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

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.

Sony Center and Berlin Filmmuseum

The Sony Center Berlin

Sony is (obviously) a Japanese company and yet here we are at their European headquarters in Berlin, under a roof designed to look like Mount Fuji in a building that Sony no longer owns because they sold it to German and US investors. I find that a curious blend of multinationalism.

But the Sony Center complex is stunning and that umbrella roof is quite marvelous, and open. From the top it looks like a circus big top (or Mount Fuji…). The complex focuses largely on film and houses an IMAX theatre, the Berlin Filmmuseum and a Legoland (?!) around an open colorful courtyard that would fit in well anywhere in Tokyo

Sony Center Berlin

I came to see the film museum because while I’m not all that well versed in German film particularly, I like film in general so I figured I’d enjoy it. I also hoped they would cover Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders, one my favorite films of all time.

The entrance into the museum is exceptionally trippy with multiple screens surrounded by mirrors

Filmmuseum Berlin

I took a bunch of pictures I wasn’t allowed to take because the visuals were just so freaking cool.

Me and Bogey having a moment. Whatevs.

Filmmuseum Berlin

Mirrors on mirrors on mirrors going down the rabbit hole.

Filmmuseum Berlin

The museum is curated chronologically covering most of the 20th century, with paraphernalia from big landmark films like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis

Fritz Lang Metropolis

In addition to pictures and what have you, the museum also has these tiny 1/10 scale models of movie sets to show how a scene is filmed. Like there would be two partial walls, small dolls of the actors in the scene and then around them are teensy cameras stationed on dollies with tiny little grips and gaffers hauling cable and pushing lights around, the wee little director with a megaphone perched on a ladder… stuff like that. Clever and quite a creative way to show the logistics of sets, sound and lights with filming.

As with all of the rest of Berlin, everything is before and after. Before Hitler and after Hitler. Before the Berlin wall and after the Berlin wall. I really noticed it here because everything in the museum is classy and well laid out in beautiful glass boxes until you get to the room that houses the Third Reich stuff and Hitler’s propaganda films. That room looks like a safe deposit room. Tall metal walls full of drawers and one table down the middle of the room with a few plaques under glass to explain the chronology. You have to walk around the room and pull drawers out to see more displays from this era or watch any of the film.

I read yesterday that all museums in Germany have to be careful about how they display Hitler/Nazi memorabilia. They can’t make it too accessible or display it in a really fetching manner because those displays draw the white supremacists and cults who still revere Hitler. Plus it’s illegal in Germany to display the swastika, even on legitimate historical memorabilia. It’s a delicate balancing act between honesty and transparency – the Germans like that word a lot – and encouraging the wrong element by treating Hitler the way they would treat anyone else in Germany’s past.

There’s a museum called Topography of Terror, dedicated specifically to the Third Reich. I haven’t yet visited but I’m intrigued to see how they handle this dilemma.

Overall I found the Film Museum to be quite entertaining and visually stunning. Wim Wenders was mentioned but not Wings of Desire but I learned a lot about other German artists I’d like to check out.

I stopped at the German bar down in the courtyard for a pretzel and some dunkel

Lindenbrau Sony CenterAnd now I have a copy of The Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich. That’ll be a good end to a German film heavy day.

Tomorrow is Germany’s labor day and it’s reportedly gonna be all crazy up in here. I’ll tell you about it then. XOX

Sunday Flea Market in Mauerpark

Mauerpark flea market

How was your weekend?

Mine didn’t start well.

I thought I had German classes all weekend but it seems the class cycle started last weekend before I got here, This is the trouble with signing up for classes months ago on a foreign website when the times and dates aren’t completely clear. Fortunately, I didn’t pay for the class but unfortunately this is a class geared at expats and I was really hoping to meet some interesting people who had also just arrived in Berlin! Of course, I also wanted to learn some German. It’s not all about my social life. Just mostly…

This school doesn’t have another beginner group class until the end of May, which will do me no good, so I opted for a series of private lessons that start today. One could ask what German lessons will do to benefit me when I’m only in the country for 6 weeks. How much can I learn?  And is it that important?

