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Design Panoptikum – The Museum of Extraordinary Objects

Design Panoptikum is a unique Berlin museum featuring all kinds of rare and unusual items collected by Russian-born artist Vlad Korneev.

“A Panoptikum”, Korneev says, “is a collection of extraordinary or rare objects” and he really couldn’t find a better way to describe his quirky museum on Torstraße Street, in Berlin. The moment you set foot in his Design Panoptikum, you find yourself surrounded with all kinds of bizarre things, from funky clocks, to odd-looking medical equipment, and even a life-size Power Ranger brought in from Japan.

Vlad Korneev handpicks the exhibits in his museum, from his secret back-alley store, from eBay and even from the junkyard. He carefully and patiently restores every one of them and then proudly displays them in his panoptikum. Visitors can purchase most of the merchandise shown in the main rooms, but the backrooms hold some truly special exhibits that are not for sale, but can be rented for film or fashion shoots. When asked where can find, let’s say, an old airplane engine, Korneev gracefully avoids a straight answer, as his sources are an important secret of the trade.

Among the rarest objects you can find in the Design Panoptikum are a talking dispensing machine, an old birthing doll, one of the earliest electric sun lamps and many other devices that make Vlad Korneev’s museum look like mad scientist’s lab.

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The Incredible Story of Nek Chand’s Rock Garden

The Rock Garden of Chandigarh is a 40-acre park full of plazas, waterfalls and thousands of unique creatures made from recycled materials. It’s a truly impressive sight, but even more so is the story of how Nek Chand spent four decades creating it and how he kept it a secret, for years.

In 1958, Nek Chand was a road inspector for the Public Works Department, and was making rafts and boats to be sail upon the recently created Sukhna Lake, but peddle boats were soon made available for rent by authorities, and his craft was banned. This allowed Nek to devote more time to his passion for rocks and stones, and he began gathering them from the nearby Shivalik Hills, and the Sukhna Cho, Patiala Rao and Ghaggar rivers. It was around this time that the Swiss architect Le Corbusier was asked to design the city of Chandigarh, the first planned city of India, and the small villages around the area were demolished. This provided Nek Chand with plenty of material for his increasing collection of rocks.

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A Farewell to the Nevada Shoe Tree

One of Nevada’s most popular roadside attractions, the Old Shoe Tree, near Middlegate has been cut down by vandals.

The Old Shoe Tree on highway 50 (known as the loneliest road in America) was one of the quirkiest tourist spots in Nevada, featuring hundreds of old shoes hanging from its branches. Its origins aren’t exactly clear, but locals say people started throwing their shoes in it, in the early 1990s.

According to a local legend, the first people ti throw their shoes in the Nevada Shoe Tree were a couple of newlyweds passing through the desert on their way to California. They began to argue, so the groom pulled over near a big cottontree and left his wife there to cool down, and he went to the Middlegate Station Bar, to get a beer. When he came back, his bride was still in a fighting mood, so he took her shoes and tossed them into the tree, than left t get another beer. This time, when he returned, they were able to patch things up, but the shoes remained stuck in the tree, so they just left them there.  Over time, people who stopped to cool off under the cotton tree saw the shoes and threw their own, thus transforming it into a roadside tourist attraction.

Unfortunately, no one will have the opportunity to throw shoes in the Nevada Shoe Tree, or even take photos of it, as it was cut down by vandals, right on New Year’s Eve 2011. Locals are outraged, since the 70-foot cottonwood wasn’t just a symbol of the area, but a big help for local businesses which relied on the tourists it brought in.

The Churchill County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the matter, but sadly, nothing is going to bring back the Old Shoe Tree of Nevada. Check out the photos below, if you’ve never seen it before.

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People Actually Pay to Travel to Hell on Earth

Trying to discover a “cool”, out-of-this-world spot for your next vacation? If you think you’ve seen it all, think again, because the Danakil Desert, in Ethiopia will blow you mind. Toxic gases, violent vulcanos, sulphurous lakes, fiery air temperatures make this place what many would call hell on Earth.

Although it’s among the most inhospitable places in the world, there are many “people happy to pay for a two-week tour,” as Tom Pfeiffer, German vulcanologist and founder of VulcanoDiscovery, said. It probably has something to do with man’s desire to travel to other planets, as this is exactly the feeling you get in this unearthly environment.

