Dienstag, 26. August 2014

Düppel, the Medieval village in West Berlin

Long before I was ready to land to Berlin, a historian friend of mine strongly recommended me to include Museum Düppel on the to-do-list of my first week of discovery of the city. As the museum is open only from April to October and the program is limited to a couple of hours the week, plus the other contemporary attractions calling loud my name in other parts of the city, it took me 6 years to finally visit it. The last Sunday, we took the bus no. 115 from Fehrbelliner Platz and from the station Ludwigsfelde, we followed the arrows till the entrance.
The open air museum is situated in the middle of a forest in Steglitz-Zehlendorf on the site of a former medieval settlement discovered during archaeological excavations at the end of the 1960s. Long before that, in 1940, some fragments of pottery were localized around 1200 CE. Progressively, the area was turned into a little village aimed to recreate the habits and ambiance of what the historians imagined was the quiet life in the middle ages. For instance, the visitors are tempted with jars of fresh honey.
Most products are made on the site, as it is the case not only with the honey, but also with some herbs - for both tea and cooking - or various types of vinegar produced from the gardens cultivated on small slots of land. The three-field system rotation of crops, that it's said to contribute significantly to the agricultural development of Europe, is put into practice on a daily basis in Düppel.
Women in long grey-white costumes - the fashion of the time - are introducing the visitors to the traditional customs practised then: pottery, woodworking, spinning, weaving or tar production.
As in any respectable medieval household, there are also some animals around, enjoying their green grass and the admiration of the children. The museum succeeded to keep some native medieval breed of sheep, such as the 'Skudde' or a local breed of free-range pig. Pony riding is also possible and guided tours are offering details about the breeding techniques. 
Our visit coincided with the summer festival - the last Sunday before the schools start - and it was even more crowded, with many children running wild in the woods. Tables with 'home made' foods were waiting to refuel them with new portions of energy. Traditional German Flammkuchen were made directly in some brick oven. Regularly, soups made following medieval recipes are served from big black pots.
In another corner of the huge park, a live blacksmithing demonstration. The team, among them a woman, were doing their work slowly without being bothered by the curious eyes some of them probably ready to do their own experiment. For someone with two clumsy hands, it looked a bit dangerous so tried to stay away. 
More than the live experiments and the food, I loved the idea of reconstructing old habitation spaces. My expectations were a big high initially, considering similar village museum I visited in Europe, but here there is no geographical representation of various German areas, the architectural research being focused on reconstructing the village as it used to be in this specific part of Berlin.
Once you enter the little house, one might be bothered by the lack of light and the cramped space. Sometimes, we forget about how much did it take to acquire the comfort of electric illumination and of high-ceiling condos. 
 If you ever had the chance to learn weaving, here is the place to try to remember your lessons. 
 Otherwise, riding a little wooden horse is an experience you will never forget or need to learn for too long.
Thankful for the sun, I took as much time as possible to explore the neighbourhood house by house, not too creative in trying to imagine how the daily life used to be those times. This is how I ended up studying contemporary history, probably.
The merit of this little village is the punctilious concern to recreate a comprehensive landscape of the old village. The work started in the 1970s and lasted a couple of good decades till the final inauguration. For the construction, ancient techniques were used.
The huge open air spaces are offering enough vantage points to relax, with or without a book, and get immersed into the ambiance. 
Such a generous space is perfect for children that can jump freely around, playing with various old games. As for me, I tried more than once to walk on stilts without any chance of success.
The beginning of early autumn is the best time to be around, at least for the colours of the fruits - that the visitors are not allowed to pick up. Due to its historical features, the children under 14 are not allowed to visit unattended and climbing the old buildings, as tempting as it sounds, is strictly forbidden. 
Under the guidance of their teachers and parents, the children have a lot to learn about the old - not necessarily good - times. A visit to a museum or a live presentation, or even the experience of a pottery workshop can be more valuable than long boring hours in the classroom. 
This goes for the old art of cooking too, as old cooking books from the 14th century are available on sale for those interested for a historical menu.
Even though a bit too late, I am happy I finally made it to this medieval village. Till October, I still have time for a new visit, maybe to watch life some chivalry confrontations.

