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!

Montag, 17. November 2014

At the Heldenmarkt

I am hardly missing any fairs and big gatherings in Berlin, but it seems that I never had enough time - or the weather was always too cold to go out of my crib - to visit the Heldenmarkt. Regularly organized in the last years not only in Berlin, but also in Munich, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Ruhr and Stuttgart, it gathers producers of various local foods - most of them from the bio and vegan category - and sustainable development projects in general. It usually lasts for 2 days, in the first half of November in the former Postbahnhof, a classical red-bricked Berlin building.
I arrived a couple of hours short the closing time and it was plenty of people and children of all ages, starting from newly born carried by mothers or fathers carefully. The food is the predominant presence, starting with the various sorts of breads, so typical for Germany.
Some stands are offering take away food, mostly vegetarian, with some Oriental flavours. 
More delicious temptations are following: some various mixtures of sweet and sour, with a touch of chocolate and some cornflakes, some of them with some secret chilli ingredients. 
Second in line after foods, there are the sustainable development projects: starting with some lunchware made out of recycled materials...
 and continuing with various funny looking bottles made of different renewable materials.
The same goes for the recycled paper. As I noticed in my own case, I consume and throw away a lot of paper and rarely have the right knowledge to make something completely new out of it.
As a woman and hobby craftsperson, I spent a lot of time admiring various corners with handmade products, like the one with jewellery made out of spoons. Yes, spoons, sometimes the imagination is just a matter of seeing the reality differently.
The printing industry is also represented by a printing house using green technologies, to handmade paper with delicate flowers and leaves insertions.
But, it's time to check again some foodie options, such as this project of a company covering mostly Berlin and expanding to Brandenburg too. It offers regular supplies of vegetables and fruits, and some other bio products as well. 
But as a lifelong fan of rose-based products, the invitation to taste some syrups and jams made out of my favourite flavour was more stronger. Von Blythen Manufaktur offers a big variety of such edible products, plus some special cooking and flowers decorations classes. Check out this Saturday, their open doors day for more interesting events coming up!
 The colours around asked my attention and had to leave the tasting of roses...
For children, there were not only lots of opportunities to learn - to make lemonade, for instance - or to play, but also many cute toys calling their names.
 Meanwhile, their parents can learn how to make their own wooden radio.
Or their mothers, can check some jewellery, made in various corners of the world, among which Africa or Bali or Mexico
The pressure to move on the sustainable side is so big in Germany, that even the newspapers like operated some brand extensions to include some bio products.
When it comes to clothing, some of the tailored products might look colourful and fresh new, although sometimes it can take you some time to get used with the textures that are a bit raw by touch. 
I keep wandering through the various boots spread on the two levels of the exhibition, with new discoveries in terms of design and packaging solutions. From the same spectacular category is the company producing furniture out of paper: Room in a Box.
Nearby, there is the world of peppers calling me to check various combinations of tastes.
 The counter-balance, the world of chocolate, coming in different shapes and recipes.
For ecologically-aware families, tableware made out of recyclable materials offers the answer of guilty-free long and rich meals when you don't need to worry about cleaning the dishes for hours. 
Germany started with the bio products a long time ago and the current developments are an example of how advanced they are. For instance, the healhty Krunchy products are made for 35 years already.
Cocoa beans are not only for tasting - although I would prefer to taste them as often as possible - but can also be used for various decorations and handmade jewellery. This is probably the only excuse I can accept for not eating them.
But luckily, there are enough cocoa and chocolate supplies to keep me happy and well feed during my visit at the Heldenmarkt. Now, that I know what it is all about, will probably be more decided to visit it the next year again. Even my German is getting much better after so many sweet tasting...