Dienstag, 23. September 2014

Berlin has its own cats café: Pee Pees

It's Friday, almost 11 o'clock and I'm on Thomasstrasse 53, close to Leinestrasse U-Bahn, the first customer of Pee Pees Katzencafé in Berlin. After Japan, London and - again they are the first - Munich, Berlin has since 2013 its one and only cats café, with two furry hosts: the brothers Pelle and Caruso that were waiting the guests on the other side of the window. Invited by the fellow blogger Dorothée from The Touristin for a girls travel chat, I'm happy to be back in the city, in a completely new ambiance.  
The house rules, added to other local rules that limited the number of cats hosted only to two, are written on a plastified white-and-blue paper on the tables: the cats can be spoiled, caressed and played with, but not feed, disturbed during the sleep, photographed with a blitz or took by the tail. 

The space looks like a short winter cat story, as it seems that everything was created especially to accommodate their needs (and if they are happy we, the humans can be happy too): toys, cat-inspired paintings and decorations, comfy couches. Not bad to live a cat's life, isn't it?  
The owner, who introduces us some short details about the daily life of the cats, their habits, and the story of the place is doing almost everything, from the cats' special care to the regular cleaning of the counter, shortly after the furry ones jumped around, or prepares the home made cookies. From a minute to another, the place looks more crowded, with more customers coming up, either from the neighbourhood or cats friendly people. 
The cats are getting more wild, apparently not disturbed by the increased audience. They run one after the other, run with the light speed up on the top of the wooden house, or just rest instantly on one of the tables or better on my bag. 
As the conversation goes on and on - the summer vacation was full of travel events - I am getting more and more used with the ambiance. I suppose that the children will love it even more. For now, the cats are taking a bit of rest, the day is big and there are, for sure, many things to be done. I leave the place with a little regret that I am living quite far away from Neukolln plus, being allergic to cats, I should rather be careful. Once in a while, a coffee in the company of the two cats will be nice though. 

The unknown Berlin: Visiting the former French sector in Reinickendorf

Through all my wandering in Berlin in the last years, I somehow forgot to explore properly Reinickendorf. Although I knew quite well that it used to be the area in West Berlin designated as the French Sector, I did not find anything interesting except the visit itself to bring me there. Shortly after my long summer holidays, I decided that this injustice should be corrected and took the S-Bahn till Wilhelmsruher Damm. The station, nowadays originally decorated with tiles in the 1960s style, was originally opened in 1877, under the name Rosenthal. The current name was given in 1937.
The first impression of the area was not extraordinary: a lot of small 1-2-storey houses, with parkings and car washing small shops.
Together with parts of Wedding, this area used to be the headquarters of the French military in the West Berlin. The so-called Quartier Napoléon included around 80 small Corbusier villas, that nowadays remind of the HLM from the French suburbs, a school, a big shopping center, and a mobile hospital unit. As usual, French 'occupation' bring more than a physical presence, but always a slice of culture, institutions and style. 

After the end of the Cold War and the withdrawal of the French forces, the area went through an identity and especially economic crisis. The houses were hard to rent, especially due to the relative lack of appeal of the area: not too many restaurants, complicated and long connections to the center, limited number of schools.

In time, the hunger for more real estate increased, the area get a little bit of embellishment and new bus connections were created. Nowadays, the renting capacity is almost full. 

However, the big shopping center, aimed to serve the needs of the French representatives and their family still remains empty, and the French inscriptions are hanging up sadly near the wild grass. Compared to other similar abandoned places in Berlin, is no danger of bad smells and the graffiti art is rather modest if any. 

