Samstag, 28. Juni 2014

Foodie Berlin: Good morning Vietnam

Our journey through Kreuzberg took some time and especially energy, and a foodie stop was more than welcomed. Out of too many calls, we decided to stop at Good morning Vietnam, hidden in a small interior yard near the busy Bergmannstrasse. It was name after a famous American war comedy at the end of the 1980s.
The restaurant has a simple Asian-inspired design, with big black and white pictures from Vietnam on the walls and luxuriant outdoors vegetation that bring a note of friendliness to the metal construction. It has outdoor places, as well as a terrace, a good idea for the summer meals.
I got in touch with the Vietnamese cuisine relatively late in my foodie life, and I am still on the way to discover its meaning. Compared to the Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese menus, with whom I am more used with, it involves a lot of fresh vegetables, less oil and frying. But as most of the names on the list did not tell me too much, I needed more time to think. Till a final decision, I ordered a Mekong Jules Mojito: a delicious and very cold combination of: Mekong Rum, Lime, soda, sugar, many mint leaves and a lot of ice cubes. Not too strong, not too sweet.
One of the Vietnamese specialities that I am in love at first sight with is the cold coffee, the perfect treat for the summer days, and after the mojito, it helped me to come back to the ground for finally ordering the proper meal(s).
The first guest: Nem Hanoi Dau Phu - veggie summer rolls, with Vietnamese rice cold noodles, salad and carrots, coriander, plus tofu, packed in transparent rice wraps. The rolls did not have a special taste in itself, but the nutty sauce brings it and makes it unforgettably tasty.
Next on the list: Dau Phu Saté: various veggies slightly boiled, with white rice, tofu and a special sauce. It might look innocent at the first sight but it was hot, way too hot.
The spicy veggies only brought even more appetite and I kept trying something new: Banh Kem - coconut pudding with honey caramel sauce. Very creamy, not too sweet, good for a slow food ending of the menu. As I was still left some cold coffee, the tastes went very well together. 
Was it too much gluttony, or just my curiosity to learn more about the Vietnamese cuisine. I felt a bit embarrassed when the lady in charge with our table asked me - twice - if all the food is only for me, but the ambiance was too pleasant - slow Vietnamese music and the smell of fresh red lily - to feel bad. Maybe the 'irreverent tendency' that made famous the main protagonist of the original movie was part of the customer service training. But right now, I couldn't care less, as I am more than ever interested to come back and order even more than that first time. 

