Friday, March 30, 2012

Scenes of Spring

It's official. It's spring in Berlin. Need proof?

Street performers:


Jacket-less at night on the street, Club Mate in hand, all-smiles:

Lunch on the balcony:

See? Told ya.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Unerledigtes Geschäft

I've been talking to a few of my fellow expats about life in Berlin lately. Our struggles, our hopes, and everything in between. It's interesting, and sometimes infuriating, to be in this point of our lives where everything can change so drastically from one day to the next. One day we are sure we're staying, the next we're reconsidering everything. Not many of us really plan to be here permanently but we're not ready to leave either. At the same time, we're not sure how long we can stick it out without "real" jobs, without our families and friends back home, and without what feels like real life in many ways.

I'm not truly an expat, since I'm a German citizen, and I did just arrive in November, so in my case it's a bit too early for this discussion in any serious way. But as I anxiously await news from my biggest job prospect in Berlin, I can't deny that the thought lingers in the back of my mind.

My instinct, however, is that Berlin and I still have some unfinished business.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Gesehen: B&W at ESG

ESG, or East Side Gallery, is one of those major Berlin sights that everyone who visits the city should see. It's the longest stretch of the Berlin Wall that still remains (1.3 km) and was preserved as a form of outdoor/interactive art gallery. Since the Wall came down in 1989, artists from all over the world have been invited to paint a section and leave messages of peace and hope. It's also one of those fantastic "see Berlin history/culture without paying to go into a museum" things to do, which I am particularly fond of.

Clearly the scene itself wasn't black & white, that was courtesy of newly discovered color settings on my camera. But it's a serious message, and b&w seemed appropriate. For my Anglophones, look closely on the left for the English translation.

Monday, March 19, 2012

65 is the new 80

Friday was a big day in Berlin. Our first day of Spring, with temps in the mid 60s and sunshine to boot. People came out in droves and were ready to celebrate. Licking ice cream cones, drinking beers, paddling on the canals, congesting the outdoor markets, swarming the Brandenburger Tor, sitting on every available outdoor cafe seat... it was a beautiful chaos to witness. A few friends and I hightailed it over to a bridge in Kreuzberg for some beers and Turkish snacks and I am not exaggerating when I say it was hard for us to find a place to sit.

Though temps for the rest of the week are looking pretty good I'm still hesitant to say it's officially Spring in these parts. Knowing Berlin we could get snow the day of the half-marathon (which is in just under 2 weeks, by the way!). But man, it is incredible how much a rough winter can do to make you appreciate what comes after. Days like this one are worth waiting for.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Devil's Food and Devil's Mountain

Berlin is a city of contrasts. Cute old ladies, punk rebels. Soviet soldier memorials, Soviet terror museums. German bratwurst, Turkish döner. The history, culture, diversity, and sheer scope of this city means that on any given day, there are a gazillion ways to spend your time, learn, and enjoy yourself. There is no one Perfect Berlin Day, in my humble opinion. That being said, this past Sunday we came pretty damn close.

Sunday was Julia and Jonathan's last day before flying back to homework and deadlines, so we knew it had to be good. Yet after tons of sightseeing and a four day packed trip to Istanbul, we were exhausted, and the only "official" thing left on the itinerary was Kaffee und Kuchen. So that is where we started our day. At 3pm.

Julia was excited:

Now, Kaffee und Kuchen really is an institution here in Germany. On Sundays, a well-respected Konditorei is packed solid with those yearning for a nice slice of something coupled with a strong coffee to round off their weekend. And those belonging to this group tend to be on the older side, as you can see in the background of this next photo. I decided that for my sister's one last Berlin wish, I had to deliver, so I did my research and found one Konditorei so far West in Charlottenburg it was practically not Berlin anymore.

Oh yeah, and Rebecca came along!

I checked the guide book while we finished off our cake to see if there was anything else of interest in the neighborhood. To my delight, Teufelsberg was a walkable distance away. Teufelsberg translates literally to "Devil's Mountain," and is an artificial hill that was constructed out of rubble left over by World War II. Apparently an old Nazi military school lies underneath but the Allies weren't able to destroy it with explosives so they decided to build a hill on top of it instead.

The Americans built a listening tower on top which they used to listen in on East German and other Communist radio signals. It's clearly been out of use for some time, but the Germans haven't gotten around to getting rid of it, nor turning it into an official tourist site. As a result, it's an eerie, abandoned building surrounded by three layers of fence meant to keep people out. Sneaking in and exploring have consequently become one of those "cool Berlin things" to do. And on this particular Sunday, we decided to be cool.

Listening tower in the background:

Walking to the tower:

Rebecca climbing through a hole in the fence:

Getting closer:

Listening tower up close:


Our day was topped off with delicious veggie burgers and a last stroll by the Brandenburger Tor so Julia and Jonathan could say goodbye. With beers of course, because Berlin or otherwise, there is no other proper German way.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Istanbul, I love you.

I don't own a super fancy camera or take super fancy photos, but Istanbul made me feel like a five-star photographer. I couldn't stop snapping shots of everything and anything, big and small. My favorite subjects of the trip outside of the obligatory mosque shots were the cats, the food, and the pretty faces of my two travel partners-in-crime. Above, however, is my favorite photo of the visit. I saw this cute street scene as we strolled by and did a double-take. I distinctly remember the internal debate I had over whether to go back as my tour group was speeding along ahead of me. After a few seconds, I raced back to snap the shot, and am so glad I did.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

March Madness

I have my own March Madness going on this month, but instead of basketball games it'll be in the form of hosting visitors. There won't be pools or bets of any kind, but I will rate my guests on the following two criteria:

1) How many jars of Potbelly's hot peppers they come bearing.
2) How many museums they want to go to.

For the former, quantity is positively associated with points. For the latter, the opposite.

My blogging may be a bit spotty the next few weeks, but I'm sure to come back full of stories. I'm quite excited to see Berlin through the eyes of those unfamiliar with the city, and will consider it a personal failure if they don't fall in love with Berlin the way I have. Though I'm pretty confident once they have their first bite of Gözleme I've got it in the bag.

First up: Julia (the sister) & Jonathan (the good friend and vegetarian who has boldly declared he will go omnivore this vacation)! And just in case we don't consume enough Turkish food in Germany, we have planned a four day séjour to Istanbul to really get our fill.

Jet-lagged Julia & Jonathan with my airport welcome sign