Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Drausen und auf den Beinen

Despite the less than stellar weather we've had this spring, we've been out and about and on the move a lot. The German May is packed with holidays like Tag der Arbeit (or May Day, as I like to call it), Himmelfart (aka Ascension and here I need to add that the word ascension (especially in Spanish, but even in comely English) sounds like the ascent to heaven. Himmelfart sounds like a scabby disease: You wouldn't believe how bad my Himmelfart is these days....)) and Pfingesten (aka Pentecost), which turn into long weekends, perfect for escaping the city. I can be pretty grumpy about Berlin, but I will say that one of the best things about this place is how easy it is to get out of here without a car. (I'll let you draw your own conclusions as to what it means that my favorite thing about this place is how easy it is to get out of it.)

Anyway, to celebrate (or cure our) Himmelfart, we biked north to Usedom. Or tried. Things went pretty well for the first two days. The weather was unwaveringly gray and chilly, but the scenery was lovely (lots of canola fields and blossoming apple trees), and those of us about 20 years out of bike practice were really appreciating how flat things are between Berlin and the Baltic Sea. Because of the weather, we decided not to camp, but to stay in the hotel in whichever small town we ended up in at the end of the day. The first was the Hotel Panorama, which lived up to its name if you consider a construction site with a pink crane outside your window to be a panorama (defined by as: an unobstructed and wide view of an extensive area in all directions.) The food on the trip, aside from our picnic lunches, of course, was nothing to write home about, but the Panorama (which had some odd delusions of grandeur), did have a pretty decent breakfast spread, including pumpkin seed butter, which I'd never seen before (although pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil are typical products from this corner of Germany) and was quite good. We spend the second night in a totally unremarkable hotel in the town of Pasewalk and woke up to pouring rain. There was nothing to do but take the train back to Berlin (and the 10-minute bike ride to the train station was pretty miserable), where we discovered the best (by far) Doener Kebab in Berlin (and I wrote my Masters thesis on Doener, so I'm definitely qualified to make this proclamation), rented videos, and spent the rest of the weekend on the couch under a pile of blankets.

But you can't keep us down for long. Last weekend we headed out again, this time with a few friends, to camp-canoe in Müritz. Somehow, even though the weather was again mostly gray and chilly (and soggy at times), I still managed to get a little sunburn. I also managed to flip my very stable canoe and end up in the water, but that's another story. We did some very good picnicking and campfire cooking this trip, including a giant muffuletta sandwich, marinated sausages, and grilled asparagus. I also continued my crusade to persuade Germans of the absolute deliciousness of s'mores and I think I made some headway this trip, although I can't seem to get the Germans to understand that bar cookies are not all called brownies. They also seem to think I invented oatmeal chocolate chip bars.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Schöneberg ist Schön

We haven't been on any big adventures lately (although the intermittent spring weather has allowed for a few nice outings (a long walk from train station in Potsdam through the woods to Albert Einstein's summer house in Caputh with BR & co. with well-earned Spargel (if all Spargel was this good, I would understand what all the fuss is about), a very nice walk from my apartment past the zoo (great view of lounging kangaroos through the fence) to the western end of the Landwehr Kanal concluding with a delicious picnic with egg salad and homegrown cress, and a long-awaited visit to the Holländische Viertel (Dutch Quarter) in Potsdam (no idea what all the fuss is about) and a lovely stroll through Babelsberg Park.)) While we are gearing up for upcoming adventures (Return to Barcelona (will it be as magical as I remember it? Do I still speak Spanish? How much ham will I be able to eat in three days?) and The Effect of DC Summer Weather on a Certain German (aka almost an entire month on the East Coast!!!), I will leave you with a few cool things in my neighborhood:

1. There is a saddle shop around the corner. I'm not a horse person at all, but I love the fact that two minutes from my front door, I can buy handmade reins and a saddle and other leather horse paraphernalia.

2. A few doors down is a little Italian coffee place, mostly selling expensive espresso machines and other overpriced kitchen equipment, but they also make espresso and capuccino (no Milchkaffee here!) and the like. The store is owned and staffed by real Italians with a good understanding of what coffee can be (it's hit or miss when it comes to good coffee in this town). By now I can usually tell by looking which places will have undrinkable coffee, but so many seemingly nice places have just average coffee. It's discouraging, but a good reason to grind my own and drink at home or patronize our very local businesses). My favorite thing about the shop, though, is their mascot, this funny French bulldog who can always be found lounging on the rug inside the shop or (in nicer weather) keeping watch near the door.

3. A few streets away, over the S-Bahn tracks is The Museum of Unheard of Things (Museum der Unerhörten Dinge), which is about the size of my pantry (another thing I like about my neighborhood is that I have a pantry). This free museum is the pet project of Roland Albrecht and he displays small objects, such as a plastic bird representing the canary of Fraxern, a crystallized rose similar to the one Goethe had, and other totally random things on the shelf and walls lining the tiny room. My completely unfair beef with the museum is that the description for each object is a full page, single-spaced, back and front in German. I am a very, very slow and unhappy reader of German and so I must admit I didn't understand a lot of what I saw, but I really like the spirit of the museum and the fact that I can pop in on my way to the grocery store.

4. I grocery shop a lot. Sometimes six times a week. I love to grocery shop and while I do find food shopping in Berlin not quite up to what is was in the other cities I've lived in (oh the covered markets in Barcelona! or the Union Square Greenmarket in NYC!), things have improved since we moved. I've shopped at more than my share of the organic markets in Berlin and I can say only good things about the Bio Company (at least the one on Hauptstrasse). The produce is fresher than in any of the other organic markets I've used, the quality of the meat is truly impressive, they make a real effort to stock local products (it's not perfect, but I have to take what I can get) and the service is practically American. A good grocery store may not make or break your neighborhood, but it makes a huge difference in my life.

5. One of my main gripes about Berlin is that you can't go out for ice cream after 8 pm. I guess there must be a few exceptions, but most ice cream places close at 8, which means that if you go for an after-dinner stroll or want to grab a cone after an evening movie, you're out of luck. Germans eat a lot of ice cream and according to my observations, most of it is eaten in the late afternoon. This doesn't work for me because it ruins my American dinner (not the case for the Germans who are happy to eat some cheese and bread and wurst (aka Abendbrot) whenever they get hungry. Anyway, once in a while I decide I need an ice cream in the afternoon (early enough not to spoil my supper, of course) and my favorite place is Inka Eis. The ice cream is good if not great and they specialize in Latin American flavors, most of which I know and miss from my former life as a Latin Americanist. I always get lúcuma, which takes me back to my junior year abroad in Santiago de Chile. Lúcuma is a subtropical Andean fruit - I've never seen it fresh and have also never had it outside of Latin America (maybe it has followed açaí to New York?) - it's delicious in ice creams and mousses with a flavor that is something of a cross between caramel, maple syrup, and sweet potato. Who knew I would rediscover this treat in Berlin?