Some statues are laying on the ground, senseless and waiting to be taken somewhere better. Wish I could find someone to explain more about the recent past of the place.
The streets were quiet, with people walking their dogs, but no one was speaking any French, and what was left from the former French memories were the names of the streets: Rue Montesquieu, Jean Jaurès, Racine. The block houses do have back yards, in the middle of playgrounds with small benches to rest.
 The former French School is still there, with children coming and going from the classrooms.
And it was all. The journey through the former Cité Foch was uneventful and not as Francophone as I always expected from a former French Sector. Initially, it was called Toucoulou, after the name of a city in Central African Republic, probably a memory of the former French colonies.
I continued the walking a bit more, despite the pouring rain, discovering new interesting architecture and new stylish villa, on Nimrodstrasse. It reminded me a bit of Grunewald, except that the spaces were more open and less private. 
The visit of the former French sector was not that exciting as I was expecting, but 25 years after the fall of the Wall, it's about time to think about a normal life of the city, West and East coming along together. 

Montag, 15. September 2014

Life in Berlin: Alex Clare Open Air Concert on Simon-Dach Street

Part of Berlin charm is the never-ending box of surprises offered even after many years and experiences in all parts of the city. With the summer almost gone, the life of the busy streets of the East seems to give one more deep breath before the outdoor chairs will be brought back in some dusty corners till - who knows - maybe the next May or June. 
Tonight, I headed to Simon-Dach street, corner Krossener Street where in the front of Paules Metal Eck Alex Clare's fans in Berlin knew for over a day that it will be an open air free concert of their favourite musician. 15 minutes before, it was already a group of over 20 people moving back and forth, keen to be the first to catch him. A couple of minutes before the scheduled time, he arrived, modestly walking near the tables with evening customers from the bars around. He made his way playing the guitar and kept doing so for the next 20 minutes, playing mostly songs from the new album. A modest presence, easily sharing his passion for people and music, with kindness and being thankful. 
Probably this is the genuine beautiful story behind the good music and the success. 

Montag, 8. September 2014

Foodie Berlin: Zimt und Mehl am Treptow Park

My presence around Treptow Park can be considered a very special event, as during my very active life spent in Berlin I visited the area maximum 2 times. This time, we arrived in the area for some sightseeing, but ended up shopping a lot at the Treptow Shopping Center. But I want to believe that my strongest memories are about the pleasant Zimt und Mehl coffee and restaurant, situated near the shopping center center. It was recently re-open, proof being the delicate wall painting with oriental motives. It is situated on Beermanstrasse 2, at the corner with Elsenstrasse. 
There are places outside as well, but near the busy bus station of 104 with not such a spectacular view, so we rather preferred to chill indoors. There is free wlan offered for free to the customers, as well as a couple of local publications that can be read if you prefer a solitary meal. The ambiance is cozy and the service very friendly. 
I was not terribly hungry and set rather for a coffee and a cake - to celebrate the newest shopping additions to the closet - but after seeing the colours and feeling the smells of the meals, I immediately changed my mind. The (huge) pumpkin soup, with serious spreads of parsley and traces of soy went perfectly together with the crunchy black bread. 
The plate of veggies was part of the soup menu: various pickles - cucumber and white radishes - hot paprika and fresh leaves of rocket, plus some lemon to diminish a bit the creamy soup. The cuisine, which includes many vegetarian and vegan dishes, is of Turkish origin.  
The last but not least piece of my meal: the carrot cake, fresh although a bit too moisture, moderately sweet, mixing my favourite spices: cinnamon and nutmegs. The perfumed smells and the strong coffee brought me back on the track, ready to get back home after the hassle of shopping. 
I was not proud of me for giving up the big journalistic plans of the day to discover more about Treptow, but at least I felt less guilty after discovering this delicious corner. 

