you can check them out if you want (Of course I want!), the Rose Bud with notes of honey and the Estate Blend, more strong and with dark chocolate undertones.  After that, you name it, we have Ethiopian, Brazilian and Guatemala coffee varieties, all of the best quality. 

Q. Thank you, I will surely try!

A. You are more than welcome!

* TAF is on 6-7 Benaki Street, Athens, Eharcheia

(photos by Mina Selimou © )

The formidable coffee-grinder
TAF - inside

Christos on the making!
Filter magic!

Filter magic 2


Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Greece: Serifos, the Island with the haunted mines

A family-vacation island of mysterious beauty

(updated with links!)

by Kon Hans

The "Chora" of Serifos (main settlement on a Greek island) gazes from up the hills the vast blue horizon and defies the winds with its pure white graciousness.  Around it, the imposing arid landscape of the Aegean island is littered with deserted mines and rusty machinery, like huge iron talons popping out and grapping the earth, mechanical ghosts of a bygone era, carrying still the lost voices of the miners.  These otherworldly industrial monuments, the smooth lines of the landscape, the sandy beaches, the bustling port and the local rich cuisine have blessed Serifos island with a unique beauty, sought out by many travelers of the Aegean Sea, in Greece.

As the boat passes by Sifnos, the great sister of Serifos, the beautiful port of "Livadi" will welcome you to the island with all its colorful shops and taverns parading by the sea.  Some nice hotels and beautiful studios can be found in Livadi, - though August is more difficult-, and there are two impressive hotel complexes for a luxury escape with spectacular views: The "Rizes" and the "Amphitrite" complex are sure to make your vacations unforgettable. 

The Chora is considered as more of a romantic solution and is probably the most economical, while there is also a wonderfully organized camping for the adventurers, the «Corali» with a swimming pool and a small library.  However, during the peak of the high season in August prices are sizzling at 90 euros (about 114 US dollars) for a standard room at the Livadi port, an unfortunate strategy, especially when you consider the outrageous prices in some port taverns where a Greek Salad may cost up to 8 euros (about 10 US dollars)!

Nevertheless, when the "gold fever" passes, the Islanders are hospitable people and you will always see smiling faces around you, as you enjoy your coffee in the beautiful cafe of "
Yacht Club" by the port.  Also, the port area is indicated for some good meals by the sea waves having arguably many choices in restaurants and taverns to choose from.  I would recommend a short romantic walk a little further down, at Avlomonas beach, where you will find interesting and very affordable taverns with tables on the sand.  You will be rewarded with the famed August full moon: a large gold disc that embraces the calm sea, while the boats sway in its silver waters.

From high up in the Chora, the view is certainly different, of an eerie beauty, with a vast horizon all around you where the sea becomes one with the sky.   The Chora of Serifos is divided into the upper and the lower Chora, but essentially you can easily roam about in its entirety and get lost in its amazing alleys.  In order to reach Chora from the port, you can take a car or a bus or, or, if you're adventurous enough and of good stamina, you can hike your way up there following  the impressive stone path, which will take you about 40 minutes.  

Once in Chora, you may taste good local cuisine at "Aloni" or the relatively new "Marathoriza" restaurant saboring the famous "revithada" (a kind of a chickpea soup) and "louza" (smoked pork meat). Afterwards, you can enjoy a nice "ouzo" (anis alcoholic drink) at the Town Hall Square or indulge in an exotic cocktail at the bustling small terrace of «Aerino» bar listening to some nice music. Also there, at the same square, in the "Café Stratos", you can have your own private retreat to enjoy your coffee or an ice cream in a separate small space watching the hustling and bustling of the Square.  

Aegean architecture of an austere beauty (photo by Kon Hans)

If you're in the island during the Festival of Serifos, then you should definitely pay a visit to the small theatre, as many important names of the Greek music and other events will fill your August evenings with lovely melodies in a quality program that lasts from late July until the 20th of August. When the sun is unbearable and you seek the embrace of the sea, Serifos has many sandy beaches to offer and generally accessible. The southern beaches stand out and are the closest to the port, like "Livadakia", "Ganema", or "Vagia", though "Ganema" is the best among them. However,  you should pay a visit the "Psili Ammos" beach, believed to be the best beach of the island by many a tourist, as well as the "Megalo Livadi" a nice beach to the west of the island.


Perhaps the most neglected part of Serifos Island and what seems to possess an eerie and mysterious beauty, are the abandoned mines.  Since 1870, the Greek Mining Company  has begun exploiting and exporting the island's important iron ore reserves.  By 1880 the economic prosperity to the island due to the mines and has doubled its population, but in 1915 the crisis caused a serious decline of demand, thus worsening significaly the working conditions in the mines and producing fatal accidents.  Consequently, the strike launched on August 21 of 1916 by the miners in the Megalo Livadi caused a bloody uprising that resulted in the death of eight people. 