The answers are, probably not a lot but yeah, it’s important. I’ve done a lot of international travel in the past decade and yet I only speak English and some well accented Spanish that usually just serves to get me into trouble. That’s it. I can say hello, thank you and goodbye in a bunch other languages, which has gotten me most of the way around the world, but the rest of the time I’ve gotten by with charades and English. It works but I grow weary of traveling and relying on the world to speak to me in English. It feels arrogant.

That said, it’s shockingly easy to get around Berlin without speaking a speck of German. Almost everyone is bilingual. But I want to invest in this country while I’m here. It feels like the right thing to do and having a smidgen of another language at my disposal can only be a good thing. So, German classes today.

Anyway, after my failed German class attempt on Saturday, I spent the rest of the day just chilling out and not doing much. Sunday, however, was all about the flea market in Mauerpark, which is what you do if you’re a traveler in Berlin on Sunday.

Mauerpark flea market Berlin

It’s like a cross between a flea market, an antique mall, a craft fair and a farmer’s market selling art, antiques, bicycles, honey, furniture, japanese okonomiyaki, beer steins, light fixtures, tea cups, Korean bulgogi, bracelets, postcards… pretty much if it exists in the world, you can find it at Mauerpark.

MMauerpark flea market Berlin

Flea market at Mauerpark Berlin

Mauerpark flea market Berlin

I love that you can never tell what people might purchase. Although maybe his wife bought it and this is the flea market equivalent of holding her purse while she goes to the bathroom.

The flea market had a badass food court with so many options that it took me an hour to decide what to try first. I decided to start with Berlin’s street food classic, currywurst

Currywurst Berlin

Chopped up sausage covered in tomatoey onion sauce and sprinkled with curry powder. This one was the real deal, which you can tell from the sauce. The second rate stands use ketchup. And I loved it. But it’s my first sample and I wanna try a few more versions before I talk about it any further.

I also tried this Turkish roll up with arugula, tomatoes and salty goat cheese.

Mauerpark flea market Berlin

I don’t even know what they call it. I just pointed, handed him money, said “danke!” and took it. It was toasty warm and incredibly delicious. Berlin has a huge Turkish population so Turkish food is the second most common option anywhere.

I got to Mauerpark in the late morning but it was still too early for the Berliners, who love to stay up all night.  The morning was pretty quiet with a few groups of people sitting in the park

Mauerpark flea market Berlin

And then it got really busy when the live music started up. This is an amphitheater cut into the hill with giant stone step/seats

Mauerpark Berlin

And these guys called The Trouble Notes were playing some kind of gypsy fusion electronica

The Trouble Notes in Mauerpark

They were really great. They played a classical piece and Smells like Teen Spirit in the same set. How can you not love that? I think they’re playing somewhere in town next week and I may try to catch them again.

Mauerpark has lots of space so it kind of turned into a battle of the bands with a German group playing disco dance music down the way and a sand pit where an afrocaribbean percussion beach band set up. Those guys brought their own disco ball and hung it in the tree above them. Mad respect for that.

Mauerpark Berlin

I spent the whole day just hanging out, listening to music and people watching. It was awesome not to have anywhere else I needed to be.

Maybe this flea market is a touristy destination? It’s hard to tell from the crowd who lives here and who’s visiting. But I’d highly recommend that travelers check out Mauerpark on a Sunday. You can never go wrong with free music in a park and no open container laws.

Mauerpark Berlin

Jetlagged in Berlin

My big news is that I’m relocating to Berlin for the next 6 weeks so I can try out living as a European expat.

