Best of Berlin with MJH, pt 2

By no means is this the best of everything in Berlin. But it’s definitely the best of my last week with Matt and includes some of my favorite things in Berlin. Part 1 is here.

1. Currywurst

CurrywurstI do love currywurst. Who can argue with a street snack so simple as cut up sausage covered in tomatoey curry goodness eaten with a tiny wooden fork? So easy. Berliners love currywurst so much that they created a museum devoted to the snack and I’ve wanted to visit ever since I heard about it.

The currywurst museum is down by Checkpoint Charlie and with 11euro tickets, it’s not the cheapest thing in town. However, it is incredibly fun and interactive with ketchup bottles that play music

Currywurst MuseumExhibits that detail the story of Herta Heuwer, the mother of currywurst, sauce recipes, maps showing currywurst stands all over the world, spice containers you can smell, a brief history of fast food innovations, a documentary about currywurst in Berlin, this pretty stellar sausage couch


And of course, a currywurst sample at the end of the visit

Currywurst museum

Given the taste/touch/smell nature of this museum, I think it’s geared mostly towards parents with kids but Matt and I had fun playing the games and any museum experience that ends with food is a good one for me!

2. Mauerpark Sundays

Mauerpark Berlin

Mauerpark is one of my favorite Sunday locations. When the weather cooperates, the lawn has plenty of room for picnics and lolling around in the sun, the music acts always have a wide variety from reggae to disco, the bearpit karaoke is pretty legendary, the food stands have some great offerings like this Turkish rollup with rocket, tomato and goat cheese

Mauerpark flea market Berlin

and of course the shopping


I will miss Berliner Sundays. If there’s a better way to spend a day than with music, food and hanging out in the sun, I don’t know what it is.

3. Street Food Thursdays

Markthalle Street Food Thursdays

In a list of Berliner things I will miss most, Street Food Thursdays at Markthalle Neun should be #1.  I love the huge old market hall space with it’s high ceilings and beautiful brick work

Markthalle Berlin

And I love the changing variety of the food stalls. I’ve seen new things every week but I’m always pleased to see my favorites, like the kasspatzen guy

kasspatzen markthalle

This incredibly delicious wine from Schoner Trinken

Schoner Trinken Berlin

Berliner beef balls – I don’t typically love meatballs but these ones are SO good with a couple different options like lemongrass and chilies, oregano and basil or curry powder. Get one of each!

Street Food Thursday Berlin

Mr. Pinks, the pie making New Zealander, has to be one of the best salesmen I’ve ever met. He’ll always offer a combo deal and throw in some New Zealand beer for good measure.

Street Food Thursday Berlin

Those sausage rolls were wrapped in the flakiest butteriest pastry and that spicy sweet chutney is homemade. It was so good that we went back for dessert and got a strawberry rhubarb pie, which Mr. Pinks heated up and took away somewhere. When he came back it had ice cream on top.

Markthalle Neun Pinks

Mr. Pink just winked and said “no extra charge.” I’d buy anything from him and his pies certainly are spectacular!

But while everything else is good, the piece de resistance at Street Food Thursday are these oysters at Küstlichkeiten from Zeeland on the North Sea

Markthalle Neun

I’d raved about them so much that Matt, who doesn’t really care for oysters, insisted he had to try them. He also was so converted to these spectacular sea tasting bites of deliciousness that after we’d eaten everything else, we had one more oyster for the road so that would be our last taste for the night. I love everything about Street Food Thursday but I love these oysters the MOST.

4. Berghain

Berghain Berlin

Lord help us, Berghain. Well, it’s Berlin’s most notorious techno club and we did get in. If you love techno and dancing and being a part of something legendary, I would highly recommend checking it out.

Berghain Berlin

There’s scads of online advice about how to get in, what to wear, how to act etc. I’ll only add that Sunday afternoon is the best time to go because there’s little to no queueing. We showed up at 1630 and walked right in. It was quite the experience and the perfect end to my Berlin stay.

Berghain Berlin

And yes, my Berlin stay has come to an end! I can’t quite believe it. I’ll post tomorrow with some thoughts about my mini-expat experience and probably a short list of my favorite things. Until then…

Best of Berlin with MJH, pt 1

East Side Gallery

Having Matt here right at the end of my Berlin stay means that I get to revisit all my favorite places in Berlin and hit the last remaining high points before I jet out of town. Here are a few highlights from the past couple days:

1. Reichstag Building

The Reichstag dome is in my top 10 sites in Berlin. I love the green construction, the environmentally friendly solar panels and light reflecting mirrors, the curving walkways and the views over Berlin rooftops. I first visited this dome right after I came to Berlin so it was really interesting to see it again 5 weeks later, now that I know all the surrounding terrain and I have so many memories of visiting these sites.

