Donnerstag, 11. Dezember 2014

Foodie Berlin: Nea Knosso

I am rarely eating Greek food, but given my love for cheese, once in a while I feel the need to have the delicious experience of the special milk-based products from this country. Greece's culinary diversity made it for a long food story in itself with each area sharing a specific menu. Thus, the curious foodie can taste more regions at once, just on one big plate. A couple of days ago, I set for a Cretan cuisine meal, at the Nea Knosso restaurant in the Western part of Berlin, on Güntzelstraße 48. It is very close from Spichernstrasse U-Bahn or around 15 minutes of walking from Fehrbelliner Platz U-Bahn. 
I arrived at the lunch time, and the tables covered by the Greek classical squared-black and white- patterned table covers were ready for customers. The menu was brought fast and so was the meal. Only taking a decision was not easy, with so many offers of souvlakis, halvas, honey Greek yoghurt or gyros. I decided a classical plate Feta Fournou, with goat cheese, tomatoes, olives, pepperoni, with some healthy drops of classical Cretan olive oil. A heavy combination, maybe a bit salty too, but the vegetables and the olive oil succeeded to cut shortly the over-saturation of the cheese. 
The ambiance was pleasant, a classical Greek quietness and relaxation, and very low sound Greek disco music.
In order to keep the visitor's brain entertained, napkins with basic Greek words translated into German were brought. As a did some Modern Greek classes back in my university years, it was nice to remember some words and think that maybe when will have more time will try to start learning the language again. 
The interior design is of a classical Greek taverna, with lots of classical landscape paintings on the wall, not all of them the perfect classical taste, but colourful enough to make you feel the easy going life. The prices are acceptable, with regular lunch offers.
The rich menu and the many interesting local Cretan meals are definitely call me back soon, and who knows, maybe I will finally be able to come back soon to Greece for a serious country exploration. 

Montag, 8. Dezember 2014

Interior design inspiration in Berlin: Paris Home

When it comes to interior design and other chic suggestions, many would prefer to head direction East Berlin. Which is an obvious choice: you need only to have a look around to realize that you are in the middle of a creative hub and the way in which people dress or talk is the proof. However, in the quiet West Berlin, most specifically on Pariserstrasse 14, close to Spichernstrasse U-Bahn and around 15 minutes away from Ku'damm, there is a little boutique: Paris Home. First, I was thinking it must be an exquisite boutique selling various interior design items. But, once I went on the other side of the door - you should push a button in order to be opened and invited in - I realized that I was wrong.
Inside, there are a couple of samples of decorations, plus many leaflets and catalogues with suggestions about the right style that suits your newly purchased condo or apartment in Berlin. Once entered on the other side of the wall, in the cosy yet working ambiance of the office, I was shortly introduced to what the Paris Home is doing: delivering high-end design solutions to customers, that starts from the choice of materials and wall colours till the interior decorations and all the special details. With a list of customers busy with their daily businesses, the office works both as a interior design shop and as a consulting company. 
With experience on the British, especially London, as well as Italian and French market, the Paris Home is an interesting service offered to a relatively quiet and almost secret category of customers: the middle to upper class Berliners, disposing of a significant amount of money, investing in real estate and ready to make their homes classical temples of European good taste. 
As for me, it was just an interesting experience to discover some new category of services in the city. 

Sonntag, 7. Dezember 2014

Street art in Friedrichshain: Urban Spree

I am visiting the bubbling Friedrichshain maybe twice or three times the year, unless some unexpected parties or events are calling me for some special entertainment. Every time I pass by Warschauerstrasse S-Bahn Station I noticed the interesting street art and promised myself several times to stop there and have a look. An alternative center of urban culture, with mobile street food counters and spontaneous fairs and DIY workshops, the Urban Spree is one of the many colourful spots that make this city so diverse and always on the move. Here are some snapshots of a couple of hours spent there. 

 Some branded buckets with fire to warm you up while outside.
This is by far, the most interesting work of street art I ever seen. Looks in-between a realistic painting and a photography.

A playground for the alternative children growing up in Friedrichshain.

