Sunday, December 13, 2009

Weinachtsmänner & Weinachtsbaum

Yesterday I met a friend at the Potsdamer Platz Christmas Market. Man, I cannot WAIT to try tubing down the fake snowhill there!
It was raining, so we took a quick spin through the market, then took shelter at a nearby coffee shop for a while. The rain, however, just got worse, until it was sleeting, and then suddenly--snow. It was snowing!
I had forgotten an umbrella and wasn't wearing a hat and dear God it was freezing cold, but I was somewhat protected in the bus shelter and just tried to enjoy the pretty swirling whiteness.
But the bus was taking for-freakin-ever and my toesies were starting to freeze even in my sturdy Scottish hiking boots! I was just starting to get grumpy when the presumed reason for the delay rounded the corner: a police motorcycle, lights flashing, leading a motorcade.
"Great," I thought, "some politician needs to come through this way and I get to freeze because my bus is delayed."
But then I heard what sounded like a marching band. And instead of the usual black cars, there was a big ole truck behind the police cars. And what was inside it? An orchestra, all the members wearing santa hats and playing Christmas songs. I grinned big. Totally worth the wait!
But I didn't even know the half of it...
Behind the truck came an army of motorcycles, each being driven by someone in a Santa suit! Some had angels or polar bears behind them or in sidecars, and all were decorated with flashing lights and Christmas paraphernalia. They were grinning and waving despite the cold and all of us huddled under the bus shelter grinned and waved back. It was so awesome!
I took some pictures and a video:


video
See how dark it is? Yeah, four o'clock in the afternoon. Sigh. I think I have S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder).
So "Santa Claus" auf Deutsch is "der Weinachtsman." At least I think so. To be honest, I'm not really 100% clear on the difference between the Weinachtsman and St. Nikolaus. St. Nikolaus Day is December 6th and that's when people (kids mostly I guess) put their shoes out to get gifts in them overnight. Bad kids get rocks. Really bad kids get a wooden switch to get beaten with. If you're not good, St. Nikolaus will go totally Grimm Brothers on yo ass.
I bought a small Christmas tree for the apartment yesterday because it is absolutely ripping my soul in two not to be going home for Christmas and I wanted something festive and homey. Maybe it was a waste of money, but I sure like having it in the room.
Carrying it home on the U-Bahn was fun.
Here's how it looks:

I picked up the Santa glasses at a party last night...I can't decide if they're super awesome on the tree or super creepy. Thoughts?
Here's how it looks in the dark, with the Rathaus tower illuminated in the background:

Check out Jim Gaffigan's take on the tradition of Christmas trees:

He cracks me up...one of my favorite comedians. I was listening to him on the U-Bahn today and had to stifle my laughter.
Bis bald,
D.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Weinachtsmärkte

Around this time of year in Germany, every available plaza is turned into a winter wonderland. Small little huts are erected, artificial ponds iced over, and fun carnival rides set up. These are Christmas markets (Weinachtsmärkte), and there are supposedly 60 in Berlin alone!
Many of the Weinachtsmärkte traditions are centered around food and drink (my kinda traditions), including:
-Glühwein
-Lebkuchen (gingerbread)
-Stollen (fruit cake-esque breadstuffs)
-Schaumküssen (little marshmallow domes covered in flavored chocolate)
-Quarkbällchen (deep-fried balls of quark, a kind of white cheese which German people tend to eat in a dessert-y context)
-Berliner (jelly doughnuts)
-Every kind of sausage (wurst) under the sun
-Several variations of potato (Kartoffel) products (drool)
-Gulash mit Nudeln
-Mushrooms (Champignon) and cauliflower (Blumenkohl) in sauce
-chocolate (Schokolade) covered apples (Äpfel) and bananas (Bananen) and candy apples
-Roasted nuts (Nüssen) of every type, including hazelnuts (Mandeln) with multiple flavors, including spicy chili!
And much, much, more (not all of it traditional...there's an "Asia-Imbiß" (Asian snack stand) at one market).
Tonight I went to Berliner Weinachtszeit, the market by the Rote Rathaus, for dinner. I stopped by a stand with a freestanding stone oven next to it. They were pulling out pan after pan of fresh-baked bread. It smelled amazing. They then proceeded to stuff it with cheese and ham and slap some sour cream and herbs on top. You bets believe I got me some o that.
I continued to wander, picked up some Christmas gifts, and eventually also sampled a fresh apple-stuffed pastry. Mmm.
I also picked up some roasted peanuts to take home. Glorious.
I visited that market and the main Alexanderplatz one on Sunday afternoon and took some pictures.
These gingerbread hearts with love messages written on them in frosting were a fixture at Oktoberfest and it turns out they are at Christmas markets too:

My friend and I were thrilled with one elaborate ornament shop with an entire section devoted to food ornaments. Trust the Germans to make Christmas ornaments devoted to booze:

And they had CHEESE ones as well:

There was also a marine mammals section...I ask you, who wouldn't want a little Christmas walrus to brighten up their day?

We were joking about having a living room full of themed Christmas trees. If I win the lottery...
In the Rathaus market, there's a big ferris wheel:

MEAT:

And, charmingly, the guy who smooths the ice rink wears a polar bear suit as he rides the Zamboni:

I also checked out the smaller market at the Kulturbrauerei and took this picture of the whirling swing ride:

Tonight as I ate my cheese-stuffed bread thing, I wandered over to the ice rink. Perfect timing, because as soon as I found a spot, special music started playing and everyone looked up to see...Santa (der Weinachtsman) in his sleigh soaring over us! Suspended beneath him on a fake cloud was the Christkind (a blond teenage girl dressed as an angel of some sort). The sleigh stopped halfway and as she waved, Santa gestured while a prerecorded message of Christmas good cheer rang out from the speakers. He said he wished he could stay in Berlin, and listed several landmarks visible from his sleigh, but had to press on. Then fireworks went off at the back of the sleigh and off he went...to the end of the wire. Then the sleigh came backwards again to its starting point.
It was super awesome!
Up next: a much delayed post on KDW.
Bis bald,
D.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wieder in Berlin

I'm back!
And it is bloody freezing cold here. Yesterday when I left the office, it was 1 degrees Celsius. 1 degrees! That's only one above freezing!!!
The upside is that everything is looking very festive for the holiday season. Riding the tram through Alexanderplatz I was almost pressed up against the glass trying to take in all the stalls in the Weinachtsmarkt (Christmas market), and today I biked past the humongous one behind Alexa (a mall near Alex), which now has a full-size ferris wheel!!!
I am so excited to start exploring the markets this weekend. Stay tuned!
Bis bald,
D.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Urlaub

As I writing this I am sitting at home in Brooklyn, NY!
When I walked off the plane I was thirsty and was thrilled to turn a corner and discover...a water fountain!!!
Ah, to be back in the land of free water. Mmm refreshing.
It was pretty surreal driving home on a route I knew so well and walking into my family house.
As I left the flat in Berlin this morning, I felt very glad knowing I would be coming back in ten days. I guess for all my homesickness I'm getting comfy in Berlin :)
I think I'm going to catch myself saying "hallo" and "tschüssi" and "schuldigung" while I'm back! I'm in the habit now.
Anyhoo the blog will be on hiatus for a week or so while I go on vacation with the fam!
Bis bald,
D.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lohengrin

