Sonntag, 1. November 2015

Foodie Berlin: ZUKA Dessert Manufaktur

Very often when I expected a lot of time enthusiastically to go checking some cakes place everyone was talking about and left it with a big disappointment. I discovered ZUKA around one year ago during a walk with a friend, entered to see what it is all about and waited and waited till paying a visit. Somehow, I wanted to be sure that this place is for real and will stay open for longer. 
I went there during the week, around the middle of the day and it was almost empty. Some guests were enjoying the last summer days and were enjoying the outside places. However, I remember to see the place almost full in the evening. The overall design of the curvaceous location with a window wall was a bit disappointed as I expected more elegance after looking at the tempting pieces of cake. Another disappointment was the absence of wifi, something almost normal for many German places. 
After a bit of hesitation, I ordered a peach green tea tart and an eclair. After the disappointing KaDeWe eclair experience where I paid a lot for being offered a very sugary pastry, this time the sweetness was moderate, but the pastry a bit tasteless. The cold cream of the filling and the sweetness of the dots of chocolate changed the impression and till I was done I was having my sugar shoot. Before going further with the tasting, I allowed the very normal cappuccino to clean my mouth.
The fine green tea wall with a strong macha taste hide a white mascarpone cream, the only sweet part of the cake, with peaches on the top. Every single bit of it revealed new pleasures and alll the three elements of the cake balanced and completed each other. At the end of it, my eclair impression was just modest. 
The cakes can be also ordered for home. The prices are acceptable and the service is moderately friendly. Every single sweet temptation is offered on a small golden paper, and looks tempting enough to feed even the most sophisticated sweet teeth. This time, my sweet adventure was not disappointing. 

Samstag, 31. Oktober 2015

Piet Mondrian exhibition at Martin Gropius Bau

At the beginning of September, I enjoyed a lot of free sunny weekends, a good opportunity to carefully check some art events and exhibitions in the city. As I regularly do twice the year, one of the stops was Martin Gropius Bau for the retrospective of Piet Mondrian works. It reunited works from Den Haag, the largest collection of Mondrian works. 
The exhibition, that can be seen till the beginning of December, offers an overview of the evolution of Mondrian's work conception. Although his abstract works are more known to the public, his beginnings - realistic, inspired by the 17th century tradition of Dutch landscape, or influenced by Cubism, De Stijl or impressionism - were often obstructed by his popular abstract works. The famous 'Line' is part of the current works exhibited, but discovering the previous styles was for me by far more challenging and interesting. The exhibition, separated into spaces that are dedicated to various stages in the artistic life of the painter, is revealing an artist that permanently reinvented himself.
The development of his work with lines went through different stages, and architecture, besdes  theosophy, played an important role in reshaping his identity. It worked together with the vision on the space and changing perception of it. Many were also his influences, gathered during the various inspirational places he visited. Between 1912 and 1917 he went through a Cubistic stage following his stay in Paris and the delapidated buildings, probably the consequence of the WWI damages, prompted his abstract beginnings.
At the end of the exhibition I felt the same way after reading a good book: the sadness that it finishes. Maybe till December I can give it one more try... 

Donnerstag, 29. Oktober 2015

Registering a new born baby in Berlin: the challenges

After the kid is born, the normal step is to go on and give him a bureaucratic identity, in other words, to register the little baby as a citizen in the making. As usual, the German bureaucracy did not disappoint me and everything went fast but this time, it involved some money spent...we do not know for sure on what. It starts with one of the parents going early in the morning at the city hall, in the front of the door of the special section in charge with birth certificates. You may write your name on a list, with the date of birth of the child and the hospital where the baby was born and wait till someone comes, looks at the list and calls your name. Be ready to have a copy of the passports or ID cards of the parents, and their birth certificates - international version. 

Easy peasy - the parents are married

Let's start with the beginning. If the parents are married, things are simple. The child is registered on the spot, with the name of the husband and the mother with full rights. The birth certificate is delivered either in the same day or 10 days after. You will be handled 1 copy - for 10 Euro - and another 3 free proofs that should be further sent to the insurance company and the authorities in charge to give financial support to the new born. There is also a declaration that should be signed by both parents where they agree about the name to be given to the baby.
This easy variant is also available for the registration of the child in the hospital where the mother gives birth.