Reichstag Dome Berlin

The dome requires advance reservations but after my last visit, I’d discovered a cafe on the roof of the Reichstag that serves breakfast and includes dome admission. Breakfast and tourism? Done and done.

The “feel good breakfast” was enormous and inadequately shown here



It included meats, cheeses, smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, fruit salad, yogurt, several different kinds of bread, chocolate brioche, champagne, orange juice and coffee. Incredible! We ate on the glassed-in patio, which was a tiny bit like eating in a greenhouse once the sun came out; but we put on sunglasses, they opened some doors for airflow and the food was delectable.

Thus fortified, we moved on to

2. War memorials

This memorial in front of the Reichstag is a very small unassuming monument to the 96 politicians of the Weimar Republic who opposed Hitler. They were the first men he sent off to concentration camps, where all of them died.


Each stone is engraved with the man’s name, his political party, the concentration camp where he died and the date of his death. It’s not much in the way of recognition but at least there’s acknowledgement that some good men tried to stand up to the tide of evil that swept Germany. They died for it but I hope they knew their sacrifice wasn’t completely in vain. Had Hitler had their help, he might have succeeded.

We revisited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews, which was just as powerful the second time around. I’ve written about it here.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews

This is the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe, a few of the gypsy tribes that Hitler tried to exterminate.

Memorial to Sinti and Roma in Europe

It’s a small reflecting pool in a secluded spot with part of the poem Auschwitz around the sides. Subtle, quiet and lovely.

Memorial to Sinti and Roma of Europe

On the other hand, the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted under Nazism in Tiergarten looks like a peep show.

Memorial to the Homosexuals Berlin

Inside that concrete box is a beautiful film of people kissing, which we viewed through the one window. I like the sentiment of the film but wish the whole memorial were designed differently. I feel that the memorial promotes what it’s trying to fight against, the idea that gay love should be hidden. I’m glad there’s a memorial but… I could wish for something a little less closeted.

3. Tempelhof

This massive space used to be an airport.

Tempelhof Berlin

Several important airlifts were made from this airport during the war. The hanger had been on the list of largest buildings on earth with the world’s smallest duty free shop – an intriguing contrast – as well as one of Europe’s few airports that predate WW2. It closed in 2008 and now it’s a park

Templehof Berlin

Where people kite board down the former runways


And skateboard, and bike and have picnics and sports rallies and occasionally festivals. As you can see from the skies, we brought the rain, which hit while we were in the middle of that massive space nowhere near any shelter. We had to run for it but then we were treated to a glorious double rainbow


I bet Tempelhof is fantastic in the summer. I had visions of a picnic here but the weather hasn’t cooperated. Next time…

4. Chocolate

Ritter Sport is the German chocolate of choice.

Ritter Sport Berlin

It’s not boutique but it definitely has variety with 30+ regular options and then new flavors and combinations released every season. I’m not a huge chocolate fan but when I heard about the Ritter-Sport Bunte SchokoWelt where I could mix my own chocolate bar, I had to try it.

Ritter Sport Bunte ShokoWelt

This little shop has a long counter with dozens of mix-in varieties of fruit, cookies and candy


Each custom bar costs 3.90E. I chose my chocolate (dark) and added three mix ins –  sour cherry pieces, cocoa nibs and crunchy candy gold stars. 30 minutes later, Ritter Sport!

Ritter Sport custom bar

This store has a lot of Ritter Sport at good prices as well as a small chocolate museum with a few interactive bits, a video and photo ops

Ritter Sport Kaitlyn

Ritter Sport MJH

As well as an ice cream bar where they make German style blizzards, You pick your Ritter Sport flavor and they’ll crush it into soft serve ice cream and serve it to you in a cone.

Ritter Sport Bunte SchokoWelt

For people who think too much chocolate is not enough chocolate, I highly recommend Ritter Sport Bunte SchokoWelt.

5. When in Berlin, you should go up a tower for an aerial view

Victory Column

I dragged Matt up the 284 steps of the Victory Column in Tiergarten because European trips always include tower climbs.

Tiergarten Berlin

As with the Reichstag, it’s so different to look over this city now after living here almost 6 weeks. The landscape looks so familiar.