On Sunday I had the good luck to be taken to a production of Wagner's Lohengrin at the Staatsoper in Berlin. In a German literature class my freshman year, I studied this opera and found it very moving. One line in particular stuck with me. I guess it is different in different translations; I have it written down from the one we used in the class as "We can both escape the restless world,/and every thought that’s not of love forget," but a translation I recently found online says, "Now ev'ry pent-up thought our hearts may own/No rash intruder this sweet hour shall fret." The German original is, according to this online text, "Nun sollen wir der Welt entronnen sein,/Kein Laoscher darf des Herzens Griissen nah'n." I translate this roughly as "Now we should be escaped from the world/No eavesdropper may approach the heart's [? I can't find a translation for 'Griissen,' though das Grinsen is a grin or smirk]." At any rate, it reminded me immediately of a lyric from the song 'When the Angels Play Their Drum Machines' by Hefner: Please draw the curtains, unplug the phone/Let's mess the sheets, and give our hearts a home/We are both adults, our eyes are open wide/Let's push away, the world outside.
Nice, no? If there's one thing I learned in my three weeks of "Rock, Sex, and Rebellion" music class, it's that music is just as repetitive as art and literature.
All of this is totally unrelated to Sunday's experience, haha. It was a very interesting production. I was actually laughing a lot, which I wasn't really expecting to do during five hours of Wagner, especially an opera which is ultimately so sad. But the first few scenes were really quite hilarious. Everyone started in street clothes, carrying puppets in more elaborate and cliche costumes. When Lohengrin arrived, emerging from an interesting circular curtain thing that played a key part in many scenes, he was wearing a laughably elaborate silver costume with chainmail-esque shiny leggings and a helmet with swan feathers. In lieu of an actual giant swan (which he is supposed to arrive on) he carried a single large white feather.
As the opera progressed the characters slowly changed into streotypically elaborate and dated costumes until everyone looked like something out of a high school play. During the climactic bedroom scene, however, when Elsa asked the fatal question, she and Lohengrin were immediately physically separated, the stage split in two as they reached for each other, Elsa choking back sobs, and the chorus slowly appeared, back in their street clothes.
For the final scene everyone involved was once again dressed normally, except for Lohengrin and the insane Ortrud.
It was really very well done. I enjoyed it immensely, and plan to take advantage of the operas here in Berlin again in the future!
Bis bald,
D.

Mauerfall 2009

One week ago, on November 9th, 2009, was the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall (Mauerfall; Mauer=wall). Obviously it is a date that means a great deal to the city of Berlin and to Germany in general, and there were huge celebrations last Monday night at Brandenburger Tor (the Brandenburg Gate).
It was freezing and raining, but since I missed die Riesen celebrating der Tag der Deutchen Einheit, I knew I would seriously regret not going to this.
I stationed myself right near the line of dominoes across from the Holocaust Memorial with a view of a large TV screen showing the various happenings, such as speeches from world leaders like Sarkozy and Hillary Clinton and of course Merkel (Angie, the locals around me called her, haha) and performances from the Berlin philharmonic, Placido Domingo, and Bon Jovi (wtf?). As I mentioned in a previous post, I had planned to participate in the Mauer Mob, but I had a good spot by the dominoes and I reeeally wanted to see them fall. I thought I would be able to do both, but the domino-knocking was so delayed that I ended up being there long after the Mauer Mob was over and done with.
I'd like to say it was worth it but honestly I think all the hoopla seriously distracted from the real meaning of the events it was supposed to be celebrating. I mean, Bon Jovi? Was that really necessary?
As I headed home, however, soaked and cold and somewhat grumpy, I saw the final section of dominoes being knocked over on a giant TV screen--and then the Brandenburg Gate exploded in fireworks. Suddenly, a huge fireworks show shot out of the Tiergarten right in front of me. It was all I could do to stop and stare in gleeful awe.
I described in a previous post the magic of falling snow--well to me a good fireworks display inspires the same reaction :)
After all was said and done, I'm glad I was there to celebrate.


video
Bis bald,
D.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ikono TV Blog

The blog for the company I work for is actually pretty tite. Check it out!

Qype: Restaurant 44 im Swissôtel in Berlin



Berlin - Eating & Drinking - Restaurants - Gourmet


This meal will go down as one of the absolute best I have ever had the good fortune to enjoy.
I made a reservation for me, my aunt and my uncle at 9:30pm on a Friday night, the latest they will seat. The staff was the epitome of courteous and welcoming, speaking perfect English for the benefit of my non-Deutsch-speaking relatives. We were seated at a corner table overlooking the Ku'Damm's night lights. The tables were very generously spaced and we felt very well looked after.
We decided on the four course menu. I had artichoke, tuna, lamb, and a selection of cheese. My aunt had artichoke, king prawn, venison, and valrhona chocolate cake, and my uncle had quail, king prawn, coalfish, and chocolate cake as well.
Everything was innovatively prepared with creative uses of ingredients and beautifully plated.
The artichoke was served with little bits of heavenly creamy smoked mozzarella, chunks of tomato and slices of dessicated tomato (surprisingly sweet and chewy), some greens and a scoop of olive oil sorbet.
The tuna came in little perfectly seared cubes, served with brussel sprouts, shallot cream and duck pastrami (see what I mean about creative combinations?)
The crusted lamb saddle was the most flavorful and tender lamb I have ever tasted. I almost orgasmed when I tasted it. It came with two beautiful pastry tubes filled with creamy goat cheese and some veggies.
If that description didn't make you drool, you must be crazy.
Yes this place is expensive, but it is worth every penny. I recommend it highly for your next special occasion meal.