Different challenges - the parents are not married

The things are a bit different when the parents are not married and also having different citizenships. There is a declaration of paternity - Vaterschafterkennung - the father should sign either during the mother's pregnancy or after the child is born - it costs 30 Euro. It is accompanied by a long legal explanation of the German right and other subtelties. Usually, you need an appointment for this declaration. 
When one of the parents does not speak German, a translator - not official, but not a relative of any of the two parents either - is requested. For the work of this special person - that may take around one hour - that accepts to do the translation, you pay 20 Euro that goes to the city hall but not to the translator. I found it a bit strange the procedure, to be honest. I would have prefer to give this money to the translator who waited a bit more than expected and did a great job than to waste it for some undisclosed purpose. 
There is also the possibility to do the paternity declaration in the front of the Jugendamt, also by appointment and with a translator, but for free. The disadvantage is that as for now, there is not easy to get a date with the authorities till the end of the year so you better pay and get what you want faster. Without the birth certificate, you cannot get the money from the insurance and the Kindergeld - a monthly amount the state gives you for the child - and the sooner you have it the better for the financial well-being of your small family. 
Another specificy of the German family right is that by birth the mother is automatically having full right over the child. If you want to share the right with the father - I will write another post soon about what I discover that it is the disrespect of the father as an active and responsible member of the family - you need another declaration and official appointment, this time in the front of the Jugendamt, the authority in charge with families and especially children. 

To be continued...

As for now, the happy owners of the birth certificate - international one is the best, written in English and French and German, as for a passport and citizenship some embassies will request the official translation and many of them the apostile for authentification (to be read more money to the bureaucracy) - are ready for new bureaucratic challenges. It seems that this story never ends, at least for now...

Montag, 26. Oktober 2015

Foodie Berlin: Koshary Lux, Oriental Street Food

There is rarely something that can surprise me in terms of food in the Western part of Berlin, but this summer offered me many reasons to think that there are so many things on the move here too. As one day in August I was slowly walking around Savigny Platz, a colourful place with spicy smells caught my eyes and called my foodie curiosity: Koshary Lux on Grolmanstrasse 27. 
In a friendly ambiance with an even friendlier service, here it is served 'Oriental Street Food', trying to mix the shuk - market traditions - from Marrakesh, Beiruth, Algier or Cairo. The menu has one of success dishes on Friday evening - the Moroccan carot salad (with chilli and cumin), dates salad with goat cheese and celery, walnuts and baby spinach, meaty sandwiches and tomato soup. Many choices for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. For the beginning, I ordered a fresh Egyptian lime lemonade with mint that was so fresh and delicious - moderately sugarly - that I wanted one more time and the recipe too. Do not expect shawarma or falafel or humus and it is good this way.
The portions are available in both small and big portions, offered at affordable prices. Although hungry, the Koshary mix fed me enough although if not that spicy - introduced to me as moderately - I would have been tempted for one more try. It has lentils, rice and maccaroni with tangy tomato sauce, topped with caramelized onions, chickpeas and a pistachio-spice blend. Brought in a very simple metal bowl it has an interesting mixture of tastes and aromas that makes you think to busy shuks and unknown worlds.
For the end of my short first stay, I took a dessert too: a muhallabiya - milk pudding with rose water sirup, almonds and pistachios. A natural sweetness of the pudding meeting successfully the springles pistachios and almonds which offer a good balance. 
This order was enough to open the appetite for more. Maby they introduced some more meals for the autumn season. If not, still there are some things on the menu that would love to test anyway. 