We then went about our day and at the end of it found ourselves in Alexanderplatz under the TV tower

TV Tower Berlin

I’d written – somewhat scornfully… – about this tower before about how it’s a big deal but I didn’t get it and how it costs 12E to go up the tower. Well, it’s a big deal because it’s the tallest thing in town and the tallest thing in the country of Germany. It actually costs 11E to go up the tower – pardon! – and it was approaching sunset when we got there so we decided to check out the view.

View from Berlin's TV Tower

Beautiful, although Berlin doesn’t have much in the way of a skyline. Given the swampy ground it’s built on, big tall buildings don’t stand much of a chance. While waiting for the sun to set we got a glass of wine at the bar

TV Tower Berlin

and met delightful Eloise from Dublin

TV Tower with Eloise

And stayed much longer than we’d intended. Which is how all good nights go.

The TV Tower does have great views over Berlin and going up inside is much like visiting the Empire State Building, the London Eye or Chicago’s Willis Tower. There’s nothing quite like an aerial view over a city so it’s almost always worth a visit. I like the old school Victory Column but the TV Tower has kitschy charm as well.

Ok, more tomorrow. I’m off to enjoy my last day in Berlin!

Best of Berlin with MJH, Part 2 is here

MJH in Berlin

MJH in Berlin

Matt made it to Berlin! And despite flying for 6 hours and arriving at 1am his time, fielding a new country, currency and language and making his way to downtown Berlin to find my apartment, he had a less eventful morning than I did.

It’s been so dry here that I woke up with a bloody nose and then spilled coffee all over… well, all over something white that doesn’t belong to me. Given that this whole apartment is white, that gives me a lot of options. So my morning consisted of a lot of bad language and frantic attempts to clean blood off my face and coffee out of things for which it was never intended. And all this before 8am.

Despite that, I think the matter is solved – certainly my nose has stopped bleeding – and Matt arrived to be a witness to my insanity and patiently endured my endless “can you see the coffee here? how about here? here? Can you see it here?” questions when really he just wanted to drink some coffee and perhaps take a nap.

MJH in Berlin

Coffee first while we waited for Berlin to wake up and start serving breakfast. But somehow my favorite place never opened – Factory Girl! Why why?? – so we went to another coffee house where we had breakfast sandwiches and Matt posted this picture on Facebook exclaiming “first meal in Berlin!”

MJH breakfast

My favorite comment on that picture was “and you ordered a bagel???” Even in Europe, bagels win out occasionally.

I then had my almost last German lesson where I suffered through instructions on how to tell time on a 12 hour clock. If you don’t think that’s complicated, read this post because he explains it more lucidly than I ever could. Then I came home with my head positively stuffed with knowledge to roust Matt from his slumbers and drag him out to enjoy Berlin.

We started with food. BBQ in fact.

Markthalle Neun

I know! This is Berlin! Bagels and BBQ? What are we even doing?? But you know what? it was bad-assedly delicious so I’m not even sorry.

I took him through Kreuzberg, my favorite street art neighborhood where I always find something new. Here are a few finds from this trip:

These painted lovers

Oberbaum Bridge

And this sprawling epic depicting the fall of the Berlin wall and the rise of the almighty Euro.


We ended up at East Side Gallery, for my third visit. And I found new sights there as well, of which this was one of my favorites.

Berlin wall

And this tagged tagger tagging “sic semper tyrannis”

Sic semper tyrannis

A few silly photos because these faces demand it

MJH in Berlin

And a final sobering reminder of the reason for this wall

Berlin Wall

I love this gallery. It remains one of my favorite things in Berlin.

We finished the day on the other side of town at KaDaWe, Berlin’s fanciest department store. Berliners love these whirling cyclone-like installations apparently. This one reminds me a lot of the cyclone in the Reichstag Dome.


KaDaWe’s 6th floor is all gourmet food. Dinner? As if you had to ask. How about currywurst? (and an Asian salute)

MJH and Currywurst

An upscale shi-shi department store version of Berliner street food, Kaitlyn.? For real? I know. Our food has been all kinds of backwards today. But it was damn good and I’d do it again. And this rhubarb, raspberry, white chocolate dessert too.


Ok, that’s a quick and dirty first day. Tomorrow, more Berlin.

Berlin Wall

Sanssouci, the Palace of No Worries

Sanssouci Potsdam

In my last act of solo tourist-ish-ness, I took a trip south to see Fredrick the Great’s Palace Sanssouci in Potsdam. I took the S-Bahn to Potsdam and then kind of randomly got on a tram headed for the palace complex and got off, also a bit randomly, at the tip of the gardens in the far upper right hand corner

Park Sanssouci map It worked perfectly though and I got to walk through the gardens, more of a forest really, down toward the palace.