Sonntag, 30. November 2014

DaWanda fair in Berlin

Newly back to my old love for handmade products and crafts, I waited the whole week to go to the DaWanda fair  near Alexanderplatz. I was able to make it only the second and last day, but it seems that in the afternoon when I arrived, there were plenty of people curious to check the special offers. I waited in line for around 15 minutes which would have been a nice way to spend outdoors, if the temperature was not many degrees below 0. 
Once ready to go, needed to cross a big yard, with ugly buildings in process of restoration. Some street food counters were offering a little treat before or in between the visit to the many stands. 
After the first minutes spent inside, who would like to go out, with so many beautiful handmade products? DaWanda was created in Berlin, in 2006, as one of the first successful Made in Germany startups. With affiliates in France, Spain, Poland, Italy and the Netherlands it is a network of handmade producers, with million of products uploaded on sale every month. 
The fair in Berlin covers a variety of handmade domains and products, from interior design to personalized drawings (my favourites by far).
There were also a lot of jewellery products, and beauty accessories, with prices varying from few Euros till a couple of good hundreds. Special discounts were also applied.  
 The delicate guests, were invited at a tea, with a special inspiration.
Practically, almost all the materials and models were displayed in creative compositions for various tastes and spaces.
Some of the ideas took me by surprise: people in long-distance relationship were able to order a personalized pillow where to place on the map their current residences. But home is where your heart is, isn't it? 
Meanwhile, the place was getting more and more cramped, with a lot of products to see and even more curious visitors. 
Although I really loved the concrete small bowls, or the leather bags and the many small products from children - from toys to clothing - the world of drawings caught my attention for most part of the time.
There were an abundance of foxes and owls, in different variants and part of different stories.
The styles were so different and the hand drove with talent that I did not mind, as most of them were looking so cute and alive that I could not get bored watching the many postcards and billboards.
Most of the exhibitors were interested in sharing the story of their products and even some small details about their recipes. And there were so many interesting ideas, from unique lace jewellery covered with different precious metals, to various unique jewellery made of melted glass. 
At the end of the show, the visitors were invited to have a special picture taken. In a creative, Berlin-like ambiance, of course.
Despite the cold and the long journey till the fair - hosted in a building very close to the oldest market in Berlin, near Alexanderplatz - the wind of creativity was more than welcomed and most likely gave me a lot of good energy to keep up with my writing and crafts plan for the next weeks.

Foodie Berlin: Persepolis, probably the best Persian food in town

There is no secret that I love very much the Persian food, and although I took some cooking classes trying to learn its secrets, I am still (very) far away from preparing completely on my own a full delicious successful menu. For people like me, there are restaurants that could offer me not only inspiration, but also a traditional good meal. Recently, I had a long evening stop at Persepolis, situated mid-way to U-Bahn stations Nollendorfplatz and Kurfurstenstrasse. The place has many big tables, and also a separate place for smokers so theoretically you don't need a reservation in advance. The menu, extended on a couple of pages, is traditional, with an addition of Shiraz wines - but from California. The service is very fast and welcoming, ready to help you with information in case you don't know what you can expect on your dish.
As a started, it was not difficult to make a choice: dolmah berg, stuffed grape leaves with rice and herbs, on a plate with cucumber pickles, fresh tomatoes and olives covered in spices. Tasted together, it was an aromated combination, with fresh taste brought by the tomatoes at the room temperature, but found the stuffed grape leaves a bit too sour. 
Luckily, I was able to cut the sourness with the help of the special yoghurt brought from the house. And it was not the usual plain yoghurt, but with added spices, pistachio and raisins. The flat bread was brought a bit warm, a very inspired choice. Dipping the dolmah into the yoghurt and tasting every bit with the force of all senses was a pleasant hobby for the following minutes.
As a drink, I decided for a very unusual saffron tea, which kept the perfume of my favourite spice, but with a very neutral taste, a good help for my next meal choice. The very quiet traditional music and the colourful walls, representing various historical episodes created a quiet ambiance for continuing the late dinner.
The traditional Persian cuisine uses a lot of meat, including lamb, but I was set for something exclusively vegetarian. One of my big disappointments in the kitchen by now is the failure to prepare a genuine Persian rice and thus, every time I am in a Persian restaurant, I know I should order it just hoping that by tasting it the knowledge of preparing it can be also transmitted. 
This time, my choice was very generous and complex: green peek, saffron, raisins, onions, dates, on a bed of spicy tomato sauce and fried slices of eggplant. The oil was there too, although in moderate proportions. The diversity of tasted and the switch between sweet - or very sweet in the case of dates - and salty - like for the eggplant was sometimes surprising. When everything was too sweet, I had the spiced tomatoes to cut it. When I wanted something more nutritious, I had the peek. 
But the portion was anyway huge - so no sweets this time for me - but was offered the possibility to take away the rests, for more enjoyment of the secrets of the Persian rice. Take-away is also possible for full menus at Persepolis. 
With so many delicious moments spent there, I left trying to figure out when I will be able to offer myself another pleasant Persian meal. Most probably, a new review will come up soon!