Nowadays, what remains from the once powerful machines that were digging the bowels of the earth, are silent monuments, like sculptures of an unnatural beauty and witnesses of a bygone era.  Once you visit "Megalo Livadi", you can find open tunnels that lead in the depths of the island without any indication or protection measures, rusty mine carts and ghostly bridges that lead nowhere. All without proper care, even so, they form a unique and spectacular attraction of a post-industrial and eerie magnificence, that will haunt your mind.

(Published in TIME OUT DUBAI ©, on February 25, 2015 read it here )

Rust and abandoned mine cart

Beach in Serifos

Beach in Serifos

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Italy: Visiting the Biennale di Venezia

La Biennale di Venezia:  An inspiring visit to the 14th International Architecture Exhibition

by Kon Hans

Canal in Venice (photo by Kon Hans)

The famous vaporetto boats traverse the Venetian canals, while the serene waters reflect the flashes and the smiles of the tourists in a sunny, summer day.  As always, every summer gives to the Serenissima a unique cosmopolitan shine, as the greatest cultural event in the world opens its doors to the lovers of art from every corner of the earth:  The Biennale di Venezia, with the 14th International Architecture Exhibition, welcomes you.

Rem Koolhaas is the maestro of this architectural "symphony", its central theme being the Modernism in Architecture in a conceivable period from 1914 until 2014.   The sixty-five countries participating with their National Pavilions, are invited to show their architectural wealth and its advance under the dipole of Historicism and Modernism.  An interesting theme indeed, as it escapes from the all-too familiar mould of contemporary Architecture and is, instead, focused in its historical character.  Moreover, as Koolhaas himself explains: "I wanted it (the Exhibition) to be more of a vehicle of research then one more exhibition".

Greek Pavilion (photo by Kon Hans)


Separated as always in two parts, Giardini being the main venue and the traditional core of the Biennale, the second and more modern one is Arsenale, a historical industrial cluster, renovated to serve as an impressive architectural project on its own.  The countries that have recently acquired permanent National Pavilions in the Biennale, -between them the National Pavilion of the UAE, - are found in the developing Arsenale, while the older ones are situated in the green gardens of the Giardini area.  Among them the Greek Pavilion, built in 1934, is one of the oldest and is also the place which Peggy Guggenheim, the eccentric niece of the famous Solomon Guggenheim, has selected in order to present the first public exhibition of her amazing collection before it was permanently installed in her Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, now known as the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. 

The International Architecture Exhibition, considerably newer than its "twin sister" the International Art Exhibition with which alternates every year, began as a part of the Biennale in 1968, but it was not until 1980 that it started a new important and renown course as a separate Exhibition. Nowadays, new countries have made a dynamic entrance to the international cultural scene, -a sign of the new changing times-, such as the United Arab Emirates, Hong-Kong or Bahrain, and promise a renewed perspective, being modern centres of intense experimental architectural planning.

Passing through the gates of the Giardini venue you will find the always promising (especially in the Architecture Exhibitions) North European participations of Sweden, Norway and Finland, their Pavilions being themselves examples of harmonized architecture with the natural environment by retaining the trunks of trees that grow inside of them as an "exhibit" and coherent content of the Pavilion. You will also be able to visit other Pavilions with important exhibitions, such as Canada's with its "arctic" reference, Russia's with its glorious past and the always restless France.


Bahrain Pavilion (photo by Kon Hans)
In the Arsenale area, things are even more interesting: in addition to the two awarded countries, Korea and Chile, you can visit the impressive "Monditalia", where major incisions in the architectural history of the country are exposed in a unique manner. At the same time, the Chilean Pavilion will welcome you in a humble home of Santiago de Chile, which has been transported piece by piece and then assembled and installed inside the Pavilion with all the local magic of the Chilean colors! Further down you will come upon the Bahrain Pavilion which hosts an inspiring exhibition about the whole Arab world in relation with the European colonialism and with a distinct installation where the catalogues of the Pavilion act as an integral and interactive architectural element.  The National Pavilion of the UAE, on the other hand, presents a perfectly curated interactive exhibition where you can witness all the major phases of the architectural history of the region through a multimedia archive in the form of video installations and of sets of drawers containing fragments of memories of the residents of the region; among the interesting exhibits one can even find a vial containing a sample of the first oil that has been drilled from the land! It is also worth mentioning that the National Pavilion of the UAE is offering an important internship program that gives a unique chance to young students and graduates to man the Pavilion acting as cultural ambassadors of the UAE in the Biennale of Venice.
Art Cafe in Arsenale (photo by Kon Hans)

In both Arsenale and Giardini areas there are many lovely cafés to be found, like "Art Cafe" in the Arsenale, an ideal spot to take a break.  The nearby Via Garibaldi is, especially in the afternoon, swarming with tourists, students and art lovers as they enjoy conversations about art and architecture, drinking a nice refreshment or indulging in the Venetian "gelatto", the renowned Italian ice-cream.  Possibly the best time to visit the Biennale is the month of September, when alongside the international architecture exhibition, the Venice International Film Festival opens its doors to the public: a yearly appointment with the global jet-set upon the red carpet.  The Festival runs from August 27 to September 6 and is a unique opportunity to combine the Biennale Exhibitions with exquisite artistic events and some of the best international film productions.