This is possible for me because I’m not working for the next several months and I don’t have a home base since i’m always on the road with work. Since i can live anywhere it might as well be somewhere interesting and I’ve recently wanted to live in Europe for a chunk of time. Living abroad is a challenge and I feel like I’m ready for it. I looked through the European cities and decided on Berlin because it had a relatively low cost of living (for Europe) and I hadn’t been to Germany. Plus Berlin seemed like a cool city with lots of artists and expats and it was near Eastern Europe where I’ve never been either.

While 6 weeks isn’t much time in the scope of a life, I’m hoping a get a feel for the city and the community. I have a bunch of goals for my brief expat life, the top few of which are:

1. I want to get into the community enough to meet local Germans and get invited to someone’s house for a party or dinner or something.

2. I want to take German classes and make a solid effort to get by in a language besides fractured English/charades.

3. I want to get into the expat community, meet people, have regular hang outs, see things in Berlin I wouldn’t see as a tourist.

I’m setting a rather low bar for myself, I realize, but the hard part for me is all the change, the newness and the challenge of meeting strangers. I’ll get all my feelings about these subjects later in the week.

I flew direct to Berlin out of Chicago. It’s the first time I’ve ever flown overseas on a direct flight and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Air Berlin

Especially on a half full plane with dozens of empty rows. Air Berlin has sketchy food and a strange selection of ancient movies including Titanic, Gone with the Wind and You’ve Got Mail, but we flew to meet the sun

Air Berlin

And arrived in Berlin at midnight Chicago time, which was 7am Berlin time.

I don’t sleep well on planes (or cars or buses or trains) but I had my whole row to myself so I took a little disco nap during the flight and felt pretty good when we landed. The Berlin airport is small and the entire Customs process in Europe is so relaxed that I wonder why we bother. No one asks questions, nothing is declared, they just grab your passport, stamp it and shuffle you through. Welcome to Berlin, whoever you are. I’m sure you’ll be fine. Next! I get 200% more hassle just driving over the Canadian border!

My taxi driver regaled me with Berlin history on the drive in to town. He moved here in 1987, 2 years before the Berlin wall came down. He said on new years eve 1989, everyone in Berlin came to the destroyed wall for a giant block party to drink “sparkly wine” and cry at midnight. The first new year for reunited Germany. Incredible. And incredible that it was all within my lifetime. I remember being back stage prepping for a college production of Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead when I heard the wall had come down. As momentous as I knew that act was, I really had no idea of the scope. I’m sure the Berlin of today is so dramatically different as to be unrecognizable.

I’m staying in the Mitte district, down in the center of Berlin and very near Checkpoint Charlie, the original crossing point of the wall between west and east. I had no trouble finding the apartment but a fair amount of trouble finding the check-in girl to let me in. Jet lag, early morning and not having a working phone all combined to an hour’s worth of hassle followed by a 4 floor walk up with 2 suitcases. At least it’s 6 weeks before I have to haul them back down…

The apartment is darling with incredible views over the rooftops

Berlin Mitte

It’s bigger than I expected from the pictures online and sparkling clean. Sometimes Air BnB does a really great job. Exhaustion set in once I got into the apartment so I took a couple hour nap and then rousted myself up. There’s no good way to handle jet lag but I know that if I don’t nap and I push myself thru the day, I’ll crash around 6pm and be wide awake at 3am. Hopefully a nap will stave that off and I can stay awake until closer to 9pm tonight. let’s see how it goes.

The weather today was PERFECT, low 70s and beautifully sunny.

Berlin Mitte

Everyone was outside in the parks so I ate a late lunch outside at the Ballhouse Gipsy Restaurant, a rather incredible biergarten and dance hall with a lovely garden

Ballhouse Gipsy restaurant

German weiners and potato salad with dunkel beer. What else am I going to eat my first day in Germany?

The rest of the afternoon involved buying groceries via charades (always a good time) and orienting myself to the neighborhood

How Long is Now BerlinSo much beautiful graffiti and street art, the apex of which is this artist squat called Tacheles. I’ll post a lot more about it later.

In the words of my flight attendant today “Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the entire crew I would like to say goodbye to you now.”

More Berlin tomorrow.