Park Sanssouci potsdam

Even though we’re in Germany, I definitely thought “all roads lead to Rome” when I got to this scenic jumble of ruins

Park Sanssouci

Park Sanssouci

that were built ruined, exactly like this, to mimic Roman ruins and create “apparently natural landscape scenery” for the king to gaze upon from his palace. It’s good to be the king.

Park Sanssouci

This colonnade continues the Roman theme even though the rest of the palace mimics Versailles. Just, you know, an intimate little summer home away from the pomp of the Berlin court.

Palace Sanssouci

These gazebos on either end of the palace are very different looking though

Palace Sanssouci

They create a rococo-esque look to match the Rococo palace, only with metal instead of marble

Palace Sanssouci

All the statuary around the palace grounds pays homage to the Romans, representing many Roman gods and the four elements.

Palace Sanssouci

I think this is a water allegory?

Palace Sanssouci

Because that’s a little merbaby in her net

Palace Sanssouci

Lord only knows what this lady is. A sphinx maybe?

Palace Sanssouci

But that baby doesn’t look happy for a good reason. No one messes with mama.

Palace Sanssouci

The statues in the front of this palace are more Roman gods, blessed with just a tiny bit of sunshine today.

Palace Sanssouci

I didn’t go inside the palace. I think after 5 weeks and 4 countries, I’m getting a bit blasé about giant ornate buildings. Sometimes it’s enough just to see them from the outside and be able to loll about on a bench in palace grounds. That, more than anything, means it’s time to go home! I need to regain my touristy sense of wonder if nothing else.

I do love, however, that 3euros brings me to a palace where I can wander the grounds and sit and read by the fountains amidst statuary that dates back 300+ years. That’s one of the greatest things about living in Europe and I took full advantage of it today. I’ll miss all these gorgeous sites when I’m back in America.

Palace Sanssouci

But I still have one more week and I’m about to be joined by one of my favorite partners in crime, Mr. Matt Jower-Ho! He arrives tomorrow and I can’t wait to show him Berlin and do all the last remaining things we can squeeze in before we both leave on Monday. The perfect end to my Berlin odyssey.

More Berlin tomorrow with MJH.

A Meetup at Pauly Saal

Pauly Saal

I joined Meetup when I got to Berlin. It’s an online network with thousands of small communities of people meeting up to share various interests. My first meet up was the BBQ on May Day and I’ve since attended wine tastings and this dinner at Pauly Saal. I think I’d have limited usefulness for Meetup in the states given my transient lifestyle but I think it’s a brilliant way for travelers and expats in foreign countries to get below the tourist track of a city. People with like interests can meet up to do interesting things and the most difficult part – for me – is gearing up to meet and talk to strangers. But it’s always worth the effort.

The best – BEST – part of last evening was the company, which encompassed Julia and Fritz, two Germans who are from other parts of the country but now live in Berlin, Margarita a Colombian who works for her embassy, Paraskevi a Greek lady who works for her embassy, Amy an exotic Egyptian interior designer who also organized the dinner and me, an American traveler. A fascinating mix of people.

My favorite thing about international groups is the range of experience and perception, especially when we all have Berlin in common. I always learn some fascinating new information about different countries and I almost always come away from the event thinking differently about politics or food or travel or expat life. This was a particularly fun evening since the group is based around fine dining and a love of food so a lot of our conversation revolved around food while eating food.

I only wish that our Pauly Saal experience had equaled the fine company.

Pauly Saal Berlin

Pauly Saal is a fine dining restaurant with a Michelin Star housed in a building that was formerly a school for Jewish Girls. After closing in WW2 when there were no more Jewish girls in town, the building became a military hospital and then another school and then was returned back to the Jewish community who have renovated it into a beautiful space with museums, art galleries cafes and Pauly Saal.

Let’s call the decor at Pauly Saal eclectic. Taxidermy foxes wearing bandages (?)

Pauly Saal Berlin

And a rocket. As Julia pointed out “Isn’t is odd to decorate a former Jewish school with something that looks like a bomb?”

Pauly Saal Berlin

Yes, I think that’s an odd choice.

But those curiosities aside, the rest of the Pauly Saal space is great, dark green walls and dark wood furniture with huge windows. Really beautiful.