(Published in KATHIMERINI ©, on September 6, 2014 (transl. & edited from Greek, original here)

National Pavilion of the UAE (photo copyright
Piazza San Marco from the Canal Grande (photo by Kon Hans)

Hong Kong Pavilion (photo by Kon Hans)

Hanging clothes (photo by Kon Hans)

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Upon the MH17 flight from Amsterdam to Bangkok

*everything in the following story is fictional, Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental

by Kon Hans

She was smiling.  Not because her company was telling her so, but because she was genuinely happy.  Her face was shining as she was boarding the plane as she did a hundred times before.  Only this time, she was about to be married.  It has been a year following their decision, hers and Dany, until she finally managed to find some time and organize everything so that her annual leave and her roster could agree with the date of her marriage.  The life of a cabin crew has obvious difficulties but can also be rewarding in so many other ways.  Like now, for example, as she was welcoming aboard this beautiful family with their small cute child, with eyes of the deepest blue of the ocean.  Could she and Dany, make such a pretty family? She was sure of it! "Dany", she thought, "here I come to you to be your future wife", and she scarcely could believe it, as her eyes met with the beautiful eyes of the mother holding the small child.  Now, she knew where this blue came from!

Mother's name was Julie and she was holding her treasure tightly in her embrace: little Peter.  7 months old, a pretty little face with huge blue eyes, that were looking in her eyes as she was holding her husband's hand.  Jef was clear from the beginning: it is never too late for a second honeymoon or a third for that matter.  She was afraid, at the beginning, for little Peter but eventually she cherished on the thought of a trip to their beloved Bangkok.  Now, as she was aboard the plane, magnetized by the genuine and pretty smile of the stewardess before her, she was happy for her decision to take this trip.  The nametag on the splendid, colorful Malaysian uniform of the stewardess was saying "Blanca".  She seemed so beautiful and so sweet as she was welcoming them and showing to their seats.  Definitely a nice and warm person; she would remember her.

The take-off was smooth, and soon after, Amsterdam was but a spot behind.  The trip was pleasant and after 2 hours they met some small turbulences, flying over Ukraine, nothing to worry about and Blanca was always there, attentive, to make them feel safe.  After a while, and as Blanca was heading to the galley a sudden explosion shook the plane violently .  She fell down, the lights went off, she heard screaming and terrible sounds all over, the plane was falling, all was happening so fast.  She wanted to get up and help, her training kicked in, but she could not move.  She thought of the baby with the big blue eyes and she thought of Dany.  A second explosion, shook the plane more violently and she instantly knew that all was lost, her life was plummeting fast to an end, she only whispered "Dany" with an unborn tear in the corner of her eye. 

Small Peter was looking the chaos unleashing before him as her mother hold him tight in her arms and screamed.  He was looking at everything, the fallen masks, the lights going off, everything, with his innocent big blue eyes.  Life was too short for him. 

An unbearable noise.  A flash.  And darkness. Forever.

298 people died aboard the flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Bangkok on the 17th of July. They have been obliterated by the most cowardly act on the face of the earth; that of people killing civilians because they don't bear to face what they fear the most: themselves.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Spain: A medieval town and a lake of eerie beauty, hiding a dark secret

Puebla de Sanabria in Castilla y Leon, in northern Spain, reveals a landscape of stunning beauty and a proud medieval history

by Kon Hans

Gazing through your aircraft's window as it descends to Madrid's airport, red and ochre patches will dominate your view; like a colorful canvas of a passionate painter, the land of Spain is a surrealist work of art.  A land of art, beauty, contradictions and surprises, the Iberian peninsula is not only about sea and sun, fiesta and crazy summer nights, it is also about dramatic landscapes, forged by the brutal power of nature.  And, up there, in the north, deep in the rocky bosom of the mountains, there exist such a place of serene and eerie beauty, with a tragic secret hidden deep in the cold embrace of a beautiful lake.

