Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Boys (and Girlz) are Back in Town

Reunited friends in Kreuzberg
I've always been a summer girl, but Berlin didn't make it so easy this year. I celebrated my July birthday in rainy 50 degree temperatures, struggled to climb a steep learning curve at work, and eagerly awaited the return of a few of my favorite Berliners who were off taking road trips across the US, visiting family in Italy, and working on farms and hitchhiking through Europe while surviving off Nutella sandwiches.

Now that summer is drawing to a close, I have three of my closest Berlin buddies back. Last night, a few of us gathered to celebrate Kelly's triumphant return from Portugal with sushi, red wine, chocolate, and lots of giggling. As if we needed to make Kelly coming back even more awesome, give Sophia some sushi, red wine, and chocolate, and she will really be im siebten Himmel.

It's not all good news, though. In a mere 10 or so days, we say goodbye to our dear friend Josh, who is moving to France to start his master's. Sad face!

It's to be expected. Berlin, like Washington, DC, is a transient place. People come and go with jobs, programs, and for a lot of my expat, traveling, study abroad friends, antsiness for their next adventure. In DC, it never affected me as much because my core base was so strong (you know, the whole having grown up there thing). In Berlin, I'm still on slightly shaky ground, so it hits me a bit harder. And while the new job, the travel, and my lovely guests have proven to be a good distraction this summer, I am very much looking forward to fall.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Big B

Entrance to Katharinenhof
Berlin is, of course, my main B. And it's certainly big, population wise. But geographically, for a state, it's pretty small (did you know Berlin is one of the three cities in Germany that is a city and a state?). The other big B that I am referring to is Brandenburg, a former East German state that surrounds Berlin on all sides. See?

Brandenburg is perhaps most famous for the town of Potsdam, where tourists go to see Friedrich the Great's castles and Schloss Cecilienhof, where the Potsdam Conference was held after World War II. But B-burg has many more "corners" as the Germans say, and many of those corners are pretty rural. On Saturday evening, my friend Keighley and I took the train out to Brandenburg to attend a Hoffest, or farmyard party. Keighley's boss and a few other families co-own the farmhouse and throw this summer shindig every year, and I happily accompanied Keighley as her "plus one." 

Party invitation
The Hoffest took place out in Gransee, a town about an hour train ride from Berlin. Already 15 minutes outside of the city we saw livestock, pastures, and just lots of things you don't see in Berlin. Keighley and I were both starving and started to munch on some chocolate she had brought along and enjoyed the view. Once we got to Gransee her boss picked us up in a really old Jeep-like contraption, drove us a bit through town to show us the requisite main drag and super old church (didn't take long) and then we hobbled up the stone path to the farmhouse. The farmhouse is called Katharinenhof to which I immediately felt an affinity- but only because my middle name is Katharina, not because I am used to farms.

I'm really bad at estimating numbers, but there must have been a good 150+ people at the party. And an extremely mixed crowd age-wise. I couldn't remember the last time I saw so many little kids, especially ones free-ranging and shrieking with cake smeared all over their faces. After making three efficient trips to the buffet for goodies like potato and cucumber salad, pasta, bread, cheese, and lots of red wine, we befriended a few other 20-somethings who were kind enough to share their blanket with us. A bunch of people had also set up tents because they planned to stay the night, but (not so) unfortunately, we weren't able to find ourselves one in time. (Shhh, I'm not much of a camper.)

Party Campers
Dance room
In the backyard they had a huge screen set up that played Jungle Book for the little ones (dubbed in German which was interesting), and then a movie they had created about the Hof which is about to celebrate its 100 year anniversary. The Hof was originally owned by two Jewish sisters in 1912 who grew fruit that was shipped and sold in Berlin. The sisters were later deported to a concentration camp, and in one part of the video, their now elderly niece talked a bit about her memories of her aunts and summers on the Hof. The rest of the video showed the young kids who now spend their summers there (probably the same ones who drew the invitation), jumping across bales of hay, exploring dark corners of the house with flashlights, and screaming in delight at bugs and strange noises. Made me think of my summers in the mountains in France with my sister and cousins: exploring the forest, picking blueberries, and splashing about in our nearby "Dream Stream."  

Keighley and I
Once it got dark, we were able to look up and see the enormous sky speckled with stars, and man, that stirs something inside of you if you don't see it often. At one point we may have even seen a shooting star. That, or a realllly small airplane. Not that this city girl would know the difference. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Gesehen: Back to School

Storefront window
It's back to school time in Berlin, right as our "summer" here is really beginning, at least weather-wise. This kids clothing storefront window says "We wish all schoolkids a successful beginning of the year." The cone shaped bag that the kids in the drawing are holding is called a Schultuete or Zuckertuete (schoolbag or sugarbag) that kids get on their first day of the first grade, full of goodies like chocolates and candies. That's one way to get kids to like school!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My First Iftar

I don't observe Ramadan but I am always up for a good cultural experience, so I jumped on an invitation to have Iftar dinner with my Tunisian-German friend Hana and some of her family last Monday. After work I met Hana and we drove out to Spandau, just outside of Berlin, where one of her five sisters lives with her family.

Hana and one of her adorable nephews
Iftar is the fast-breaking evening meal during the month of Ramadan when observing Muslims only eat before sunrise and after sunset. The month of Ramadan shifts every year, but in summer months it is especially difficult because the sun rises earlier and sets later. Hana said she had gotten up at 3:30am to eat that morning and it was just after 9pm by the time we sat down to dinner. Thank goodness we're not in Finland.