Here’s the 4 course prix fixe meal that cost 78 euros – all descriptions are mine

Chilled raw shrimp with frozen cucumber gelato on top of a spicy avocado pico de gallo:

Pauly Saal Berlin

Pork belly and baked snails with potato slices and sour onions

Pauly Saal Berlin

Grilled fish

Pauly Saal Berlin

And an apricot desert that included gelato and a champagne soup

Pauly Saal Berlin

In contrast to the terrible quality of my low light pictures, the quality of Pauly Saal’s food is excellent. The preparations are modern, the combinations of flavors and textures are interesting and mostly really delicious and that apricot dessert was spectacular, tart and sweet with a creamy accent. I loved it, which almost never happens with my dessert experiences in restaurants with good savory food.

However… the meal was wildly overpriced for the amount of food served. Especially in Berlin where nothing costs this much. I expected to be blown away and instead I got a good meal that should have cost half the price. Also, it took us almost 3 hours to be served 4 courses and that is ridiculous. Every review I’ve seen of Pauly Saal mentions this abysmally slow service and our meal was no exception. I’m glad I had such good dinner company because it mitigated the wait but still… 3 hours is twice as long as that meal should have taken to serve and eat.

So, here’s the thing: I had a great evening. The company was splendid and the food was good. But I found Pauly Saal over priced and disappointing and I wouldn’t recommend it or go back.

Strange how two things can coexist in the same evening but there you have it.

I’m headed to Prague tomorrow so more later from that part of the world. Have a good weekend everyone!

Where to go next?

U-bahn Berlin

That’s the walking route underneath the U-bahn, the local city trains here in Berlin. Berlin seems so modern to me. I’m always surprised to see architecture that hints at a much older city.

And speaking of the U-Bahn, here’s a German thing that would never ever fly in the US: all the city public transit runs on the honor system.

You walk into the station and you SHOULD buy a ticket before you get on the train but no one is standing there to make you do it and there’s no machine to guard the train entrance… Technically you could try to wrangle free train rides. I’ve wondered all month how many people actually buy tickets because only twice have I been stopped by train officials boarding the train at random to check tickets. However, one stopped me today and EVERY SINGLE PERSON in my car had a ticket.

To repeat, I’ve been checked twice in a month which means Berliners get checked a couple dozen times a year. And they all still buy tickets! Where does that sense of civic responsibility even come from? In America the train system would collapse in weeks from a complete lack of revenue. No one would ever buy a ticket. Americans would figure that even with a steep penalty for riding free they would still get about a month’s worth of free subway rides! And then they would probably refuse the pay the penalty. You’d have to arrest them on the spot. I’ve spent my month here in Berlin completely bewildered that the trains still run. I don’t understand it at all.

I always have a ticket here in Berlin but I’m only law abiding because I know that if someone’s gonna get caught doing something dumb, it’s gonna be me. And buying a ticket is the right thing to do. Of course.

And in other (more exciting) news, I’ve got (more) travel plans!

When I first came to Berlin, my short list of places to visit included Poland, Prague and a general “more places in Germany.” That’s the trouble with taking me anywhere, I always want to see what else is around. I did scale my traveling plans way back – for me – and made plans to spend a lot of time here in Berlin because I’ve learned hard lessons about traveling places and seeing too much in too short a time. I always come back from those trips exhausted and overstimulated, making all kinds of promises that I’ll never do it again but then I leave my country and realize how big the world is and I just want to see all of it! Right now!

As my time in Berlin has gotten shorter, I’ve wished I could extend my stay for another month. I get bright glossy visions of all the things i’d do here in Berlin with several more weeks but the truth is that I’d just leave Berlin as often as possible to see all the countries around me. I’d probably not see much more of Berlin even if I were here for the whole summer.

As an aside, it’s actually been very interesting to travel away from Berlin because I always get a sense of “coming home” when I return. That’s a relatively foreign feeling for me and it’s fun to feel it here. To feel a sense of the familiar as I get off at my train stop and walk back through my neighborhood to my apartment that has all my stuff in it. It’s been years since I lived in a city where I was excited to come home.

So, after all that diatribing – not a word, whatever – about traveling too much in too short a time, I made plans to go to Prague on Sunday just a scant few days after I’ve just returned from Poland. I did justify it by saying that I planned on Prague, and this is my last week to go… etc.

But then… my friend Sarah messaged me today to say she had some time off next week and could we get together? I invited her to Prague and she said “maybe somewhere warm?” She lives in Switzerland (although I met her in Honduras… a story for later) so we looked at places between and around us and she suggested Italy. Where I’ve never been and always wanted to go.

In the course of 4 hours, we had tickets to Florence so now it seems I’m going to Prague and then I’m going to Italy. Prague and Italy in the same sentence and the same week.  Gives me chills and all manner of grand visions of spectacular food, gorgeous architecture and the odd glorious sunset.