Judging by the “beauty” of the Danakil Desert, you’d think people would have to be paid in order to agree to come here, but in fact, daredevils pay over $4,600 for a three week tour that starts in Addis Ababa. There aren’t any four star hotels here, but tourists get to enjoy unique, incredible sights that can never compare to chilling by the pool. However, if you’re thinking about traveling to Danakil, you should know you’ll be facing harsh heats and some of the strangest smells imaginable.

 

photo credits

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Bugarach – The French Village That Will Survive 2012 Armageddon

Armageddon, the end of the world predicted by the ancient Maya for December 2012, is  a very popular subject these days. In fact, it’s so popular that places considered sacred and safe have become the target of many esoteric outsiders.

This is also the case of Bugarach, a peaceful French farming village, located on one of the “sacred mountains” and, believed to be an “alien garage” where aliens await, underground, for the world to end. Many believe that by coming here, they have a chance to be rescued by the aliens, while the rest of the world goes down in flames.

It might sound funny to you, but for mayor Jean-Pierre Delord, this isn’t a joke, as he said in an interview “If tomorrow 10,000 people turn up, as a village of 200 people we will not be able to cope. I have informed the regional authorities of our concerns and want the army to be at hand if necessary come December 2012.” And with all the sites and articles on the internet talking about the UFOs and advising people to go to Bugarach to seek shelter, the army may have their hands full when the time comes.

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Big Knit Café – Where Knitting Goes Well with Coffee

Knitting is mostly known as a favorite grannies all around the world, but at Bangkok’s Big Knit Café, it’s practiced by crafty young professionals trying to unwind.

Who would have thought knitting could be the recipe of a truly successful café business? Not many people, I’m sure, but that didn’t stop Khun Nice from starting Big Knit Café, a now internationally known venue where anyone can savor a cup of coffee or a tasty piece of cake, while knitting and learning new tips from local crafters. Even if you don’t know the first thing about knitting, all you need to do is buy a kit, and the staff at Big Knit Café will teach you everything there is to know.

Apart from all the cakes, pastry delicacies and drinks, Big Knit Café also offers a large colorful collection of yarn, from cotton and bamboo to alpaca and cashmere. The walls are practically lined with rows of yarn, and all customers have to do is decide on type and color.

Big Knit Café is far from being a knitting spot for grannies, as the place is visited by women of all ages, even college students and children, eager to discover the secrets of the art. Even some Thai celebrities stop by Big Knit Café, every once in a while, to relax in a nice, friendly atmosphere.

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Kobe Luminarie – Japan’s Festival of Light

Kobe Luminarie is an extraordinary light festival that takes place every December, in commemoration of the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995.

The first edition Kobe Luminarie took place in December of 1995, as a memorial to the lives lost in the terrible earthquake of January 17. It was entitled “Dreams and Light” and was a message of hope that two and a half million people came to see, on the first day. Following the success of the first festival, Kobe Luminarie became a yearly event that celebrates Kobe’s remarkable recovery from disaster.

Various light decorations are created from millions of small light bulbs and LEDs, from bright arches to citadels and whatever else Italian designer Valerio Festi and his team decide on. Since the name of the festival comes from the plural of the Italian “luminaria” -which means light decoration – the decision of employing an Italian team must not have been incidental. Every year, the theme of Kobe Luminarie changes, and that has people from all over the world coming back year after year, to see the new light structures. Approximately five million people attend the Kobe Luminarie every year.

Apart from the beautiful light structures, another impressive aspect of Kobe Luminarie is that it relies on its audience to keep going. Visitors support the event by putting coins in the donation boxes set up around the brightly lit structures, and this assures the funding for next year’s festival. A great way to show appreciation, considering the entrance if free of charge…

Just to be clear, Kobe Luminarie has nothing to do with Christmas, despite the common colorful-lights theme. This year, the festival of light took place between December 2-13, and was named “Il cuore nella luce” (The heart in the light).

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The House of the Beautiful Flowers – A Retirement Home for Prostitutes

Casa Xochiquetzal (The House of the Beautiful Flowers) is a retirement home for prostitutes, established in Mexico City’s  Tepito neighborhood, that got it’s name from the Aztec goddess of love and women.

The center was founded in 2007 by a former prostitute, Carmen Munoz, impressed by the old sex workers she saw sleeping in the streets. And it wasn’t easy at all. It took years of lobbying for her to get the support of the government and local media. Andres Manuel Lopes Obrador, mayor at the time,  gave her a dilapidated 18th century house, which she transformed into what is now home for 23 old prostitutes, with available accommodations for 45 women. They have to fulfill one condition, other than the obvious one, being a former sex worker, and that regards their age – women have to be at least 60 years old. Interestingly enough, even if they aren’t required to, many of the prostitutes choose to continue practicing their job.