Freitag, 27. Juni 2014

Discovering Kreuzberg

I am very unhappy for not exploring enough other parts of Berlin outside my own borough, but I feel less guilty during the summer, when I have the best opportunities to spend more time outdoors, checking new streets, shops and restaurants. Although I am not a complete foreigner in Kreuzberg, I always felt that I need more intimate knowledge about this part of the city. The last time I've toured it completely was more than a year ago so I went recently for some fresh new impressions. 
The journey started at Suedstern U-Bahn station. From there, we randomly took the Koerterstrasse, that welcomed me with too many foodie temptations. The first delicious stop took place at Beumer Lutum, a small coffee with many bio drinks and pastries, that can be consumed in an ambiance created of black-and-white pictures typical from the 1970s. When the weather is beautiful, most restaurants and bars offer the possibility of spending time outdoors.
The entire street has besides a small eating parlour every 2 blocks also small shops and workshops, selling or producing books (Ludwig Wille Buchhandlung), home-made furniture or children toys. The concentration of bikes is impressive, and so is the big number of shops or repair workshops for bikes. 
In one of the 'hofs' around, after going near a guitar studio and Greta and Louis fashion atelier, we arrive at the famous Sputnik Kino, following the lipstick traces, at the five floor. Sputnik, an indie movie theater, is considered the highest of its kind in Berlin due to its location. As it opens shortly before the start of the movie, we were not too lucky for having a look inside. 
Back to Suedstern metro station, we go direction Bluecherstrasse, with so many icecream small shops that we are about to think about moving temporarily to Kreuzberg, at least till will be able to taste more of them. 
The overall architecture of Kreuzberg is relatively simple when not not boring, with industrial block houses looking all the same. Thanks to the creative graffiti, the buildings are becoming more personal and special.
The alternative culture of Kreuzberg is also reflected into the style of the shops, especially when it comes to clothes. As parties, including out in the street, are part of the local traditions, many shops are offering the perfect outfit for an unexpected invitation to a party. 
 At, on Zossenerstrasse, there are colourful clothes for forever young hippies.
After so much walking and even more stops at the various shops, a snack at Kuruyemiș, eventually together with a home-made lemonade are a good idea.
But one of the biggest foodie stop in Kreuzberg is the elegant Markthalle, where you can shop for French and Spanish delicacies. 
Not too impressed about the fruits, or by other products, that I can find easily in other parts of the city as well, eventually at lower prices, I brought home a little plastic bag with a German-made za'atar, a special Middle Eastern spice that I don't find easily in Europe. After testing it in a couple of dishes, I may say that it was not a bad investment. 
Kreuzberg is also home to two unusual bookstores, on the other side of the Markthalle. One, the Otherland, is dedicated exclusively to the fans of science fiction. The English section is very rich and maybe I will be back one of the next days to buy some serious books for the incoming travels.
The other one is Krimi-Bookstore, Hammett, whose name was probably inspired by the author of detective novels and subject of a movie with the same name produced by Francis Ford Coppola and directed by Wim Wenders. Another famous bookstore in Kreuzberg is Another country Berlin, where literary events are regularly hosted.  
Walking the famous Bergmannstrasse, we feel the need to enter in almost every shop, and the offer is very rich, from food to huts, or swimming suits or eccentric clothes.
The feeling of the summer holidays is in the air, but most probably, simply moving in the area for the summer, would give me enough things to do. At you can buy your surfing frame, but also some colourful clothes for the summer. 
There is also a very creative Perlenmarkt shop, where one can buy various colourful pieces and create own jewellery. Some of the ready-made models are made out of precious African woods.
 And there is also another interesting Indian shop, with hand made small purses, among other colourful things. 
In a yard, we enter another universe, made up of disparate pieces of furniture, arranged in such a tempting way to convince you that you don't necessarily need an expert for your interior design, but only to follow your own inspiration. 
In another yard, there is Good morning, Vietnam, where I can't have enough of the dishes I want to try. A culinary curiosity noticed by the lady serving our table too, who kept asking me if all the meals ordered are only for me. (Foodie review coming up very soon!)
At the end of the Bergmannstrasse, I remember the good times of our first months in Berlin, where I'd booked a whole afternoon at the Keramik Selber on Mehringdamm for decorating my own ceramics.
I say 'good bye' to Kreuzberg, but I know that especially after the latest mini-trip, I will not stay for too long away from it. 