I’ve only planned a trip like this one other time, to the Galapagos with my friend Jules. We started with a casual email back and forth about perhaps taking a trip together at some point and less than 24 hours later we had plane tickets. This trip to Italy will be much shorter and just give me a savory mouthful of Italy to dream about later but I’m still doing it because Alex Garland said it best when he wrote in The Beach:

“Never refuse an invitation. Never resist the unfamiliar. Never fail to be polite and never outstay your welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. If it hurts, it’s probably worth it.”

If I have a traveling philosophy, that’s it in a nutshell.

A few more days of Berlin coming at you before I go, including a Michelin starred restaurant tonight. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.

Learning a new language is, in a word

Humbling. Completely.

I’ve started enough things from the very beginning to know that being terrible, graceless and awkward is part of the beginning process of learning anything. I’ve struggled through the beginning wretched awkwardness of learning to scuba dive, do Kung Fu, draw, do Bikram yoga, lift weights, draft patterns, do medical transcription and speak Spanish. Every learning process starts the same way with a long slog that feels like it will never end and will always be full of mistakes and inefficiencies but eventually I find good mentors who give me multiple corrections, I pick up tricks and then I just do it and do it and do it until the fundamentals are as natural as breathing.

I know this process of mastering something new. It’s always the same. It’s always hard. It always feels like the beginning phase won’t end and I’ll never get better and then the beginning phase ends and I get better.

learning German

But somehow learning a new language is SO much harder for me than mastering something physical. Even though I know that being a beginner means mistakes. Even though I know, intellectually, that it’s hard on the ego to be awful but almost everyone almost everywhere has a lot of grace for beginners. Especially when they’re struggling to get past the beginning stage. Especially with languages.

But still I’m so frustrated by getting reduced to a childlike state, unable to form words or remember vocabulary and always speaking in improper verb tenses. The frustration should drive me to practice more and get better but instead it makes me not want to practice because I want it to be perfect or I don’t want to say it.

For the record, this isn’t how it works.

Perhaps language learning is harder and digs in closer to my bones because I write a lot and take pride in being verbal and succinct in English? I do know that it’s much more frustrating to be inept in another language than it is to be inept in some other new skill.

Anne Lamott is so extremely quotable and the internet is so rife with her writing that I’ll never find her exact quote on this subject but she wrote a great little paragraph about learning to play the piano and how you have to struggle with the beginning scales, press on to “twinkle twinkle little star” and look forward to that seemingly far off day when you can murder “Farmer in the Dell.” The process of learning is accepting the fact that you will suck at cool things.

Sucking at something cool is not a reason not to do it. In fact it’s the only reason to do it. The cool things will only come to those who push through the beginning parts and learn to put their ego aside and just embrace the suckage.

So that’s where I am with German, I’m embracing the suckage.

Weekend Highlights

Hackescher Markt

Hackescher Markt, a little area just south of me, has a couple of fun rabbit trails leading to yet more beautiful street art. I have an almost limitless capacity for street art, apparently, but there’s so much here that even I’m getting a little jaded and all “yeah, it’s pretty… seen that… ok, that’s interesting…” about it all. Here are some highlights that got past my filters:

Hackescher Markt

Hackescher Markt

Hackescher Markt

And this painted backdrop that looks so real

Hackescher Markt

Overall, Hackescher Markt is pretty touristy but there are definitely a few things worth seeing outside of the square.

And for something completely different, how about the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church?

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Mostly destroyed in the war with just this spire and entrance hall still standing after 1945. This is the roof inside the old church, complete with resealed cracks from the bombing

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

They “rebuilt” this church by leaving the old church standing but creating a new modern church space beside, around and attached to the old church. I think it’s an unusual choice since the two spaces could not look more different

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Although the new space is quite beautiful with all that stained glass.

Hung on the wall of this new church is the Stalingrad Madonna

Stalingrad Madonna Berlin

Lt. Reuber, a German soldier, physician and pastor, drew this Madonna and child on the back of a Soviet map during WW2 at Christmastime. He was subsequently captured by the Soviet army and died a POW but his letters and this drawing were flown out of the encampment on the last transport to leave that part of Russia and eventually made their way to his wife. This Madonna has since become a symbol of peace and reconciliation so copies are on display in the former Stalingrad, but this one is the original.

We checked out Bite Club, a food festival that happens on Friday nights.

Bite Club

It was fun, with many of the same vendors we saw at Street Food Thursday. That seating on the boat is quite cool plus it backs into an outdoor pool/beach club called Badeschiff


but still… nothing matches Street Food Thursday.