In most cases, they have been sold as young girls or even as children and forced into prostitution, thereby no contact with their families has been kept. Although most of them can still work, the money is very little, compared to what younger women earn, and this makes it impossible for them to survive by themselves, so Casa Xochiquetzal comes as somewhat of a blessing.

Although they display a lot of joy and seem to have a lot of fun together, almost every one of the old prostitutes hides a trace of sadness, especially when it comes to their children who barely remember they exist, much less come to visit them at the House of the Beautiful Flowers.

This story is part of a documentary that CNN made for the launch of VICE magazine in Mexico. Bernardo Loyola, producer of this documentary, confesses he found this weird and quite “different”, but nevertheless, he was impressed by the power these women have to continue with their lives, no matter the difficulties. For him, the visit at the House of the Beautiful Flowers was a turning point that totally changed his perception of prostitution.

 

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Conflict Kitchen – Pittsburgh’s Unique Restaurant

Conflict Kitchen is a unique take-out restaurant that only serves foods from countries the United States is in conflict with.

Although some people might get the idea that Conflict Kitchen is just a way of cashing out on the war on terror, the Pittsburgh establishment is much more than just a great marketing idea. Yeah, they serve some of the most popular dishes from countries like Afghanistan or Iran, developed in collaboration with actual members of Afghan and Iranian communities, Conflict Kitchen also offers important insight into the culture of these countries a lot of people know nothing about (except that they’re the enemy). Every order that goes out the take-out storefront is served in a custom wrapper featuring interviews with members of the Afghan community living both in their home country or the US, on issues ranging from culture and ideology to serious geopolitical issues.

Every four months, Conflict Kitchen changes its focus from one country to another, and every iteration features events, performances and discussions on the problems the country faces, thus allowing attendants to learn more about these nations and their role in the conflict with America.

So far, Conflict Kitchen has covered the Iranian and Afghan cuisines, but they’re preparing for iterations that will focus on North Korea, Venezuela and more.

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Taiwanese Brothel Is Being Re-opened as a Museum

What was once the place of entertainment for soldiers stationed on Kinmen Island, Taiwan, is now being re-opened as a unique museum. Hsu Ying-fan says the museum’s sole purpose is that of giving  visitors a general idea on the so-called Military Paradise and what it served for.

Bearing an euphemistic name, “The Special Tea House Museum“, this one of a kind place features one of a kind “art”. Here you can find displays of photography or posters depicting the brothel’s noonday and also samples of tickets bought by soldiers who were waiting for their turn.

The brothel was closed in 1990 due to criticism manifested mainly by local woman’s groups, and with it being re-opened as a museum, officials are hopping the island will become a tourist attraction.

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Malaysia’s Unique Oil Rig Hotel

Once just another oil rig used to pollute the ocean, Malaysia’s Seaventures Dive Resort is now one of the most popular diving spots in the Pacific Ocean.

The waters surrounding an oil rig are probably the last place you’d imagine to find such an amazing array of coral reefs, and a diverse marine life, made up of hundreds of species of colorful tropical fish, sea turtles and other marvelous creatures. But this particular oil rig is actually a hotel where divers from around the world book rooms, so they can be close to Sipadan Island, known for its incredibly beautiful underwater scenery.

The oil rig sitting in the Celebes Sea is owned by Suzette Harris, an Singaporean business woman whose father in law bought the metal monster, in 1988. She says in Singapore you can buy a used oil rig, just as easy as you would an old boat. After buying it, he had it towed to Borneo waters and started this unique diving hotel.

While they tried painting it in lively colors, to give it a welcoming look, there’s just so much you can do with an oil rig, and visitors should not expect five-star accommodations. The rooms are tidy but tiny, there’s hardly any closet space and the air smells from the oil powering the generators. The food isn’t exactly gourmet either, but tourists who stay at the oil rig hotel, don’t care much about these details. To them it’s all about being at the heart of the Coral Triangle, an area with a rich marine diversity.

Seaventures Dive Resort may not be as luxurious as I’m sure many other hotels in Malaysia, but it’s unique setting, and the fact that it’s the only oil rig hotel in the world, make it one of the world’s most popular tourist resorts.

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The All Saints Day Giant Kite Festival of Guatemala

Every November 1st, the people of Santiago Sacatepéquez , Guatemala celebrate the Day of the Dead by flying giant colorful kites, during the All Saints Day Kite Festival.