Freitag, 23. Oktober 2015

Schlosshotel Grunewald, the hidden luxury oasis of Berlin

When the summer is about to go in Berlin, I always check either a new travel destination in a warm country or new places in the city where I can go away of the winter. In the last case, the choice varies from museum to restaurants or architectural wonders that must keep me awake and with an alert mind during the boring cold. With a lot of time to spend in Berlin during this long hot summer, I finally decided to spend more time in the Grunewald area, a favourite place for walking, both for the natural wonders and the architectural works. On one lonely quiet street I discovered the well kept secret of the West Berlin: the design boutique hotel Schlosshotel Grunewald
It is around 11 o'clock and it seems that no one is around. I go through the stone gates and dare for more. Some fancy limousines are waiting at the entrance, ready to go. 
The rest is silence. The few personnel people I met are moving graciously, the few guests are discretely having their conversations in one of the corners.The massive furniture and the big windows seem to absorb all the undeserved noise. 
The same silence in the park garden, where comfortable white modern sofas are spread between classical fountains. A lady guest with an Afghan dog is taking her seat and orders something while checking the smart phone. The wi-fi in the garden goes pretty fast.  
lThe sunny weather is tempting but I am decided to explore more the stylish interior. Many details of the 1914-built villa, when the hotel was called Stadtpalais, were kept as such. 
The big space of the lobby with its huge chandelier and the claire obscure interior amplifies the mystery of the place. No wonder that this hotel is usually preferred by VIPs coming to Berlin for enjoying their privacy, as for instance the former US state secretary Henry Kissinger who was here again recently. 
The old wooden door were matched with modern designs, such as the golden leaves motifs on the white walls. 
The hotel has now 43 rooms and 10 suites. Most rooms have a view over the garden, but sharing the wooden stairs to the lobby. The stylish interior design bears the trademark of Karl Lagerfeld. 
 Oil paintings in the corners and in the room are adding a personal note to the hotel ambiance.
The small wooden doors are opening to glamorous worlds but as usual in Germany, abundance and luxury are private matters not shared with the rest of the world. 
Back in the lobby, back to the same unbroken majestic silence. Quiet enough to imagine how it was at the time when Josephine Baker was coming here regularly or how Romy Schneider celebrated her wedding.
The restaurant is ready to offer the gourmet meals, the cigar bar for some private conversations. In one neighbouring space someone is having a business presentation. 
 The mixture between modern lines and classical background is spotless.
 But also very inviting, to a glass of wine or some rest. I make a mental note to come back soon for a special gourmet tasting one of the next months. 
For now,  it is time to leave. I go out discretely as I entered. It is a bit more than a hotel and a bit more than a castle. Hope to find the right definition of this place during my next visit.

Sonntag, 18. Oktober 2015

Giving birth in Berlin: A Foreigner in Berlin experience

If any of my readers were maybe curious why so many silence gaps in my online presence, the right answer is that in the last months I was busy getting used with pregnancy challenges and particularly in the last weeks and days being ready to welcome the baby. Although summer travel went well, a couple of restrictions applied - such for instance the impossibility to go on an airplane in the last two months of pregnancy. Also, because of the unusual summer heat, I preferred to limit as much as possible my travels and to include as many stops as possible - preferrably for refreshments and various foodie tastings. 
And when the time has come, everything went well and everyone is healthy and happy - although considerably sleep deprived. Not necessarily on purpose, but the delivery was chosen at a medical center that I extensively covered a couple of posts ago: DRK Westend, a place I was recommended by many of my expat friends too and that I recommend it further on too. The overall services and medical support I benefited was high class, also thanks to the benefits of my insurance that covered extensively a lot of services, including some acupuncture session that was considered necessary by the medical staff. 

After the baby was born, I was hardly left alone for more than one hour: nurses come to check us periodically, with special advice about how to handle the baby, but also specific advice for me. For instance, the day after a therapist come to check my motric problems counseling me to take it easy and not get ready for a marathon in less than 2-3 months after delivery. This in addition to various vitamins and screenings and checkings done fast. I always complain about the slow motion and lack of responsiveness of the customer service in Germany but this time I was really impressed about everything: the way we were treated, the everyday help and kindness of the nurse that offered me a lot of coffee after confessing that did not have the chance in the last months of tasting the strong version of my favourite beverage. Last but not least, not forget about the kind doctor that come with a German English dictionary in his pocket after he heard out that we were not locals. 
As a general rule, future mothers in Germany need to do periodical checkings that are mentioned in the famous Mutterpass that should accompany you when going for delivery. This 'passport' is providing information about the medical history of the mother and has details about the various medical checkings done during the nine months.
The insurance company is covering the costs and after being many years on private insurance, I realized how lucky I was to be the customer of one of the big state companies. Every time I had to go to the doctor, I just had to show my insurance. 
Something that should be kept in mind before giving birth is to find a reliable midwife (Hebamme) that will help the mother at least in the first two weeks of life of the baby. The costs for the service offered are also covered by the insurance company. My mistake was to not make the choice and find out after around 100 phone calls that no midwife in my area was available, except one private one paid with 70 euro the hour. 
Another intersting thing in Germany is that after the birth, the mother has 2 full months - at least - of paid leave, the salary being partially covered by the insurance company. 
One month after, everything is going fine and trying to include my writing into my new very busy life. For more updates about my adventures with the pram across Berlin, check for now my Instagram account: ilanaontheroad.
See you soon!