Boat tour around Wannsee

When the weather is good, Berlin has an impressive number of places to spend the long days of the summer. From forests and lakes, beaches and bars, you might need a long mild Mediterranean summer to enjoy them all. But it is only a dream, and with so many interesting options, I am faced very often with very difficult choices. As in the previous years I extensively did my share of hiking around the lakes, this time I want to see more of Berlin, and Potsdam, and possible, by sea. After exploring extensively Berlin by boat tour at the beginning of the spring, a couple of months later, I am at Wannsee, ready for a 2-hour sea trip around the lakes bordering the capital city.
We arrived at Wannsee, bought our ticket, with enough time in advance to explore a little bit the area around the small port. A two-hour trip usually costs 16 EUR., with the possibility to buy an open ticket, with stops in various attractions around, including the Peacock Island and Glienicke Palace in Potsdam.  
This green and peaceful part of Berlin was also affected by the separation during the Cold War, and you can follow the Berliner Mauerweg here too, as it used to separate the Western part of Berlin from the Soviet-occupied Potsdam. 
The area around is exclusively residential, with very elegant mansions and residences, often protected by walls of concrete and many cameras. It is not the usual hip Berlin we are used with.
Nearby, a jazz band is creating the ambiance at Loretta beer garden, where I complain enough about the heat for being offered an icecream. Our boat was supposed to arrive in 20 minutes, and we need to run to be sure that we have the best places. 
The big advantage of a boat tour on a very hot day is that in the middle of the sea, you can feel the breeze and mild wind. We took a place on the top of the boat and enjoyed the view, while trying to ignore the intensive smoking of some of our neighbours. 
The tour included mostly Stolpchensee, Kohlhasenbruecke, Glienicke, Moorsee, Teltow Canal, Griebnitzsee, Peacock Island. Together with the forests, the lakes are turning Berlin into one of the most green and clean air capital cities of Europe. The guide is explaining slowly details about the history and architecture of the places we are passing by, while dozen of boats of all sizes and types of comfort are trying to find a proper lane to continue the trip.
But there are also unharmed corners, without houses or too many people. It's not difficult to find your very secret place on the shore for a picnic, followed by a nap in the open air, and a swim after. And to keep up with this schedule as long as nothing bothers you - like an emergency job call or some crazy e-mails to answer. 
While we are running fast from a channel to another, we notice the differences of architecture: from the simple modernist lines of some new constructions, to the old style mansions and traditional half-timbered architecture. We pass near the former villa of Siemens family, the infamous residence where the Wannsee Conference was held or the house where president Trumann spent his time during the Potsdam Conference that put an end to WWII. It seemed that certain areas had clear social borders: here were living the intellectuals, on the other side the big business and tradesmen etc.
Teltow Channel, inaugurated in 1906, played an important role in helping the water transportation routes around Berlin. Nowadays it is used mostly for leisure and tourism, and it has a well preserved natural heritage.
In almost one hour, we are in Potsdam, at the famous Glienicke Brucke, or the spies' bridge, where during the Cold War the Soviet and the Allies used to do the exchange of spies or dissidents. Natan Sharansky, the Jewish Russian dissident saw here the light of freedom on this bridge, after more than 10 years of arrest and exile in Siberia. But times hopefully changed and leisure boats are nonchalantly exchanging welcoming hand waving while crossing under the bridge. 
Two hours of life in the middle of the sea might be almost nothing, compared to the exercise of living effectively by the sea. But there is a certain feeling of calm and happiness that it's impossible not to experience even after a couple of minutes. As much as I love the city life and the days spent hiking, I want to hope that from time to time, I can also appreciate the still life on water. To be continued. 
Check the two videos I made while on the boat tour: here and here.

Fresh shopping at Maybachufer

As I am living in the Western part of Berlin, most of the shopping I do is from the sanitized and very clean covered markets and shops, but one of the places by far when I feel that the buying experience is always worth any price is at the flea markets from the Eastern part. We do have such markets in our side of the city as well, but my experience by now were a bit boring, so I rather prefer to skip this part till I will discover something really worth the writing. A flea market with people selling and inviting the customers to buy more for less, joking and enjoying their time, this is what I am always enjoying. A flea market like the one on Maybachufer, for instance. 
From the Schoenleinstrasse U-Bahn station, the market - open every Friday - can be reached within minutes, at Kottbuser Damm. Take your time to notice the smell of fresh bakery in the air welcoming you once you went out of the metro station. Near the U-Bahn station, some people were selling bunches of veggies. Yes, this is Berlin too. 
The smells are catching, calling your name and ordering you to buy more and more. And so are the colours. Or the screams of the vendors with updates deals. The best is to arrive shortly before closing and get a lot for much less. No wonders that the market is visited regularly by people from all over the city, but also from tourists and very often by expats, that cannot have enough of taking pictures after pictures. However, people in the area are often from the traditional type and might have concerns about appearing on the camera so better be careful and try to take into account the local sensitivities! The best is to ask them if they agree to be photographed.
The prices are very low, which taking into account the general low prices for food in Berlin, means extremely cheap. And when it comes to cherries, I can easily eat many kilos the day. Let's buy as much as my budget allows me, then. Getting in debt for cherries, what a sweet idea!
This flea market, compared with similar markets in Berlin, are not only about food! Textiles of all kinds, including massive rolls of cotton I haven't seen since my early childhood, jewels many of them really beautiful and with unique patterns, leather bags or various second-hand objects, all are ready to find a new owner from 11 o'clock in the morning.
There is also a lot of street food to taste, from the delicious Turkish foods to the Glutenfree galettes or icecream parlours. Waiting in line may last a bit, time to change your mind a couple of times or eventually to add one more meals to the menu.
If you don't like eating while walking, find a place near the shore and enjoy the young gang of people that usually hang around there - even where the market is closed. Very often, street musicians are doing open air rehearsals during the summer while entertaining the ambiance. 
From the other side of the shore, on Paul Lincke Ufer, there is a different food world: more chic and very expensive restaurants and open air gardens. If you really want this too, you can have it. Because in Berlin, you can have it all, at least foodwise.