Check out my review of Restaurant 44 im Swissôtel - I am insizlane - on Qype

Berlin Redux

Last weekend, a friend I made at Oktoberfest visited from Darmstadt, and showing him around gave me an excuse to wander around some of Berlin's more famous sites and take photos. It was a beautiful clear sunny day with blue skies (unbelievable!). We started at the East Side Gallery, the longest stretch of the Berlin wall still standing, on the banks of the Spree between Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. It has been painted all along its length by various artists with a range of images, here's a sampling:
GET HUMAN

Kissy kissy

A different kissy kissy...one of the more famous images

Shadows in the night

At the end of the East Side Gallery is the Oberbaumbrücke, a beautiful brick bridge over the Spree, which the U1 train runs across, as did Lola in Lola Rennt:

And the view was wonderful with the unseasonable sunniness and blue skies:

We ate a delicious Indian lunch, with real spice in the lamb vindaloo (!), and then made our way to Mitte and the Brandenburg Gate. As we walked along Unter den Linden, it slowly dawned on me that Parisen Platz would be totally overrun because of the Mauerfall festivities, and indeed it was:

We shouldered through the crowds to the other side, en route to the Holocaust Memorial, and found the "dominoes" that had been set up between Potsdamer Platz and the Parliament Building along where the wall once stood:


They were each decorated by artists, schoolchildren, etc. and were going to be knocked down Monday night. It was really fun to see all the different designs, and to pause and think about the historical moments behind Monday's celebrations. After checking out the Holocaust Memorial (kind of ruined by the Mauerfall crowds running rampant), we headed over to the Reichstag, beautiful in the fading light:

then behind it to see the tail end of the domino line. The Parliament building looked beautiful by the water:

Afterwards, as it was getting dark, we made our way to Kunsthaus Tacheles. I couldn't believe I hadn't been yet! It's a big building in Mitte where a bunch of artists squat and have studios and put on exhibitions and sell work and such. We wandered the courtyard, where there were several small galleries, indoor and out, and which was littered with sculptures large and small. Round a corner at the back, in a quiet and empty area, I found a big iron sculpture lit from below:

and two mysterious mini-igloos glowing from within:

It was really neat. I will definitely go back, especially if I can figure out how to get inside the actual building!
A bit worn out, I finally headed home, where I rested up a bit before cooking dinner with Celia. It was a good Berlin day!
Bis bald,
D.

Konzerte

As I mentioned in my last post, I went last week to see Grizzly Bear at Postbahnhof. Head on over to antlervision to see a few posts with their songs.
Tonight, I am headed to Passion Pit! Since I've had 'Sleepyhead' (see below) stuck in my head for days, I am mega-excited.
Stay tuned for many more posts to come...I've been getting behind lately :)
Bis bald,
D.


(part of that video was filmed right near my neighborhood in Brooklyn! I also love the Hood Internet's mashup of that song with Chamillionaire)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Glühwein und mehr

We are well and truly entering into winter here in Berlin. Last Thursday it was raining when I left my apartment to get on the U-Bahn. When I arrived at Alexanderplatz, however, the rain had turned into snow! It was wondrous. As I stood in the tram shelter, staring in joy, a whole flock of little brown chickadees, also seeking shelter, crowded around my feet peeping urgently. I beamed down at them until my tram arrived. What a great way to start the day! The big fat flakes looked beautiful from the office window, which has a view of a courtyard with a red brick building across the way.
Anyway, since it is getting so cold now, glühwein is beginning to be served all over the place. It's spiced red wine, served hot. Mmmm--the perfect pick-me-up on a cold night. "Glüh" does not mean glue. "das Glühen" means glow, or roasting. Glow-wine :)
So last Tuesday Celia and I decided to make some glühwein at home, and by "make" I mean buy prepackaged glühwein and heat it up. At Kaufland, a box of Oma's (granny's) Glühwein costs 79 cents. 79 cents!!! A bottle of Wintertraum (winter dream) Glühwein costs 99 cents.
We tried both. And thus got tipsy for 1.78eur. Amazing!!!
I asked Celia what Glühwein looks like, and she said it's a bottle with pictures of Christmas. She was right:

I hope Alexanderplatz will look like this when the Christmas market is up:

And sometimes, glühwein comes in a box (apparently). An adorable, 79 cent box:

Celia liked it I think:

The cooking process was quite complicated as you can see:

mmmm warm and yummy in the tummy. Germany sure knows how to party.
Quick rundown on what I've been up to since then:
-Dienstag: My Holga-toting friend from the reading last week joined us for glühwein and a drink at a bar in my neighborhood, Ä bar.
-Donnerstag: They also serve food at the Weinerei, so I went and had a "pay what you feel like" dinner with my "pay what you feel like" crappy champagne. Good times. Then Celia and I watched a truly disturbing yet hilarious movie, Happiness, by the brilliantly dark Todd Solondz (of Welcome to the Dollhouse fame) before meeting her former roommate, who likes to be called Space Ribbon, for a night of drinking and dancing at Monarch in Xberg and Golden Gate near Jannowitzbrücke. At GG we ran into one of the DJs from betahaus a couple weeks ago, that was fun.
-Freitag: Another go at Maria Bonita Mexican (mmm mole enchiladas). Then it was the opening for my photographer friend's Ausstellung (exhibit) with 6 photos of me in it! The show looked great. Afterwards, we headed in a big merry group to a classy house party in Friedrichshain with delicious homemade food, punch, mojitos, and pureed raspberry shots. Girl knows how to throw a party.
-Samstag: Sightseeing with a friend from Oktoberfest who's visiting from Darmstadt. Cooked at home: ratatouille and rosemary-lemon chicken (should have taken pictures! It was delicious). Then out to a birthday party in the neighborhood where I danced with a woman in a skeleton cape and pinned dried rose petals to a dried rose to make her a birthday corsage.
Heute (today): OMG BRUNCH. At Boxhagenerplatz. Sooooo much wonderful cheese, scrambled eggs, BAKED BEANS (!!!!), delicious little würstchen (sausages), various cold salads, etc. Had a wander around the flea market and bought a Darth Vader tote bag I've had my eye on (might post a picture later; it's hilarious). Then Celia and I shared two huge delicious cupcakes and walked it off all the way back to Neukölln.
On the agenda this week:
-Montag: the 20th anniversary of the Mauerfall (Mauer=wall). It's a really big deal. I'm going to try and check out the festivities near Brandenburger Tor (a whole line of giant "dominoes" being knocked down; speeches from various VIPs including Hillary Clinton, etc.) and am also participating in Mauer Mob. It'll be crazy.
-Dienstag: our second supper club!
-Mittwoch: Grizzly Bear & St. Vincent concert!
Bis bald,
D.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

In den Straßen

Cultural differences time!
Ok so it's really weird how Germans NEVER jaywalk. They take the crosswalk lights very seriously. There have honestly been times when it was the middle of the night, and there were no cars for MILES, and I came across someone patiently waiting for the light to change.
I, of course, barge right on through. Sometimes even when there is traffic. Because I'm that much of a New Yorker. This results in lots of stares, some disbelieving, some scornful.
The worst is the intersection right by my apartment. The U-Bahn exit is on a traffic island in between the two lanes of a large street. I have to cross one of these lanes to get to the U-Bahn, and both to get to the supermarket. Since the island is rather small, when a train lets out far more people than can comfortably fit are jammed onto it. Thus, I often find myself stuck behind a wall of patiently waiting locals, knowing that I could cross perfectly safely even though *gasp!* the light is red! My solution is usually just to push through and cross anyway, resulting in even more incredulous stares. Sometimes I fancy I even see a headshake and tut-tutting from the elderly. I just seem to offend the locals at every turn, hahaha.
Another street-related oddity: dog poo. Everywhere. I realized upon seeing so much of it here that you really don't see that much in New York anymore. It's been ages since stepping in dog poo seemed like a real concern, or happened to me for that matter. Yet here, the poo is all around, and I have indeed stepped in it once. There are, for one thing, far more dogs in this city than in NY. Eric also theorizes that since dog owners here pay taxes on their dogs, they feel like they don't need to clean up after them. But--I asked--what do the taxes go to? Well...cleaning up the streets. So it seems like it is a vicious circle. I immediately imagined Angela Merkel having a press conference. "Dog owners, if you can act like adults, and show us you can be responsible, and clean up after your dogs, than we will remove the dog tax. But if you take advantage of our trust, we'll have to bring it back." Hahaha. We are contemplating a guerilla art project where we stick little signs saying "return to sender" into the poos.
On another note, we have scheduled the next supper club! Head on over to the club blog to see the menu and details, as well as other food-and-eating-in-Berlin related posts.
Bis bald,
D.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween

Halloween is not much celebrated in Germany. Most Germans think it is a silly American custom. In recent years, however, more people, especially young people, have begun to embrace it, and I had high hopes of finding fun on Halloween night.
I had been told that German people think all Halloween costumes should be scary, but I figured there are enough expats in this town that I should be able to go as what I want. So I planned on being a zebra. I headed to Schöneberg and one of Berlin's only costume stores to find facepaint and false eyelashes. When I got there, there was a line out the door! The place was packed. It took me ages to get what I needed. I figured that was promising for the party potential that night.
Armed and ready, I dressed in my zebra PJs and applied stripy facepaint and black and silver false eyelashes. The effect was, I thought, quite fetching:

Celia came over, and was dressed as a HIPpopotamus:

We happily headed out to a bar called S.I.N. (stranded in neverland) not too far from my apartment that advertised free zombie punch, a costume contest, and a live band. The zombie punch was tasty and the band was wacky (one of their 'members' seemed emplyed solely for doing the robot on one side of the stage), but the costumes, when there were any, were indeed all scary. Most people seemed confused or scornful at my outfit. But whatever. I got up on stage and pranced around during the costume contest. I was booted out after the first round! Some chick holding a bloody cleaver and claiming not to remember what she was dressed as did better! It was rigged I tell you. Although I do not begrudge the girl dressed as Barbarella her spot at all. I have wanted to be Barbarella for a while now.
Anyhoo that got boring quick and we were planning to head to Watergate (a big cheesy club guaranteed to have dancing and expats) but in the U-Bahn station we met a group of Germans who exhorted us to join them instead at a German Halloween party in the middle of Volkspark Friedrichshain. They said it was the BEST party in Berlin that night. So we went. The cover was ridiculously expensive, and the cobweb decorations kept getting in my way while dancing (I found one tangled in my earring when I got home), and the party was pretty small. But the music was pretty bomb and it's always fun to DANCE! Once again, however, I felt my costume did not receive any props. Everyone was dressed scary! Just like Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls! It kinda bummed me out. I wish we had found an expat party.
Having paid that cover I did not feel like paying another, especially since I was kinda grumpy, so we called it a night.
All in all a fun night but kinda disappointing. Sometimes I do miss America!
Bis bald,
D.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Potsdam

Last week I went to Potsdam, a town near Berlin simply full to bursting with royal palaces, and a tour guide friend showed me and another friend around.
One 10eur ticket gets you a Tageskarte, a day ticket with access to most of the buildings scattered around the area.
We started with the Neue Palast, an imposing edifice that looks like it is made of bricks but is actually just painted to look like them:



The servant's quarters across the way were almost more impressive architecturally, funnily enough. Inside, they make you wear big felt slippers to protect the floors from your shoes. These are very fun to glide around in, if a bit slippy. We had to wear them in all the palaces. The first big room we entered was a shell grotto (mom you would have loved it). All the walls had shells cascading down them, the corners had sea monsters made out of shells, the marble floor was inlaid in shell shapes, and precious stones were laid into the wall in thick layers. It was pretty incredible. Unfortunately no pictures were allowed inside. There was a room with a Titian and a van Dyck among others but it was so poorly lit I could barely see them. Upstairs, we saw a huge marble ballroom with an inlaid floor.
Behind the palace a little ways, in the park, there is a small pavilion:

One of the Fredericks (I easily lost track of which was which) built it as a tribute to the friendship between him and his sister when she married and left his household. Teddy, are you paying attention? Hahaha.
Next we went to a much smaller palace for one of the princes. It was done in Italian style and had a lovely grape arbor round back, plus a cool sitting area built in such a way as to project one's voice to the house's porch. It was pretty neat. Inside, it was much more liveable and cozy than the larger palace. One guest room was decorated to look like the interior of a tent, which was a really cool effect.
We wandered the grounds and found the "Chinese" tea house:

decorated with laughably inaccurate golden figures, from which tourists apparently like to steal various appendages:

Along the way we also stopped at a small Roman-inspired building, with this cool flounder fountain outside:

Apparently one of the Fredericks was a bit chubby, and was nicknamed flounder. Instead of being offended, he embraced it. In fact, there were china sets in the small Italian palace with golden flounders on them!
Eventually we came to the Orangerie:

where we climbed to the top of the tower despite my companions' mild fears of heights. The climb involved a narrow spiral staircase which could only admit traffic flow in one direction, so there was a stoplight to tell you when people were coming down:

The view of the neighboring park and countryside was really something:

We also toured the interior--more impossibly ostentatious rooms and furniture.
Eventually we came to Sanssouci, perhaps the most famous of the palaces, built by Frederick the Great. The name means "without worries" in French, the principal language of Frederick, who apparently never cared much for German. His architect suggested that when the palace was finished, he would be able to live "sans souci." Frederick replied that as emperor, he could never live such. Apparently the phrase intrigued him, however, as he had it inscribed on the palace front, but with a comma between the two words. The comma is the exact center of the palace. To its left, under the word 'sans', were his living quarters, music room, and other sources of pleasure and distraction. To its right, under 'souci', his office, state rooms, and other things related to the business of being a leader. He is buried outside the palace, alongside his hunting dogs.
The palace:

and seen from the landscaped gardens in the park below:

Next we perused the picture gallery, the first building expressly for the display of art ever built in Europe. Many Renaissance masters were present. My favorite paintings were a van Dyck of Mary Magdalene in repentance and a lovely big Caravaggio. I think my tour guide friend was a bit astonished at how long his friend and I dwelt on the paintings!
We took a little break in downtown Potsdam and had some pastries and coffee. The town is adorable! It was much better restored than Berlin after the war.
Next we found ourselves at another palace, deceptively small from the outside, but with 100+ rooms, in English Tudor style. This is where the Potsdam conference happened at the end of WWII, and the portions open to the public are mostly devoted to that history. It was originally built as a family residence, however, and was really a charming building, if a bit incongruous.
Finally, we scooted across the park and just made the last tour at the marble palace, a smaller palace intended for royal children and their families. The highlights here were several beautiful and intricate parquet floors and a large secretary made to look like a mini palace with lots of secret drawers and compartments, as well as lovely views of the lake.
When we finished, it was 6ish and getting dark, and we wearily boarded the regional train for the crowded half hour ride back to Berlin.
All in all I'm glad I took the day off work to see it before the smaller palaces close for the winter!

Bis bald,
D.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Blauer Himmel

This morning I was shocked to see blue skies and fluffy white clouds through our bathroom skylight! The sky has been gray gray gray for ages now...and often sprinkling with rain. I took the opportunity to bike to work, and it was glorious. Now of course it's gray again, but I fancy I can see the sun just peeking through in the distance...fingers crossed for a pleasant bike home.
Sorry I haven't written in a while...things get busy! A post with some pictures from last week's Potsdam trip is forthcoming.
This week has been full of chill Berlin evenings...on Monday Eric and I strolled down the street to a nearby restaurant for a friend's performance piece. Our friend did the video projections, but the meat of the performance was his friend, a Latvian woman with a mop of curly red hair, clad in a black lace bodysock and little else, and singing Russian and Latvian folktunes. She was accompanied by an American cellist and Finnish pianist. Only in Berlin! She crawled on our tables and danced with strangers and was charming and funny and had a lovely voice. It was really something to behold. The afterparty, I hear, involved a hat fashion show, but I unfortunately did not attend.
Tuesday I went to my friend's apartment in Kreuzberg (Xberg) and found it to be quite awesome. He lives with 6 people in a co-op kinda situation and they have a lovely big kitchen/hangout area. he has painted a huge wall mural with a long quote from 'Ulysses.' I think maybe I want to paint a mural in my room now!
Speaking of interior decoration, Eric has festooned our hallway and it feels a lot less blank and cold now than it once did.
On Wednesday I went to a reading of a book about Berlin, written by a friend of a friend. It was funny and well-written and I am excited to get to the book (though currently I am deeply engrossed in my first reading of Pride and Prejudice). It was at a Russian-themed bar called Kaffee Bürger with great vintage signs and wallpaper. Liked the vibe there, and made a new friend. I struck up a conversation because she was carrying a Holga, yay lomo!
Saturday is Halloween...I am going to dress up, though the Germans supposedly do not celebrate much. I am sure we will find something crazy to do.
Bis bald,
D.