But while we’re on the subject of food, this is a dining room in what has to be the fanciest McDonald’s in all of the world.

McDonalds Berlin

That’s a crystal chandelier. I saw people eating off of real plates. But still with the red plastic chairs. I’m at a loss for words.

These guys are a notorious motorcycle club from Russia called the Night Wolves.

Russia's Night Wolves

They’re here in town to commemorate the Nazi surrender that happened on May 9, 1945 and they drove here from Russia, though they were denied entry into Poland probably for political reasons since there’s no love lost between those two countries right now. In Russia they’re good friends with Putin – who occasionally rides with them – they’re associated with the Russian Orthodox Church and they’re funded by the Kremlin while also running tattoo parlors, rock concerts and the occasional shoot out with rival gangs. While trying to picture any scenario in which Obama rides with the Hell’s Angels, I think words fail me here too.

As a final note, this is Berlin’s most notorious after hours club


It opens at 2AM sunday morning and stays open until Monday. The stories from here are legendary and I’m hoping to see more than the outside but chances are I won’t get in as they turn away 8 of every 10 people in line. Matt, get ready because we’re going to see what we can do to get in.


If we do get in, you may (or may not) get a report.

Ok… that’s it! More tomorrow from Poland.

Street Food Thursday at Markthalle Neun

Markthalle neun

I keep thinking that I’ll eat some great food in a regular restaurant but instead my best meals in Berlin have been street food stalls, food markets and festivals. I’m not complaining! I’m just pleasantly surprised because I did very little research before coming to Berlin.

I ended up in Berlin because I don’t live anywhere except hotel rooms while I’m working on tour. I have no home base and all my stuff is in storage so when I’m unemployed, I get to choose where to live. When I quit my last show I knew I wanted to live abroad for awhile. I picked Europe because i’ve already lived for long stretches of time in Central and South America and I wasn’t really feeling Asia or Africa. I hadn’t been to Germany or Eastern Europe, Berlin had a relatively low cost of living, for Europe, I love the musical Cabaret (my fingernails are currently green :) and it seemed like cool artsy city to hang out for awhile. So, I rented an apartment, bought a plane ticket and a guide book (which I didn’t open until I got into the city) and voila, Berlin.

Given that extremely unscientific, gut instinct driven, dart-at-a-map method by which I ended up here, I had no idea what to expect from this city and I’ve been pleasantly surprised around every corner. I didn’t expect the street art – though I might have if I’d done even a little bit of research – and I certainly never expected the wide range and availability of street food festivals nor the rabid enthusiasm this city has for ethnic foods of every description.

But even after attending several flea markets and casual Sunday gatherings in the city, I was still blown away by Street Food Thursday at Markthalle.

Markthalle Neun

The place was packed. PACKED. Probably 2000 people and upwards or 40-50 vendors selling every kind of food, wine and beer all crammed into a beautiful 19th century brick market hall. The event started at 5pm and was already crazytown when we got there at 6. That empty table you see in that picture was the last empty table we saw all night long.

Street food thursday at markthalle neun

People sat on the stairs, shared space with strangers, balanced plates on staircase bannisters, tucked bottles of beer in their pockets and wandered around with trash in their hands looking for an empty trash can for the next several hours. Fortunately there were so many vendors that there was never a long wait for food, we just had to be creative about where we ate it.

We started with the very first cart we saw selling kasspatzen because this description was simply too delicious to pass up


And then just as quickly decided we’d get one of everything and split it so we could try as much as possible.

Street food thursday at markthalle neun

There’s absolutely no way to go wrong with creamy, cheesy spatzle. And we got to watch the guy make the spatzle fresh over boiling water.

Half the fun of this event was watching the food getting made, like this genius performer hand pulling noodles. He needs his own act

Street food thursday at markthalle neun

Street food thursday at markthalle neun

And this guy’s beer tattoos while he rolls out naan bread

Street food thursday at markthalle neun

Sadly, we didn’t try either of those dishes because there were just so many options! instead we next had a cheese empanada

Street food thursday at markthalle neun

Which was cheesy but not that worthy of note. But since we were sharing everything, we just ate it and moved on.

Next up, something not made of cheese.  And also, some wine?

Street food thursday at markthalle neun

Firstly, that’s German white and rose wines that were really incredibly good and cost about 3 euro a glass. Secondly, those oysters were  – no exaggeration – the BEST oysters I’ve ever had in my life. They’re from Zeeland, the western most province of the Netherlands on the North Sea. Slightly salty, perfectly creamy and tender and tasted exactly like the ocean. I’ve never had any seafood that seemed so fresh and perfect. We each ate an oyster, we talked about how much we loved those oysters, we ate the other one and talked about it some more. Then we went and ate other things and we came back and ate more oysters. They were that good.