Known as “barilletas gigantes” in Spanish, the giant kites of Santiago Sacatepéquez are masterpieces that take great skill and patience to complete. Months before the Kite Festival, teams of people begin work on the colorful kites that will bring them great honor and the respect of their peers, on the big day. A giant kite is made of cloth and paper tied to a bamboo frame, and features a colorful design, usually with a religious or folkloric theme. In recent years, designs have been hinting at the ever-growing corruption of the Guatemala government.

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China Showcases the World’s Largest Luminous Pearl

A mystery to the western world, luminous pearls are legendary in China, and people go to great lengths for a chance to even touch one of them. The largest luminous pearl has just been placed on display, in China’s Hainan province.

Very little is known about the giant green pearls of China. The few who actually have heard of these remarkable jewels refer to them as “Yemengzhu” and praise them to be rarities that bring good luck. They have been a part of Chinese legends for centuries, and people there believe that just touching them can bring great fortune and prosperity. But this kind of myths are all to common in a traditional country like China, and what makes Yemengzhu special has little to do with local lore.

Luminous pearls are wonders of the mineral world that shine in the dark without the help of ultraviolet light. This kind of Fluorite is so rare that western geology don’t even recognize its existence, and the Chinese only discovered the first one in 1982, at a Tungsten mine, in Guangdong. Since then, bigger and bigger deposits were discovered, and the largest one yet weighs 6 tons and is 1.6 meters in diameter. When it was discovered, it had an irregular shape, but was ground in the form of a sphere. The process took three years to complete, because of its tough nature, comparable to the finest grade of diamonds.

The largest luminous pearl is currently exhibited in Wenchang, China’s Hainan province, and has been appraised at 2.2 billion yuan ($331 million).

 

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Khalid Nabi – Not Your Average Cemetery

The Khalid Nabi cemetery, in northern Iran has become a popular attraction for both locals and tourists, because of its strange tombstones shaped as male and female sexual organs.

Scientists say the bizarre cemetery is around 1,400 years old, and judging by the number of headstones, it’s the final resting place of at least 600 people, the most important of which is Khalid Nabi, a prophet born 40 years before Muhammad. You’d be inclined to be believe most people come to the cemetery as pilgrims to a prophet’s grave, but you couldn’t be more wrong; they actually come to see the penis and breast-shaped tombstones.

Nobody knows exactly what the 6-foot-tall columns shaped like phalluses and the smaller, cross like-headstones that resemble female breasts are meant to symbolize, but the mere fact that a wacky attraction like the Khalid Nabi cemetery gets this kind of attention, in a country like Iran, is weird enough. Some scientists say the weird tombstones could have been influenced by the phallic religion practiced in India and central Asia, but most of the visitors don’t even care, they just came here to see some funny penis-shaped rocks.

I’m just not sure who Iran is going to blame for this, but I’m sure they’ll somehow relate the phallus stones to some “capitalist pigs”.

 

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Just What the World Needed – Hello Kitty Theme park Opens in Tokyo

As if the world didn’t have enough of their annoying icon, Hello Kitty, the Japanese thought they’d open a new theme park as well.

If you’re a regular visitor of Oddity Central, you probably already know I’m not the world’s biggest Hello Kitty fan. I’ve featured quite a few strange Hello Kitty stuff, from a pink assault rifle to a Hello Kitty-themed Ferrari. Now, it brings me great…honor to present to you Hello Kitty’s Kawaii Paradise, a Hello Kitty theme park that just opened in Tokyo.

I guess the Japanese didn’t want to look bad, after their Chinese neighbors built a Hello Kitty castle, and a nice new pink theme park was just the thing. Located on Odaiba Island, Hello Kitty Kawaii Paradise opened on October 22nd, and hopes to attract as many as 700,000 Hello Kitty fans in its first year. While the despicable icon has tons of fans in Japan’s capital, not many of them bothered to check out the theme park, probably because Odaiba is quite a long way from central Tokyo, and many of them don’t care to make the long trip. Let’s just hope the place stays empty and they’ll be forced to close it down soon, because unless you’re the Pink Lady, human eyesight just can’t handle all that pink.

In case you’re interested, the 10,000 square-foot park features a big Hello Kitty shop, where you can find all kinds of accessories, toys and other pink junk, a Hello Kitty pancake restaurant, a small theater, a big statue of Hello Kitty and a whole bunch of other pink, girly stuff fans go crazy about.

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