Monday, October 26, 2009

CD Supper Club

1 cut thumb
1 burned finger
1 cracked glass
1 snapped knife
and 5 bottles of wine later, the inaugural meal of CD supper club has been brought off successfully!
CD is for Celia & Diana as well as Casual Dining and Crazy Delicious and any number of other things :)
Our menu was:
Smoked salmon pinwheels (thanks for the recipe mom!)
Chicken stuffed with goat cheese and sundried tomatoes (thanks for the recipe aunty amy!)
Fruited coucous pilaf
Cucumber salad
Roasted eggplants & zucchini
Grilled red & yellow peppers
& Lemon cheesecake for dessert (Celia's mother's recipe)
We had posted an ad on Berlin craigslist and on toytown, a popular English-language forum here, and received 4 responses. 2 couldnät make the date but wanted to get on the mailing list, and two were in! To fill the extra spots, we invited friends like mad, and eventually we had 11 attendees: me and Celia, my two roomies, the two strangers, and 5 friends from various places, known of whom knew each other. It was shaping up to be a good night.
We shopped at the Turkish Market on Friday and at Kaufland on Saturday. Saturday evening, we met to make the cheesecake and cucumber salad, which had to marinate overnight.
On Sunday, we went out to brunch at a popular vegan place near Celia's. Brunch here is a bit different than at home. Most places, 'brunch' consists of a buffet, mostly cold (meats, cheeses, breads, spreads) but sometimes with eggs, etc. for one (usually quite low) price. I was resistant at first (I want me some eggs benedict when I go for brunch) but after Saturday's feast I am a definite convert. Mmm...bread, cheese, and tomato. I could live on that. Plus yogurt, muesli (I am ADDICTED to the stuff now, much prefer it to sugary granola), bean salad, lentil spread and something called 'griespudding' which is like rice pudding but with something much smaller than rice (couscous perhaps?). Afterwards, we went to the HUGE flea market at the Mauerpark cause I'd been wanting to check it out. I have to wonder why anyone shops at real stores here--there are so many awesome markets scattered around the city.
And then it was time to head back to Neukölln and get cookin! We set up my room as the dining room (it really has a lot of space!) with some plates and cutlery borrowed from Celia:

We set out the wine (an essential component):

And the salmon pinwheels:

And then we made the rest of the food, and people started arriving, and it was wonderful!
The strangers turned out to be: Rene, a Danish pilot, and Kate, an economics officer at the US embassy from New Jersey. 3 of our 'friends' didn't show, but everyone ate heartily and we still almost finished the food, not to mention all five bottles of wine. There was lots of laughter, the food was delicious (if I do say so myself), and everyone seemed to have a good time. Afterwards we were happy to find that not only did we break even on costs (phew!) we even made a couple euros each! That means we were essentially paid to cook and eat.
Eric helped out and made a playlist:

Action shot of people beginning to eat:

And everyone posing nicely:

My delicious plate of food (nom nom nom):

The amazing cheesecake!:

And the aftermath. I think we used every dish, cooking pot, and utensil in the kitchen (including the cleaver, which we used to serve the cheesecake, haha):


We had a dishwashing party to some Belle & Sebastian tunes and most of it was done pretty quick.
The past few days, the leftovers have been great: I had couscous and some eggplant smeared with goat cheese filling for lunch yesterday and scrambled eggs with eggplant, green onion, parsley, and cilantro for both dinner last night and breakfast this morning. I'm thinking the leftover cinnamon-cookie crust has got to go to a pie sometime this week.
And that was it! The first supper club. I think we will definitely do it again in future.
Bis bald,
D.