City between sea and sky.
The natural beauty.
The natural beauty of this western Canadian metropolis is unmatched – except perhaps by the richness of its own cultural heritage.
Viewed from inside a kayak, Vancouver resembles a vast open-air fitness studio. Waves lap softly against the boat, gulls wheel through the sky, and there’s activity everywhere. Sailboats ply the waters, athletic-looking upright paddlers glide underneath the Granville Bridge, while joggers, rollerbladers and cyclists flit past each other on the Sea Wall shoreline promenade. “Most people in Vancouver are pretty darned fit,” says Tessa Mul. The sandy blonde, 28-year-old Dutch kayaking instructor herself belongs to that select group of people who exist without a trace of excess body fat. Six years ago, Mul came to Canada’s west coast for an internship and chose to stay on in this dynamic, multicultural city. “People here prefer spending their time outdoors,” she says, with culture tending to take a back seat. “That’s what takes its place – right over there,” says Mul, pointing a dripping paddle at Stanley Park, a sprawling urban forest filled with stately trees, mosses and ferns. The peninsula has been a natural reserve since the 19th century, off-limits to all development.
The city’s location.
When Vancouver’s residents gush about the virtues of their hometown, the first thing they usually mention is the magnificent setting of this two-million-strong metropolis: the fjord-like bays, beaches and mountains blanketed by dense forests. The city’s location makes it ideal for such diverse outdoor pursuits as hiking, mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding. There are people here whose fitness regimen consists of running up nearby Grouse Mountain several times a week – all 853 meters (2,800 ft) of it. The outdoor look is omnipresent, even amid the downtown skyscrapers. “Gore-Tex jackets, fleeces and running tights are fashionable pretty much everywhere in Vancouver,” says Nicole Bridger. “As a fashion designer, that presents me with certain difficulties.” The designer is perched on a sofa in her cozy boutique in the trendy historical district of Gastown. The walls are unadorned brick; assorted books and magazines invite visitors to sit down and stay awhile.
The 34-year-old describes her environmentally-friendly fashion label as “casual elegant” and “sexy, but comfortable”. Her collections are manufactured at the label’s own factory in Vancouver. Bridger has set the bar quite high for herself: a shop in Toronto is currently in the process of opening, with dozens of other boutiques set to follow. “There’s a big attitude shift underway right now with consumers,” she explains. “People are starting to prefer fair trade, environmentally-friendly fabrics and sustainable, high-quality clothing that doesn’t just stay fashionable for a single season.” Vancouver, she maintains, is at the forefront of this development, and most residents of the city, which was the birthplace of the environmental group Greenpeace in 1971, are ecologically-oriented, health-conscious and open-minded. Her train of thought is interrupted when a friend calls to discuss a planned weekend hiking trip. Bridger, as it happens, is a devoted outdoor enthusiast herself.
There are exceptions to the rule, of course. “As someone who doesn’t even know how to swim, I’m sort of a fish out of water in this town,” says Ron Terada with a grin. The 47-year-old stands inside a tiny gallery that’s hidden among inconspicuous offices. Anyone interested in viewing his small exhibition has to ask for the key in the bookstore on the first floor.
“It’s not very glamorous,” admits the artist, “but I like this space.” Behind him hang fictional movie posters for spaghetti westerns. Terada has set their titles in a font that’s very difficult to read. “Vancouver is a strange city,” reflects the horn-rimmed glasses-clad artist as he sips his coffee. “We have world-famous artists like Jeff Wall, Stan Douglas and Rodney Graham. But nobody here even knows they exist.” He shrugs his shoulders: “It’s the wild west.” Even so, says Terada, “Made in Vancouver” is considered a quality guarantee of sorts in the international art scene. The artist ironically comments on this state of his affairs in his works by regularly integrating a street sign into them that reads “Entering City of Vancouver”. Terada’s most radical work to date was an exhibition in the Vancouver Gallery of Contemporary Art which completely eschewed any objets d’art in favour of a high-quality catalog. All that was visible on the walls were the names and corporate logos of the sponsors who had been willing to finance the daringly pointed exhibit.
Sushi and totem poles.
Terada’s Japanese roots, says the artist, are hardly worth mentioning. “Am I supposed to paint on rice paper just because my ancestors came from Asia?” In Vancouver, where sushi and dim sum are much more widely consumed than burgers, having Asian ancestry is nothing unusual. There are roughly 400,000 people of Chinese descent living in the metropolitan region. A much smaller portion of the population consists of so-called “First Nations”, or native inhabitants. Some native groups continue to struggle with the Canadian authorities about the extent of their rights. “It’s an extremely complicated process,” says Pam Brown, curator of the Museum of Anthropology, “made even more difficult by the existence of 196 different First Nation groups in British Columbia.” The 62-year-old herself belongs to the Heiltsuk, a numerically small people that inhabits an island north of Vancouver. Brown strolls through the museum’s central hall, past canoes, larger-than-life wooden statues and totem poles. “Over the last few years, we’ve installed more and more explanatory panels that deal with the origins of our exhibits and the individual family histories behind them.” The museum houses one of the world’s most important collections of native artwork.
So maybe Vancouver doesn’t really suffer from a dearth of culture after all.