Donnerstag, 17. September 2015

Korean Food Stories at Gong Gan

I am an admirer of the fine selection of Asian restaurants from the Western side of the city, especially Kantstrasse, but when it comes to genuine Korean restaurant I was told to rather go on the other side of the Berlin. And, as usual, I take the recommendations of my friends very seriously, but for various reasons, I delayed with putting it into pratice. Only the rain and hunger brought me a couple of days ago at one of the outdoor wooden lego-like tables of the Gong Gan restaurant on Schwedter Str. 2. 
The menu choices are relatively limited with medium prices. It has a breakfast option for around 6 EUR. which includes various European toasts. 
Too late for a toast, I wanted to seriously start the investigation of the state of the art of the Korean food in Berlin with something original. Like the famous Bibimbap, that was brought to me relatively fast, but with metal chopsticks which is not necessarily my choice no.1 in hygienic terms. Warned to 'mix up' the content, I had a look at the ingredients: rice, tofu, shreds of carrots, finely sliced onions, salad, hot sauce, some crest, ruccola (ingredient which I bet is not part of the original recipe). It went out good, with the green leaves balancing the hotness of the sauce. The original bibimbap also has an egg on the top, and various sorts of bean pasta too, and used to be served on the eve of the lunar new year as a mixture of all the leftover found in the house. It is mostly known in the meaty variant. The overall impression was good and healty, but not unforgettable.
What left unforgettable memories to my palate was the gree hot macha tea. Original green tea, served moderatelly hot, sugarless and with that original taste that I only remember from my genuine foodie Japanese adventures. Most probably, from now on I will look for a long time for this taste. 
Design-wise, the place looks from inside as a crowded antiquities shop, but looking for my outdoor bench seems like an interesting place to explore. There is also a lego corner, where I assume is enjoyable for everyone's inner child. The ambiance was pleasant, with nice service and jazz musical background from the 1920s. 
Gong Gan is open daily between 9 and 19 from Monday to Thursday and between 9 and 22 from Friday to Saturday. Although not sure if I will be back soon, at least this restaurant opened the series of what I hope to be many other tasty reviews of Korean food in Berlin.

Mittwoch, 16. September 2015

Berlin has its own museum of architecture

With the beautiful autumn in full bloom, and some vacation days to be completely on my own, I discovered that I don't need to travel too far away to discover new things. All I have to do is to take a metro till, let's say Senefelderplatz, cross the street and go up to the stairs of the whitish buildish with a big written sign: Pfefferberg on it.
In just a couple of seconds I was in a little piazza created on the first open air floor, on the precincts of a former brewery, Pfefferberg, one of the many beer Berlin brands at the beginning of the 20th century. In 2000, the entire complex of building went throgh a radical reconstruction work and turned into a complex made out of different houses with different destinations. In addition to the old brewery, there is also a theatre, an Italian restaurant, architecture bureaus, conference spaces... 
There is also a boutique hostel, Pfefferberg hostel, with 24/7 reception and bar, stucked between the typical brewery reddish buildings. As the complex is one step away from the main street, I suppose that the guests of the hotel can get a lot of silence in the middle of an usually busy part of the city. 
From a house to another, there is a lot to see and to photograph. There are enough many people around, many of them curious tourists - like me.
As usually in Berlin, a bit of green can change everything, especially the serious attitude of the buildings, testimonies of the fast forward industrial revolution from the beginning of the last century. 
In one of the houses, I discover an interesting photo exhibition about the former Red Army locations in East Germany, a project of two Italian artists: Stefano Corso and Dario-Jacopo Lagana. Included as part of the events organised this week for Berlin Art Week, it offers some historical insighs about a historical stage that most probably will be soon forgotten. 
But one of the reasons why I am right now around is that I wanted to visit the one and only Berlin's Museum for Architecture Drawings. Opened in 2013, the builing is bordering the Christinenstrasse side of the complex. When I saw it the first time, I was dramatically surprised, for the clear contrast of volumes and style with the rest of the area. It is made of several blocks of cast raw concrete, in a permanent game of regression and progression, with a glass penthouse on the top reflecting the sky. The relief of the facade gives a certain old air to the ensemble. 
Upon entering the lobby, you feel you are in an old English club, with the wooden panels walls and the many interesting architecture books. The foyer is supposed to function as a library, with two of the four floors used as exhibitional spaces. The rest has the function of offices and archives, the property of Tchoban Foundation who is curating the museum. 
This week, there is still running an exhibition of drawings of American architects, among which Lloys Morgan's Waldorf Astoria, the imaginary worlds of Achilles Rizzoli and some plans by Frank Lloyd Wright. The game between natural and artificial lights creates a special ambiance in the building that can inspire creativity and a much longer stay.
As I am about to leave, I spotted the Swedish group of girls on the opposite corner of the building, that keep doing their own drawings of the construction. Envying them for their talent - and patience too for spending such a beautiful autumn afternoon working their assignments - I promise to return for a new exhibition. After all, it is never too late to return to my own architecture childhood dreams. Berlinl is the city of all possibilities, isn't it?