Lake of Sanabria

In the mountainous region of Castilla y Leon, after passing the famed towns of Salamanca and Zamora, one can find a medieval small town of a unique character, called Puebla de Sanabria. In order to embark on this magical trip, you must leave Madrid by taking the A6 highway towards Zamora and enter the region of Castilla y Leon.  The road will lead you to the mythical land of the river Duero, the birthplace of one of the most splendid Spanish wines, Ribera de Duero.  Rows upon rows of vineyards will welcome you, rising through the fog like a minuscule army in perfect order by the river banks, and after a three-hour trip you will finally get a view of the Puebla de Sanabria, among the mountains. 

Puebla de Sanabria

Lake of Sanabria
The river calmly flows by the walls of Sanabria, like a silver necklace upon the neck of a beautiful medieval Lady. She proudly stands watching, from up there, from the Castle and the Old Town, the mountains and the vast horizon before her, and up there is where you are headed.  The Old Town of Sanabria, a medieval walled town with a long history, one of the oldest in the region is home to the best preserved Castle of Spain. Moreover it is  a place impregnated with local myths and mysteries, under the shade of a mysterious tragedy, of which the source is the nearby calm and beautiful lake.  However, before you visit the lake, you should explore this medieval fairy tale unfolding before your eyes: manor houses made of stone and wood, narrow alleys, the smell of the humid timber and the cold from the mountains caressing your face, and the Castle with its imposing presence.  For your exploring base, nothing better than an 18th Century mansion restored to its former glory and serving as a distinguished guest-house, "La Posada Real La Carteria", offering high quality services in logical prices. Don't forget to visit its "subterranean" restaurant and enjoy the local cuisine with its strong mountainous character.  The next day, and on your way to the famous lake, you can enjoy a stroll on the walls of the Castle enjoying the views or visit the small gothic Church. You could even enter one of the small traditional and cozy cafes of the Old Town, and of course, buy some local products, like goat cheese, mountain honey or dried meat. 

Castro River and Puebla de Sanabria
Fog and church in the village of El Puente
On your way to the lake, it is advisable to make a small stop at the small village you will encounter, "La Puente", where you can enjoy a glass of the famous topical wine or a cafe "cortado" (with some milk) with the company of a tasty "tapa" (small plate of appetizers) in the local cafe, with its traditional architecture and small folklore showcase.  Making your way among the mountains towards the lake, it is highly recommendable to first visit the small village "San Martin de Castanieda".  Situated up on a slope,  it will award you with a first impressive view of the lake: the golden-red colors of the trees around seem to embrace with tenderness the blue, crystal clear waters, radiating a tranquility and a splendid harmony.  In the local tavern "Recreo", you can savor meat delicacies of the region and of the finest quality, in truly impressive amounts:  it is obligatory to order the famous beef steak, bigger than the plate served on, and enjoy the view of the lake from up above.

Leaving the restaurant with your energy refilled, and on your way down to the lake, you will find the medieval Monastery of San Martin de Castanieda, with a long history tracing back to the Visigoths and the glorious Al Andalus, when Spain was under the Moorish dominance.  Apart from the serene beauty of the view that the Monastery offers, you can also visit a small exhibition on the upper floor about the local history and the flora and fauna  of the lake's ecosystem.

The Lake of Sanabria

Lake of Sanabria and the sky below!

The lake of Sanampria, is a place, from which many local mysteries and myths seem to emanate, and  the starting point for all these appears to be a tragic incident, a historical tragedy;  one of many that have marked the stormy history of this country under the dictatorship of Franco.  The dam that was inaugurated in 1956 from General Franco, built with off-hand calculations, cheap materials and with the excessive vanity of a dictator to glorify his name has proved to be a devastating curse for the residents of the village "Ribadelago", situated a few kilometres lower, on the bank of the lake.  A frozen night, on January the 9th of 1959, and as the unsuspecting residents of the small village were trying to warm up in their humble houses, also of poor construction, a deafening roar erupted from the bowels of the earth, as the unstoppable river, released from its bonds, was taking a terrible revenge.  

The next day would dawn with heartbreaking laments,  as 90% of the  village was destroyed, literally buried in the bottom of the lake,  and with the dreadful outcome:  144 persons, mainly small children, were forever lost in the wet grave of the lake.  Nowadays, a statue of a mother embracing the lifeless body of her child stands as a witness to the terrible disaster and to remind us that greed often results in the nature's fury, in front of which humans are truly insignificant.  And the mother's soundless lament seems to echo in the eerie silence of this beautiful lake, that is only interrupted by the haunting sounds of a bell tolling and children laughing, that even today many visitors swear they hear coming out from the frozen depths of the lake.

(Published in TIME OUT DUBAI ©, on July 1, 2014, read it here )

(Photos by Alejandro Tiana Mas and Kon Hans )

View from the Castle of Puebla de Sanabria