Hana, her nephew, and I before dinner
I decided to do my part by eating less that day than usual leading up to the meal, meaning I didn't have bread with my lunch salad and stayed away from snacks. Still I felt like the one most eager to eat by the time we sat down with the first course. Hana noted that they tried to eat slowly and deliberately after a long day of fasting because their digestion can act up after many hours of not eating. Apparently she and her younger sister had gorged on pasta the night before and had major stomachaches afterward.

The food was delicious and abundant. We started with a light soup with a bit of lemon which is traditional for the first course. Following the soup came some fried crispy things, and who doesn't like fried crispy things?! Then came the main course: peppers stuffed with meat and sauce, rice, and salad.

My plate
I happily ate everything and then split one last fried crispy thing with Hana before we adjourned to the living room to rub our bellies and prepare for dessert. Hana's friend had brought some yummy baklava-esque concoction filled with a soft creamy mild cheese, a sprinkling of crushed pistachios, and drizzled with sugary syrup. Man was it good. Lots of cookies, chocolates, nougat, and watermelon also graced the table.

One interesting last thing to note was the water. I noticed Hana's older sister pour something into the bottle and when I took a sip from my class, I immediately felt like I was drinking cleaning solution. I must have made a face because Hana laughed and asked if the water was too strange for me. Apparently in Tunisia it is an Iftar staple to drink water with orange blossom essence, which to me tasted like Windex. I'm all for trying new things but after a few more brave sips gave up and drank juice.

After-dinner lounging

Sunday, August 12, 2012


The beautiful Mediterranean
Just got back from what was supposed to be a 1.5 day trip to Tel Aviv (crazy, I realize) and ended up being 4 days. After two extended work trips, I really have to start packing smarter (e.g. extra underwear). I got back to Berlin last night at 8:45pm, raced home, showered, grabbed some stuff at the supermarket since they're closed Sundays, and hightailed it across town to a friend's going away party until 4am. The party was incredible- 3 live bands playing in a church basement rumored to be some abandoned crypt, followed by a delicious veggie burger and curly fries to cap off the night/morning. Not a bad way to be welcomed back by Berlin. 

Jam Session at the end of the party
Oh, and also, my eyes were fully exposed to the Israeli sun for 4 days because I was sure I had left my sunglasses back in Berlin. As soon as I got back and started rifling through my work purse, I found them in the front pocket.

Squinty in Tel Aviv

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Life at Night

As much as I like to go out and dance, as a girl who likes (no, needs) her 8 hours a night, Berlin's nightlife can be overwhelming. Clubs stay open all night and I have friends who have been known to stay out until 10 or 11am before they hobble home and collapse. Or show up at my place for brunch covered in glitter.

This past weekend, I managed to muster up the energy to attend social engagements both Friday and Saturday evenings. On Friday, our office had our very first company outing to a "beach bar" along the Halensee, one of Berlin's many... lakes? ponds? mini-seas? I don't know but you can swim there. We took over a lounge area like the one you see below and sipped some cocktails before half of us (me included) hopped in for a quick dip. We snuck up and splashed the land dwellers who were still nice enough to pass down our drinks so we could simultaneously sip and swim.

Ku'damm Beach Bar
The next night I met friends for a monthly event called Soul Inn at a club in Kreuzberg. We were the first to arrive at midnight (literally, the first) but quickly swarmed the dance floor. The music is soul, funk, blues, etc., and it's a refreshing change to the usual electro and house that pervade the club scene in Berlin. Plus there are fun(ny) extras like a disco ball, old video clips of people who dance way better than we do, and a fog machine.

Soul Inn at Lido
The rest of my weekend was mostly spent recovering, watching movies, and devouring pad thai from the friendly neighborhood Thai Park (one day I'll explain what that is). Tomorrow it's off to Tel Aviv for a couple days of meetings. Back by the weekend to tell you all about my first Iftar (Ramadan dinner) experience yesterday and complain about Israeli airport security.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Lietzensee, Charlottenburg, Berlin

I can't get enough of this pond by my office. A couple colleagues and I make a leisurely loop around it almost every day after lunch and it just gets prettier each time. Every day we ooh and aah over cute dogs, baby ducks, little children. It's just the loveliest thing to have right outside of your workplace.

Anyway, back to the point of this post. Not that I'm sure there is one. I basically uploaded the picture and tried to think of something to say about it. "Roots" came to mind. And roots made me think of living abroad, life as an expat, being "up-rooted."

It made me think of the competing desires to both travel the world and explore versus be settled and comfortable. The former I've got pretty covered at the moment (the other day I was reading through a contract for one of my projects and it included the sentence, "The scope of this agreement shall be the world." Good grief.) Anyways, it made me wonder about when I will feel rooted in Berlin, if I will ever feel rooted in Berlin, whether I even want to feel rooted in Berlin.

It made me think of all my visitors, how weird it is at first to have them here, in an environment so different from where I usually see them, and then how equally weird it is when they leave, because I've gotten so used to having them around again.

And it made me think about family. My family, whom I miss dearly (Hi Mama, Dad, Julia, Mo, Matilda!). My "family" in Berlin (Hi Kelly, Sophie, Giovanni, Josh, Keighley, Anna, etc.!). And even my future family, that will probably be pretty awesome and adorable.

All that from a walk around the pond, a little reflection, and hipster photo software.