Monthly Archives: October 2016

Expressionism and Jugendstil in Northern Germany [A Week in Bremen]

I stayed in northern Germany, just outside of Bremen city with a friend and his host family for a week. The family was kind enough to show me the most important artistic works in the area.

The movement that most contributed to the culture of this part of Germany is apparently expressionism. Expressionism was inspired by works done by German artists like Heinrich Vogeler and Edvard Munch at the end of the 19th century.

To my untrained eyes, much of the work was similar to impressionism. However, after a bit of study, it became clear that this is far from the case.

Expressionism, is dark and abstract compared to impressionism. Impressionism is what the world looks like when your eyesight starts to go. Expressionism is what the world looks like when your mind and emotions start to go.

Impressionism is positive and French. Expressionism is dark and German.

The works of Vogeler may have inspired the expressionists, or they might have only been a precursor to them.

Let’s look at Heinrich Vogeler and his home in the Worpswede to see how this might have unfolded. Also, you might begin to understand the entanglements that all these European artists had with one another during the time period in question.

Heinrich Vogeler and Barkenhoff

These artists were all friends :D

This bust, found at the Barkenhoff, was sculpted by Clara Westhoff, the wife of famous German poet Rainier Maria Rilke

Heinrich Vogeler is the best known artist from Bremen that I’ve been able to find. His works and ideas seem more realistic and more idealistic than the movement that would emerge after his prime.

Vogeler was born in Bremen in 1872 and studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf from 1890 to 1895. His early work was considered Art Nouveau which I am especially attracted to. There is a fantastical precision in the style that draws the eye and captures the imagination. It requires little effort to appreciate excellent Art Nouveau works like this incredible mural found in Vogeler’s Barkenhoff:

Boy did they love their peacocks...This mural at Barkenhoff is a tremendous example of Jugendstil (German Art Nouveau)

Mural with Sketch in Foreground

What is the Barkenhoff?

The Barkenhoff is Vogeler’s residence at the Worpswede. It was designed by Vogeler. He also designed all of the furniture inside while his brother constructed the pieces. The house is featured prominently in some of Vogeler’s most impressive works. The most famous view of the Barkenhoff can be see here:

barkenhoff

What is the Worpswede?

The Worpswede is an artist colony just outside Bremen City. It’s basically a small town created by and for artists. There are a number of interesting museums and galleries presently in the Worpswede. Two of which I’ve visited and will describe in this post: the Barkenhoff and the Museum at Kaffee Worpswede, which is a terrific café and museum designed by Bernhard Hoetger who I will discuss later.

Vogeler’s Product Design

I was especially struck by Vogelers quaint application of Jugendstil to product design. You can see his imagination at work in these household items he designed for the Barkenhoff:

Vogeler Tea Set Fucking peacocks man... Vogeler Chair Me in the Vogeler Mirror

For additional reading on Heinrich Vogeler, see the following:

ODD MAN OUT: HEINRICH VOGELER AND FIN-DE-SIÈCLE WORPSWEDE, Lionel Grossman, 2016, Princeton University

A Biography of Heinrich Vogeler found in the Barkenhoff Museum:

Bernhard Hoetger, Kaffee Worpswede, and Böttcherstraße

Bernhard Hoetger Portrait

Hoetger is possibly the most interesting artistic figure from Northern Germany. His ideas about civilization were so warped and fantastic that even the Nazis laughed him out of the party. Simply put, he thought the Germans were a super race descended from — wait for it — Atlantis.

I guess his ideas were put to the test in WWII.

Anyway, his architecture was a stunning example of expressionism in three-dimensional space. His sculpture work was artfully done and heavily inspired by classical work from all over the world: Egypt, Greece, and the Orient. You can one of my favorite pieces below:

img_3454

And here you can see the café/museum he architected in the Worpwede:

He pioneered expressionist brickwork and was influenced even by native american culture. You can see evidence in the Café above and also in the Niedersachsenstein pictured below:

niedersachsenstein_worpswede

Hoetger also architected a famous street in Bremen called Böttcherstraße. Böttcherstraße is a small alley with art shops and impressive architecture. It’s most interesting feature is a golden sculpture embedded above the entrance. This piece is called Lichtbringer and is meant to “glorify the fuhrer” and his victory over darkness.