We loved these oysters so much that when two other guys joined our table and heard us raving about them, we convinced them to go buy a couple oysters themselves. Which they did. And even they admitted that they weren’t big oyster fans but those oysters were exceptional. Incidentally, those guys – Kristian and Alex – are American/Canandian expat craft beer producers who now live in Bejing and make a beer called Jing A. They were on a buying/crafting/brewing expedition across Russia and Europe, doing collaboration brews with other craft beer producers in moscow, oslo and berlin. Very intriguing conversation and exactly the kind of people I love to randomly meet. If I’m ever back in Beijing, I’m looking them up.

Anyway, the oysters: Top Notch.

Next up was a carne taco that looked really good

Street food thursday markthalle neun

And was only ok. Given my experiences with arepas last Sunday and the empanadas and tacos here, I’m ready to say that Central/South American food might be a weak point in Berlin but I’d love to eat anything that changes my mind on that.

After all the cheese and salt – not to mention the subsequent glasses of wine – we wanted something fresh so we went for a spring roll

Street food thursday markthalle neun

And the roll was great and the sauce was odd… I wanted clear and spicy and this sauce was neither of those things… But the roll was great and it afforded me the unique experience of formulating this sentence in my German class the next day:

Ich bin gestern zu Street Food Thursday gegangen und ich habe ein frühlingsrolle gegessen.

Which basically means: I to Street Food Thursday went and I have a spring roll eaten.

See? Food is delicious and educational!

That spring roll was the end of our food tour. I kinda maybe wanted something sweet but at the end, we’d had enough. And there’s always next week… I will definitely be here again.

And that’s all I’ve got for you this week. I’m headed to Poland at the beginning of next week, if the trains are running. Cross your fingers for me.

Street Art in Kreuzberg

Kreuzberg Berlin

I only have one 3 weeks left in Berlin! I’m already getting sad about leaving and wishing, of course, that I could stay here through the summer. The city is just beginning to open up under all the sunshine. I can see all the festivals and warm weather in the future and I want to be here for it! But… I have other things I need to do so I know I’ll head back to the states in 3 week. However, until then I need to suck up as much Berlin as possible before I go.

Street art! Do I sound like a broken record yet? I’m just astounded by the amount of color and art in this city. I feel like I could live in this city for years and see something different on these walls every single day.

Kreuzberg Berlin

Jon and I went down to the Kreuzberg neighborhood yesterday. Kreuzberg is the home of the May Day riots and also where the punk rock scene was huge in the 70s and 80s. It’s still a gritty colorful rough neighborhood but it’s getting more gentrified, pushing the hipsters, artists and rockers down south to Neukolln. But there’s still a lot of street art everywhere in this neighborhood, perhaps more than any other single area of Berlin.

This mural of the cosmonaut by Victor Ash is one of the landmark tags in the neighborhood. Like Banksy, Ash is a former tagger whose work now goes for thousands of dollars in galleries around Europe.

Victor Ash cosmonaut

Street art doesn’t tend to last long around here. Even giant tags get painted over. But this one went up in 2007 and it’s still survived.

I love the range of street art, from massive wall sized pieces like this creepy guy who gives “lost in the crowd” a whole new meaning

Kreuzberg Berlin

to small emotional reminders, like this one.

Kreuzberg Berlin

I love the expressiveness of a few simple lines and two colors

Kreuzberg Berlin

Is that his heart? someone else’s heart?

And of course the political statement

Kreuzberg Berlin

Pointed at anything particular? perhaps just the whole neighborhood.

Kreuzberg has a large Turkish population so it was fun to see these ladies in their koffee klach

Kreuzberg Berlin

And the Oberbaum Bridge over the River Spree represents some of the oldest architecture in the neighborhood with beautiful brick vaulting

Oberbaum Bridge Berlin

This bridge leads into the neighborhood of Friedrichshain where the remains of the Berlin Wall and the East Side Gallery line the water. Jon hadn’t seen that part of the wall so we went down and walked the length of it.

East Side Gallery Berlin

It’s a silly photobomb but the painting as a lot to say about choice and who has it. Every time I see these paintings and the wall I’m reminded to be grateful that I have so much choice, in large part because of sacrifices others have made on my behalf.

This is a good reminder.

East Side Gallery Berlin

We ended the day at Street Food Thursday at Markthalle in Kreuzberg and it might have been one of the best food experiences of my life. More about that tomorrow.