One of the things I ached for in Berlin was open, wild space. There are lots of popular lakes and forests on the outskirts of Berlin – we visited a couple, but didn’t really get to know them. Thanks to generous Berliner friends however, we were lucky to have a couple of beautiful excursions out of the city.
It’s easy to forget that Germany is not Berlin. Germany truly is made up of lots of small Brothers Grimm villages, most with their own brewery. Note to kids: We are not on the set of Shrek – this is all really, really old. And real humans live here.
There is a magical story to share later about a double bass… But part of the story’s magic is the fairytale village of Bad Münstereifel, near Köln (Cologne).
We made some wonderful friends in Berlin, including Jens, Sofie and Daphne They generously lent us their ‘barn’ on the outskirts of Rhüden, near the Harz mountains. A joy to watch the Autumn storms roll across the fields and to collect windfall apples.
Exploring the nearby Harz mountains, we visited the UNESCO world heritage town of Goslar.
Food is core to all cultures. The growing, harvesting, preparing and sharing of it. The regional flavours, traditions, recipes and festivals.
In Berlin we lived a block away from Marhieneke Markthalle, a fabulous fresh produce market, where each deli has it’s own small cafe, serving great value meals. I cried when I visited Berlin recently and the two man-mountains in line before me took the last two serves of Bratkartoffeln. Didn’t they understand I’d travelled all the way from Melbourne just for potatoes fried with bratwurst? And I don’t even eat bratwurst…. usually.
Unlike Melbourne, the seasons in Berlin arrive confidently and with them celebrated foods.
Spring = Spargel
Germans love this white asparagus. Huts appear on street corners. Kids miss school to help harvest the spargel and be Spargel King or Queen in the local spargel festival. Restaurants adapt their menu to include spargel in every dish, cooked every possible way. There was really no way to avoid this pale, phallic vegetable.
So I put on my best German Hausfrau apron and grilled, steamed and pureed spargel. It was a bit bland and boring really – which I mostly blame on my cooking. I think the real joy of spargel is that it heralds longer, warmer days ahead.
Summer = Strawberries
German strawberries have ruined me. I’m doomed to never enjoy another strawberry; fresh, on a tart, in jam… they just cannot compare to the sweet perfection of German strawberries.
In summer huts appeared all over the city selling large balsa punnets of freshly picked strawberries. Easily located by following the fragrance.
I made the best strawberry jam… ever!
Autumn = apples
We were lucky to stay at our friend Jens’ barn near the Harz mountains. This 3 storey barn (with indoor pool) is on the edge of a village. Nick and I walked through the fields after a storm passed. Windfall apples covered the ground where old, solitary apple trees stood between the rows of corn.
Winter = Weihnachtsmarkt
There are so many special German Christmas foods… most include marzipan, so let’s leave those ones out. We discovered that each of the Weihnachtsmarkt in Berlin had their own specialities and flavours. This was true in Hamburg too, where we sampled delicious deep-fried battered cauliflower (German pakoras).
It’s very convivial to sit on stools around a large fire/open air kitchen, where a half dozen men cook a dozen varieties of sausage. Matched with an equal range of condiments. Meeting friends. Buying kitsch glass Christmas ornaments and drinking gluhwein. The night air below freezing. Enormous Christmas trees looking right at home. All under sparkling lights.
Yes, I’ll have another gluhwein danke… after all, I’m taking the uBahn home.
Berlin is a great city to ride a bike. For starters it’s totally flat, practically all roads have a dedicated bike lane and it’s quick to get around. On Sundays families load up their bikes with picnics, children, pets, scooters, trailers… and ride into the distance.
But. Berlin is never boring. There are many other ways to get from A to B….
Beautifully restored butcher’s bicycle from the 1920’s
Kinder school bus. Rain, snow or sun… the kinder kids go to the park everyday.
The Berlin underground is brilliant. Living in Berlin we depended on the U Bahn daily. It’s clean, reliable and safe. We’re all seriously peeved when we need to wait five minutes for a train. “Trains run every two to five minutes during peak hours, every five minutes for the rest of the day and every ten minutes in the evening.” (Wikipedia)
The U Bahn has consistently easy to understand signage, so getting lost wasn’t an issue. Charmingly each station has it’s own ‘look’. Ours wasn’t winning any design awards.
This is just a taste of some of the U Bahn stations…
The longest time it takes us to get from home to anywhere on Berlin public transport is 30 minutes – just ask Google Maps.
The Ubahn opened in 1902 and has over 170 stations. With the building of the Berlin Wall some stations became ghost stations and didn’t re-open until 1990.
It’s possible to take an underground railway tour – sitting on exposed bogeys like coal miners. (Commentary is only in German.) I can’t tell you how strange it is to see one of these trains passing through the station.
This is kind of weird Source: BVG
The station platform stays at a comfortable 20 degrees year round. Worthy shelter when the weather above ground becomes too inclement for drinking. The convivial drunks that populate benches 1&2 at Gneisenaustrasse Station may look dishevelled and smell bad, but their dogs are the most well behaved, well fed, cleaned and groomed that you will find in the city.
And if the train is taking more than 5 minutes… then the tiles make a great backdrop for reluctant subjects…
Berlin embraces street art with a similar enthusiasm to Melbourne. 27 years ago I took photos of the five-storey murals painted on West Berlin apartment firewalls. This time there’s street art large and tiny all over the city.
Commissioned public art still exists. Since the wall came down in 1989 graffiti and murals have appeared in what was East Berlin – most notably the tourist attraction of East Side Gallery – a long section of remaining wall along the Spree river.
Here are a few of my favourite street artists/work from our neighbourhood; Kreuzberg.
Inevitable? There are winners and there are losers.
Berlin local government has banned AirBnB apartments, with the argument that they tie up rental real estate that could be leased to local people. Seems to be ineffective on every level. But has led to some interesting graphics.
I think I can credit Fe Siseman and David Hodges for my interest in manhole/drain covers. Turns out there is often wonderful civic and creative pride taken in the creation of these basic utility items.