Dienstag, 25. November 2014

Foodie Berlin: Shaniu's House of Noodles

Although I was told several times that there is a delicious Asian/Chinese foodie life outside Wilmersdorf, I am stubborn enough to keep exploring all the local temptations in my area. When mentioning noodles, Shaniu's House of Noodles was often mentioned as a serious option to test and taste, so yesterday, trying to save a quite hectic day, I arrived there just in time to grab the lunch offer. The restaurant is situated on Pariser 38, a couple of minutes of walk away from the Spichernstrasse metro station. 
The offer changes every day of the week - the restaurant is open all round the week, a special event for the Berlin restaurants in the Western side - and includes a dish of noodles plus a salad or soup. The place was looking simple yet not precarious, with some nice white lamps and a Tiffany lamp in my corner, with changing light colours. The classical jazz background made me forget about all the things that did not work out during that first half of the day. 
The order was taken and brought relatively fast. The menu includes not only traditional Chinese dishes, but also some classical Asian fusion cuisine, plus an impressive offer of Italian and French wines, and other sorts of drinks too, many of them displayed in the bar area. My first choice was a kettle of green tea, a very simple sort. The noodles are traditionally Chinese, but by request - and for 2 extra Euro, one can also order the house made ones or the delicious udon (always my first choice of noodles).
The service is impressively polite. As I refused the meaty soup I was brought, it was replaced kindly with a salad, finely chopped and adorned with a very spicy sauce that gave a new life to the otherwise boring leaves of salad. Especially when are you fighting with a cold as I did
The main dish was made of noodles with vegetables, brought in plates of Asian inspiration. The noodles were delicious, not that oily as I experienced in similar restaurants, and with a good add of shiitaki mushrooms, Chinese cabbage, broccoli and delicate shreds of carrots. The natural tastes were kept. The veggies are bringing a light balance to the tasty nutritious udon noodles. 
The prices are relatively moderate, with a 2-course meal and a drink going around 9 Eur. The vegetarian offer is not that varied - get used with it when you are visiting a genuine Asian restaurant anyway - but the memory of the delicious udon can make my day any time, although I will keep ordering the same meal over and over again. 

Dienstag, 18. November 2014

Arts on the street. A journey through Moabit with Melissa Steckbauer

Admiring art in the classical exhibition space is part of our cultural European normality. However, for two centuries already, art is going out of the comfort zone and is entering our life. Our life as humans, with or not high-end aesthetic standards. I know that maybe will refuse to call graffiti as 'art' but my humble understanding is that the manifestations of human spirituality should be easily included into this category. Art means in this sense the effort to make the world a better and more beautiful place.
With this open mind, I followed at the beginning of this autumn my friend artist Melissa Steckbauer across Moabit for a long art tour explaining her latest - at the time - art project in Berlin. Together with Korede Amojo, a young enthusiast from a Nigerian-German family involved in various volunteering projects most of them on behalf of immigrants groups in Germany, she created personalized corners in the city, part of Amojo's love letter to Moabit, an area where he spent a lot of time of his life.
The journey started at the Happy Hostel, located close to the famous Moabit prison. The hostel itself used to be a brothel, but it's 'function' changed up to the changes the area went through itself. The big picture of Amojo, dressed in traditional costume, is close to the parking area, near some very classical anonymous block houses. It's the middle of the day and grandparents are coming back from school with their nephews or nieces. Not sure how many of them noticed the photos. Couple of months before, said Melissa, when pictures with a visual context more contrasting to the environment were added, they were destroyed by passers by for unclear bashful reasons...Blame the famous gentrification for that...
We walk a bit more, while keeping an eye to the sentimental geography of the neighbourhood. Not too many people on the street, retired persons appear at the windows checking around. We arrived at a Naturkost shop, with old furniture and bio products.
The next photos are with Amojo in a meditation posture, an attitude that, according to Melissa, is rather part of his to-do-list...The small/medium format of the pictures are discretely integrating into the environment. Art can be seen noticed also when hungry for some healthy bio food. It's important just to properly use your eyes.
Next stop, the fence of a kindergarten, near a playground/Spielplatz where Amojo spent some time as a kid too. It looks like two different ages are coming together in a very gentle way. And a quote: 'Der Mensch ist nur Mensch, wo er spielt', by Schiller: 'The man is human only when playing'.
The picture was took late in the night, when he decided to stop over here, and do a bit of playing in a playground that although now was quiet, it used to be a dangerous gathering point in the old days of Moabit.
The streets we are walking now are much different, not only because they are many youngsters with children around, but also because there are more people around, talking loud, walking their dogs, enjoying the very sunny afternoon. I passed the test being able to identify the picture in the window in the first 15 seconds.
 My efforts are rewarded with a delicious natural icecream, in one of the most newest and attractive spots in the area.
 Here, there are more pictures on the two sides of the windows...
And even some take away cards...

Last stop of the exhibition: Neue Heimat, a gathering place where new and old immigrants are included in various 'integration' projects, that means not only learning the language, but also getting in touch with people with similar stories and backgrounds. The kind of job Korede Amojo love to do, it seems.
The place is closed right now, but the pictures are in the windows: the usual game of reality and illusions, real beauty and layers of colours that Melissa Steckbauer is practising. Before this tour, I did not know too much about Moabit. The long walk and the discussion, plus the specific history of each photography revealed a reality I was ignoring completely. Call it the effects of the power of the art in the city.

Thank you, Melissa, for your time and patience!