Donnerstag, 21. August 2014

Foodie Berlin: Mon Plaisir Chocolaterie

After one year and a little bit of intensive searches for the best macarons in Berlin, last week I felt closer than ever to the end of the challenge. At Mon Plaisir Chocolaterie, on Pappelallee 9, macarons are served in different colours and flavours. They are blue, as a violet and blackcurrant - sweet, fresh and fondant - or honey beige, with some traces of sesame seeds - Yuzu, the halwa flavoured embellished with a fine drop of chocolate - or they have small points of green, the traces of mint and the taste of summer fresh chocolate. 
My choice was minimal, the sweet treats after a long lunch, out of an insensitive richness of flavours and colours. I wanted a good outdoors spot at one of the wooden garden tables, keeping at bay the many sweet temptations calling my name indoors: French chocolate, biscuits, cakes and, again, many many macarons. The coffee was normal, not necessarily strong, but my mind was already set in admiration for every bit of the fine chocolate of the macarons.   
With so much French being spoken around me - the maitre patissier is, you guessed, French - and the big generous box of macarons, you know where you can find me for the rest of the summer. 

Montag, 18. August 2014

Foodie Berlin: Lon Men's Noodle House

When all the foodie options fail or when I am lazy enough to refuse to read any of the many cookbooks resting on the shelves, Kanstrasse is always the best alternative for an affordable tasty dinner or lunch. After a couple of hours of walking in the woods near Teufelsee, we ended up wandering on the above mentioned street for some special yet healthy lunch. Was a kind of sad to notice that I checked almost all the pubs and restaurants on both sides of the streets. Except one: Lon Men's Noodle House, a Taiwanese noodle parlour situated on no. 33. 
Although busy, we succeeded to find some free places outside, courageous enough to cope with the invasion of wasps. There were a couple of places inside too, small traditional tables crowded near pictures from Taiwan or the owner near various personalities that visited the eatery, among which the former chancellor Helmut Kohl. The owners did not invest too much in the interior design, but at least the food is served in Asian-looking bowls which brings a little note of authenticity to the experience. 
I ordered some peanut and sesame noodles, brought relatively fast. The noodles were different of what I tasted before: smooth, consistent, kind of silky, with a special consistency probably given by the eggs. The veggies - fine slices of carrots, cucumber and salad - added a lot of freshness that diminished in a welcoming way the satiety of the peanut sauce. As for the sesame, I did not feel it too much, maybe I should give a new try to this dish for a better understanding of the recipe. 
And even not for the dish, I am still decided to give a new try to this place, just because I am sure it will inspire me for more Asian trips soon!

Sonntag, 17. August 2014

Exploring Teufelsee

After spending one month far away from Berlin, I tried to get in touch again intensively with the city in the last days. Except the weather - an autumn cocktail of rain, grey clouds and some happy hours of sun - I must recognize that I missed the city and in the last week I tried to visit as many old beloved places as possible, as well as checking new destinations. Since the early spring, my friends recommended me Teufelsee as a quiet destination for slow hiking. Today, I finally made it there. From the S-Bahn Grunewald, I passed on the other side of the train passage, near terraces and open air restaurants. Some of them were renting bikes for 12 Euro the day, a tempting offer given the hike concentration of bikes in the area. However, I resisted the temptation and preferred the slow walking around. 
Although there is not a marked road, is almost impossible to get lost. Especially today, it was plenty of bikes, Nordic walkers, families with children, joggers and a lot of dogs and their owners. Happily enough, the forest is big enough for all the people from Berlin looking for a secluded green paradise. 
From time to time, there were big billboards explaining the visitors what they can expect in terms of flora and fauna, but unfortunately I did not spot anything special.
From afar, the mysterious Teufelsberg listening station, the former CIA center in West Berlin, was overseeing the area. 
Suddenly, the secluded beach I was told about appeared. True is that it was not that secluded, and there were a lot of people around chilling out or having lunch on the fine sand dune, but the presence was spectacular.  
The traces of conifers on the sand brought an air of mystery to the place, while announcing the inevitable autumn. 
 We kept walking near the fallen trees and serious joggers, looking for an animal farm I was told about. 
But we only found the lake, with children training to swim over a canoe. Their enthusiastic noises were contagious breaking up from time to time the majestic silence of the area. Here  is a short live video. 
The area was crowded, so we preferred to keep walking and walking, looking for more fresh air and even more hiking. Although I was well trained, after intensive hiking in medium to difficult mountains, I enjoyed the slow motion. Good sport shoes are recommended for a successful experience. 
I suppose the journey can be done all round the year, but this time of the year is perfect for the good temperature and the beautiful green scenery. 
Wild colourful fruits were sparkling from time to time the green monotony. I tried to spot some special animal traces in the fresh mud, but could not get anything special. Better for me, as during my last hiking in the Carpathians, I was showed some delicate bear trace and was not sure how I should react if finally meeting the furry one.  
On the ground, wild mushrooms were ready for some photon opportunities. I felt sad to leave the Teufelsee, thinking about the coming cold weather and the limited experiences of hiking. However, with so many green areas and forests in and around Berlin, I should try to repeat the experience at least twice the week in the coming month. Not only keeps me fit, but gives me a certain feeling of well being and mental wellness.