Samstag, 6. September 2014

Summer afternoon at Tempelhof

At the beginning of the summer, Tempelhof was in the top news regarding Berlin, following a successful campaign - 100% Tempelhofer Field - that ended up with a referendum in the favour of keeping the former space of the disaffected airport as a free area for entertainment. The plans of the soon-to-be ex-mayor Wowereit of allowing the development of some impressive real estate projects were rejected by the hippie population of the city and thus, the field was left untouched. 
The airport was built in the 1920s and can be considered a sample of totalitarian architecture. There are some interesting tours explaining the architecture, as well as the post-war history, that cover also the underground bunkers. After it ceased operation in 2008, it was used for location of various fairs but also for movie and fashion shootings. 
The anti-entrepreneurial and slightly anti-capitalistic minds used the green space for pure hedonistic joy of gardening, with small or bigger areas dedicated to growing up various veggies or flowers.  
There is also a small mini-golf and an open air lounge, were one can sip for hours some local beverage. The space is huge, windy and you took your eyes from the totalitarian airport, you can relax a bit more. 
Around the hectic green lanes, people are walking various breeds of dogs or having a little picnic in the grass. The area is considered as an interesting natural resources, with billboards explaining in detail - in German - about the flora and fauna in Tempelhof. 
Just for the curious and photo opportunity lovers, an old air plane hidden near the grass. Did anyone say something about selfies?
There is also a special charm in admiring various historical stages of development of the city from the grass' level. You might feel as the perfect stranger in a world that you are not that curious to understand. Less poetically said, you can spend the rest of your happy life just chilling, without really caring about what's going on in the world. 
We headed to Tempelhof with a very clear aim, besides the journalistic curiosity to revisit a famous place covered in the media of then last months: flying our kite. Although we had a very simple less than 1 Euro worth eagle kite, when arrived in a properly windy area, we were as proud to admire ours high in the sky as the other professional kite runners developing expensive professional tools. 
When I felt a bit bored by kites and grass and loads of history, I rented a bike for one hour- for 6 Euro - and toured the former airport lanes more than once for some speed touring of the location. In some places it was quite easy to speed up in some I should use some extra energy, as I was facing some windy air counter strength. 
Besides the bikes, other renting options available were carting, unicycles, tricycles, with prices starting from 2 Euro the hour. 
I am neither an economist nor an urban planner, and have no idea what the real estate projections for the area were. As a simple visitor from time to time and sentimental kite runner, I can only enjoy my time there, in the most selfish possible way. Especially in the summer and spring, it can be a good location for spending some free family time in the middle of the nature, eating the food from your basket and chilling out for an indefinite non-payable amount of hours. 

Montag, 1. September 2014

Foodie Berlin: Crêpes Suzette

One year after my beautiful trip to Nantes, I am still looking for the original taste of the salted caramel. I know that it's only my fault for not taking the first plane back to France, but I promise to repent looking for the best places to have an original 'crepe' in Berlin. While inspecting Pappellallee back and forth a couple of weeks ago, I discovered the Crepes Suzette, but they were on vacation at the time. One week after, I was back to check how much Bretagne I can find in each crepe. 
The first encounter was sweeter than expected: we chose our dishes from TinTin books, to whose pages were added menus with various sweet and salty options. There are special lunch menus and galettes du jour - made according to the high standards of the French art, of course. 
There are a lot of places outside, but for the time being, taking a seat indoors is wise - giving the weather forecasts. The interior looks clean, simple, with wooden table and a lot of publications to browse till the crepes are ready. 
As for me, I preferred to find out more about the history of the 'crepes Suzettes'. As any serious invention, they were created by accident, in Monte Carlo, by the 14-year old Henri Carpentier in 1895. While preparing the pancakes fro the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward of England, the alcohol from the sauce where the premade pancakes needed to be soaked - together with orange peel and sugar - caught fire. Out of time, he served those pancakes to the distinguished guests that were delighted. Initially called 'Crepes Princesse', the name was changed to Suzette, in the memory of the young daughter of the Prince - some might say she was rather the lover. Regardless of the circumstances, the crêpes made their entry into the culinary history and are there to stay. 
Now, that I've learned something new for the day, it was about time to reward myself with something tasty. The service was fast and friendly, with French and German joyous conversations. My creme salée Caramel Bretagne pancake was big, with a fine texture - I was able to feel the good combination between eggs and flour - adorned with the very sweet Caramel sauce. The salt was moderated in the advantage of the sugarly layer. One can also add some icecream to the dish, which can be a good option for the hot summer days.
As for me, I was happy to have back into my palate the sweet Nantes memories. Given also the pleasant service, I might be very tempted to return for a new culinary experience in the near future.