The entrance to Böttcherstraße with Lichtbringer

The entrance to Böttcherstraße with Lichtbringer

Note the intricate brickwork. This is a rare example of expressionist architecture that Hoetger pioneered.

Hoetger was kind of a nut. He believed some insane ideas about Germans being descended from Atlantis. He developed a unified theory that involved German superhumans and a common birth point of all world belief systems. Today, we’d call him a conspiracy theorist. You can see the symbolism of his unified theory below:

Additional Artists

There are some additional interesting artists that I learned about while in Bremen.

Paula Modersohn-Becker is a famous painter from the region. She is known as one of the first female artists to convey the female figure nude. While I did not survey her entire ouvré, I was not particularly attracted to what I saw.

Rainer Maria Rilke is a famous German poet who lived in the Worpswede for sometime. He was friends with Modersohn-Becker and Vogeler. His story is crazy. He traveled all over Europe and was a lover to Lou Andreas Salomé who apparently hooked up with half the Germanic intelligentsia of the time (see Nietzsche and Freud). Rainer was born René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef but changed his name to Rainier because Salomé convinced him that it was more masculine.

Eventually he married Clara Westhoff. Westhoff was a tremendous sculptor (see her bronze cast of Heinrich Vogeler above.)

Clara Westhoff was an incredible beauty as well. Although you might not be able to tell by this portrait done by her friend Paula Modersohn-Becker:

A portrait of Clara Rilke-Westhoff by Paula Modersohn-Becker

A portrait of Clara Rilke-Westhoff by Paula Modersohn-Becker

Other Tips for Visiting Bremen

To get around, use a bike. There is a tram system too, but I never really understood it. My host family let me borrow a bike, and that was all I needed. Make sure you use a light when it’s dark.

Wi-Fi

Cafés in Bremen don’t have Wi-Fi. I heard it’s because establishments are responsible for what guests do on their internet network. I don’t know if that’s true, but it makes working out of cafés quite inconvenient. The only place with internet was Starbucks, which is fortunately quite centrally located.

Eating

Eat with locals. The older generation eats a huge lunch. They’re quite good at cooking and know where to find local, responsibly sourced ingredients. This was my habit in Bremen.

There is a pretty restaurant downtown called Alex. It’s tempting because of the location, but don’t go there. The food is shit. I got the fish special for lunch my last day in Bremen. It was cold. Just take my word for it.

Instead, go to the nearby Cafe and Bar Celona on the river. It’s a chain but very nice. Get a small plate of Datteln im Speckmantel (literally: Dates in a Bacon Coat). It’s divine.

Partying

Just ask locals about The Bermuda Triangle. It’s a small square with several freaky bars. There is even one dressed to look like a cave. There is also a bar called Heartbreak Hotel where you should go after every other place closes down because that’s where the last desperate singles go to hook up.

At least, that’s what my friends told me. You’d never find me at such a place XD.

There is a nearby movie theater that does sneak peeks every Monday night. It gets quite busy. We went there but the movie wasn’t in English or even German, so we decided not to see it.

Tips for Traveling to Boston

I lived in Boston for three years, and during that time I ate every single cheeseburger the city had to offer. I’m kind of a foodie. People know this about me.

So when a Dutch friend was going to Boston for a visit, they asked me if I would write some tips for them. I was glad to oblige. Here is what I sent to them:

First of all, the best coffee can be found at one of three places:
  1. Nero on Washington. Go here if you want to sit down and work in a comfortable atmosphere.
  2. Gracenote. Zen. Fast. Quality. Get the Nitro Cold Brew in the summer or the Mocha in the winter.
  3. Wired Puppy. Get anything here. Talk to the Baristas. They know the deal. Perfect for taking a break from your Newbury St. shopping spree.
The best cheap Chinese restaurant is called The Gourmet Dumpling House. It’s in Chinatown. There are pictures of Michael Douglas on the wall.
The best food in Chinatown is found at a restaurant called Shojo. They do fusion American-Asian served tapas style. They play hip hop and have graffiti on the walls. Its fucking awesome. The shojonator burger is incredible.
The best burger in the city is at a cocktail bar called Drink in the seaport. Get there between 5-6pm or you’ll have to wait in line or worse: they’ll run out of the incredible Colorado Wagyu they import just for that burger.
The best brunch is at The Paramount on Charles street. Get there around eight in the morning to avoid an hour or longer wait. It’s very reasonably priced and worth the wait.
Another great brunch option is at Back Bay Social Club. I think they have dollar oysters on Sunday.
Also, try the lemon ricotta French toast at Trident Café. It’s to die for. Trident is an awesome café-bookstore. They even serve wine until midnight on the weekends.
The best Irish meal is the full Irish breakfast at Emmets.
If you like shopping: Charles Street, Newbury Street, Boyleston street, and the prudential center are all hot spots and fairly expensive.
If you like Art, the Museum of Fine Arts is reasonably priced and big enough to take a full day or more to see.
Personally I like the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum even more. Its collection is frozen in time, its story is eccentric, and the building is completely out of place: an old
Italian villa in downtown Boston. So dope.
Visit Harvard and MIT if you want. I don’t think they are that interesting. Unless you go to the MIT museum. I recommend the MIT museum while tripping on some hallucinogenic drug.
Just kidding. Don’t do that. You’ll have a bad time.
If you like karaoke: go to Wild Rover on Friday or Saturday ($10 cover). Or go to Osaka in Brookline for hibachi, sushi, and karaoke. What a great combination.
For a cheap day: walk along the esplanade. Its beautiful and you could sit out with a picnic. Not advisable in the winter.
If you’re in Boston in the winter: sucks to be you.

Advice for New Startup Managers

This is a short list. Not extensive. Just the first things that came to mind.

1. Standup.

Check in with your direct reports on a daily basis. Ask these questions every day: “What did you do? What are you about to do? What’s blocking you?”. Your direct reports should meet with you in a group daily if possible. If not possible, check in with everyone. Encourage daily cross-pollination of ideas by asking simple questions that lower the bar on Slack. Nobody should be afraid to ask anything.

2. Stick to a schedule.

Meet with the same people at the same times. Create meeting rhythm.

3. Work on yourself.

Leaders who inspire growth have high personal growth aspirations. Read more about this in The Extraordinary Leader.

4. Take heed of the pygmalion effect.

Your expectations beget reality so expect great work from people. If your expectations are not met, take close analysis of where the discrepancy occurred.

5. Record your results.

You’ve heard it before: What gets measured, gets managed. I’m here to reinforce the lesson, and make it as easy as possible.

You don’t need fancy technology to record commitments and keep track of KPI’s. You can do it on paper. At Pavlok we used an excel spreadsheet to keep track of the team’s daily Most Important Tasks (MITs). I use a *paper* calendar to keep track of what I put in my body. Start simple and only adopt new technology if it makes the task 10x easier.

At every meeting, someone should take minutes. This is your responsibility as a manager but you can delegate it.

6. Only delegate things if you’ve established a thorough understanding of what will get done.

If you can’t understand what you’re asking someone to do, then you cannot realistically hold them accountable to get it done. This can be hard with technical assignments, and I think it should be done anyway. Your team will respect you more for having a birds-eye understanding of their jobs and skill sets.

7. Make a lot of lists.

8. Set a lot of reminders.

Make calendar events for everything. Even the daily items. Block more time than you think you’ll need. Meditate or journal when you have a free moment between items.

9. Study communication.

Read Difficult Conversations and Nonviolent Communication. Practice these in everyday life. They will be useful to you in all facets of your daily interactions.

Practice active listening.

10. Hire slow. Fire fast.

Use trials and auditions to qualify recruits. It’s ok to spend money on experiments. It’s better to pay someone for a 2 day experiment and then not hire them than to get nothing done or worse: hire the wrong person.

Auditions are great because your hiring process can end up contributing to product development, DevOps, or whatever you’re hiring for.

11. Read.

Scaling Up by those Gazelle people and High Output Management by Andy Grove. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham.

There are obviously a lot more than this but the key is to simply get started.

12. Ask a lot of questions.

Write down the answers and things that you learn. Keep a book and when one or more people give answers that contradict, follow up. Ask “Why” until you really understand it.