The innate power of the statues, masks, canoes, baskets, blankets and chests on display in the Arthur Erickson Building never ceases to captivate visitors. “We are involved in ongoing negotiations with representatives of the various nations and clans,” explains Brown. “What one group considers just an art object might be holy to another.” Discussions about appropriate ways to exhibit a particular item can drag on for years: “This type of intense discussion is vitally important for the identities of a lot of people.”
So maybe Vancouver doesn’t really suffer from a dearth of culture after all. The key is not to sprint past it all while out for your morning jog. Who knows – you might end up discovering something just as thrilling as a downhill surge on a mountain bike.
Sushi without airs.
Everyone has eaten at Hidekazu Tojo’s place: actors, singers, industrialists, politicians, even the Emperor of Japan. The little fellow with the impressive moustache has long since been a star himself, and an end-of-evening souvenir photo with the head chef is part and parcel of the light-hearted sushi master’s routine. His magic word “Oishiiiiii” (“dee-licious”) never fails to elicit smiles from his guests. In 1971, when Tojo arrived here aged 21, Japanese cuisine was a complete unknown in Vancouver. Nowadays it’s easier to get sushi, sashimi and ramen in the strongly Asian-influenced city than it is to find a decent hamburger. Tojo, whose unorthodox approach met with stiff resistance in his native Japan, went on to create an innovative form of sushi cuisine in Canada. Today, the inventor of the California Roll – an inside-out maki roll containing cucumber, crabmeat and avocado – heads up a top-class restaurant. In the open kitchen, proceedings are relaxed. Tojo has assembled a troop of dedicated assistants, all of whom absolve their jobs with great concentration – and enjoyment, as is evident when the entire team regularly breaks into peals of laughter. To experience Tojo at his best, order the multi-course Omakase dinner and let the master surprise you.
It ’ s almost impossible to avoid having a glass of pumpkin beer, blackberry beer or grape beer on a visit to the North American west coast these days. The craft beer scene is huge, and the specialty beer business is booming. Vancouver boasts 17 breweries, five brew pubs and 12 tap rooms. “Us small brewers can pretty much do what we like here,” says Chris Charron, the 28-year-old brewmaster of the Steel Toad Brewery. A riff on Berlin-style wheat beer with a raspberry aroma? An English bitter with notes of apple? Anything is possible. “The last thing I have to worry about here is some traditionalist accusing me of messing up the pilsener,” says Charron. Whatever concoction he produces, it doesn’t need to prove itself in the retail arena – such specialty brews are only available at Charron’s own establishment. Which explains why he attempts new variations, nuances and experiments almost every single week. “It’s a type of freedom that’s really exhilarating,” he says. His stylish beer hall opened in the former Olympic Village almost a year ago. To accompany the ingeniously hopped beverages there’s also food that goes far beyond what one would expect from traditional pub fare. The multi-story tomato salad is a must-have.
Ham hock with lobster.
When Michelin- starred chef Stefan Hartmann decided to close both of his Berlin restaurants in 2014, the obvious question was: “What next?” “The opportunity to develop a new restaurant in Canada couldn’t have come at a better time,” says the 38-year-old. His latest project is called Bauhaus. “Not to be confused with ‘Brauhaus’,” says Hartmann with a chuckle. He aims to fashion the locale into one of Vancouver’s best. Housed in a historic brick building in the middle of Gastown, Vancouver’s liveliest nightlife destination, the restaurant serves up modern German cuisine with a Canadian twist: black grouper with mussels and root vegetables, for instance, or ham hock with lobster. Hartmann’s cooking is straightforward and elegant with an emphasis on high-quality culinary craft – typically German, one might say, which is exactly Hartmann’s intention. “Chinese patrons are particularly fond of us,” explains the chef. “They know how to appreciate good food.” The exceptional quality of the local produce took Hartmann by surprise. “People always think that Canada is way up north somewhere – but actually, Vancouver is on the same latitude as Stuttgart.”
Something for everyone - even Lady Gaga.
At the outset of redesigning all 96 rooms at the Opus Vancouver two years ago, the design team created five characters, intended to represent the hotel’s prototypical guests: Pierre, the Parisian restaurant critic, Dede, the actress from Los Angeles, Mike, the gay doctor from New York, and Billy, the rock musician from London. And last but certainly not least, Susan, the child-friendly yoga enthusiast from Toronto. To satisfy the whims of these five fictitious muses, five varied design concepts were developed based on different color scales, art objects and even music playlists.
Irrespective of type, all the rooms have iPads, espresso machines and free rental bicycles. The Opus is colourful, cool and just a bit retro. No wonder that it’s also a favourite with celebrities: Lady Gaga has stayed here, despite being a square peg with respect to the schemes.
Fitness path with a view.
English Bay Beach is the perfect place to strap on your jogging shoes, join the endless stream of runners and experience one of the world’s most spectacular running trails. The path leads ten kilometers (six miles) along the edge of Stanley Park, around the green peninsula’s circumference – water on one side, the stately trees of the forest preserve on the other. On it continues past beaches, cliffs and a bronze statue called “Girl in a Wetsuit”, then finally past the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club and the Rowing Club. Watch out: joggers are permitted to run in both directions, but cyclists and rollerbladers must go counterclockwise.