Montag, 23. Juni 2014

Foodie Berlin: Karun Bistro on Kantstrasse

At the beginning of this year, I had a couple of weeks when I was feeling at home in small bistros, serving hummus and various Middle Eastern dishes. Living in Berlin, finding them is easy, as you can hardly go on a big foodie street without your name being called at least twice by some Turkish or Arabic or Mediterranean meals.
This time, I did not need to go too far away: I had a look at the newest additions on Kantstrasse and made a delicious stop at Karun. The place was relatively new open when I visited - at the end of February - and with plenty of people, especially during the lunch time. The line went faster and my veggie plate was brought up without too much worries that I will starve. The customer service is friendly, with both English and German happily used for communication. The main disadvantage of visiting the place at such a rush hour is that you can hardly find a free place, and there is no chance to be left in a quiet pace. Otherwise, if you are a freelancer working from home and spending more than half of the day on your own, you might enjoy a little bit of action around. The place also have a corner for children. There are only about 10 tables, and except the big pictures on the wall, don't expect anything special in terms of design. 
Besides the fresh pita, my generous plate included, for a less than 7 EUR. price: pumpkin, aubergines, hummus, falafel, fried aubergines, tomatoes, zucchini, sour cream, fresh veggies, taboule, haloumi cheese, cucumber and salad.
I don't eat falafel too often, but this one was one of the best in town, with a genuine taste, not the usual made out of box ingredients that you can find in the majority of places. Taboule were very fresh and with various, yet complementary aromas. The combination between hummus and pumpkin is not usual, but it tasted outstanding delicious. The aubergines were a bit burned, but still keeping the original taste. Maybe I was missing some French fries for some oily addition, but I was not offered the opportunity to make my own choice. 
Such a fresh meal is a good choice for the dinner. Now, when I miss some good falafel and hummus, I know that I don't necessarily need to run far away to Kreuzberg or Prenzlauer Berg. 

Donnerstag, 19. Juni 2014

Visiting ocelot 'not just another bookstore'

I wanted to visit this bookstore for over a year, but as always, my travels to the Eastern part of the city are only taking place from time to time. Ocelot, - 'not just another bookstore' - is situated close to Rosenthaler Platz. Two ladies on the bench in the front of the store were knitting something colourful and the sounds of jazz music convinced me that some special things are hidden inside.
Compared to other bookstores, especially in the area of Prenzlauer Berg - where the boheme wants to read up-to-date titles -, it has a lot of space which was designed smartly. There is enough space to stay and read as much as the shop is open - at a long friendly wooden table, near the bar, serving muffins or coffee. The wood of the shelves creates the feeling of being at home. 
There is also a little corner for children, with pillows where to relax while getting to know the world of children. Due to the high concentration of children with families, it makes sense to safe so much space for children, but not for creating a playground, but for inspiring them the love for books.
The books sold are mostly from the literary register, with updated German translations. The publications corner is not very impressive, and neither is the English books area. Otherwise, I feel like I need to challenge myself more for reading in German. The literature domain is very well represented, and so it is the foodie one, and the one focused on creative arts. Anything interesting enough in the domain of social sciences or history, as well as politics. 
But despite those downsides, there are enough books to keep me very busy so every time when will be around Rosenthaler Platz I will try to visit ocelot. Maybe buy more books too. I am trying to speak a perfect German, that's why!