Asking questions is so important. It’s OK, even desirable, to look stupid. You should ask the questions you think a total beginner would ask. Even if you think you already know the answer. You learn about the problem and about your team that way.

13. Schedule regular times for reflection.

Preferably on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Review what you’ve done and what you’re about to do. Note the discrepancies and find sticking points.

Call me when you hit the sticking points and we’ll go over them together.

14. Ask for feedback.

Send out a 360 review to people who work directly with you. You will learn a lot about yourself.

15. Think of every meeting as a performance.

Have a script for how things will go. Stick to the agenda, take notes on the agenda, and share with the team.

Art, Design, History and Life: 18 Days in Utrecht

I came to Utrecht from Munich because the weather in Germany was niet goed. Conversely, the weather in the Netherlands has been positively divine. For the first week it felt like the end of summer. Then it was Fall and it rained a day and then it felt like Indian Summer.

Fortunately, I have a dear friend living in Utrecht who agreed to put me up. Every day I would ask her: “Would you be sad if I left tomorrow?”

Every day she would tell me “Yes.”

But after a couple of weeks, I made plans to visit another dear friend in Bremen.

So I’m leaving Utrecht.

Here’s what I learned.

I dont like the right side of the piece

Art and Design (In het nederlands: “Kunst en Ontwerp”)

Ask anyone in Utrecht about important designers from Utrecht and Gerrit Rietveld will come up in short order.

The chair I'm sitting in is Gerrit Rietveld's most famous piece: The Red and Blue Chair.

The chair I’m sitting in is Gerrit Rietveld’s most famous piece: The Red and Blue Chair (1917).

Rietveld is Utrecht’s most famous designer. He was born here. He lived here most of his life. And he died here.

Rietveld was a principle contributor to the De Stijl (Dutch for The Style). De Stijl was an artistic movement among architects and artists from 1917 to 1931. It was principally characterized by an idea that I’m fascinated with: abstraction. In de stijl, color and form is reduced and abstracted to simple horizontal and vertical lines with primary colors.

You’ll probably recognize one of these Piet Mondrians:

composition-a-1923

Composition A (1923)

These guys were all about primary colors.

Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow

composition-with-yellow-blue-and-red

Composition with Yellow, Blue, and Red

The Rietveld-Schröderhuis, located near where I’ve been staying in Utrecht, is the architectural embodiment of De Stijl.

I visited the house multiple times but never got a good picture. It’s a shame because it’s interesting work (even if I, personally, am not a fan).

I like this graphic more than the actual house.

I like this graphic more than the actual house.

The Centraal Museum, across the street from where I’m sitting, first did an exhibition on Rietveld’s work in 1958.

From outside of Utrecht came a number of well known Dutch artists: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer (my personal favorite), and the aforementioned Mondrian.

More recently. I was struck by Alex ten Napel’s work hanging currently in Utrecht’s Foto Galerie.  The collection, called Portraits of Hens and Roosters is a stunning set of prints. Each depicts a hen or rooster in a studio. Apparently Napel spent a year preparing for the shoot. Here’s one of my favorite’s from his website.

Birds are so cool.

Birds are so cool.

Architecture

Wandering the quaint architectural splendor that is Utrecht is a joy.

Everything is constructed to a scale that coincides perfectly with a pleasurable human existence. Cobblestones, trees, and shops nestle intimately with glistening canals. The fractal quality is immensely satisfying.

There are stunning architectural elements everywhere. Gothic and neo-renaissance spaces bump against modernist work.

The Dom Cathedral

The Dom Cathedral

19th Century Neo-renaissance

19th Century Neo-renaissance

A cafe and several houses on the Oudegracht

A cafe and several houses on the Oudegracht

Im not sure what this is.

I’m not sure what this is.

The Dom Toren

The most important landmark in the city is the Dom Toren:

That yellow awning? They sell weed and cappuccinos there.

The Dom Toren dominates the Utrecht skyline. It’s more than 100 meters tall.

I was lucky to be in Utrecht while the Centraal Museum ran it’s exhibition on the Dom. I learned about the history of the 700 year-old tower.

