Alexandrowka, Russian Colony, Postdam, Berlin

I was in Berlin a while back now to put on an exhibition alongside artist friend Rachael Macarthur at the super Scottish bar and venue Das Gift. Berlin was -10 at the time with thick snow but crisp blue skies, always the best time to see it I think.

On our last day our lovely Berlin friends Julia and  Joseph , always with a nose for strange out of the way adventures, took us to Alexandrowka, a colony of Russian style houses in Potsdam in the outskirts of Berlin.  

Consisting of 13 Russian style houses built in 1827, the colony was the wish of the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhem III to house the Russian singers of the First Prussian Regiment of the Guards. The snow really added to the atmosphere and made us feel like we’d stepped into provincial Russia.

We loved some of the wood detailing.  In 1999 the site was listed by UNESCO and since East-West reunification, much work has been done to preserve and reconstruct some of the buildings that were in disrepair. 

Descendents of original residents still live there but two houses are open and preserved as museums.  There is a great little cafe where you can get Russian style Pierogi dumplings and the interiors felt rustic and kitsch in a way that felt pretty authentic

We felt Russian style clothing was neccessary so we could temporarily  pretend we were in a Chekhov novel…

Really recommend a visit if youre in Berlin for an extended time and having see the sights, want to see something a little different that gives an atmosphere of Eastern Europe and latter day Russia.

Trains from Berlin to Potsdam take 25-30 mins from Berlin Central Station and the town itself also has lots to see on a daytrip and some superb kaffee und kuchen establishments! From Potsdam train station, bus lines 604, 609 and 629 go to the “Am Schragen” stop near the museum.

Alexandrowka English website: https://alexandrowka.de/english/

Posted in ARCHITECTURE, EASTERN EUROPE, TRAVEL | Leave a comment

Jested Tower Space Age TV Transmitter, Czech Republic

Many moons back now (but have just rediscovered pictures) I drove with friends from Berlin to see this Space Age wonder, the Jested Tower in Liberec in the Czech Republic.  Designed by Czech architect Karel Hubáček it was built as a television transmitter and hotel.

I’d seen a model of the tower in the brilliant ‘Cold War Design‘ exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2008 and since then had been itching to see it, so was thrilled when friends from Berlin agreed to drive us there, to Liberec a town near the northern border.

The tower was surprisingly high up with spectacular views. It was quite thrilling to start to see it appearing through the trees like a Bond villian’s lair…

The tower has received a range of accolades, including being voted the most successful domestic architectural work of the 20th century by Czech architects and the transmitter being listed by UNESCO.

Karel Hubáček wanted to design buildings that could “survive morally for a long time without affecting the tastes of the next generations” and pioneered the design of a single structure to house a hotel and television transmitter.  It’s shape was a rotating hyperboloid made of reinforced concrete, which had not yet been used in architecture. The form was chosen to extend the silhouette of the hill and to cope with the extreme climate at the mountain summit.  The design process took place between 1963 and 1966, with construction finished in 1973.

The form of the tower led to later recognition from the prestigious Auguste Perret Award who cited it’s “harmony associated with the surrounding landscape, sophistication of silhouette and resourceful use of construction means”.

Once up close, it was striking how space craft-like it looked, like it had just landed. 

Unfortunately it was a grey day so these pictures aren’t the best, here is a nicer one (source: wikipedia) on a blue sky day!

Once inside, it was super to see that lots of the original Space Age fittings were still in place. Interiors were designed by Otakar Binar (b.1931) who also worked on some high profile cinemas and theatres in the country. The hotel and the restaurant are located in the lowest sections of the tower, with some super views and cosmic styling. 

The tower is 1012 metres above sea level and was so high up that felt like we were hovering and floating serenely in the air at times

Loved finding this old postcard on the Hotel Jested website showing the tower in it’s retro glory

Hearty Czech food….which we swiftly aborted mission on, abandoning it for reliable chips.

Before we left, we snuck upstairs to look at the hotel and were cheered to see some stylish reproductions of 1960s style egg chairs and lights, all in keeping with the era it was built in.

A last look at the view before we started on the descent.  

I really recommend a trip to this little visited region of North Bohemia for a backwater budget break with some oddball sights. Formerly inhabited by Germans, after the war the entire 3 million German population was deported and it was resettled by Czechs from outide the region, meaning it still has a slightly deserted feel to it (which to me always makes somewhere more interesting).  Eastern Europe often reliably delivers on striking colours, inpenetrabe languages of intrigue, strange signage and juxtapositions and this region was no different

Intriguingly, many shops and houses in nearby towns seemed to have some kind of puppet in the window.  We focused on not finding it sinister.  

Some super colourful Eastern Bloc blocks too

This sleepy region is also great for walks, nature, interesting rock formations and fairytale castles, with very few tourists and low prices as a result. We stayed in these very cute wooden huts by a lake which cost peanuts. 

