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...

Montag, 10. August 2015

A different Museum of the Allies

I consider myself quite a knowledgeable person when it comes to every hidden museums of Berlin, but it seems that as in the case of many other issues, it is hard to keep up always with the changes. As usual, the more I walk in less known place, the more I learn about the city. No wonder then, almost one month ago, while doing research before the European Maccabi Games, I discovered the West Alliirte in Berlin Museum. It is a free private museum, hosted in a small house with a view over the tennis courts of the Stadium, open only on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays or by request. 
For a rainy Sunday afternoon, the museum was quite full of visitors, from all over the world. Situated in what once used to be the British sector, it offers a variety of objects from the everyday life of the troops and the military stationed in this part of the city. Noteworthy, compared with the similar museum from Clayallee, it focuses more on the British and French sections. 
Do not expect surprising revelations or some information that may change dramatically your perception abou the post WWII times. The visitor will find a lot of basic documents - in the sense of the new history trends - about that times, from uniforms to issues of the French Gazette, warning signs and objects used in the daily life of the military. 
The space is not that big and the materials not necessarily punctilioulsy organised, but someone with already a basic knowledge about those times will have a better picture about the daily life on that part of the Curtain.
By using objects provided by private collections, various camp facilities were rebuilt.
A lot of documents and reconstructions are dedicated to the time of the blockade when, among others, Hershey's chocolates landed in Berlin, throwed up with white napkins as parashutes from the Allies airplanes. 
Walking the museum was an interesting applied lesson of history, always interesting, especially when it comes to facts that are still part of the everyday life. Sometimes, in order to understand complex things, you need to start by basic daily facts and this small museum has the potential to bring something different to its visitors. Cold War histories are still popular in Berlin.

Dienstag, 4. August 2015

Foodie Berlin: Lemon Leaf Indochine cuisine in Friedrichshain

If I want a genuine Indochinese menu, it is very easy to find a good restaurant in France, but till now never was desperate enough to have a look at the German offer. I did not see too many restaurants with such an offer either. When one week ago I finished some meetings in Friedrichshain and was left with a bit more time for myself and seen the Lemon Leef inviting menu, I decided - after another tour of the streets around and some deep thinking about what I really want to eat - to give it a try. 
There are outside tables the type you will find in any beergarden, the best place to observe the coming and going in Friedrichshain, but the indoors is decorated pleasantly, with many colours and colourful umbrellas. Everything looks clean, with the toilets modestely clean. If you are on your own, you can find some newspapers and reviews to fill your time while waiting. As each of the dishes is prepared in the wok, the guests are warned to be ready to wait a bit longer. 
However, take this mention as a sample of good Asian politeness, as I did not feel that I had to wait more than 15 minutes, and the drinks are usually brought within minutes. My drinking choice for a hot day was Mekong River, home made ice tea with fresh limes and brown sugar and as requested, many ice cubes: slightly aromated and refreshing enough to make me forget about my usual choice of Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk.  
Not a bit soup fan, but this time, really wanted something completely different and ordered Canh Khoai Mon: taro coconut milk with chilli, celery, zucchini, leak, coriander and roasted peanuts. Served and preferably eaten hot, it is unexpectedly sweet, with some spicey balances brought by the chilli and beautified by the coriander smell and aromas. After more spoons, you will discover how spicey it can be. Indochinese cuisine summarizes the Laos and Cambodian food, which usually keeps up with the rich vegetable menu of the Vietnamese, to which many spices are added. 
I got to know the real strength of spices in my next meal: Phad Indochne. A rice noodles dish, with eggs, curry, Cambodian green onions, tofu, chillies, pak choi, soy bean sprouts, paprika, carrots and cashew nuts. It loooks as an innocent combination but it hot, hot hot. That hot that you may really lose any sense of other specific taste. The solution is just give your full attention to the sprouts and eat them in bunches as a balance to the sauce and chilli. 
The meals do have meat as well, but can be prepared with tofu as well. The prices are moderate and the menu rich enough to give a second try.

Sonntag, 2. August 2015

Caran d'Ache has its one and only shop in Berlin

Switzerland is famous for its chocolate, watches and gold, but there are many other products sharing the label of high Swiss quality standards. If you are an artist or knowledgeable in things connected to art, you might have a reaction when you hear about Caran d'Ache, the famous brand from Geneve specialized in painting and writing products that celebrates this year 100 of existence. As it just opened its one and only store in Berlin just a couple of weeks back, I hurried up on Uhlandstrasse 19 to visit it. Till now, its products can be purchased from different locations in the city, including from the KaDeWe.
The self-labelled boutique is not only elegant and designed with good taste, but deserves an additional star for the friendly customer service (which given my generally bad experience in this respect in Germany is a great asset). It displays the usual products offered by the company, including the high-end pens that can be engraved and personalized by demand.
All the products are brought from Switzerland, where they have their own manufactury. The prices are a bit more than the average, but if you are really into arts, you may know how important is to sacrifice some daily luxury for quality.
As for me, not necessarily an artist and bit the extra-budget mostly dedicated to my trips and foodie experiences, I feel like a kid in the toystore. If needed, which products will tempt me more: those colourful pencils?
Or rather these metallic shades that after testing on the spot I decided that are one of the best for my secret artistic plans?
 The products are subject to the strictest quality control, both when it comes to the materials and to their source. The colour pencils and inks are systematically tested for their lightfastness. The fountain pens and ballpoints are also verified for their priming quality and routing flow.
Such products can be matched only with perfect accessories, such this big sharpener suited for the high demands of the Caran d'Ache wood. 
The opening of Berlin shop is outlined by a special collection of very colourful pens, featuring the famous symbol of the city. They look light, practical and with an elegant touch. 
The name of the company, Caran d'Ache is the pen name of the Russian-born illustrator Emanuel Poire. It comes from the Russian word of Turkish origin, karandash (kara means black in Turkish) and has to do with the material the graphite is made of. The graphite displayed in the shop is made of a natural material found in the mountains of Switzerland which served as the inspiration for the firt pencil factory in Switzerland, opened in 1915. 
Their products were close to the heart of many artists, among which Picasso too, to whom is dedicated a full special collection of pencils. 
As I was still wandering around the shop, thinking what exactly would love to bring home, I discovered this huge box, with all the drawing materials needed. As it costs around 5,000 Euro, it seems that I would need a lot of extra jobs to save money in the next years.

I did not ask further about prices, but one day, when will have again my own business, would like to sign with such a distinguish fountain pen. Maybe will add the website of my travel blogsite too...
Was not easy to leave the shop, but after all, I know where I can find a serious slice of Swiss life. As usual, keeping Switzerland close is a good resource for inspiration and hope for the best.