2016-09-25-05-19-49

The view through the Dom Toren

The view through the Dom Toren

The tower was built from 1320-1382 and then renovated multiple times over the next several centuries. Initially the tower was commissioned because some clergymen wanted to display their power and wealth in competition with some other clergymen in what must have been the era’s biggest dick-measuring contest.

Here are some plaques from the Centraal Museum’s Dom Exhibit:

Dom Financing Dom as a Symbol of Power

 

The Netherlands Film Festival

The festival took over the city for most of my stay.

The festival took over the city for most of my stay.

The Netherlands Film Festival is taking place right now so I went to see a movie called The Red Turtle. It was an animated film about a man stranded on a deserted island. He attempts many escapes but is thwarted by a magical red turtle. He manages to kill the magnificent creature but regrets it almost immediately. Eventually he is redeemed.

It was a touching and beautifully imagined film. There is no dialogue, and the themes are universal. The team that made it was Dutch, British, French, Belgian, and Japanese which is a remarkably modern collaboration.

Last night, a friend of mine who works in the arts scene took me to the Utrecht Post Office. It is a grand old building that no longer functions as a post office (there are no post offices in the Netherlands) but serves the community as an event space.

I do not get it either...

That’s the ceiling of the Post Office in Utrecht. Except it’s not actually a post office.

We watched a number of short film pitches. They were not as impressive as the building.

Life in Utrecht

Everybody rides bikes on narrow cobblestone roads that overlook canals. When you order a koffie, they serve it to you with a cookie or small sweet thing. If a place is cozy and pleasant and nice it is gezelligheid.

You get coffee in cafès. You smoke weed in a coffeeshop.

Did I mention they always give you a cookie with your cappuccino?

Working from de koeke fabriek

Working from de koeke fabriek

I’ve consumed a ton of terrible calories the last ten days.

Actually, I’ve been experiencing a renaissance of the carb. It all started last month when I made cinnamon rolls in Boston with my friend Katie.

The experience was practically spiritual. Ever since I’ve been eating carbs like diabetes didn’t run in my family.

Check out these sweet buns:

Smells like God.

Delicious. Thanks Katie.

Ever since then, I’ve had carbs on my brain:

Tastes like a high gluten tolerance.

Tastes like a high gluten tolerance.

Fish shops

You can get a raw haring with onion and pickles for a euro. I wish they had these in the U.S. I wish they had more of them in the Netherlands!

Fish are a super healthy and delicious snack.

Speaking Dutch

In Dutch, “g” is pronounced with a throaty and guttural drawl. There is a rolling “r” that native-english speakers might try with their tongue only to be laughed at because it comes from the top of the throat.

In all, I speak 100x more Dutch then I did before I arrive. My conversations are mostly limited to:

Hallo! Hoe gaat het? (Hello how’s it going?)

Is goed, dankjewel. (It’s good, thank you.) 

Ik wil graag een cappuccino(I’ll have one cappuccino please.)

Waar is de wc? (Where is the bathroom?)

Tipping

I was told by a local to tip 10% on meals. I do more than that at my regular places because I want those people to really like me. Plus I occasionally sit in certain establishments for hours at a time. Getting work done and whatnot.

Cafe de Zaak

Cafe de Zaak is this awesome pub in downtown Utrecht where you can play boardgames, get a haircut, or enjoy a huge patio overlooking a downtown cobblestoned square with many locals. Bring your own food.

BlackBird Vintage Cafe

Blackbird Cafe Exterior

It’s the first day that feels like Fall. Sitting in the BlackBird cafe, I look out at the Oudgracht and watch voetgangers and cyclists going by. A younger tree is already going gold.

Last night I met an actress at a Belgian pub. She had golden hair and admitted to being frightened at everything as a child.

I’m having my nth cappucino this week. They are so good here. The cafe itself is brightly decorated and lit like a sepia photograph of a green room.

The table I’m sitting at is for sale. 150 euros. There’s a half pint of raw sugar in a jar in front of me and a menu that looks like this today:

Blackbird Cafe Menu 2016

Blackbird Cafe Menu 2016

This cafè means a lot to me. I spent more time at this establishment than any other single place while in the Netherlands.

When the Dutch say something is gezelligheid, I think of Blackbird Cafe.

The view from the table at Blackbird

The view from the table at Blackbird