 

Really recommend a Modernist jaunt to Jested if you fancy exploring a sleepy unusual corner of the Czech republic as a contrast with the tourist masses of nearby Prague.

Info

Hotel Jested has very reasonable rates for retro rooms with a view, starting at around £67

Liberec can be reached by bus from Prague in about 1 hour 40, or driven in just over an hour. 

Posted in ARCHITECTURE, DESIGN, EASTERN EUROPE, TRAVEL | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Space Age Soviet buildings and murals

Dug out some pictures of some sensual Soviet buildings and murals I found quite a while back now on my first trip to Eastern Europe, tripping round Latvia and Lithuania and thought it was worth doing a quick retrospective post to celebrate their curves and cosmic coolness!

I stumbled upon this winged beauty whilst exploring Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Later finding out it was the Vilnius Palace of Concerts and Sport it was deemed unsafe in 2004 it is now scheduled to be transformed into one of the leading conference centres in the Baltics in 2022. It is one of the few last arenas in the style of Communist Modernism

This beautiful beast I took a trip to the countryside for especially – Pušynas Hotel built in the 1970s as a spa building in Druskininskai , a spa resort from the Soviet era in the South of the country near the Belarus border. 

    

The aqua water park was built a little later in 1981 and has been refurbished more recently but also had some super shapes and curves.

 Nowadays the resort still has spa facilities and peaceful wooded areas and lakes. However they may still need to update the treatments from the Soviet era – I opted for what turned out to be a sadistic style massage with an unsmiling masseuse who seemed to take pleasure in my yelps, refused to go softer on me and shouted at me in a military fashion….maybe some people find this brings them zen, who knows!?

Here are some intriguing faded murals I found in Riga, Latvia and Vilnius. 

 

Some beautiful austere Soviet buildings in a different style in Riga, very similar to those found in Berlin and Helsinki.

In contrast to these Modernist pieces, I loved the rustic side to life present in the Baltics still, with crumbling old buildings, wooden countryside houses, slow pastoral ways of living and folk art in abundance in rural areas.

 

  

More space age buildings in my next post from Czech republic!

Also check out my previous post about vintage Lithuanian children’s book illustrations found on these travels in a fruitful flea market in Vilnius!

Posted in ARCHITECTURE, DESIGN, EASTERN EUROPE, TRAVEL | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

1960s Soviet pin badges

Was so thrilled to find these stunning psychedelic pin badges from the USSR on a recent trip back to Tallinn, Estonia.  Found at a Russian market there, the colour schemes and design look so contemporary. I love the folk tale feel to them too, coming from a region so rich in these sorts of stories.  These probably date to the 1960s or 70s.

Check out my earlier post on other Soviet pin badge designs from a previous visit to Russian markets in the city, and also my studio visit with Estonian illustrator Jurri Arrak whose 1970s illustration work has a similar aesthetic to these acid coloured beauties.

Posted in ARCHITECTURE, DESIGN, EASTERN EUROPE, ILLUSTRATION, TRAVEL | Leave a comment

1950s – 1970s Folk Festival posters & 1970s Folklore book covers

I was interested to find myself at Cecil Sharp House for a meeting recently in Camden, London.  The only dedicated folk arts centre in the world, Cecil Sharp House is the home of  English Folk Dance and Song Society and opened in 1930.  Named after the English folk dance and song collector Cecil Sharp (1859-1924) it now hosts a busy programme of folk events.

I was was thrilled to find some fantastic mid century folk posters whilst poking around the corridors on my lunch break, as well as some beautiful features to the building itself.  I loved the graphic feel of these late 50’s and early 60’s poster designs for festivals at the Royal Albert Hall – clearly there was a large appetite for folk dance and song at the time.

These later designs from the tail end of the 1960s and the early 1970s show that psychedelia had hit by this time and the folk revival was also clearly in full swing.  Having recently been reading the excellent Electric Eden specifically about this period in music culture, it was great to get a visual flavour of the time through these posters too.

Continue reading

Posted in DESIGN, ILLUSTRATION | Leave a comment

Finnish vintage ceramics design – Birger Kaipiainen

When in Helsinki in Finland a while back I came across the fantastic EMMA museum of modern art in nearby Espoo and loved stumbling upon an exhibition by Finnish ceramicist Birger Kaipiainen (1915-1988)

Continue reading

Posted in ART, DESIGN, TRAVEL | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

1970s Gaelic Book cover illustration

Beautiful book cover illustration from 1970 ‘Gaelic without Groans’ by John Mackechnie.  Love these strong purples, magenta and turquoise, the late 60s / early 70s had the best colour schemes.

Found in a second hand bookshop in Edinburgh, visiting lovely friend, erstwhile collaborator and one of my favourite artists Rachael Macarthur

Published by Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh

Posted in ART, BOOK COVERS, DESIGN, ILLUSTRATION | Leave a comment