Samstag, 15. August 2015

Lavish dinner at Himmelspagode

Last week, I was heading to Briesetal part of my project covering 100 Places to See in Germany when I passed near a huge pagoda in the middle of Hohen Neuendorf. At first, was thinking that maybe I was dreaming or was it too hot for my imagination, but realized that it was exactly what I saw. Too busy to stop for an investigation, I decided to keep it on the top of the return agenda. Meanwhile, we kept debating whether it is a temple or a restaurant, with most of the voices saying that it should be a restaurant. 
Many hours later, we were at the gates, and took one of the places on the outside terrasse of the Himmelspagode, ready to enjoy the pleasant summer afternoon wind and our meals. The menu was not making our choices easy - with various choices of Thai, Chinese and sushi. While waiting for the food, had a look indoors - slightly air conditioned - instantly transported in the middle of a (foodie) Chinese bedtime story: 400 places, three floors, one reserved for private business lunches and other events, enormous candelalbra and a big pond with tortues and red fish. The three big halls: Kaisersaal, Pekingsaal and Himmelsaal are carefully decorated in the classical Chinese style, with engraved mirrors and colourful glass paintings inspired by flora and fauna. 
One of the many waiters bringing the orders with a smile, dressed in colourful traditional clothes, brought us fortune cookies. With the classical music on the background, we tried to understand the message sent to us...
Hopefully, the food arrived fast and we gave up our intensive thinking. Out of the dishes we ordered, sushi was not the strongest point of the menu, but eating sushi at a Chinese restaurant is always a problematic choice. Instead, my fried noodles with black sesame were simple with moderate amounts of onions, and some pinches of carrots. The rice was not as oily as the Asian imbiss next my office door, with enough veggies to make it rich in taste.
While waiting for the sweet parts, I enjoyed my cold coffee - not the usual Vietnamese coffee I am so in love with. Rich in icecream and fatty cream that diminishes the strong coffeine taste.  
As usual, the sweets are for me the most important part of an Asian meal. I simply cannot have enough of them, with their moderate sweetness and combination of fruits. Our co-shared meals included baked balls of sticky rice filled with a mousse of red beans. Balanced taste with the natural sweetness of the honey and pineapple. 
The baked bananas - my choice - were not such a big surprise, maybe too fried, or too oily and the banana were too mashed for my taste. Maybe I was just having enough of all the food and of the long hours - around four - spent on the balcony of the pagoda with a view over the outdoors lake surrounding the circular building. 
The restaurant is open from Monday to Saturday, from 11.30 to 23.00. It has another two (much smaller) restaurants in Berlin, at the KaDeWe and Kaiser Pagoda in Potsdamer Allee. The prices are moderately to high, but given the good service, the ambiance and the quality of the food, it is one of those places that you always keep in mind to return, whatever the price and the distance. 

Cocktail hour at The Train

Couple of years ago, I used to go once in a while around Kleistpark, but it seems that it took me ages to be back in the area. As I was back two weeks ago, I discovered some interesting foodie temptations around and also some cultural spots that may request my attention soon. But this time, I did not have too much time: I had a destination: The Train Cocktail Bar, for a surprise party for a friend that was about to leave Berlin. 
 What makes this bar, not crowded at all when I went there, a Tuesday hot afternoon - keep in mind that on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays the cocktails are 5 Euro each - a special presence is its location: the indoors area is hosted in a wagon from the 1920s, with old wooden tables and typical red curtains. The golden tinfoil on the ceiling is kitsch though and did not make the old place more attractive.
In the backyard, there is the summer garden, a bit dusty and not necessarily well kept. Not exactly a garden, without green areas, and with many mistmatched cheap chairs. Going beyond the design downsides, the service is fast even though a bit insistent when it comes to taking the orders. 
When it comes to the menu, nothing to say against it: the classical alcoholic choices: Mai Tai and Caipirinhas and Fizzies alternates with innocent non-alcoholic drinks, like my one and only: Candy Girl. A (too) sweet of coconut syrup, vanilla syrup, cream, milk and some banana shake, with a slice of cantaloupe. You may say it is too much sugar shoot, but when a good friend is living Berlin for good, this is what's left...